They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Walk Through Galatia

Lyaconia and Galatia

Most scholars believe that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the churches that he founded in that Roman province in Asia Minor on his first missionary journey in 45-47 A.D. Those churches were the ones he started in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as chronicled in Acts 13 and 14. Also, a majority of scholars think that Galatians was the very first book written of all the New Testament canon, possibly in 48 or 49 A.D., even before any of the four gospels were written down.

The book of Galatians has always been thought of as the premier work on the gospel of grace; that man is justified and saved only by faith in Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing that he can do to earn his salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we too have put our faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians if often referred to as, ”Luther’s book”, because Martin Luther relied so strongly on this book to refute the prevailing theology of his day. It is obviously a book worthy of our study and debate. What was it like in the province of Galatia during the time Paul and Barnabas made their fist trip there? What did they find and what were the people like when they visited these first churches to give them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s take a walk through Galatia and see if we can unlock some of the secrets of this marvelous book.

It’s hard to put into words or even on paper how being in the land of the Bible widens your perspective and understanding of the gospel text. Nowhere was this more evident than the two days we spent walking through the huge rural province of Galatia. Each day we were let off our bus in the middle of nowhere and spent the entire day walking and following our guide through the rural countryside. As best we could, we tried to follow the route that we thought that Paul and Barnabas would have taken as they walked to Pisidian Antioch from the coast, and then on to Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. Also, Paul came back through these same cities on both his second and third missionary tours. Amazingly, all four locations have been found and most have been archaeologically excavated at least to some degree. The whole area is very mountainous and remote even today and certainly even more so in Paul and Barnabas’ day. In two days of walking, we only came upon 3 or 4 rural villages. Just feeling the remoteness of the area with your boots was a real eye opener. Even the names of the land suggest how remote and rural the country side is. For example, Lycaonia, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, means “wolf land” and today is the home of the world famous sheep protecting dog, the Kangel. We saw these huge canines, but kept our distance, as they tended their flocks of goats in the rugged mountains. We began to get a feel for the people and the land as we observed the native Galatians in their home environment. A highlight of the trip was being invited to eat lunch with the townspeople of a local village, by the mayor of the town himself. Seated in the one room village school, we ate a simple but wonderful meal of home grown vegetables, fruits, and breads that they prepared for us. We spoke to them through an interpreter and they seemed so happy to have us as their guests.

We also learned many other lessons of the land. We stood in the remains of the synagogue at Antioch and read from the Bible Paul’s speech that he gave to the Jews and Gentiles that had gathered there to hear him speak (Acts 13:14-48). We had a faith lesson in a sheep fold (See “Kingdom of Heaven is Forcefully Advancing”) and sat under a linden tree near Lystra and heard the story (See “The Gods are Back!”). Also, we stood on top the tel of Lystra and heard the inspiring story of Timothy (See Timothy the Unlikely Disciple, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). All of these stories are wonderful examples of how understanding the history and culture of the area makes such a difference in understanding these Bible stories. As we walked and read the scriptures in the land they were written to we began to wrestle with the idea of grace vs. works. What was Paul trying to say as he wrote to this group of rural and remote people? In our next session we will attempt to grapple with this age-old struggle in the church. Which one is it, or is there a way to reconcile the two?

Timothy, the Unlikely Disciple: Conclusion

Rembrandt's Timothy and his grandmother

In our first two lessons on Timothy we did a biographical sketch of his life and background to try to determine what made Paul pick him as one of his disciples. Although Timothy was an unlikely candidate to be a disciple because of his heritage and the surroundings he was brought up in, he nevertheless became not only a disciple of Paul, but one of the great pillars of the Christian faith. Once Timothy left his home and family in Lystra to follow Paul, what happened to him? Where did he go and what did he do in the succeeding years? The New Testament Scriptures give us some fascinating snapshots as to what life was like for this young man from nowhere as he followed his rabbi, Paul to the ends of the earth, making disciples in the name of his Messiah, Jesus.

Immediately after leaving his hometown of Lystra and the province of Galatia in which he grew up, Timothy went with Paul to Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17: 14-15 and Acts 18:5). From what we can tell from Scripture he was with Paul for all of his second missionary journey as they went on to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 17 and 18). When Paul took his third missionary journey, Timothy went with him as his aide. He stayed for most of the two and one half years that Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Timothy then traveled again with Paul to Corinth, back to Macedonia, Philippi, and back to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-6).

When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, Timothy was there as his friend (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, and Philemon 1:1). These epistles written to these cities were all penned while Paul was in prison in Rome. After Paul was released from prison, Timothy again traveled with Paul. At Paul’s request, he stayed in Ephesus to lead the church there (1 Timothy 1:3). Church tradition says Timothy later became the bishop of the church in Ephesus.

Timothy was the co-sender of six of Paul’s letters to the New Testament churches. Listen to the admiration of Paul for Timothy in Philippians 2:19-22:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

Paul often calls him, “my beloved son” and “my true son in the faith”. Based on the above quote, Timothy was certainly Paul’s adopted son in the faith.

At the end of his life Paul asks Timothy to join him in Rome (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21) because he wants to see him before he dies. Like his rabbi, Timothy is also put into prison for his beliefs and his association with Paul (Hebrew 13:23). All this is not a bad resume for a backwoods boy from Lystra who was dealt a bad hand early in life. He was told that he was a “momzer”, an outcast, and that he had no chance to do anything in life. But, he had a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and God chose him to be one of his disciples. If God can use Timothy, he can use each one of us. We are all without excuse. All it takes is a fire in the chest and a willingness to try to be like our rabbi.

If not now, when?

Timothy, The Unlikely Disciple: Part Two

From the study in our first lesson, we learned that Timothy’s mother, Eunice, was a Jewess and a believer, but Timothy’s father was a Greek. We will never know the story behind this relationship. Why did Eunice marry a Greek? Why did this devout Jewish woman get involved with a non-believer? From a twenty-first century perspective that doesn’t sound like anything that would be a real problem. We tend to think of it more like marrying someone from a different faith or maybe a mixed racial marriage, both of which are fairly common to us today. But, in first century Judaism, the consequences of a Jewish woman having a child by a Greek man were enormous. Deuteronomy 23:2 says, “No one born of a forbidden marriage, or his descendants, may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation”. Timothy was a product of a forbidden marriage! As a Jewish baby he should have been circumcised on the eight day, but Acts 16:3 says that he was still uncircumcised. Because of the Deuteronomy passage, his rabbi would not have been able to circumcise him. Timothy would have definitely been different than his Jewish playmates. He would have been ostracized and singled out by other Jewish families – cut off from God’s covenant family. In fact, he would have been called a “momzer”, which is a Jewish slang word for a bastard. Jews weren’t even supposed to eat with a Gentile, enter their home, or engage in commerce with them. Through no fault of his own, Timothy would have been an outcast and made fun of by the people of his village. He would not have been educated at synagogue school with the other Jewish boys. He would not have been able to read Torah with them or participate with them during any of the Jewish festivals. When it was time for him to marry, he would not have been able to marry a Jewish girl, only another momzer or a Greek. Because of his mother’s sin, Timothy was seemingly destined to be on the outside, looking in, for the rest of his life. Somehow, though, Timothy was able to rise above this label of an outcast as we will see from other references. He must have had a fire in his chest, a difference that let him overcome his handicaps in life.

Paul, when he wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5 said, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother, Eunice, and I am persuaded now lives in you also”, and in 2 Timothy 3:14-15, said, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from who you have learned it, and how from infancy you learned the Holy Scriptures…” How did he learn and receive this strong faith that Paul saw? The father was always the head of the Jewish home and was responsible for teaching the children Torah (See Deuteronomy 6:1-8). Unfortunately, Timothy’s father would have never filled that role. Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice must have been awesome teachers and must have had great knowledge of the Holy Scriptures that they were able to pass on to Timothy. Since he probably didn’t have access to scrolls, he must have memorized huge portions of the Text from his mother and grandmother. He must have been a quick learner and very smart. Acts 16:2 says that Timothy was well thought of by the brothers in both Lystra and the neighboring town of Iconium. Somehow, with all the cards stacked against him, he had risen above the obstacles of his early childhood.

Every Jewish boy’s dream was to be able to study under a famous rabbi. By the age of 15, most boys were relegated to learning the family trade. Only a few of the best and brightest were able to continue their studies with a rabbi. With Timothy’s background, it was only a pipe dream to think that he would have a chance to be asked to study with a rabbi. Then rabbi Paul comes back through Lystra again! Why? Is it possible that he was thinking about that young boy with a fire in his chest that he met a couple of years ago? Can you imagine the expression on Timothy’s face when Paul asked him, ”Come follow me. I think you can be like me.” Can’t you see Timothy running to tell his mother and grandmother? “I’ve been picked by rabbi Paul! He wants me to follow him!” Never in Timothy’s wildest imagination did he think that he would get to be a disciple of a rabbi like Paul! He was a “momzer”, an outcast! Timothy was an unlikely candidate for a disciple. He wasn’t supposedly qualified for a leadership role. Yet, Paul saw something in Timothy, a perseverance, a “never quit” attitude in the face of unfavorable obstacles, that made him think that Timothy could be what it took to be a disciple of Rabbi Jesus. Timothy not only became a follower of Paul and Rabbi Jesus, but he became one of the key figures in all of Christianity. To see what heights Timothy rose to, part three of our study will next look at Timothy’s life as he attempted to be like his father in the faith, Paul.

Timothy, The Unlikely Disciple

One of the central figures of the New Testament story is Paul’s adopted son in the faith, Timothy. Two books of the New Testament canon were written by Paul to Timothy (1 & 2 Timothy) and he is mentioned in almost every other Pauline letter in some capacity. He is Paul’s most faithful companion and follows him all over Asia Minor, Greece, and even to Rome itself. Who is this young man who Paul called, “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:1) and “my dear son” (2 Timothy 1:1)? What do we know about him and what more can we learn by searching the scriptures and doing some historical research? In our first lesson, let’s look at Timothy’s hometown and his family background.

Although we do not officially meet Timothy until the start of Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 16, Paul and Barnabas visit Timothy’s hometown of Lystra on their first trip to Galatia in Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Greek gods there (see “The Gods are Back”) and then later Paul was stoned and drug out of town and left for dead by an angry mob. Timothy would have certainly been present at these events and aware of this visit from these odd strangers in his hometown. A bit of background of the hometown environment that Timothy would have grown up in is very helpful in understanding what kind of person Timothy might have been. Lystra was a backwater town in the district of Lycaonia; essentially the middle of nowhere in Roman times. The word, ”Lycaonia” means ”wolf land” and gives an idea of the area’s remoteness. There were no main Roman roads in the area and it was basically out-of-your-way-to-anywhere in the province of Galatia. It was twenty miles on foot to the next decent sized town of Iconium (Acts 14:1-7). The people there were so “back woods” that they had never even adopted the universal Greek language as their common tongue. They still spoke their native Lycaonian dialect (Acts 14:11). In addition to the Lycaonians, from what we can tell from Scripture and other sources, the town also had a few retired Roman soldiers living there as well as a small Jewish population. In conclusion, Timothy would definitely have more been more comfortable in a rural setting than in the big city.

In Acts 15:36, some two years after their first visit to Lystra, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they go back and check on the towns and people that they witnessed to on their first missionary trip. Paul, this time along with Silas, goes to Timothy’s home town at the beginning of his second missionary journey. We first meet Timothy by name in Acts 16:1-3, when, after arriving back in Lystra, the Text says that Paul wanted to take Timothy along on the missionary journey with them. As stated previously, Timothy was almost certainly present when Paul had come through two years earlier. He had witnessed the, “The Gods are Back” fiasco and had seen Paul stoned and left for dead and then get up and come back into his city again (Acts 14: 19-20). Most scholars think that he was probably 10-12 years old when Paul came through the first time and a young teenager when he came back two years later. It is only conjecture, but it is certainly probable that Paul had seen Timothy earlier and had his eye on this young man and his possibilities in the faith. What did Paul see? What was Timothy’s family like? What made him a candidate to be a disciple and Paul’s closest companion?

From Acts 16:1 we learn that Timothy had a strong Jewish background on his mother’s side. The text said that his mother was a “Jewess” and a “believer”. The word, “believer” means not only a follower of the Jewish God, YHVH, but also in his son, Yeshua. We can only assume that she became a believer in Messiah Jesus through the teaching of Paul and Barnabas – as that would have most likely been the first time that they would have heard the gospel story. We learn Timothy’s grandmother and mother’s name in 2 Timothy 1:5, Lois and Eunice. Although we do not know Timothy’s father’s name, we also learn in Acts 16:1 that his father was a “Greek”. The fact that the Bible says that he was a Greek and no faith was mentioned suggests that he was not a follower of YHVH or a believer in Messiah Jesus. As a twenty-first century reader, we don’t think anything of this “mixed marriage” between Timothy’s Jewish mother and his Greek father. But, as we will see in our next lesson, this fact is very significant and carried tremendous consequences for young Timothy.