The Appointment of The Ephesian Elders

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  1. Paul’s first visit to Ephesus in Asia was while on his way to Syria, a return to Antioch where his journey(s) had begun.
  2. Acts 18:18-22, during this visit Paul was in a hurry to return to his home congregation and stayed only briefly. Aquila and Priscilla had accompanied Paul from Corinth and decided to remain behind in Ephesus and apparently preach the gospel there.

  1. Paul’s second visit to Ephesus was for the purpose of preaching the gospel there and lasted over two years, having an impact on the whole surrounding region.
  2. Acts 19:1,8-12,26, on his way to Ephesus “through the interior” Paul probably visited most if not all of the churches he had established in Galatia, Phrygia, and Asia (see also 18:23). Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, etc.) and Achaia (Corinth) would be further along his route, and would be visited after his time in Asia, at least according to his plan (see the Corinthian letters).
  1. Paul intended to go on to Macedonia and Achaia when he left Ephesus to encourage the churches in those regions.
  2. Acts 19:21-22, what made Paul decide to go to Jerusalem is not explained here. Most likely his decision to go to Jerusalem was directly tied to the willingness of the brethren in the gentile churches to help the saints in Jerusalem financially (I Cor. 16:3-4, Romans 15:25-26). However, Paul expressed the intent to proceed to Macedonia and Achaia before turning back toward Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:5-6), and prepared for that by sending Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia. Paul lingered in Ephesus because of a particular opportunity and need, and may have thought he could soon finish his work there (1 Cor. 16:8-9).
  3. I Cor. 4:14-21,16:10-11, Paul planned to go to Corinth, “soon”, and intended for Timothy to visit ahead of him, and probably actually sent Timothy before the word of Corinth’s trouble came to him. The purpose of Timothy’s visit doesn’t seem to have been corrective, but part of Paul’s previously planned return visit. The message to Corinth about Timothy indicates that Timothy was on his way to Corinth from Macedonia, while Paul was still in Ephesus, and that Timothy was unaware of the troubles in the Corinthian church.
  1. Timothy’s trip to Macedonia included a visit to Corinth in Achaia, then he was to return to Paul in Ephesus, bringing brothers with him, before Paul himself set out for Macedonia and Achaia.
  2. I Cor. 16:5-11, despite Corinth’s troubles, Paul wanted to stay with his basic plan and visit them in an orderly way after doing all he could in Ephesus. He expected Timothy’s return before he left Ephesus, and that Timothy would bring brothers with him (1 Cor. 16:11), probably from Macedonia in connection with the gift for the saints in Jerusalem (II Cor. 9:1-5).
  1. Though Luke does not mention Timothy’s return to Ephesus in Acts, he apparently had in fact returned from Macedonia as planned before Paul left Ephesus.
  2. Acts 19:29, Paul in Ephesus now has traveling companions from Macedonia who have not appeared previously in the story line. These may be the brethren who were expected by Paul to return with Timothy from Macedonia (see 4a above).
  3. 2 Cor. 7:13, It is not surprising that Luke does not mention Timothy’s return or many other details. Though we know from Paul’s writings that Titus was a fellow worker and traveler at this time in Acts, Luke never mentions his name at all. Luke did not-could not-include all of the details in Acts.
  1. As planned, Paul left Ephesus and headed for Macedonia, still intending to visit Corinth. He may have already made a quick emergency visit to Corinth between the writing of 1st Corinthians and the planned departure, when he could not persuade Apollos to go (1 Cor. 16:12, 2 Cor. 2:1).
  2. Acts 20:1-3, Paul may have left ahead of his planned departure schedule, due to the uproar in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41), allowing other less visible members of his party, namely Timothy, to finish the final stages of work there. He did head for Macedonia, as planned, and apparently spent quite a little time before “finally” arriving in Greece.
  1. Timothy had apparently rejoined Paul in Ephesus (see 5 above) but probably did not leave Ephesus with Paul on the way to Macedonia.
  2. Acts 20:1-6, Paul set out for Macedonia, and in verses 1-3 we read nothing about any traveling companions. Luke speaks here only of Paul, and the pronouns are singular (he) in verses 1-3. By the time he left Greece (Achaia)in verse 4, Timothy and a number of others, probably including some from Corinth not named by Luke (I Cor. 16:3-4), were accompanying Paul, though it is unlikely they had all been with him when he left Ephesus in v.1. The reasons for this large party traveling together toward Jerusalem are explained in 2 Cor. 8:19-21.
  1. Paul’s plans were altered by missed connections and problems, so that while he had apparently thought to visit Ephesus one more time on his way back to Jerusalem, time constraints and conflicts caused him to decide to omit that visit.
  2. Acts 20:3, 20:13-16, Paul’s hurry caused him to decide to sail past Ephesus, though he still wanted to communicate with the elders of that church, who had not been mentioned by Luke before this.
  3. II Cor. 1:1,8,15-19,23, 2:12-13, 7:5-7, Paul’s plan for an orderly sequence of visits was thrown into disarray by concern about fellow workers, as well as persecution. Some of the visits he had planned became impractical due to the altered circumstances.
  1. At the time Paul left Ephesus (Acts 20:1), Luke had written nothing about Ephesian elders, yet when Paul passed near Ephesus he desired to take the time to communicate with these very men, and made inconvenient arrangements to do so.
  2. Acts 20:1, 20:17ff, when Paul left he “sent for the disciples,” but when he returned he “sent for the elders”. It seems likely that there were no elders in Ephesus when Paul left there, but that elders had been appointed during his journeys to Macedonia and Greece. Since he could not spend the time on a return visit, as he had apparently wanted to, he at least took the opportunity of confirming these men in their faith and responsibilities (see Acts 14:23 for Paul’s practice in relation to the appointment of elders).
  1. Paul believed he would never see the elders or others of Ephesus again.
  2. Acts 20:25,38, Paul says “I know”, and leaves no doubt that this is something the Spirit has revealed to him. If he was wrong about this, what that he says is trustworthy? The scriptures give no indication that Paul in fact ever returned to Ephesus. Tradition and nearly all commentators guess at a post imprisonment journey to Asia and Ephesus and claim that the writing of I Timothy took place after that hypothetical return, which Paul said he would never be able to make.
  1. The book of I Timothy presents the same circumstances set forth in Acts and the Corinthian letters, indicating that it was written to Timothy while he remained behind in Ephesus when Paul made his departure for Macedonia.
  2. I Timothy 1:1-3, 3:14-15, Paul had been in Ephesus and had departed for Macedonia, leaving Timothy behind in Ephesus. Paul intended to return to Ephesus but recognized the possibility of complications that would delay him.
  1. There don’t seem to have been officers (overseers or deacons) in the Ephesian church when Timothy was left there.
  2. I Timothy 1:3-7, Timothy was to make corrections that an eldership ought to have been taking care of, if one existed (see Titus 1:9-10).
  3. I Tim 3, 5:17-22, Timothy was given explicit instructions about appointing officers, including what not to do, so that he could avoid creating a problem. He was going to appoint qualified leaders in Ephesus, if Paul didn’t arrive to do it personally, and remain long enough to see that they did their job properly (3:10, 5:17-20). Paul had hopes of returning that way while Timothy was still there (3:14, 4:13), but as indicated in the above analysis of Acts and Corinthians his plans were changed.
  1. Timothy was regarded as reliable, but young, and needing reminders about rather basic matters when this letter was written, as could have been the case when Paul left Ephesus in Acts 20, but was not likely the case when Paul had been released from his imprisonment in Rome.
  2. Acts 16:1, a “disciple” named Timothy is recommended to Paul. He must be at least a young adult. He accompanies Paul to Phrygia, Galatia, and Macedonia, where he promptly begins to work apart from Paul (sent back to Thessalonica, for example, while Paul waited in Athens, I Thess. 3:1-2 w/Acts 17).
  3. #3b above, Timothy is trustworthy and a capable leader, but not really expected to handle grave difficulties if there are alternatives. He is still a young man, with a young man’s limitations.
  4. I Tim. 4:11-12, 5:1, Timothy is still young to the extent that it is somewhat of a limitation. He must take care that his lack of years are not a hindrance to his work.
  5. Acts 16:11-12,16, 17:2,14, 18:1,4,5,11,18,22-23, 19:1,10,21-22, by the time Paul left Ephesus Timothy had been with him seven or eight years, and must have been at least in his mid-twenties, probably at least his late twenties.
  6. Acts:20:3,16, 24:27, 27:1,9, 28:11,30, another five or six years have passed by the time Acts comes to a close, with Paul still in prison and awaiting trial. By now Timothy is surely at least in his early to mid-thirties, and time will still pass before Paul would actually be released and more time before he could return to Ephesus (if he ever did) and go on to Macedonia, pushing Timothy toward the mid-thirties or close to forty. It may have still been appropriate for Paul to instruct him to “flee youthful lusts” (II Tim. 2:22) at this time, but it would hardly have seemed appropriate to instruct him to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young.” (1 Tim 4:12) It seems unlikely that the circumstances of 1 Timothy fit a period after the close of Acts.
  7. 2 Tim. 1:18, 4:12, tradition claims that Timothy remained in Ephesus as “pastor” for many years, but there is not indication in 2 Timothy as to where Timothy was when it was written. The two references to Ephesus do not place Timothy there, but mention it as a place they had been together and a place where another of Paul’s coworkers, Tychicus, was going. The second reference includes a list of workers and places (Thessalonica, Galatia, Dalmatia, Ephesus, Troas) that would have been of common interest to Paul and Timothy. There is no suggestion that Timothy was at Ephesus at the time, and on the contrary the indication is that he was not there or in any of the places Paul mentioned by name. Timothy’s solo work in Ephesus seems to have been relatively short term and a specific concluding assignment that included the appointment of elders, as indicated in 1 Timothy.

Though not explicitly stated, the evidence of Acts, Corinthians, and I Timothy, indicate that Paul’s coworker, Timothy the evangelist, was left behind by Paul in Ephesus at the conclusion of Paul’s work there (Acts 19), when Paul himself departed somewhat more abruptly than originally planned (Acts 20:1); that Timothy was to stay and issue certain commands in an otherwise ungoverned church (I Tim. 1), appoint officers in that church if Paul didn’t return by the time they were ready to do so (I Tim 3) and establish an orderly routine of praying, teaching, reading, and giving in that church (I Tim. 2, 4, 5, 6). Paul was in fact unable to return to Ephesus as he had hoped, and so Timothy carried out his assignment and then rejoined Paul, probably in Greece (Acts 20:1-4). Once Timothy had completed what he needed to do in Ephesus he went where he needed to be. Paul subsequently arranged to visit with the Ephesian elders whom Timothy had appointed, to encourage them and say goodbye, since he had not been able to participate in their appointment as planned or come to encourage the church. Speaking to these men seems to have been very important to Paul, possibly because they had not been ordained as elders while he was among them and so could not be spoken to in the same words and tones as Paul used to warn and encourage them in Acts 20. It may also be worth noting that the problems Timothy was to address would be naturally expected in a relatively young church with the connections mentioned in Acts 19, but would not be expected in a church that had spent several years with a carefully appointed eldership. And finally, the troubles Timothy was to address are not mentioned at all in the Ephesian letter, which was a prison letter (Eph. 4:1). It again seems most likely that Timothy had already done the work described in 1 Timothy, before Paul’s imprisonment and the circumstances of writing this epistle.

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