The heart of Paul seems to have been drawn towards Timothy with peculiar tenderness. He singled him out from the other disciples. This feeling is in harmony with all that we read in the Bible regarding their meeting and mutual endevors. Paul had no relative ties which were of service in his apostolic work. His companions were few and changing. Although Silas may well be supposed to have supplied the place of Barnabas, it was no weakness to yearn for someone like Timothy who might become, what Mark had once appeared to be, a son in the Gospel.
Yet how could Paul consistently take an untried youth on so difficult an enterprise? How could he receive Timothy into "the glorious company of Apostles" when he had rejected Mark? Such questions might be raised, if we were not distinctly told that the highest testimony was given to Christian character of Timothy not only at Lystra, but at Iconium also (Acts 16:2). We infer from this, that diligent inquiry was made concerning his fitness for the work to which he was willing to devote himself.
To omit, at present, all notice of the prophetic intimations which sanctioned the meeting and appointment of Timothy, we have the best proof that he united in himself those outward and inward qualifications which a careful prudence would require.
One other point must be alluded to which was of the utmost moment at that particular crisis of the Church. The meeting of the Council at Jerusalem had lately taken place. And, though it had been decided that the Gentiles were not to be forced into Judaism on embracing Christianity, and though Apostle Paul carried with him (Acts 16:4) the decree, to be delivered "to all the churches," yet still he was in a delicate and difficult position.
The Jewish Christians had naturally a great jealousy on the subject of their ancient divine Law. In dealing with the two parties the Apostle had need of the utmost caution and discretion. We see, then, that in choosing a fellow-worker for his future labors, there was a peculiar fitness in selecting Timothy, one "whose mother was a Jewess, while his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:1).
We may be permitted here to take a short retrospect of the childhood and education of Apostle Paul's new associate Timothy. The hand of the Apostle himself has drawn for us the picture of his early years. (2Timothy 1:5, 3:15, and so on). That picture represents to us a mother and a grandmother, full of tenderness and faith, piously instructing the young Timothy in the ancient Scriptures, making his memory familiar with that "cloud of witnesses" which encompassed all the history of the chosen people, and training his hopes to expect the Messiah of Israel.
It is not allowed to us to trace the previous history of these godly women of the dispersion. It is highly probable that they may have been connected with those Babylonian Jews whom Antiochus settled in Phrygia three centuries before.
Marriage of Greek and Hebrew
There is one difficulty which, at first sight, seems considerable. This is the fact that a religious Jewess, Timothy's mother named Eunice, should have been married to a Greek. Such a marriage was scarcely in harmony with the stricter spirit of early Judaism, and in Palestine itself it could hardly have taken place.
Among the Jews of the dispersion, however, and especially in remote districts, where but few of the scattered people were established, the case was rather different. "Mixed" religious marriages, under such circumstances, were doubtless very frequent. We are at liberty to suppose that in this case the husband was a proselyte. We hear of no objections raised to the circumcision of Timothy, and we may reasonably conclude that the father was himself inclined to Judaism (if, indeed, he were not already deceased).
This very circumstance, however, of his origin gave to Timothy an intimate connection with both the Jewish and Gentile worlds. Though far removed from the larger colonies of Israelitish families, he was brought up in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere. His mind was stored with the Hebrew or Greek words of inspired men of old in the midst of the rude idolaters, whose language was "the speech of Lycaonia." And yet Timothy could hardly be called a Jewish boy, for he had not been admitted within the pale of God's ancient covenant by the rite of circumcision.
Circumcision of Timothy
Timothy was in the same position, with respect to the Jewish Church, as those, with respect to the Christian Church, who, in various ages, and for various reasons, have deferred their baptism to the period of mature life. And "the Jews which were in those quarters," (Acts 16:3) however much they may have respected him, yet, knowing "that his father was a Greek," and that he himself was uncircumcised, must have considered him all but an "alien from the commonwealth of Israel."
It may be thought, however, that Apostle Paul's conduct in circumcising Timothy was inconsistent with the principle and practice he maintained at Jerusalem when he refused to circumcise Titus. But the two cases were entirely different. Then there was an attempt to enforce circumcision as necessary to salvation while now it was performed as a voluntary act and simply on prudential grounds.
Those who insisted on the circumcision ceremony in the case of Titus were Christians, who were endeavoring to burden the Gospel with the yoke of the Law. Those for whose sakes Timothy became obedient to one provision of the Law were Jews, whom it was desirable not to provoke, that they might more easily be delivered from bondage. By conceding in the present case, prejudice was conciliated and the Gospel furthered, the results of yielding in the former case would have been disastrous, and perhaps ruinous, to the cause of pure Christianity.
If it be said that even in this case there was danger lest serious results should follow, that doubt might be thrown on the freedom of the Gospel, and that color might be given to the Judaizing propensity, it is enough to answer that indifferent actions become right or wrong according to our knowledge of their probable consequences. Apostle Paul was a better judge of the consequences likely to follow from Timothy's circumcision than we can possibly be. Are we concerned about the effects likely to have been produced on the mind of Timothy himself?
There was no risk, at least, lest Timothy should think that circumcision was necessary to salvation, for he had been publicly recognized as a Christian before he was circumcised. As for the moral results which might be expected to follow in the minds of the other Lycaonian Christians, it must be remembered that at this very moment Apostle Paul was carrying with him and publishing the decree which announced to all Gentiles that they were not to be burdened with a yoke which the Jews had never been able to bear.
Paul circumcised his companion Timothy that no Jewish Christian might have his prejudices shocked. His language was that which he always used, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing. The renovation of the heart in Christ is every thing. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). No innocent prejudice was ever treated roughly by Apostle Paul. To the Jew he became a Jew, to the Gentile a Gentile (1Corinthians 9:20 - 22).
Lystra, the hometown of Timothy, or possibly Iconium, due to its size, were where Paul's new friend was circumcised. The opinion of the Christians at Iconium, as well as those at Lystra, had been obtained before the Apostle took him as his companion. These towns were separated only by the distance of a few miles. Constant communication must have been going on between the residents in the two places, whether Gentile, Jewish, or Christian. Iconium was by far the more populous and important city of the two, and it was the point of intersection of all the great roads in the neighborhood.
Whether the circumcision of Timothy, or his ordination as an elder in the church, took place at Lystra or Iconium is a point not easy to determine. That said, Paul makes tender allusions to the time when his friend was specially set apart to serve. The apostle reminds Timothy of his good confession before "many witnesses," (1Timothy 6:12) of the "prophecies" which sanctioned his dedication to God's service, (1:18) and of the gifts received by the laying on of hands by those in the church (4:14). Such references, with all its well-remembered details, not only were full of serious admonition from Paul to Timothy, but possess the deepest interest for us.
And this interest becomes still greater if we bear in mind that the "witnesses" who stood by were Apostle Paul's own converts, and the very "brethren" who gave testimony to the high character of Timothy at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2, 13:51 - 14:21). The "prophecy" which designated Timothy to his office was the same spiritual gift which had attested the commission of Barnabas and Saul at Antioch (1Timothy 1:18, Acts 13:1 - 3). Lastly, the church members (1Timothy 4:14, 2Timothy 1:6) who, in conjunction with Paul, set apart a new person to spread the Gospel, consisted of those who had been converted at the close of the first missionary journey.