The son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, Timothy was converted to Christianity about the year 47 A.D., during St. Paul’s first missionary visit to his native town of Lystra in Asia Minor, in a persecution so fierce that Paul had been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:6-19). During a second visit in the year 50, Paul chose him as a travel companion to replace St. Mark (who had baulked at the dangers of these journeys, Acts 13:13; 15:38), and to assist Silas and himself in the work of evangelizing the middle east (Acts 16:1ff.). Timothy thus witnessed the first preaching of the gospel in Europe (Acts 16:9ff.). From this time he is mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles as one of the ‘apostles’ or emissaries of Paul, left behind in or sent back to the various Christian communities to watch over the growth of the faith planted there. About the year 51 he countersigns Paul’s letters to Thessalonica, and himself journeys from Corinth to take them to the recently converted community. In 57 he makes a return journey to deliver the second Epistle to the Corinthians, and in the following year he is again with Paul in Corinth, sending greetings to the church in Rome. When Paul finally goes to Rome himself, in chains, Timothy is still at his side, adding his name to the letters sent about the year 62 to Philemon, Colossae and Philippi (‘I have no one else here who shares my thoughts as he does, no one who will concern himself so unaffectedly with your affairs … without his own interest at heart, but Christ’s.’ Philippians 2:20).
In the year 63 Paul seems to have been released from his captivity and to have taken the opportunity to realize his project of evangelizing the western world. In his absence from the east, he gave some of his former associates the more permanent function of presiding over the Christian communities, although they were not attached to any one of them in the manner of the bishops of a few decades later. Timothy was given such an appointment over Asia, and stationed at the capital of Ephesus. Here he received the two Pauline letters that have been preserved in the New Testament, one from Macedona about the year 65, and the other about two years later from Rome, where Paul had been imprisoned a second time.
It is from these letters that we learn most about Timothy. They are mainly concerned with the danger that faced the Asian churches (a form of the early Gnosticism and compromise with Hellenism, against which Paul had warned the community at Colossae a few years previously); but in passing they throw much light on the character of the man Paul had left to fight the danger. Apparently diffident and nervous in temperament, he is yet enthusiastic enough in his work to need a warning to look after his health. He is a man who knows well enough the sufferings he will have to undergo to guard the faith committed to him (‘persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives.’ 2 Timothy 3:12), and Paul’s repeated exhortations (many of which have passed into the liturgy) are inspired less by a fear of Timothy’s defection than by the certainty that his own end is near, and that the helpers he had picked with such care must soon shoulder the burden alone. In his last will and testament to Timothy, he can only remind him of all that he has taught him, ‘in firm resolve, in patience, in love, in endurance’ (2 Timothy 3:10); and his final appeal, asking him to come and comfort his last hours, stands as the most eloquent monument to one whom he has called constantly ‘my well beloved son.’
According to tradition, Paul ordained Timothy Bishop of Ephesus in AD 65, where he served for 15 years until his death. The fourth century ‘Acts of Timothy’ indicates that in 80, Timothy tried to halt a pagan procession of idols, ceremonies, and songs. In response to his preaching of the Gospel, the angry pagans beat him, dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death. In the 4th century, his relics were transferred to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. The Church also numbers Timothy among the 70 apostles sent out by Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel. His memory is celebrated on January 24th.