Paul as a Discipler to Timothy


In this research, I will seek to show that discipleship is a pattern established by God to transmit the truth of His revelation down through history. The discipleship method is revealed in Scripture and is used by Paul as a discipler of Timothy, who repeated the process, which is still ongoing.

Crucial Definitions

Three words need to be defined before investigating Paul as a discipler of Timothy. The first word is στρέφω, “to turn, turn round.”[1] In Matthew 18:3, the author uses this word to report that Jesus said“…Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[2] In this context, Jesus is talking about becoming like a child who is totally dependent on his father. Since the father is the head of the family, all his children are equal in the mind of God the Father. Paul eludes to this type of conversion in 1 Timothy 3:6 “and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”[3] Even though the word used by Paul here is νεόφυτος, “freshly planted,” most commentators would likely agree that Paul is illustrating στρέφω metaphorically. It must also be remembered that the devil fell into condemnation from an act of pride. Satan was not content with his position and wanted to overthrow God and take His place secretly. However, Satan’s lie was exposed.

The second word is μιμητής, “imitate.”[4] This word is used six times in the New Testament in a positive sense of imitating the actions of another person.[5] In each case, it is associated with the verb γίνομαι, “to become.”[6] In three of these, Paul uses a middle imperative form of γίνομαι.[7] The middle voice is an action of self. If I say, “I washed my hands,” that is the middle voice in Greek. By contrast, the present imperative form of μιμητής is used by the apostle John in his third epistle verse 11 with the negative particle μή. “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” This construction “demands the cessation of some act that is already in progress.”[8] Apparently, the church where Gaius met with believers had members imitating evil perpetrated by Diotrephes. John tells them to stop because Diotrephes was not imitating the discipleship example set by Jesus and the apostles, including Paul.

The third word is μαθητής, “a learner, pupil, disciple”[9] Furthermore, Vine says that “A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher.”[10] David E. Lanier says, “Every new believer deserves to have an older, more mature Christian to befriend him to answer his questions, and to ensure that he is on the right track spiritually.”[11] Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission, uses μαθητής in the active voice, “make disciples.” In Ephesians 5:1–2, μαθητής is modified by γίνομαι in the middle or passive voice, which gives the meaning of submitting oneself to discipleship by imitating God. They were to actively follow Christ, who established the discipleship pattern to imitate.[12]

Discipleship as a Plan

Historical context will show how God’s discipleship plan presents a model for the modern church. The model is conversion, being discipled, then disciplining others. Examples from Scripture are Moses/Joshua, Elijah/Elisha, and apostles/church. In each case, there is a revelation, learning, and doing. Each pair received direct revelation from the godhead in some capacity. Moses, Elijah, and the apostles were taught to walk in the light of that revelation. Joshua, Elisha, and the church were specifically chosen to imitate the pattern modeled by Moses, Elijah, and the apostles. They continued the mission of the revelation. They walked in the light they had been given. They passed it on for others to follow.[13]

Paul as a Disciple

Jesus revealed Himself to Paul in Acts 9, telling Paul that he is the instrument Jesus intended to use for a special mission. Ananias discipled Paul, after which Paul received the Holy Spirit. After receiving the revelation of his mission, Paul went to Arabia, where he received a revelation of the gospel message he was to teach by Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11–16). Paul preached the gospel three years in Damascus before escaping a murder plot by the Jews (Acts 9:22–25; Galatians 1:18). In the three years he was there, Paul had already made some disciples (Acts 9:25). Paul went to Jerusalem where everyone feared him except Barnabas who befriended him (Acts 9:26–27). Paul preached the gospel in Jerusalem until another murder plot was revealed so Paul was sent to Tarsus (Acts 9:28–30).[14] These facts are warranted because they reveal to Paul’s disciples that followers of Christ will face persecution and possibly death.

Paul as a Discipler to Timothy

Timothy is not introduced in Acts until after Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:1–14:28) and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), a period of about 18 years. Kent says, “Timothy was probably converted on Paul’s first journey.”[15] Timothy, likely in his early 20’s, began to travel off and on with Paul during Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. Paul mentions Timothy in eight epistles to various churches and wrote him two letters directly.

1 Timothy reveals that Paul loved Timothy like a son. While Timothy was not an elder at the church in Ephesus, he did represent Paul’s apostolic authority to the Ephesians. In it, Paul instructs Timothy to reinforce the sound doctrine of a pure gospel and godly living he learned while traveling with Paul. Over and over, Paul exhorts Timothy on the importance of sound doctrine, a pure gospel, and godly living. Paul encourages Timothy to teach the church at Ephesus the discipleship pattern he learned from Paul. Constable says, “Personal example is every bit as important as persuasive explanation.”[16]

2 Timothy is Paul’s last letter. It is a passionate plea for Paul’s spiritual son to carry on what he had learned “from Paul’s own lips.”[17] 2 Timothy 2:2 records Paul’s heartfelt plea to Timothy. Paul says, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Through this method of discipleship, true disciples still teach “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).


God modeled His discipleship plan in Old Testament Saints who received revelation from God, who then walked in the light of that truth and taught it to the following generation. For Moses, it was the covenant of Law. For Eliah, it was imminent judgment. For the apostles, it was a pure gospel and a godly life. Paul’s passion for his divine mission and message was taught to many. Only in Timothy do we see the heart of Paul and the pattern of discipleship God implemented for the church. Unfortunately, many do not use it, but all they have are converts.


Constable, Thomas. Thomas Constable’s Notes on the Bible. Vol. 10. 12 vols. Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017.

Dana, H. E, and Julius R Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament commentaries v. 14. Nottingham, England : Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press ; Intervarsity Press, 2009.

Kent, Homer Austin. The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2001.

Lanier, David E. “The Multiplication of Disciples.” Faith and Mission 16, no. 2 (1999).

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Christian Gottlob Wilke, and Joseph Henry Thayer. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1962.

Vine, W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 2003.

  1. Joseph Henry Thayer, Christian Gottlob Wilke, and Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1962). Pg 590

  2. All Scripture quotations are from the NASB version unless otherwise noted. Emphasis added.

  3. Emphasis added. This writer also considered the concept that Paul is here talking about a “freshly planted” believer in the sense that the one freshly planted was new to the area. Thus he had no reputation as a mature believer.

  4. (Thayer, Wilke, and Thayer 1962) pg 415

  5. 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 1:6, 2:14; Hebrews 6:12

  6. (Thayer, Wilke, and Thayer 1962) pg. 115

  7. 1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Eph. 5:1

  8. H. E Dana and Julius R Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1993). pg 302

  9. (Thayer, Wilke, and Thayer 1962) pg. 386

  10. W. E Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 2003). pg 308 (emphasis mine)

  11. David E. Lanier, “The Multiplication of Disciples,” Faith and Mission 16, no. 2 (1999). pg 12

  12. The church is never told to make converts.

  13. This next iteration might be the two witnesses of Revelation 11. The two witnesses would be after the spirit and power of Elijah. This would mean that the two witnesses are not Moses an Elijah. One would be an unknown figure in the future and his disciple. This writer suspects one will be a religious leader and the other a political leader coinciding with the two olive trees in Zechariah 4:3, 11.

  14. These facts are important because they reveal to Paul’s disciples that followers of Christ will face persecution and possibly death.

  15. Homer Austin Kent, The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2001). Pg 16

  16. Thomas Constable, Thomas Constable’s Notes on the Bible, vol. 10, 12 vols. (Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017).Pg 235

  17. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament commentaries v. 14 (Nottingham, England : Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press ; Intervarsity Press, 2009). Pg 155

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