This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Summary of the Titus-Timothy hypothesis

This is the last post in the present series exploring whether "Titus" and "Timothy" were one person or two. Here I summarize the evidence with links to the more detailed analysis given in earlier posts.

Titus in 2 Corinthians
Paul refrains from identifying anyone who helped him with the collection, leaving the three "brothers" of 2 Cor 8:18-22 and 2 Cor 12:18 conspicuously anonymous (presumably to protect the collection). In Paul's Aegean period the name "Titus" appears only in connection with two visits to Corinth in which he organized the collection (2 Cor 8:6, 16-17), and this raises the possibility that the name serves to obscure his identity (from outsiders). The complete absence of the name "Titus" from Acts and from Romans increases the suspicion that this was not the name by which he was generally known.

In 1 Corinthians Paul anticipates a visit by Timothy to Corinth (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11), and in 2 Corinthians he records the return of Titus from Corinth. The following considerations demonstrate that these two visits are the same.
  • In 1 Corinthians Paul expects Timothy to visit Corinth when he (Paul) is about to leave Ephesus for Macedonia. We learn from 2 Cor 2:12-13 that Titus's visit to Corinth had been expected in the same timeframe.
  • Titus's visit to Corinth was associated with Paul's planned visit that never materialized (Paul did not want to visit Corinth until Titus and the "letter of tears" had prepared the Corinthians for his visit, so he cancelled this visit when Titus was delayed). Timothy's visit to Corinth was also associated with Paul's planned visit that never materialized (see 1 Cor 4:17-21 and consider the rather apologetic way Paul explains that he will not be coming to them until after his visit to Macedonia, 1 Cor 16:5-8).
  • Paul carried out the travel plan that he gave to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 16:5-9, so the cancelled visit was to have been before 1 Corinthians. This is confirmed by the fact that the travel plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16 was the same, but with the addition of a (cancelled) visit.
  • Timothy was expected in Corinth when the collection was about to start (1 Cor 16:1-3), and Titus started the collection there (2 Cor 8:6).
  • 2 Cor 7:13-14 suggests that Paul had been more confident than Titus about the prospects for Titus's visit to Corinth. 1 Cor 16:10 says the same thing about Timothy.
  • Timothy's mission (1 Cor 4:17) was to remind the Corinthians of Paul's ways in Christ (1 Cor 4:9-13) so that they would become imitators of Paul (1 Cor 4:16). Paul tells the Corinthians that he had sent the tearful letter (with Titus) "in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God". Timothy's mission was to encourage zeal for Paul's ways in Christ, and Titus's mission was to encourage zeal for Paul. These two missions are identical because Paul makes no distinction between himself and his ways in Christ. Update: More specifically, there are good reasons to believe that Timothy was sent to Corinth to counter licentiousness there (see here), and that Titus's mission had the same purpose (see here).
The resulting reconstruction of Paul's interactions with the Corinthians avoids duplications and multiplication of assumptions. See also my "Was Titus Timothy?"JSNT 81 (2001).

I argued here that the Titus-Timothy hypothesis makes it unnecessary to partition 2 Corinthians after 2 Cor 2:13, 2 Cor 6:13, or 2 Cor 8:24.

Titus-Timothy also explains the change of tone after 2 Cor 10:1. At the time of 2 Corinthians Paul was sending Titus back to Corinth to revive the collection. This required that Titus stay on good terms with the Corinthians. This need to preserve the good relationship between Titus and the Corinthians explains why Paul records Titus's report as being so positive (2 Cor 7:5-16). Paul needed to distance Titus from his own criticisms of the Corinthians to avoid any backlash against Titus. If Titus was Paul's co-sender, Timothy (2 Cor 1:1), it makes sense that Paul held back his harsh criticisms of the Corinthians until chapters 10-13, which begin with the words, "I myself Paul", indicating that Paul took sole responsibility for what followed. In these final four chapters Paul detaches himself from his co-sender, Timothy, and probably takes the pen from the scribe, and rebukes the Corinthians without the risk of jeopardizing the relationship between Timothy and the Corinthians. This makes perfect sense of Timothy was Titus, who was on a delicate mission to revive the collection. We see Paul employ the same tactics in Philippians, which also anticipates a visit of Paul's co-sender to the addressed church. 

The Titus-Timothy hypothesis explains the remarkable observation that the cases of first person singular (I, me) in 2 Corinthians all fall into one of two categories. There are cases where Paul is being demanding or critical of the Corinthians, and there are references to times when Titus was not present.

1 Thessalonians was written in response to information provided by Timothy, who had just returned from Thessalonica. Thus Timothy probably played a role in the writing of the letter, and this explains why the letter is written almost entirely in the first person plural (the "we" referring to Paul and his co-sender, Timothy). Paul wrote 2 Corinthians using information reported to him by Titus. The predominance of the first person plural (we, us) in 2 Corinthians is therefore explicable if Titus was Paul's co-sender, Timothy. For more on "I" and "we" in 2 Corinthians, see here.

In 2 Cor 12:16-18 Paul defends Titus's conduct and includes Titus in the "we". Then at 2 Cor 12:19 we read, "Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you?". This suggests that Titus was Paul's co-sender, Timothy. See here.

In 2 Cor 12:18 Paul adds that he sent "the brother" with Titus. This makes sense if this journey of Titus and the anonymous brother was the journey of Timothy and Erastus, recorded in Acts 19:22. Erastus, being a Corinthian treasurer (Rom 16:23), was trusted by the Corinthians in money matters, and would oversee the collection. Paul mentions him in 2 Cor 12:18 to prove that he had no intention of using Titus to embezzle collection funds.

Titus in Galatians
Gal 2:1-5 and Acts 16:1-3 give some corroborating evidence that Titus was Timothy. They show that Titus, like Timothy, was an uncircumcised early associate of Paul and was probably known to the Galatians.

Furthermore, Timothy's mixed parentage and his role as missionary partner of Paul suggest that he too was from Antioch, and his presence in Lystra when Paul arrived is explicable if he was Titus and had been sent to south Galatia to organize the collection referred to in Gal 2:10 and 1 Cor 16:1-2.

There are hints in Gal 2:1-5 that Titus, like Timothy, had mixed Jew-Gentile heritage.
  • This Jerusalem visit was to discuss circumcision and this question would have been particularly relevant to someone like Timothy, with mixed parentage.
  • The 'not even' (οὐδὲ) in Gal 2:3 may imply that Titus was the most likely person to require circumcision.
  • Gal 2:3 can be punctuated to yields a smooth reading: "who with ME was a Greek" (Hutson) or "who was accompanying me as a Gentile" (Askwith), suggesting that Titus was able also to pass as a Jew.
  • The spying of the false brothers in Gal 2:4-5 could refer to the discovery of the fact that Titus was uncircumcised.
It is surely no coincidence that the name "Timothy" is a very likely name to be given to Titus. The two names had a phonetic similarity (compare Silas-Silvanus etc.). Also, "Timothy" means "honoring God", which is an appropriate name for this faithful convert, especially at the time when his uncircumcised state was a matter of controversy. The giving of the name "Timothy" to Titus is paralleled by other cases of renaming in the early church and elsewhere.

Objections to the Titus-Timothy hypothesis
2 Tim 4:10 shows that the author of the Pastoral Epistles thought that there was a Titus who was not Timothy. However, the author was quite distant from Timothy, and would probably not have known that Timothy's earlier name had been "Titus". And even if he had known, he might still have incorrectly inferred from 2 Corinthians (or from Galatians) that there was another Titus among Paul's co-workers.

Herman von Lips has offered four counter-arguments, but they do not apply to the Titus-Timothy hypothesis in its present form.

Titus was Timothy. This hypothesis, which was first proposed by Udo Borse in 1980, deserves a lot more attention than it has received. A biography of Titus-Timothy is given here.


  1. There are deceptions about actual names of apostles and most of the people in the scriptures. It does not surpise me that the Titus and Timothy names have been also been changed. These people had to be Hebrew to even understand the special role they have to undertake int he reconstruction of the house of Israel. Shaul, whom everyone calls Paul did not confuse their names.

  2. Dr. Fellows,

    Thanks for these very thought-provoking blog posts! I have a quick question which you may have answered somewhere, but I could not find a direct answer: How do you read verses such as 2 Corinthians 8.17? It seems to suggest that Titus accepted Paul and Timothy's appeal, which would therefore suggest that Titus is not Timothy. But perhaps "our" refers to Paul and Silas in this case?

  3. Good question, JoPo. I assume that "our" refers either to Paul alone, or to Paul and others with him in Macedonia. It is often difficult to know when Paul uses the first person plural to refer to himself alone, but I think there is a good example of this at 1 Thess 3:2. See my post on this text here. I think 1Thess 3:2 shows that Paul was capable of using the rhetorical "we" when referring to his sending of Timothy, so maybe he does a similar thing at 2 Cor 8:17 and 7:14.