How to Read 2 Timothy

The Book of 2 Timothy

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Second Timothy is likely Paul's final letter from prison and teaches about God's faithfulness to us. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of 2 Timothy, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.  

Now that you have an overview of 2 Timothy in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 2 Timothy. Read 2 Timothy 2:1–13. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about 2 Timothy 2:1–13.  

2 Timothy 2:1-13 (ESV)

A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus

1You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,2and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.6It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

8Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.11The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Paul tells Timothy to remember Christ.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 2 Timothy 2:1–13? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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 Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Paul tells Timothy to remember Christ. (Interpretation) As believers, we should continually remember Christ—what He has done for us and what He promises for us.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 2 Timothy 2:1–13? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 2 Timothy? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example:  The importance of remembrance appears throughout the Bible. Abraham set up altars wherever he had an encounter with God in order to remember God's promises. God commands the Israelites to remember what He's done for them through festivals and rituals. The prophets remind Israel of how God rescued them from Egypt. And Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper as a meal to take in remembrance of Him. 

Contextualize: What themes does 2 Timothy 2:1–13 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of 2 Timothy? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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 Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: There are many things I can do throughout my day to remember what Jesus has done for me. I can write down verses and place them around my home or workspace. I can sing worship songs when I'm in the car. Or I can keep a journal of all the prayers God answers over the year and make a point to review them every few months. 

Apply: How does the truth from 2 Timothy 2:1–13 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of 2 Timothy to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.   

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about 2 Timothy, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through 2 Timothy this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.