How to Read 1 Timothy

The Book of 1 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. 

First Timothy teaches how what we believe shapes our actions as believers. 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 1 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 1 Timothy in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in 1 Timothy. Read 1 Timothy 1:12–17. 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 1 Timothy 1:12–17.  

1 Timothy 1:12-17 (ESV)

Christ Jesus Came to Save Sinners

12I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,13though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

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 thanks Jesus, who has given him strength.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about 1 Timothy 1:12–17? (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 thanks Jesus, who has given him strength. (Interpretation) Jesus gives us strength to follow Him in obedience. He alone is the source of our strength and our proper response is gratitude.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of 1 Timothy 1:12–17? How does its message connect with the main message of all of 1 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: We see God giving strength to His people throughout the pages of Scripture. He granted Joseph favor as he journeys from being a brother to a slave to a prisoner to a ruler. When Samson was imprisoned at the end of his life, God gave him the ability to destroy the temple full of Philistines. He strengthened David to defeat Goliath. And now, through faith in Jesus—who relied on God for everything—we have the Holy Spirit in us. He strengthens us to walk in step with Jesus.

Contextualize: What themes does 1 Timothy 1:12–17 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of 1 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: I need to recognize that my strength comes from Jesus. When I feel powerless, I can rely on Him. And when I feel strong, I need to humble myself before Him. But more than that, as I recognize my own weakness, I should continually thank Jesus for the strength He gives me—just as Paul thanked Jesus at the beginning of these verse. I can thank Him through prayer, singing a worship song, or writing down what I am grateful for.

Apply: How does the truth from 1 Timothy 1:12–17 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 1 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 1 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 1 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.