Yesterday afternoon, I introduced you to the world of the half-breed Timothy, bastard son of the Jewish disciple, Eunice, who herself was seen as a prostitute by the community around her. It was an ugly world to be sure; and if you haven’t taken the time to read about it, I would highly suggest that you do so now before continuing forward with this discussion.
A “Bastard” in a Fatherless Age … (part 1)
Today, I want to continue forward in our exploration of the remarkable life of Timothy because I believe that there are staggeringly beautiful gems to mine down in the deep shafts of “incidental words.” So why don’t we start by talking about the age of Timothy. Read with me the words of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Timothy 4:12:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in what you say, how you behave, in love, faith and holiness.”
The word I want to focus upon here is the word “young” (from the Greek word: neotes). From the use of this word, we can rightfully conclude that Timothy, at the time of this letter, is somewhere between the age of 25 to 33. But there’s more to this puzzle. Notice how Paul is advising Timothy not to allow anyone to look down upon him because of his youth. Why is he doing that? Well the answer is really rather simple. In Jewish culture, men were not allowed to take leadership positions until the age of 30. So in all probability, Timothy is actually younger than 30 at the time of this writing, which explains Paul’s warning to him.
This is the Lytra Tell located in the modern state of Turkey.
Now the pieces are beginning to fall into place. From history, we know that the First Epistle to Timothy was written sometime between 65 and 66 AD. We also know, from history, that Paul’s second missionary journey (when he first found Timothy) began in 49 AD. So if Timothy was under the age of 30 at the time when Paul advises him not to allow anyone to look down upon him for his youth, then we can rightfully conclude that Timothy was roughly 10 to 12 years old when Paul first encounters him in the small, out-of-the-way town known as Lystra.
Don’t gloss over that. Timothy was 10-12 years old when Paul first looked at him and said: “In the Messiah, there is neither Greek nor Jew, Timothy. Everyone is equal. All the social layers and the hatred that this world constructs … it means nothing in Jesus, Tim. Nothing!”
To me, this is utterly fascinating. A few days ago, I walked you through the ages of the disciples chosen by Jesus and we concluded that all of them, with the exception of Peter, were under the age of 20. Now, when it comes time for Paul to chose his disciples, he continues the tradition of his day and the tradition of Jesus; and he selects another “kid.”
Why is it that when it came time for the Kingdom of God to be announced throughout the ancient world, Jesus the Messiah and the Apostle Paul chose “children?” And why is that much of our youth ministry is centered around keeping our “kids” safe and making sure that they are thoroughly entertained and not bored?
Somewhere along the way, there has been a radical disconnect between the potential that Jesus and Paul saw in “children” versus the immaturity that we see and foster through a prolonged adolescence that we currently extend into the late 20s. Is it time for us to be begin to respect the capabilities of our “kids” by challenging them with deep, insightful teaching that actually equips them to become true disciples in this world? Is it time for us to give them the best of our teachers as opposed to giving them the newly-minted seminary grads that are merely putting in time before they can become senior pastors themselves? Is it time for a sea-change in how we do youth ministry?
 The Greek word neotes merely suggests youth. But, the word is also used by Luke in his account of the “Rich Young Ruler.” When we look at the parallel account of the “Rich Young Ruler” found in Matthew’s Gospel, we see that Matthew uses another word to describe the age of the ruler: neaniskos. This word is a bit more specific, and it actually suggests a man anywhere from his mid-20s to his early 30s.
 The Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 581:1) instructs Jewish gatherings to look for certain qualities in those that would lead the services on the High Holidays. Amongst these qualities is a minimum age of 30 because, as the Mishna Brura explains, a 30-year old is humble, soft-hearted, and capable of actually “praying from the heart.”