Through his mother and grandmother, Timothy’s faith was grounded in a living tradition Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
Before he ever met the Apostle Paul, the life of young Timothy . (feast day: 26 January) was already full of blessings. Indeed, Paul himself, among the last lines he wrote, reminded Timothy of those blessings: ‘But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ [2 Tim. 3.14-15].
Both Paul and Timothy knew who were the latter s first teachers of Holy Scripture. Paul wrote earlier in this same epistle, T call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also’ [1.5].
These two women, Timothys mother and grandmother, had raised him not only in the faith but also in the study of the Sacred Writings, ta hiera grammata – Sacred Grammar. It was this early study that grounded the soul of young Timothy and prepared him to become an Apostle of the Church and the Bishop of Ephesus. The whole Church owes to these two women an immense debt of gratitude.
When, as a child, Timothy was taught the grammar of Holy Scripture, what did he learn? Many things, to be sure, but let us consider three benefits to be ascribed to that early instruction.
First, Timothy learned to take possession of his heart. Placing his young soul under the authoritative guidance of Sacred Grammar, Timothy learned who he was, his place in this world, what God expected of him, and what he could expect, both during his life and at the end of it.
The stories of the Bible, assimilated in the context of his family, gave shape to Timothys moral imagination, conferring on his conscience a narrative moral sense. These biblical stories gave imaginative organization to his mind. He was enabled to inform his personal life from the stories of the Bible. From these stories, learned especially in the setting of his home, Timothy was educated in the habits of the heart.
Timothy learned, from inside, the Bibles perspective on the world. Slowly he became versed in the narratives, poetry and maxims that would give structure to his soul, and imaginative, rational formation to his conscience. All of this is to say that Timothy was the blessed recipient of a biblical culture.
Second, the study of the Bible, for Timothy, was not a private thing. Thanks to the two older generations that instructed him, Timothy was enabled to read Scripture through the eyes of the living Sacred Tradition, in which alone the Bible is properly understood. After all, there is no such thing as a private culture. All culture is traditional culture. It is not a commodity that can be purchased. By definition, a culture can only be inherited. All culture is necessarily trans-generational.
This is true of biblical culture as well. It is social. Timothy’s study was a great socializing agent in the formation of his character. By it, he became one with his own history, including his family’s history, and he assimilated the organizing influences of a biblical world-view.
In Timothy’s case, the transmission of this biblical culture was a difficult task. Timothy’s father was apparently not a believer [Acts 16.1], so the young man did not enjoy the benefit of what the behavioural sciences today call a ‘male role model’. Timothy learned his faith and Sacred Grammar from the women in the household, and the experience seems not to have hurt him at all.
Third, from Eunice and Lois, Timothy learned to take his place in the continuance of biblical history. After all, the Bible not only records history, it also creates history. The Bible, as written down, read, and proclaimed in the ongoing community of faith, influences and directs the course of history. The Bible changes history by changing the lives of those who come under its transforming power – both Timothy and ourselves.
Thanks to two wise women, a godly mother and a devout grandmother, this was also Timothy’s history.