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McRay on Timothy's "youth"

[NOTE: “Let no one despise your youth…” is a common Biblical quote that has provided much encouragement to both my peers and me. In this quote, McRay has a fascinating argument about what is going on in that text.]

A recently discovered inscription in Beroea, Greece, provides a reasonable basis to conjecture that Timothy may have been between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two at this time. The inscription was found in a gymnasium and categorized participants into three groups by age [FOOTNOTE 7: (1) Παῖδες (Paides), up to age 15; (2) Ἔφεβοι (Epheboi), ages 15-17; and (3) Νέοι (Neoi) or Νεανίσκοι (Neaniskoi), ages 18-22.] The oldest group listed comprised ages eighteen to twenty-two and was designated with the root form of the word Paul used when he Told Timothy “Let no one despise your youth.” (νεότης, neotēs, 1 Tim. 4:12)

Here’s 1 Tim 4:12a in Greek
UBS4: μηδείς σου τῆς νεότητος καταφρονείτω

For those of you non-Greek readers, here’s the English translation with Strong’s Numbers
NASB+: Let no one (G3367) look down (G2706) on your youthfulness (G3503)

BAGD provides 3 definitions for νέος and 1 for νεότης (with a reference to 1 Tim. 4:12), so part of me is wondering if McRay might be stepping in a root fallacy.

BAGD lists the following NT references: Matt. 19:20; Luke 18:21; Acts 26:4; Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21.

(Matt 19:20)The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

There is also a varient reading
KJV: The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
TR: λεγει αυτω ο νεανισκος παντ ταυτα εφυλαξαμην εκ νεοτητος μου τι ετι υστερω
BYZ: λεγει αυτω ο νεανισκος παντα ταυτα εφυλαξαμην εκ νεοτητος μου τι ετι υστερω

Metzger’s explanation:

Despite Matthew’s identification of the speaker as νεανίσκος (verses 20 and 22), the scribes of many witnesses assimilated the account to the Synoptic parallels by adding ἐκ νεόσητός μου (Mk 10:20) or ἐκ νεότητος (Lk 18:21)

He doesn’t list out the manuscript support for the readings and I don’t have a GNT with a critical apparatus. I couldn’t say whether or not I agree with this reason for exclusion.

(Mar 10:20) And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

(Luk 18:21) And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

(Act 26:4) “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem…”

Right now, I’m not convinced Timothy was in the 18-22 bracket, but I’m definitely open to further argument. What do you think?


McRay, John. Paul: His Life and Teaching. P 134.

Metzger, Bruce. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. P. 40.