According to tradition, Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus. In the article on “Ephesus” in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), David E. Aune writes, “Timothy is remembered as the first bishop of Ephesus ([Eusebius] HE 3.4.6), a tradition probably based on 1 Tim. 1:3″. (415)
Notice that Aune gives Eusebius of Caesaria as the source of this early tradition. In fact, he references Eusebius’ Church History (Ecclesiastical History) 3.4.6. What exactly does Eusebius say about Timothy?
Timothy, so it is recorded, was the first to receive the episcopate of the parish in Ephesus, Titus of the churches in Crete. (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.4.6)
In fact, Eusebius does not cite his source for this information concerning Timothy. In many other instances, Eusebius specifically indicates which sources he used for his history. In fact, Eusebius’ writings contain quotations or references to many sources that no longer exist in another form. We know this because he tells us these sources.
But, when it comes to Timothy being the first bishop of Ephesus, Eusebius does not give us a source. He simply says, “So it is recorded”. Where was it recorded? We don’t know because he doesn’t tell us.
Aune suggests that Eusebius bases this tradition on 1 Timothy 1:3. What does that text say?
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:3 ESV)
1 Timothy 1:3 does not say that Timothy was the bishop of Ephesus. In fact, Timothy is never called a bishop or a pastor or an elder. (The same could be said of Titus as well.)
However, Paul may have called Timothy an apostle (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), and he encourages Timothy to be a good deacon (1 Timothy 4:6).
In fact, while Paul leaves Timothy in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3), we do not know that Timothy was still in Ephesus when Paul wrote his second letter to him. Whether Timothy received Paul’s second letter at Ephesus or not, Paul did not expect Timothy to remain there (2 Timothy 4:13).
Why does it matter whether or not Timothy was a bishop in Ephesus?
Whenever there is a discussion concerning senior or solo pastors, those in favor tend to point to Timothy as the scriptural example. Whenever there is a discussion of “calling” pastors from outside the local body, those in favor tend to point to Timothy as the scriptural example.
But, we must remember, that the evidence for Timothy being a pastor/bishop/elder, much less THE pastor/bishop/elder, of Ephesus is based on one line that Eusebius wrote almost 300 years later without citing his source.