JAMES WHITE AND 2 TIMOTHY 3 (3)

PMT 2014-150 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.White warfield gun

This is my third article in my reply to Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries. On his October 16 webcast, he challenged my analysis of 2 Timothy 3. Please see my two preceding articles by way of introduction (PMT 2014-148 and PMT 2014-149). [1]

Introduction

As I begin, I must summarily remind my reader of the two key concerns that appear in White’s discussion. He complains against me that: (1) Hermeneutically, I limit Paul’s concern in 2 Timothy 3 to the first century only. (2) Theologically, I cannot account for Paul’s normative statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 wherein he warns all Christians in all times to expect persecution.

In this article I will begin answering White’s first objection, i.e., that I erroneously reduce Paul’s statement in 2 Tim 3:1ff to Timothy’s day. This complaint arises in that I wrote: Paul “is dealing with a particular historical matter in the first century. He is speaking of things that Timothy will be facing and enduring (2Ti 3:10, 14). He is not prophesying about the constant, long-term, unyielding prospects for all of history.”

When White read my article he decided to respond to my presentation because: “It struck me as being an example of where the hermeneutic and exegesis just does not seem consistent with what you would normally expect to find” (11:33).


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Regarding his concern, I believe several problems encumber White’s analysis: (1) He misunderstands what I am saying. (2) He misunderstands what Paul is doing. (3) He overlooks potential postmillennial responses. (4) He makes the very hermeneutic mistake with which he charges me. Before I demonstrate these, I would first note:

My View Is Not Distinctive

My fundamental concern in the article White critiques, is that 2 Timothy 3:1 “seems to undercut the postmillennial optimism for the historical long run.” Thus, I am responding to that common objection. Despite the way White makes it sound, this first-century interpretation of Paul’s directives is not a distinctive view created by me. It has long been employed by noteworthy postmillennial exegetes. Let me cite just a few examples of men writing long before my 2014 article.

B. B. Warfield. In his 1886 article “Prophecies of St. Paul” (reprinted in Biblical and Theological Studies, p. 500), Warfield comments on 2 Tim 3:1–13: “It would be manifestly illegitimate to understand these descriptions as necessarily covering the life of the whole dispensation on the earliest verge of which the prophet was standing…. Paul had the first stages of ‘the latter times’ in mind, and actually says nothing to imply either that the evil should long predominate over the good, or that the whole period should be marked by such disorders.”

James H. Snowden. In his 1919 publication The Coming of the Lord (p. 246), Snowden comments: “One of the favorite passages that are adduced to prove that the present world will grow worse and worse is Paul’s description of it in the third chapter of his Second Epistle to Timothy. . . . The whole passage clearly shows that Paul in speaking of ‘the last days’ was not thinking of future times but of the days then present. He and Timothy were living in the midst of these things, and he was warning Timothy against existing dangers and was not saying or implying anything about the future.”


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Loraine Boettner. In Boettner’s 1957 book, The Millennium (p. 353), Boettner comments: “Perhaps the passage most often quoted by Premillennialists to prove that the word is growing worse and worse is II Timothy 3:1–5…. But having enumerated [various] evils, he admonishes Timothy: “From these also turn away….’ He clearly was describing conditions that were then present and warning against them as present temptations, not predicting a state of affairs that would prevail at the end of the age.”

Iain Murray. In his classic study, The Puritan Hope (1971, p. 80), Murray writes: “Probably the most frequently referred to passage in support of the view that the world will progressively darken is 2 Timothy, chapter 3, which commences, ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.’ The popular citation of this text without a consideration of its precise import and context is an unhappy illustration of how debate on prophetic issues is too often conducted. The peril of which Paul speaks is the contagion liable to be received from the prevalence of such men as those described in the verses which follow. In particular, they are ‘evil men and seducers’ (v. 13), who were alive at the time when Paul wrote, hence the exhortation to Timothy in verse 5, ‘from such turn away.’ And while in their personal character they would go from bad to worse (v. 13), their public influence according to Paul was soon to pass…. ‘for their folly shall be manifest unto all men’” as verses 8 and 9 show. “Paul was thinking primarily of his own time!”

My View Is Not Exegetically Inconsistent

Again, White complains: “It struck me as being an example of where the hermeneutic and exegesis just does not seem consistent with what you would normally expect to find” (11:33). And regarding this point he argues that my view would limit the sin-list (“lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful,” etc.) in vv 2–5 to the first century. He adds that if this is so, I must limit every sin-list accordingly (e.g., Rom 1:28–32; Gal 5:19–21; etc.).

I must confess: this does not make sense to me. My argument that Paul is warning Timothy about sinful tendencies he is facing in the first-century church, does not imply that those sin tendencies can only occur then. But neither does the text state that we must always expect the world to be dominated by these sins in all times.


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Rather, my argument (and that of many others) simply recognizes that we have to read Paul’s instructions as they were written: he wrote to and for Timothy. “To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim 1:2). He states that he constantly remembers Timothy “in my prayers night and day, longing to see you” (vv 3–4). I am sure he remembers others in his prayers, but he is writing this letter to Timothy. Consequently, he will mention by name some of Timothy’s first-century relatives and opponents.

Paul is mindful of Timothy’s “sincere faith” which “first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Tim 1:5). It certainly would be true that Paul would love all sincerely faithful ministers of the gospel, and all of their grandmothers and mothers — especially those grandmothers named Lois and those mothers named Eunice. But Paul is writing to Timothy and mentioning his grandmother and his mother. Not all grandmothers and mothers have a “sincere faith.”

He is writing to encourage Timothy not to be ashamed of the Lord or of Paul his mentor, urging him to “join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim 1:8). He instructs Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words which” he had learned (v 13) and to “guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (v 14). And he does this with great concern because of particular fist-century Christian defectors: “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (v 15).

Thus, he pleads with Timothy: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:1–2). He also laments the teachings of “Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2:17), particular first-century apostates.

He teaches Timothy that “in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor” (2 Tim 2:20). Therefore, Timothy must be alert to weak Christians and apostate teachers within his first-century ministry. And then he reminds his faithful co-worker: “realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (3:1–5a).

But then he directs Timothy to specifically “avoid such men as these” (2 Tim 3:5b). He praises Timothy (not all ministers of the gospel): “now you followed my teaching, conduct,” etc. (3:10). And he encourages him to “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of” (3:14), because — in Timothy’s specific case: “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). Not all ministers in all times have known the Scriptures from their childhood, just as not all have grandmothers named Lois and mothers name Eunice. Paul is writing expressly to Timothy.

And this is why Paul brings in the universal truth of the inspiration of Scripture that makes “the man of God . . . adequate, equipped for every good work” (3:16–17). White believes that Paul’s mention of this universal truth of biblical inspiration requires that the whole passage express a universal expectation about the future of Christianity. That simply does not follow. This universal truth that Paul does mention is — because it is universal — applicable to his particular circumstances in the first century (and of course to issues in any other century).

Paul is encouraging Timothy to trust in the inspired Scriptures for his doctrine. Whereas false teachers by definition teach false doctrine. And Timothy is facing false teachers: “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:3–5).

In fact, Paul reminds Timothy of the problem he himself faced from false teachers whom Timothy knew: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:14–15).

As the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (p. 661) notes regarding Timothy and Titus: “They were increasingly endangered by a judaizing-gnostic countermission (1 Tim 1:3–7, 19–20; 4:1–2; 6:20; 2 Tim 4:3–4; Tit 1:10–16) . . . that included church leaders and probably former co-workers (2 Tim 1:15–18; 2:16–17; 3:6–9; 4:10; Tit 3:9–14).” Thus, Paul writes to Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. . . . For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Tit 1:5, 10–11).

The Dictionary of Paul (663) continues regarding the opposition: “the opponents represent the same type of opposition throughout the Pastorals …, that is, indeed, only a more developed form of the false teaching that plagued Paul’s and other apostolic missions virtually from the beginning. They originated as a ‘judaizing’ segment of the ritually strict Hebraioi, that is, ‘the circumcision party.”” On p. 665 it notes that “the teachings of the letters are largely contained in the (reworked and) transmitted traditions and their application. They concern (1) the errors of the false teachers and the proper response to them (1 Tim 1:3–20; 4:1–10; 6:30–10; Tit 1:10–2:1; 3:9–11; 2 Tim 2:14–4–5)….”

Again, Paul is writing this pastoral letter to Timothy. This is an occasional epistle: it is dealing with actual first-century occasions (events and persons). And as is the case with all occasional observations: where similar issues arise, the general principles embodied in his specific instruction will apply. But it does not require that these issues will always be everywhere present.

To be continued, I hope. (Notice my postmillennial expectation in hoping to continue. I must confess, though, that my first draft of this article lacked “hope,” since I accidentally wrote “I hop.” Though that could be cast in an optimistic light: if you like pancakes, preferring them over hopping around like a rabbit. But I digress. Plus it’s time for coffee. Somewhere.)

Note

1. Check out the devilish grin on Warfield’s face in the image above. He will convince White one way or the other. 😉

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12 thoughts on “JAMES WHITE AND 2 TIMOTHY 3 (3)

  1. Blaine K. Newton December 15, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Ken, I share you sentiment about Dr. White. He’s definitely one of the stalwarts of the faith and his gifts to the church have been a huge blessing.

    It seems to me that Dr. White’s concerns on the 2 Tim. 3:1-13 passage reflect a common confusion of many in the church, something I see quite often – the tendency to confuse the meaning of a passage versus its application.

  2. Werner Skaug December 15, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for informative and articles with funny jokes, Mr. Gentry. I’m not a theologian, but agree that Paul spoke of a 1. century setting. “But evil people and swindlers will grow even worse, as they deceive others while being deceived themselves” (v 13 CEB). If the world has grown worse and worse since the time of Paul, isn’t it safe to say that every person on the planet today would at least be a people murderer by now? If everything has become worse and worse for 2000 years, I mean (according to “everything gets worse”-people)?

    A researcher on a tv program (“Skavlan”) in Norway, said that things have become better and safer. There was a much higher risk of being killed in the middle ages than it is today – one example out of many. Is the world really as bad today as was the case during the Roman Empire when Paul wrote to Timothy? Well, not a historian either. But 2+2=4. That much I know. It seems that “everything gets worse”-people have this mindset: “The world gets worse by the minute – because the Bible tells me so.” Even though history and research say otherwise. How do these people – with all due respect – reconcile their theology with history, when these two stand in direct opposition to each other, considering the historical facts?

  3. Chris M. Hume December 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks as always, Dr. Gentry, for writing.

  4. Kenneth Gentry December 16, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I write better than I draw. Even though my first year in college I was an art major. The other students drew circles around me!

  5. Chris M. Hume December 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    I read better than I write…but there is hope for the future. At least I won’t be left behind when reading eschatology now.

  6. Blaine K. Newton December 17, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Dear Ken,

    *sigh*… the jokes never cease to flow, do they?….LSIPEWTNT (Laughing silently in private, even while trying not to!)

  7. Kenneth Gentry December 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Endure to the end and you shall be able to return to your somber existence. 🙂

  8. Greg Harvey December 17, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    James White made some quick comment yesterday about your B.B. Warfield graphic pointing a gun at him. He mentioned you by name at 45:30 or so. He said he was having a hard time finding it amusing. Ahhhh.

  9. Kenneth Gentry December 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Well, darn. I meant it to be funny. It had WWJD written across the screen. As if Jesus might shoot somebody.

  10. Doyt Trail December 17, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    I read Hal Lindsey’s book and some of the left behind series. Even this present darkness. It appealed to me at the time! But not anymore. Thank God has been proven false to me now!

  11. Kenneth Gentry December 18, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Like you, I raptured out of dispensationalism. Although I still miss having an inside track on who the Antichrist is and when the Rapture will occur. 🙂

  12. Kerry March 26, 2015 at 8:56 am

    The Baptist mindset will always self-destruct at some point as it did with Charles Spurgeon. They cannot understand biblical continuity and thus dominion. Their problem is the curse of misinterpretation in their blindness.

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