2 TIM 3 (# 7): THE “LAST DAYS”

Evil men (Dr Evil)PMT 2015-012 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

2 Tim 3 seems to undermine the postmillennial hope with it’s warning of “difficult times” (v 1), “arrogant revilers” (v 2), and “men of depraved mind” (v 8). But it actually does not — when properly interpreted.

In my last article I argued that Paul was specifically warning Timothy about evil people he is facing. In addition, I noted that the evil he must expect was not from external persecution, but internal defection by false teachers in the Ephesian church (as was Titus’ situation in Crete). And I observed that this is precisely what Paul predicted to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29–31:

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”

In 2 Tim 3:2-5 Paul presents a vice list which, as we will see, applies to the “savage wolves” who are “speaking perverse things” in the Ephesian church “to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–31).

And as I noted in my last article, non-postmillennial scholar Robert Mounce (Pastoral Epistles, p. 542) states that “almost every vice has a verbal or conceptual link to the Ephesian opponents” that Timothy was then facing. Non-postmillennial commentator Philip Towner (The Letters to Timothy and Titus, p. 555) agrees, observing regarding the vice list: “one important point of divergence from the list in Rom 1:29–32 [is that it] … is associated not with pagans who have never acknowledged God, but with believers wh have defected from the faith.”

Let us see how this is so, thereby underscoring the occasional nature of Paul’s concern (i.e., its first-century focus). Obviously we should not expect each heretic to engage each vice. Rather Paul is dumping the vice list on the heretical movement as a whole in warning Timothy and the faithful in the  Ephesian church about these immoral heretics.

“Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money” (3:2). Upon entering a discussion of 2 Tim 3:2, Mounce (p. 544) states: “many of the vices mentioned here are parallel to descriptions of the opponents elsewhere in the PE [1] (if not using the same words, then parallel in thought).”


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As Paul encourages Timothy (and Titus) to stand against the heretics of his day, he presents the requirements for officers in the church. Three times in the PE he states that elders/deacons must not be greedy money-lovers (1 Tim 3:4, 8, Tit 1:7). This requirement for office applies to all times, of course. But we can see Paul’s concern for the church in Timothy’s day expressly highlighted.

In this regard, note Paul’s specific concern, as he writes to Titus: “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 1:10–11).

This concern also arises in 1 Timothy. Paul describes Timothy’s opponents in these terms:

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim 6:3–5).

Note that Timothy’s opponents in 2 Timothy also “wrangle about words” (2 Tim 2:14). Timothy, however, must “flee from these things” (1 Tim 6:8).

“Boastful, arrogant” (3:2). This clearly applies to the false teachers Timothy must confront. In 1 Tim 1:6–7 we read: “some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”

And we see this, again, in 1 Tim 6:3–4 where Paul warns Timothy: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing.”


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“Revilers” (2 Tim 3:2). The word translated “revilers” here is blasphemoi. This word-group is often translated “blasphemy,” but as lexicons note, it probably speaks of “abusive language” here (as in many other places). This fits well with Paul’s expectation stated earlier regarding Ephesus in Acts 20:29–30.

Paul instructs Titus in his similar situation: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit 3:10–11). And in our letter of specific concern, he encourages Timothy to: “refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Tim 2:23).

Furthermore, in 1 Tim 6:4 he employs a cognate word when he denounces the false teachers’ “abusive language [blasphemiai].” This shows “that this was a common problem in Ephesus” (Mounce, p. 545).

“Disobedient to parents” (2 Tim 3:2). Here “disobedient [apeithes]” conduct concerns Paul. This is just as it was when he spoke of the problem that Titus faced: “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…. [They are] detestable and disobedient [apeithes]” (Tit 1:10–11, 16).

And this specific vice appears also in 1 Timothy, regarding those who were straying from the truth in that day:

“For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers” (1 Tim 1:6–9).

In 1 Tim 1:9, the statement “kill [patroloais]” fathers, literally means “beat” them. It is a compound word: patros [father”] + aloia [“strike”]. It implies not caring for them, which “was evidently a problem in Ephesus in that people were not caring for their widowed mothers (1 Tim 5:8)” (Mounce, p. 545).

“Ungrateful, unholy” (2 Tim 3:2). “Ungrateful” is the Greek word acharistoi, and speaks of being unthankful. This is a rather general quality that would well fit the false teachers of Timothy’s day (or of any day).

The word “unholy [anosioi]” speaks of a “disregard for sacred duties or laws” (Towner, p. 556). This word is applied to “some men, straying from these things, [who] have turned away” to become “unholy” (1 Tim 1:6, 9).

“Unloving” (2 Tim 3:3). The concept embodied in this term can also clearly apply to the trouble-making heretics in Paul’s day who are engaged in quarrels (2 Tim 2:23) and abusive language (1 Tim 6:4). If Paul is implying a lack of family love, it would reflect the “disobedient to parents” statement (2 Tim 3:2).

“Irreconcilable” (2 Tim 3:3). This well defines the troublemakers in Ephesus. Though he does not employ this rare word with Titus, Paul clearly instructs Titus about such men, warning him: “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Tit 3:9–10).

“Malicious gossips” (2 Tim 3:3). This word is diabolos, “accuser, slanderer” (it is a word used of the “devil”). This word “occurs six times in the PE [1 Tim 3:6, 7, 11; 2 Tim 2:26; 3:3; Tit 2:3] and indicates a serious problem in Ephesus” and may be “designed to recall Paul’s earlier comment that the opponents have been ensnared by the devil (diabolos; 2 Tim 2:26) (Mounce, p. 546). Paul repeats this terms when giving the pre-requisites to ecclesiastical office (1 Tim 3:6, 7; Tit. 2:3).

“Without self-control” (2 Tim 3:3). This word appears only here in the New Testament. It happens to be the opposite of the pre-requisites for church office that Paul lists in Tit 1:8: “hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled.” This shows “the connection of the vice to the historical situation of the PE” (Mounce, p. 546).

And of course we see just this problem specifically applied to the Ephesian heretics in 2 Tim 3:6: “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses.”

“Brutal” (2 Tim 3:3). This also contrasts with Paul’s call for church officers who are not “pugnacious” (1 Tim 3:3; 1 Tim 1:7). After all, 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” (Tit 1:7).

“Haters of good” (2 Tim 3:3). This word only occurs once n Christian literature, but it is obviously the opposite of the pre-requisite to church office that Paul presents in Tit 1:8: “loving what is good.” The lustful, arrogant false teachers in Ephesus must not be allowed to become church officers due to their wholesale sinful conduct and heretical doctrines.

Other terms. Due to space limitations, I will only mention a few of the remaining vices. It should be obvious by now that they are all being applied against the first-century heretics bothering Timothy and Titus.

Conceited” (2 Tim 3:4) obviously “describes one of the serious problems of the Ephesian opponents” (Mounce, p. 546), as we can see in 1 Tim 3:6 and 6:4.

Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Tim 3:5). The heretics presented themselves as holy, religious men who were even promoting asceticism (1 Tim 4:1–4), though personally engaged in illicit sexual relations (2 Tim 3:6, 8). Note Tit 1:10, 16: “There are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision… [who] profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” (Emphasis mine.)

And here Paul undeniably applies these vice concerns to Timothy’s historical situation, for he warns his associate: “Avoid such men as these” (2 Tim 3:5b).

Conclusion

As we work through 2 Tim 3 we are discovering compelling evidence that Paul is writing an occasional epistle. That is, he is writing a letter that is concerned with what is going on in his day, the occasions his co-workers Timothy and Titus are facing.

It may be true that such things occur in other days into the future. But Paul is speaking about the first-century circumstances. He is not speaking about the end-result of history, which  would imply that these things must continue on and must dominate history. He is not undermining the postmillennial hope. And neither should you!

Notes

[1] “PE” stands for “Pastoral Epistles,” i.e., 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

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