2 TIM 3 (# 8): DESPAIR OR HOPE?

False facePMT-2015-013 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The Apostle Paul presents us with helpful insights into the postmillennial hope. We see some of his strongest material (which serves as a good foundation for the postmillennial hope) in Rom 11 and 1 Cor 15. And yet Paul makes some statements that cause us to wonder about his long-term view of history. Second Tim 3 is deemed by the adherents to pessimistic eschatologies to be destructive of postmillennialism.

What are postmillennialists to say in response?

Introduction

This is my eighth article in a study of this famous “last days” passage. Basically I have been pointing out that Paul is speaking to Timothy about issues he is facing in the first century. As with all of the New Testament Scripture, we may apply his statements beyond the first century — when similar conditions prevail. Yet, I do not believe Paul is prophesying that history will always be filled with “difficult times” until the end.

In this regard, I concur with Benjamin B. Warfield, Iain Murray, John Jefferson Davis, and other scholars. My views are not simply my views. I have picked them up from these noted Christian exegetes. (See: PMT 2014-150.)

In my last article I was pointing out that Paul’s vice-list in 2 Tim 3:2-4 is not a prophecy regarding how things will always be. Rather he is applying those vices particularly to Timothy’s first-century opponents. Let us continue our survey of the passage. This will provide further evidence that Paul is speaking historically to his day, rather than prophetically of all days to come.


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2 Tim 3:5

In 2 Tim 3:5 we come to the end of his vice-list. Here Paul very clearly and quite directly applies the list to his Ephesian opponents. These are the very ones he warned about when he was actually in Ephesus a few years earlier (Acts 20:28–30). In 2 Tim 3:5-7 he declares that Timothy’s heretical opponents in Ephesus are:

“holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:5-7)

As William Mounce (Pastoral Epistles, 547) comments on v 5: “As a conclusion to the vice list and a stinging summary description of the hypocritical opponents, Paul describes them as perpetrating the myth of religiosity while their behavior proves that they not what they appear to be.”

Paul speaks similarly to Timothy regarding his situation (Tit 1:16), where he is voicing his concern regarding “many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers . . . who are upsetting whole families” (Tit 1:10, 11). He notes that “one of themselves, a prophet of their own” (Tit 1:12) is making brash statements that Titus must “reprove . . . severely” (Tit 1:13).

Note in 2 Tim 3:5 Paul’s use of the present tense: they are “holding [Gk. echontes, present participle] to a form of godliness” even though “they have denied (in the past, ernemenoi, perfect passive participle) its power.” Paul is speaking of contemporary opponents who are holding this hypocritical view, and it is clearly hypocritical because they have already denied it in their past conduct. As Jesus says: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16). Because of their testimony speaking louder than words, Paul commands Timothy himself: “Avoid [apotreptou, present imperative middle] such men as these” (2 Tim 3:5b).

As Mounce (p. 547) adds: 2 Tim 3:5 “shows that while the vice list may be applied to society in general, Paul is really thinking about certain people professing to be Christians.” He continues: “the opponents have replaced the true gospel with quibbling about words, the arrogant teaching of myths and fables, and a refusal to have their behavior controlled by the gospel.” These are specific historical heretics who engage in particular sinful actions.


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George Knight (The Pastoral Epistles, p. 432) agrees: “Paul concludes the list with words that specify that these evil characteristic affect even those who claim to be religious and Christian, as it has so evidently the false teachers and their followers.”

Then Paul continues in a way absolutely demanding that he is speaking of first-century circumstances. So let us move on to:

2 Tim 3:6

Here Paul states: “For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses” (2 Tim 3:6). Again, he is clearly pointing to actual historical heretics in Ephesus. These particular heretics are showing themselves as evil false-professors by their immoral conduct with weak-willed women. As Knight (p. 432) notes: “Paul is saying that many, among whom are the false teachers, are professing to be Christians and engaging in a form of Christianity without knowing its reality.”

Note also that Paul once again uses the present participle when he states that they “enter into [endunontes]” households. That is, they are entering into households currently. Mounce (p. 548) observes: “having described the sinful Ephesians (vv 1–5), Paul centers on their proselytizing of women. This paragraph clarifies much of the historical picture. The opponents were deceptive, religious charlatans.”

Interestingly, Mounce (p. 548) notes the “articular tas oikias, ‘the homes,’ many suggest the well-known homes, either because Timothy knows the ones to which Paul is referring or because these women ar especially rich and influential, capable of paying for the opponents’ teaching (cf. 1 Tim 6:5–10).”

Conclusion

It is clear that a careful reading of Paul’s letter demands that we recognize he is dealing with first-century opponents within the Ephesian church where Timothy ministers. Whatever 2 Tim 3 warns about, we do not need to apply it to all of future history. In fact, I would remind you once again that Paul expressly states the episodic nature of such heretical eruptions within the church. For he says the last days will witness “difficult times,” i.e., periods, episodes. See: PMT 2015-010.

Certainly Paul’s statements have eschatological implications, but they do not declare all that Paul believes regarding the future. A. C. Purdy (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 3:702) well notes: “How important eschatology was for Paul is to be seen by surveying the scope of his expectations. The most complete statement is I Cor. 15:20–28. There the major notes are sounded.” And that Corinthians passage is filled with hope. Therefore, in 2 Tim 3 he does not say all that can be said. What he  does say here should be balanced with his more extensive statements elsewhere.

Postmillennialists argue that the victory of Christ’s kingdom has been secured legally at the cross, but that it unfolds gradually in history. Thus, we must expect the resistance of Satan even while we deny any possible victory of Satan.


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