2 TIM 3 (# 10): PERSECUTION OR PROGRESS?

Persecution 2PMT-2015-015 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my ongoing survey of 2 Tim 3 we have seen that Paul is dealing with first-century issues in this pastoral epistle. He is not writing to his beleaguered ministerial associate Timothy about events to occur 2000 years in the future. He is not sending him the rules for playing pin the horns on the Antichrist. He does not have him guessing the date of the rapture for fun and profit. He is directly confronting the heresies and immorality that are currently afflicting the Ephesian church in Timothy’s day.

(Important aside: Note that Paul did not attach to his second letter to Timothy a four-color, 8 foot long, 3 foot high parchment time-line chart of the rapture, great tribulation, battle of Armageddon, return of Christ, and millennium. This is proof that he is not dispensational: what dispensationalist could resist the temptation to create a chart? I rest my case.)

Yet, advocates of pessimistic eschatologies employ this passage against our postmillennial optimism regarding the progress of the gospel to an ultimate, worldwide victory in history. I have been showing how these opponents of postmillennialism have misread Paul’s occasional letter to Timothy. And so far, the evidence has been strong in this direction.


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But now we come to a new section that seems to encourage Christians to recognize the prospect of global persecution rather than universal peace. In 2 Tim 3:10–13 Paul reminds Timothy of his (Paul’s) own “persecutions and sufferings” (v 11). He even declares that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (v 12). And he warns that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse” (v 13).

How can these statements fit within a postmillennial scheme? Let us see.

2 Tim 3:10–11

Paul enters into this new paragraph by contrasting this faithful Timothy to those false teachers who are disrupting the Ephesian church. He states:

“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Tim 3:10–11)

The NASB translated the Greek word de as “now.” This particle, however, should be understood as an adversative. It would be better translated here as: “but.” That is, in contrast to the immoral heretics opposing the truth (2 Tim 3:8), Paul turns to speak of Timothy: “but you followed my teaching, conduct….” In fact, he uses the emphatic personal pronoun, su: “But you followed.” This pronoun is unnecessary since Greek is an inflected language and the verb “followed” carries the subject in its meaning.


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Paul has been speaking of licentious heretics. Now we read him say: “but you” are different from them. He is effectively saying, “You, Timothy, have followed my life and have seen the difference the gospel has made on me, as opposed to the lack of impact it has made on the heretical teachers.”

Donald Guthrie (The Pastoral Epistles, 171): At 2 Tim 3:10: “There is a strong contrast between Timothy and the false teachers, as is clear from the emphatic you. The historical allusion is designed to encourage the apostle’s rather fearful lieutenant.” Not only so, but he also places “my” in the emphatic position. He literally writes: “But you followed my the teaching.”

What is more, as Mounce (p. 556) notes, the emphatic “my” actually “modifies the following nine nouns.” We see this in the NRSV, ESV, and NET Bible translations which have “my” before each noun. This is due to each of these nine items that Paul lists having the definite article before it. This statement could literally be translated: “Now you followed the teaching, the conduct, the purpose, the faith, patience, the love, perseverance, the persecutions, and the sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra.” Thus, Paul is emphasizing all that has happened to him.

He starts with the two most important items for his confronting the heretics: his teaching and conduct. His life-style and doctrine are so much different from the false teachers troubling Ephesus. But since these heretics are not engaging in persecution of Timothy (they are church “insiders”), Paul’s persecutions and sufferings are mentioned last. His focus is particularly on the Ephesian heretics.

But now, what about the statement that James White calls “gnomic,” i.e., a general, universal truth? What about:

2 Tim 3:12

In this verse we come upon a statement that definitely appears to contradict the whole postmillennial enterprise:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12)

This certainly becomes the key point in Paul’s statement relative to the eschatological debate.

But I am weary. I will have to put this off until next time. Besides, someone is banging on my front door and I suspect they want to persecute me. No, wait! It’s two guys in white shirts and ties who have just gotten off their bicycles. They only want to annoy me, since they are modern, clean-living heretics of a different order from the Ephesians.

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