2 TIM 3 (# 14): PROCEEDING FROM BAD TO WORSE?

OrgyPMT-2015-019 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Here we go again! I am continuing a survey of 2 Tim 3 and its possible negative impact on the postmillennial hope. This is one of the key passages brought against our optimism for the future. As such, it deserves a careful analysis — which I am engaging in this series.

This series of studies arose in response to a webcast by amillennialist scholar Dr. James R. White of Alpha & Omega Ministries. In his webcast he critiqued my earlier (March 2014) brief (eight paragraphs) article on this passage.

White sees Paul’s teaching in this chapter as undermining postmillennialism. And he deems my understanding of the passage as undermining good exegetical principles. To him I appear to be a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia — despite the fact that I am actually a huge Tennessee Vols fan! I felt like a response such as “your mother wears combat boots” was not sufficient for dealing with the problem. Hence, this series (which may be getting so long that it has become as uncomfortable as combat boots).

By now I have worked my way verse-by-verse from 2 Tim 3:1 up through 3:12. That statement by Paul is perhaps the key concern in White’s rejection of postmillennialism in general and my article in particular. Now as I continue, I would note he does not stop at 2 Tim 3:12. He (rightfully) engages the full context of this verse.


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As White continues, he notes that the next verse (v 13) continues undermining postmillennialism. And that the following verses (vv 14-16) prove that Paul is speaking of matters that will plague the church until the end of history. He sees 3:12 as gnomic (a general truth for all times, not a specific warning for the first century). And in his view, this is confirmed to him when Paul mentions the inspiration of Scripture, because that is certainly true in all times.

Let us see how his exegetical argument holds up under careful scrutiny.

2 Tim 3:13: “Evil men and impostors”

Paul now declares that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). On the basis of this, White states that “it would seem to me the church will always be dealing with evil men and imposters.” And certainly if this is so, it would undercut any wide-scale optimism for the future.

But is that what Paul is stating? Does Paul imply a pessimistic outlook on the future development of human culture? I think not. Again: I believe White has missed the fundamental point of the Pastoral Epistles (of which 2 Tim is a part). They are occasional epistles. That is, Paul is dealing with first-century, licentious heretics in the Ephesian church. See earlier articles in this series. Consequently, we must see what Paul expects here.

I have already noted the licentious character of these heretics within the church. Their character was emphasized by Paul especially in 2 Tim 3:2–9. As Samuel Cartledge (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible 4:2069) explains: “Second Timothy 3:1–9 gives Paul’s strongest condemnation of the heretics in the church. They attend church, but they do not believe the Christian truths. They do not live Christian lives themselves, and strive to get others to follow their evil beliefs and practices.”


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So as Timothy concludes his moral denunciation of these heretics, he dismisses them as “men of depraved mind” (2 Tim 3:8b). Then in the following verses he drives his awful point home.

In 2 Tim 3:9 Paul promises to Timothy: “they will not make further progress, for their folly will be obvious to all.” That is, those particular first-century heretics. Those evil men disrupting the church and Timothy’s ministry.

Then he explains this point in our current verse: these particular evil men will get worse and worse in their own personal degenerate character. They themselves as individuals “will proceed from bad to worse” (v 13).

So then, Paul is here referring to the personal desanctification of these first-century heretics, their further personal descent into deepening immorality. He is not warning of the future decline of human civilization. As noted commentator Donald Guthrie (The Pastoral Epistles, 171) observes: in 3:1–6 Paul traces “the increasing impiety of false teachers.” Then in concluding his rejection of them, he here in v 13 speaks of “their progressive degeneration.”

This statement has nothing to say about the future progress of evil in the world. So it has nothing to levy against postmillennialism. I will continue this survey in my next installment.

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