Perilous TimesPMT 2014-029 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In 2 Tim 3:1 we find a passage that seems to undercut the postmillennial optimism for the historical long run. There Paul writes: “realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.”

Kim Riddlebarger sees this passage as a problem for those who hold the prospect of a victorious church: “Throughout the last days, some will distort the gospel to tickle itching ears and gather followers to themselves.” He continues in response to postmillennialism: “Paul warned us that this lamentable state of affairs is an inevitability for Christ’s church.”

Dispensationalists agree. Wayne House and Thomas Ice argue that “the Bible speaks of things progressing from ‘bad to worse,’ of men ‘deceiving and being deceived’ (2 Timothy 3:13), we look out at our world and see how bad things really are.” John Walvoord concurs: “With the progress of the present age, in spite of the dissemination of the truth and the availability of Scripture, the world undoubtedly will continue to follow the sinful description which the Apostle Paul gave here.” Wiersbe agrees: “Passages like 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3 paint a dark picture of the last days.”

Dispensationalism (by Keith L. Mathison)
An important critical evaluation of dispensationalism from a Reformed perspective

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Such interpretations of this passage, however, are exegetically flawed and anti-contextual. Nothing taught in these verses is contra-postmillennial. Note the following observations.

First, Paul’s original focus. He 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. Likewise, when Paul writes to the church at Corinth complaining that “it is actually reported that there is immorality among you” (1Co 5:1), we should not lift it from its context as a universal principle applying to all churches. He is writing specifically to them.

Second, Paul’s actual point. The text does not demand unrelenting bad times lie before the church in all of history. And though difficult “times” (kairoi) will come during the last days (the period between the first and second advents), this does not demand a pessimistic position. The Greek term Paul employs here is kairoi, which indicates “seasons.” It is the logical error of quantification to read this reference to (some) “seasons” of difficulty as if it said all seasons will be difficult. The “difficult times” (kairoi chalepoi) are “qualitatively complexioned and specifically appointed seasons.” Postmillennialists are well aware of the “seasons” of perilous times that beset the church under the Roman Empire and at other times.

Third, Paul’s misunderstood nature. This passage does not teach historical decline accelerating in history. Citing 2 Timothy 3:13 in the debate leaves the unwarranted impression that things shall irrevocably become worse and worse in history. But the verse actually says: “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Paul is speaking of specific evil men becoming ethically worse, not more and more evil men becoming increasingly dominant. He is speaking of their progressive personal degeneration, i.e., the progressive anti-sanctification of evil men. Paul says absolutely nothing about a predestined increase in the number and power of such evil men.

Fourth, Paul’s postmillennial balance. He balances his teaching with a note of optimism. As a good postmillennialist, Paul clearly informs Timothy that these evil men (cf. 2Ti 3:1) “will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all” (2Ti 3:9). Since God places limits on those evil-doers, Paul speaks as a man who expects victory. How different from the widespread, pessimistic conception of the progressive, limitless power of evil in our day. Paul’s conceives of the ultimate, long term impotence of evil in history.

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  1. Dave Stair October 11, 2014 at 1:35 am

    It is a wrestling match to undo 15 years of dispensationalism. Thinking in terms of the second coming possibly delayed for a long time still gets to me. We always expected it, like tomorrow, possibly today; especially with each spasm that occured regularly in the middle east.

    I must admit, bit by bit, and keeping my eyes upon the scriptures IN LIGHT OF spasms of the middle east, it is becoming much easier to be optimistic.

  2. Robert October 16, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Dr. James White has critiqued your article on his webcast. I would love to hear your response.

  3. Kenneth Gentry October 17, 2014 at 5:07 am

    I will get to that when I get a chance. Thanks.

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