PMT 2014-151 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is my fourth article in my reply to Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries. On his October 16 webcast, he challenged my analysis of 2 Timothy 3 in my PostmillennialismToday article titled: “Perilous Times.” Please see my preceding articles in this series by way of introduction. Unless you are weary. And if you are weary, try “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” (Prov 6:10), for this is biblical.
White countered my observation that 2 Tim 3 is written to Timothy and was speaking only of his own day. I pointed out in my original article that we should note the occasional nature of most of the NT epistles. That is, we must understand that they were written to deal with specific occasions within in the first century. I illustrated this by pointing to 1 Cor 5:1. But White rejects my paralleling 1 Cor 5:1 to Paul’s statement to Timothy. Nevertheless:
1 Cor 5 Is Not Irrelevant
In my original article I wrote: “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.” Of course, this probably does happen from time-to-time in various churches. But as I state: “It’s not a matter of prophesying about the constant, long term, unyielding prospects for history.”
At minute-marker 36:10 in his webcast White complains: “The parallel to 1 Cor 5:1 doesn’t fit at all.” He argues that 1 Cor 5:1 is very specific, dealing with specific, identifiable issues. He notes that Paul could easily have given the particular man’s name at Corinth. He then states such is not the case in 2 Tim. 3. Rather, in his epistle to Timothy, White argues, Paul lists “general descriptions of the nature of godlessness.”
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But as I point out in my previous article (PMT 2014-150), Paul’s letter to Timothy does in fact name particular individuals, showing he is referring to specific situations of sin in the first-century church (also see those first-century names below).
White Mis-frames the Question
White expresses surprise at what he sees as a remarkable implication of my observation regarding Paul’s first-century focus (at webcast minute marker 34:20ff): “That doesn’t happen anymore today? Of course, it happens today; it happens in every generation” “Is there ever going to be a time when men will not be lovers of themselves? lovers of money? boastful? arrogant? revilers?” Indeed, he says, “everyone knows that this is the case. And every generation of ministers has been able to grab hold of the promise that, yep, there are men of depraved mind.”
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But this is precisely the question that needs to be answered in the eschatological debate: “Is there ever going to be a time when men will not be lovers of themselves? lovers of money? boastful? arrogant? revilers?” The question is most certainly not : Have we ever seen these moral conditions in history? I would even state the question more precisely: Does Paul indicate this will be the dominant situation throughout history to its very end? I do not believe he does so.
Critics must be careful of how they understand postmillennialism. Postmillennialists do not believe that all men will be converted at some time in the future, so that all such sins will be universally wiped out. We are not universalists. Nor do we believe even that at the height of the kingdom’s progress all Christians will be perfect. We are not perfectionists.
But we do believe that the vast majority of men will be converted and that global conditions will be greatly improved because of the wide-scale prevalence of the Christian faith. (John Calvin suggests that the ratio of Christians will be 6 to 1 in the future; he sees this as taught in Isa 19:18. ) And we believe that because of the progress of Christianity and the prevailing peace that will follow in its wake, Christians will tend to live more spiritual lives in that time as God’s Spirit is poured out in greater measure.
So we disagree that the conditions presented in 2 Tim 3 will always prevail on the scale Timothy faced them in the first century. And we do so on the basis of numerous other texts such as Psa 22:27; 72:8-9; Isa 2:2-4; 11:9; Hab 2:14; John 3:17; 12:31-32.  I focused on the 2 Tim 3 text because it is brought into the discussion as counter-evidence against postmillennialism; I was not looking at it as positive evidence for postmillennialism.
1Cor 5 and 2 Tim 3 are Similar
But it is not wrong-headed to bring in 1 Cor 5:1 the way I do. Both 2 Tim 3 and 1 Cor 5 are very much alike in two important respects:
(1) Both epistles demonstrate the occasional nature of the NT epistles. Paul is writing “to the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2). And he is writing “to Timothy, my beloved son” (2 Tim 1:2). He is actually writing to first-century people — whether their issues re-occur later in history or not. Hence, he frequently lists local issues and spiritual conditions in both epistles.
(2) Both epistles deal with moral issues facing the Pauline community in the first century. For instance, 1 Cor 5 confronts a specific moral issue involving a particular individual threatening great spiritual harm to the Corinthian church. And as White correctly argues, Paul could very well have named that individual. And 2 Timothy 3 also mentions moral concerns (2 Tim 3:2–7) which are afflicting the Ephesian church in which Timothy ministers (cf. 1 Tim 1:3). And Paul does name some of the false teachers he has in mind: Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15), as well as Hymeneaus and Philaetus (2 Tim 2:17) — and Hymenaeus (again) and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20).
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And even more interestingly, in 2 Tim 3 Paul does not mention any overt persecution of the Christian faith in the future. In vv 2-8 we read of hedonistic actions by false teachers within the church rather than overt oppression from evil persecutors without. The text reads:
“Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Tim 3:2–4).
There will be “among them 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” (3:6–7).
This is why Paul instructs Timothy himself: “Avoid such men as these” (2 Tim 3:6b). And why he encourages him in the first century: “they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all” (3:9).
White then goes on to argue regarding 2 Tim 3, that Paul is:
“giving guidance to the church that will be valid in every generation of the church. Are we actually going to suggest that 2 Tim. 3 is not to be seen as valid guidance for the church in every generation, including vv 16 and 17. That is what caught my attention with this…. That is not the kind of exegesis I would expect on any other subject.”
White overlooks a problem lurking in his statement. And he does not see this because he does not have a proper conception of postmillennialism. I believe he is correct when he states that Paul is giving guidance that will be valid in every generation. But I would point out that the guidance will be available. That does not mean the same problems will always be there. Or on that scale. But the guidance is available whenever needed.
Postmillennialism allows that this guidance can be put to good use on any occasions that may arise in the future of the kingdom. Again: not all sinners will be won to Christ and not all sin will be removed from Christians themselves.
In addition, White inadvertently confirms the proper understanding of the occasional nature of the NT epistles. And this allows my interpretation. At the very close of his session he answers a Twitter regarding what interpretive problems he has with dispensationalism. He responds: “Especially looking at the Book of Revelation without first asking the question that I ask of everything else and that is: What did it mean to the people to which it was first written? If it didn’t have any meaning to them, I’ve probably misinterpreted it.” This is precisely my argument in 2 Tim 3. So then, White and I do not disagree on all hermeneutical issues. But we do disagree as to when and how they apply. And I believe White is inconsistent in this regard.
I will have more to say in my next installment, unless members of the church oppose this truth and make further progress in their folly, and carry off the women.
1. John Calvin interprets Isa 19:18 as suggesting “that out of six cities five will be saved, and only one will perish.” Therefore, in his view the world will enjoy a six out of seven conversion rate. In Isa 19:19 he continues by stating: “Egypt will be renewed, because there true religion will flourish, the pure worship of God will be set up, and all superstitions will fall to the ground.” He adds: “indeed it usually happens that a nation truly converted to God, after having laid aside idols and superstitions, openly sets up signs of the true religion, that all may know what the worship of God is purely observed in it.” Still later he notes: “it is plain that the Prophet speaks of the kingdom of Christ, and that these things were not fulfilled before his coming. We must therefore take away the shadows and look at the reality of things, in order that by the altar we may understand a true and sincere calling on God.”
2. For instance, Psa 22:27 reads: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You.” Psa 72:8-9: “May he also rule from sea to sea And from the River to the ends of the earth. Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, And his enemies lick the dust.”