PMT 2014-153 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is my sixth article replying to White’s October 16, 2014 webcast, where he challenged my postmillennial understanding of 2 Timothy 3. Please see my preceding articles for context and consult my original article to which he replies (“Postmillennialism and Perilous Times,” PMT 2014-029, March 7, 2014).
Just as you hear dispensationalists declare: “The end is near,” so have you heard me declare: “The end of my reply to Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries is near.” But in proof that I am not a prophet (in fact, I seldom even show a profit), I must confess: this article will not be the last one in the series.
I know what you are thinking: “An article series with Gentry is as a thousand entries.” Or: “Of the making of blog articles there is no end.” But no! There was a unmentioned gap in my previous prophecy declaring only six articles. Not really; just kidding. You know I am not a gap theorist, either in the Creation account on in Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. So what has happened?
Actually, as I began writing the last article it grew large and unwieldy. I feared the weight of so many digital words on my blogsite would cause it to collapse, and perhaps bring down the Internet. So I decided to break up the (alleged) “final” article. Sorry about that. And to make matters worse, I will not actually begin the next article on this topic until January 14, 2014. Woe, is you! But take heart: biblical prophecy teaches, “I see him but not now; I behold him, but not near.” Yet I promise: He who endures to the end shall be saved (from further reading. Eventually).
Why do I do this? (1) The Christmas holidays have shortened the time I have available for writing, and I did not want to rush my thoughts into print. (2) I have actually decided to finish my response to White by offering a running exposition of 2 Timothy 3. I can see in White’s critique where the errors are being made, and it would be easier to simply provide a through exegesis of the passage. Plus, this chapter in 2 Timothy is frequently brought against the postmillennial hope of the conquest of the gospel. Thus, a fuller consideration of the passage should prove valuable to postmillennialists.
But now to my last article in reply to White — for a while.
The Heart of White’s Argument
So that we might have before us White’s fundamental argument, I will cite his very words at crucial points in his presentation. Let us begin!
At minute marker 17:17 White reads 2 Tim 3:13 then states: “I would suggest that just the normative reading of the flow of the text would say that just as verse 12 is a general statement that is true throughout the church age (that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted), in the same way the fact that verse 13 begins — I would identify the poneroi de [“but evil ones”] as an adversative but it’s functioning in a connective fashion to what’s before. So it’s adversative in the sense that ‘all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus’ will be persecuted (there’s the godly), but other than them (in distinction from them) ‘evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse deceiving and being deceived.’”
Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (by Ken Gentry)
Technical studies on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks, the great tribulation,
Paul’s Man of Sin, and John’s Revelation.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
White continues: “You could ask the question [regarding] the poneroi … is it possible to see the context here as being within the church — because Timothy’s primary encounter with evil men would be in the context of the ecclesia? And so would it be imposters in the sense of the pseudadelphio, the “false brothers,” that Paul has already dealt with? Possibility.”
He goes on: “But the point is that just as [verse] 12 is giving us a gnomic, general principle that is true for the church throughout its experience…. There is no indication here that this is only in your time period, it’s going to get better, that’s going to stop. Don’t see anything like that. In fact, it seems that evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse. And if you look at the term here, it is in the future. So it is talking about future events that Paul is warning about. And then in contrast to them, ‘you however,’ continue in the things you have learned.”
Then White reads 2 Tim 3:15-16 and says (at marker 21:01): “So we get to the classicus locus, the primary text in regards to the normative role of Scripture in the church….” [He gets off topic but returns at marker 23:58 to say]: “Now back to the flow of the text…. The point is that 2 Timothy chapter 3 is flowing directly in this chapter, and it has always been considered by everyone to enunciate a normative statement for every age of the church….”
He continues his argument by noting that “the only way that the man of God at anytime in the church can be thoroughly equipped for every good work is because he possesses the theopneustos [God-breathed] scriptures, right? Well, if that’s the case, then it would seem in light of the fact that verses 12 and 13 are likewise giving us gnomic general statements that are true for every generation and will be until Christ returns and you have that final judgment. Then it seems to me that there is reason for looking at this and going, “It is God’s intention [for Christians to agonize for the gospel]…. I see no biblical basis for saying there is ever going to be a Christian generation that is not going to have to do that. I don’t see that as ever being the case unless there remains active, powerful opposition to the gospel throughout. And I think there always will be.”
At marker 40:00 he states: “Are there only seasons where there are those who enter into households with weak women? That only happens once in a while — primarily in the Roman empire? Are there going to be people only at certain times who are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth — and that other times everyone is able to do that? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And again, I really see verses 12 and 13 as standing against this. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Is that only during certain seasons? Or is that not the case as long as we are in this age before the age to come? I would say in the age to come that will no longer be true. But in this age — and at every point of this age — all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And if [verse] 12 is true all the way through, it would seem to me that the church will always be dealing with evil men and imposters, deceiving ad being deceived. And we’re dealing with that all over the place right now, are we not?”
Finally at marker 43:20 he confesses: “I really struggle with this idea that this is just seasons. That does not flow from the reading of the text to me.” Then at marker 44:39 he states of this verse: “If the understanding of 2 Timothy is that certain evil men in the first century, and certain imposters in the first century proceeded from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived, but they are now gone, then you no longer have a contrast of Timothy, you no longer have a contrast for any of the rest of us that we are supposed to contrast ourselves with evil men around us. And the real problem is: does that also then mean that in v 12 that that was only true in the first century. That all who in the first century desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted but that won’t be the case in the second century, well it was the case, well is was in the third. Okay it still is all the way to today. Right? I mean all over the world, every generation has because of the clash of those who bow the knee in lordship to Christ and those who have not. That will always be true. If verse 12 is always true, what’s the contextual clue that don’t worry about verse 13, that is already fulfilled? That’s not a natural exegesis.”
What are we to make of White’s counter-argument? How shall the postmillennialist respond?
A Few of White’s Errors
Here I will just quickly state a few obvious problems with White’s comments. Then in the following section I will more fully demonstrate his errors by surveying 2 Timothy 3.
First, regarding evil men growing worse. White complains: “There is no indication here that this is only in your time period, it’s going to get better, that’s going to stop. Don’t see anything like that.”
So what? Even if this were true, how would that harm the postmillennial position? That is, it may well be that in this particular text in 2 Timothy Paul does not go on to offer prophetic hope for the distant future. Not every prophetic statement in Scripture presents the whole prophetic program in the context. Just because you do not see some long-term eschatological hope in a specific passage (e.g., 2 Tim 3), does not mean there is no long-term eschatological hope that can be found in other passages.
This would be akin to a non-Trinitarian pointing to Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:18: “Why do you call me good?” This seems to allow that Jesus himself is not good and therefore could not be the Second Person of the Trinity. Nothing in the context goes on to argue for Jesus’ perfect holiness or for his being the Second Person of the Trinity. Likewise, no postmillennialist goes to 2 Timothy 3 to provide evidence of the postmillennial hope. (By the way, Jesus is not denying that he is good.)
Second, regarding the bad things in Paul’s day. I do not (nor do other postmillennialists) claim that bad things such as Paul speaks about in these verses are only going to occur “in your [Timothy’s] time period.” That is a misunderstanding of what I (and others such as B. B. Warfield, Loraine Boettner, Iain Murray, etc.) are saying.
The postmillennial observation that Paul is speaking of Timothy’s day in this occasional epistle, does not mean that the bad things he speaks about are limited solely to Timothy’s day. In fact, I specifically state in my original article, and White read my statement in his webcast: “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.’ … Postmillennialists are well aware of the ‘seasons’ of perilous times that beset the church under the Roman Empire and at other times.”
Third, “indications” for bad things stopping. As a matter of fact, I believe White is mistaken in claiming that “there is no indication here that this is only in your time period, it’s going to get better, that’s going to stop.” I will argue my points in the later articles (where I exegete 2 Tim 3), but for now I would simply offer these as — at least — “indications” (White’s word) that Paul is speaking of bad things in Timothy’s day. And that Paul even offers Timothy some hope in his time period. Note the following:
(1) Paul says “difficult times will come” (2 Tim 3:1). He does not say “all times will be difficult.”
(2) When he presents the evil of these men, he commands: “avoid such men as these” (2 Tim 3:5b). He does not say, “Flee to the mountains to escape them.” Rather, he simply states: “avoid” them. They are avoidable.
(3) He points out the futility of Jannes and Jambres [who are not mentioned in the OT, but in Jewish Targums and historical lore] opposing Moses. Take heart, Timothy!
(4) Then he specifically declares: “they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also” (2 Tim 3:9). They w ill “not” make further progress; they will be obvious to “all.”
These appear to me at least to provide an “indication” that Paul is talking about Timothy’s time (and his specific context).
But this is enough for now. As Ward Cleaver once said: “I shall return.” Or was that Gen. Douglas MacArthur? Somebody said it. And I like the idea. I will return to the postmillennial response to the apparent problem presented by Paul in 2 Tim 3. You will just have to suffer a season of perilous times until I return on Jan 14, however.