2 TIM 3 (# 3): PAUL v POSTMILLENNIALISM?

End timesPMT 2015-008 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Introduction
The postmillennial hope is optimistic regarding the historical long-run. But it is frequently rejected on the basis of current world events. Yet current conditions should not undermine this hope. We must remember: postmillennialism is a theological construct that is built up from Scripture — not from the newspapers.

Postmillennialists clearly recognize and sadly accept the current dismal world conditions. But we respond by noting the actual definition of postmillennialism. Our optimistic eschatology holds that the world will come to a state of world-wide righteousness by the preaching of the gospel before Christ returns. But we also note that Jesus has not yet returned; so history is not yet finished; so the postmillennial hope has not yet failed. Consequently, our current conditions cannot discount our future confidence. Such an historical argument against postmillennialism is no more true than the one that declares: Since Christ has not yet returned, this is evidence he never will return.

The more significant complaints against postmillennialism, however, are those that arise from specific negative-sounding New Testament texts. If the New Testament revelation undermines our optimism, then “our preaching is vain” and our “faith also is vain” and “we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14, 19) — to re-apply Paul’s statements. We must “let God be true” (Rom 3:4).

In biblical (rather than historical or emotional) critiques of postmillennialism, one of the leading passages brought against it is 2 Timothy 3. In this passage we read that “difficult times will come” (3:1), “men will be lovers of self” (3:2) and “haters of good” (3:3), “holding to a form of godliness” while “denying its power” (3:5), so that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse” (3:13). And we hear Paul warn: “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (3:12).

What is the postmillennialist to say about all of this? How can we maintain our long-term opposition?


Book of Revelation Made Easy
(by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting.
Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


This is the third installment in my exposition of this chapter, which will show that it does not undermine our optimism. When Paul is correctly interpreted, that is. When interpreted in its flowing context.

This series will demonstrate that Paul is writing about first-century circumstances. His pastoral letters are occasional epistles dealing with contemporary matters that Timothy and Titus are facing. This is absolutely crucial for understanding the letters. And for seeing how 2 Tim 3 is not contrary to the long-term expectations of postmillennialism.

I recommend your reading my two preceding introductory installments before entering into my exposition which will begin below. And you may want to read the earlier ones in December where I respond to Dr. James White’s webcast rebuttal to my original March 2014 post on 2 Tim 3 (“Perilous Times“). Some of that material will be repeated below, though in shortened form for purposes of reminding you of important matters.

Paul is confronting first-century issues

We must recall from the two previous studies that Paul is instructing Timothy regarding heresy (and its consequent immorality) that has arisen in the church at Ephesus. As Reformed commentator George Knight (Pastoral Epistles, 3) notes: the three pastoral epistles (1 Tim, 2 Tim, and Titus) “presuppose the same false teachers, the same organization, and entirely similar conditions in the community” (which in the letters to Timothy speak of Ephesus, and in Titus of Crete).

This is particularly significant in that Paul is in prison (2 Tim 1:12, 16) — and can do nothing about the matter personally. And he is approaching the time of his execution (2 Tim 4:6–8) — and will no longer be able to deal with the matter personally. Timothy must be encouraged to step in because Paul is absent.

Significantly for answering the 2 Tim 3 objection to postmillennialism, Timothy’s contemporary setting is continually emphasized throughout the letters — because of the specific historical circumstances that face him. Paul is now in is his second Roman imprisonment (AD 67?) rather than his first (AD 65?), which was much milder, Acts 28:19-20).

Therefore, Paul must encourage his beloved Timothy to persevere — despite the opposition he is facing in the first century (1 Tim 1:18–19; 5:21; 6:11–12; 2 Tim 1:5–6; 2:15–18, 22). He is directing Timothy to resist the heretics — who are currently troubling Timothy and the ancient Ephesian church (1 Tim 1:3–4, 6, 20; 4:1–3; 5:15, 20, 24; 6:3–5). He is therefore urging his ministerial associate to maintain sound doctrine — over against the specific heresies and practices he is enduring in Ephesus while Paul is in prison (1 Tim 4:6–7, 11, 16; 6:13–14, 20; 2 Tim 1:13–14; 2:1–3, 14, 23; 3:14–16; 4:1–5).

Paul has fought the good fight” and wants Timothy to continue in it (2 Tim 4:7). He laments that Demas has forsaken him (2 Tim 4:10), that Alexander has done him “much harm” (2 Tim 4:14), and that “all who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Tim 1:15). He is concerned that some of those influenced by the heretics “have already turned aside to follow Satan” (1 Tim 5:15). Paul does not want Timothy to succumb to the pressure so that he forsakes him also.


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He urges Timothy not to follow their methods, i.e., “not to wrangle about words” because this “is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (2 Tim 2:15). He warns that the heretics’ “talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:17–18). The specific historical context of the Pastoral Epistles is absolutely crucial to understanding that which Paul writes. Which allows for postmillennialists today to continue on.

Clearly then, “the letters refer to specific events and places and are written in relation to these events” (Knight, Pastoral Epistles, 4). He even refers to specific heretics and trouble-makers in the church: Hymeneaus, Alexander, Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Philetus (1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 1:15, 17). Regarding our specific passage (2 Tim 3) Samuel Cartledge (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 4:2068) provides the following heading to it: “Warnings Against Heresy (2:13–4:5).”

So now we are ready to get started: What is Paul teaching Timothy in 2 Tim 3? Find out next time!

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6 thoughts on “2 TIM 3 (# 3): PAUL v POSTMILLENNIALISM?

  1. Jason T January 16, 2015 at 6:39 am

    This is one of the passages that has kept me from postmillennialism. I will be interestd in how you explain it. It is interesting that you tie it to its ancient setting. But does the Bible still speak to us today.

  2. Kenneth Gentry January 16, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Yes, it does. Consider the OT and its historical events. Do they have meaning for us today?

  3. Stacey Johnson January 16, 2015 at 7:30 am

    This is very helpful. I am looking forward to the whole series. This passage has been thrown at my on several occasions when I was discussing my postmillennialism. Good work.

  4. Mary Stason January 16, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Keep up the good work. I am not only learning how to defend postmillennialism, but more importantly, how to interpret Scripture properly.

  5. Cory January 19, 2015 at 12:11 am

    This one is a stumbling block to me as well. (As much as I want the Postmillenial view to be the true one). I look forward to your next writing.

  6. Kenneth Gentry January 19, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for reading, and being willing to consider the postmillennial position.

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