2 TIM 3 (# 9): DESPAIR OR HOPE?

Wolf sheepPMT-2015-014 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Some Christians believe that in 2 Tim 3 Paul’s imprisonment (2 Tim 1:16) and his expectation of his approaching execution (2 Tim 4:6–8), cause him to have a pessimistic outlook on history. They see 2 Tim 3 as a prophetic statement regarding the future expectations of Christianity in the world. They believe Paul is warning that we will always face “difficult times” (2 Tim 3:1) and that we will be overrun with “brutal, haters of good” (2 Tim 3:3).

But does Paul fear the future? Is he prophesying a relentless, downward collapse of human culture which inexorably leads to the persecution of the Christian faith? No, he does not. I believe that 2 Tim 3 has been misinterpreted when used in this manner. And I have been showing over the last eight articles the exegetical reasons why this passage does not contradict the long-term postmillennial expectation.

Allow me to continue my survey of this passage. We are now ready for:

2 Tim 3:6–8

Here Paul declares why these immoral heretics in Ephesus are causing so much trouble. They are preying on “weak women” (2 Tim 3:6) who are “always learning [Gk., manthanonta, present participle] and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:6). That is, even though the women victims are within the church in Ephesus and even though they are always studying the Christian faith, they have missed the truth and have thus succumbed to the apostate teachers in the church.


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Paul likens the heretical teachers who dominate these women to the two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses when he appeared before Pharaoh seeking the release of Israel (Exo 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18—19; 9:11)[1]: “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (2 Tim 3:8). Note that Paul declares the first-century heretics to be like the ancient Egyptian magicians in that they also “oppose the truth;” they are “men of depraved mind”; they are “rejected in regard to the faith” (2 Tim 3:7).

Paul probably makes this comparison of the heretics to Jannes and Jambres because of their focus on Jewish myths. In 2 Tim 1:3–4 he writes: “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.”

This comparison is significant, for it provides evidence of Paul’s optimism even in the context of these troubles. We must remember that the Egyptian magicians failed in resisting Moses. As Moses wrote: “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians” (Exo 9:11; cp. Exo 8:18).

As a matter of fact, this is not simply a surmise in understanding Paul. He makes that very point in this next sentence:

2 Tim 3:9

When he brings up Jannes and Jambres as opposing Moses, Paul chooses a classic example of failure in resisting God. Consequently, Paul drives home the comparison regarding Timothy’s opponents: “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).

So despite Paul’s concerns for the Ephesian church, and even though he knows he is facing death, he is ultimately optimistic. As William Mounce (Pastoral Epistles, p. 551) expresses it: “Despite the success of the opponents, Paul ends up on a positive note of the eventual victory of the truth.” George Knight (Pastoral Epistles, 12) agrees: “Paul … is certain of its ultimate lack of success over against the church (2:19; 3:9).” Donald Guthrie (The Pastoral Epistles, 171) concurs: “Timothy is assured that their apparent success is surely limited.”


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Postmillennialists continue to be optimistic despite the presence of sin and evil-doers. We do so because we believe in the “power” of the truth, as over against those who deny its power (2 Tim 3:5b). We firmly believe God’s promise will prevail:

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; / It will not return to Me empty, / Without accomplishing what I desire, / And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. / For you will go out with joy / And be led forth with peace; / The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, / And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isa 55:11–12)

Stay tuned! There is more to come. Do not worry about any predictions of the rapture occurring before my next article.

Notes

  1. These two magicians, Jannes and Jambres, are not named in Scripture, but are known from ancient Jewish tradition.
  2. There is no footnote #2. Why are you looking here?
  3. See footnote #2 and re-apply question here.
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