PMT-2015-020 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The end is near. The end of this series, that is. But the end is not yet. This is the second to last article in my reply to Dr. James White’s critique of my understanding of 2 Tim 3. I have dealt with his webcast critique in two series of articles, the current one being the longest. But it will soon be time to move on to other things. Only this and one more article remains.
White is an amillennialist. And as an amill he expects history to descend into chaos as time moves on toward the second coming of Christ. As an adherent to a pessimistic eschatology, he sees 2 Tim 3 as a key biblical problem for postmillennialism. My March 2014 study of 2 Tim 3 caught his attention, leading him to devote a webcast to rebutting my argument on this passage.
In my earlier article, I explained that Paul’s statements in 2 Tim 3 were not prophesying the future flow of history, but were commenting on what Timothy was to experience in his own day. I argued that 2 Timothy was an “occasional epistle,” dealing with first-century issues. Of course, as with all NT occasional epistles, we may read them to draw out principles for use in future, different contexts. But my point was: Paul is confronting first-century heretics and exhorting Timothy to stand against them in his day. After all, after describing them he writes: “Avoid such men as these (2 Tim 3:5b).
White’s concern regarding 2 Tim 3:16–17
White’s basic concern with my presentation was that my argument was hermeneutically and exegetically flawed. For instance, at minute-marker 11:33 in his webcast he states: “It struck me as being an example of where the hermeneutic and exegesis just does not seem consistent with what you would normally expect to find.” I have been showing that, despite White’s concern, the position taken in my article was precisely what the context presents.
One line of evidence that he employs to show the “gnomic” or general character of Paul’s warnings was to note that Paul brings up the Scriptures as inspired of God and profitable. This, he aruges, is true for all times, and therefore cannot be limited to its first-century settings. For instance, at minute marker 21:01 in his presentation White read 2 Tim 3:16–17 and stated: “So we get to the classicus locus, the primary text in regards to the normative role of Scripture in the church….” Then at marker 23:58 he says: Now concerning “the flow of the text…. The point is that 2 Tim 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.”
My response to White’s concern
I do not believe his point holds. As a matter of fact, Christians are to use the Scriptures in all situations to guide them in their conduct. Even those situations that are not general matters for the wider church. I simply do not see the problem in Paul’s bringing the inspiration of Scripture into the exhortation to Timothy. I don’t see how this suggests that everything he has been writing is of a gnomic (general) character. Let’s quickly look at the flow of the text to see White’s error.
In this series I have argued that in 2 Tim 3:1–13 Paul is encouraging Timothy to recognize and stand firm against the heretics troubling the first-century church at Ephesus. I have pointed out (as any number of commentators do) that the main problem Paul is confronting in this occasional epistle to his ministerial associate is heretics known for their immoral conduct rooted in their heretical beliefs.
For instance, Philip Towner (The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 41) points out that: “If there is one thing about these letters on which scholars do agree, it is that they purport to address church or mission situations in which false teachers or opponents figure quite prominently…. More scholars today are inclined to view the opposition as actual … and the letters as a response to the rise of heretical opponents in these Pauline churches at some point in time.”
We see this in the immediate preceding context to 2 Tim 3 where Paul exhorts Timothy: “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their 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 2:14–17)
We must note here that Paul deems the heretics’ teaching as “worldly and empty chatter” that will “lead to further ungodliness” (2 Tim 2:16; cp. 1 Tim 6:20). Ungodliness is precisely what he pointed to in 2 Tim 3:2-8), even stating that these heretics “will proceed from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3:13).
This is why Paul turns to the inspiration of Scripture in 2 Tim 3:16–17! Scripture is truly universal truth for all times. Therefore it is a truth to press in specific times of particular heresies. The universal authority of Scripture must be pressed against the particular heresy Timothy is confronting.
This general comment that I am making will give way to Paul’s specific argument in my next and last article on the matter. Don’t go away, I’ll be right back. Just sit there at your computer and wait.