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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
2 Timothy 3



Verses 1-17

WITH THE OPENING of chapter 3 the Apostle turns from these instructions, which Sprang out of the dangers which were threatening at that moment, to foretell the conditions which should prevail in the last days. The picture that he presents is a very dark one.

In the first verse he gives us the general character of the last days in two words— “perilous times.” We shall do well to bear this warning continually in mind inasmuch as there can be but little doubt that we are now in the last days and spiritual perils are thick around us.

In verses 2 Timothy 3:2-5 the characteristics of the men of the last days are brought before us. It is a terrible list, rivalling the list given us in Romans 1:28-31, when the sins of the ancient heathen world are described. The most fearful thing about the list of our chapter is that all this evil is covered under “a form of godliness,” that is, the people who are thus described are Christian as far as their claims and outward appearance go. The real power of Christianity they utterly deny.

“Men shall be lovers of their own selves,” this is the first item on the list. The second is, “covetous” or “lovers of money.” The list ends. “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” Love of self, love of money and love of pleasure are to mark the religious people of the last days, and as for all the evil things mentioned between they indicate the various ways in which the proud, self-sufficient, lawless spirit of fallen man expresses itself—and all this, remember, in people who call themselves followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. If we know anything of the present state of the so-called Christian nations we may well conclude that we have reached the last days.

The attitude of the faithful believer to such is very simple; from such he is enjoined to turn away, rather than go along with them in the hope of reclaiming them. Separation is enjoined for the sixth time in this short passage; the words used being, “shun,” “depart,” “purge out,” “flee.” “avoid,” and now, “turn away.” The present age being one which loves compromise the word, “separation” is naturally not at all popular, still here is that which the word stands for, urged upon us as the commandment of the Lord; and our business is not to reason about it but to obey.

The description of verses 2 Timothy 3:2-5 applies generally to the men of the last days. In verse 2 Timothy 3:6 two special classes come into view—first, those who are active deceivers, and second, those who fall an easy prey to their deceits The Apostle’s word indicates that there were to be found in his day examples of both these classes. The deceivers, he says, are “of this sort” i.e., of the kind described in verses 2 Timothy 3:2-5, and their work is carried on in a semi-private way for they “creep into houses.” In the light of this inspired word it is very significant what an amount of house to house propaganda, with considerable success m creeping into houses and beguiling unstable souls, is carried on by the agents of false religious cults, such as Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

Those deceived are spoken of here as “silly women,” doubtless a term of contempt and applicable to that type of person who is always enquiring and yet never reaching any settled convictions, be they man or woman. The reason for their blindness and consequent lack of conviction is their sins and the lusts which bring forth sin. It is a striking fact that this “silly women” class is recruited quite as much from the ranks of the refined and learned as from the rude and illiterate. The rough man of the street generally has pretty definite opinions of some sort; opinions which, right or wrong, he can express with vigour. It is frequently the highly educated who lose themselves in mazes of speculation and finish by accepting some pretentious nonsense which is the very opposite of the truth. Take, for instance, the way in which Christian Science captures its victims almost entirely from the rich and would-be intellectual folk.

We cannot however, shut out from all this the power of Satan, as verses 2 Timothy 3:8-9 show us. Jannes and Jambres were evidently leaders of the band of magicians who influenced Pharaoh’s court and withstood Moses, working their wonders in league with demons. The deceivers of the last days will be like them, resisting the truth as agents of the devil. God has however, set a limit to their power and ultimately their folly shall be manifest to all. This does not mean that this kind of evil is going to receive an immediate check for, as verse 2 Timothy 3:13 tells us, evil men and seducers are going to wax worse and worse until the end of the age. We are not left in any uncertainty as to what we must expect.

Nor are we left in uncertainty as to our resources in the presence of the evil. They are set before us in our chapter from verse 2 Timothy 3:10 and onwards. Over against the character of the men of the last days the Apostle was inspired to set the character which he bore and which Timothy well knew. What an extraordinary contrast to verses 2 Timothy 3:2-5 is presented by verses 2 Timothy 3:10-11! Self-love, pride, opposition to and persecution of those that are good, on the one hand; faith, love, patient endurance under persecution, on the other. The one is the full-blown spirit of the world; the other is the spirit of Christ; and it has always been the case that “he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29). Hence persecution must always be expected by those who “live godly in Christ Jesus,” though the form that persecution takes may vary in different countries and in different ages. The type of godliness produced by the law of Moses might excite but little or no opposition whilst godliness “in Christ Jesus” is being hotly resisted.

Paul’s “manner of life” was based upon his doctrine; it gave expression to it in practice; hence in verse 2 Timothy 3:10 doctrine comes first. With that doctrine Timothy was well acquainted, and he had but to continue in the truth he had reamed from such a source. He also had the inestimable advantage of having known the Holy Scriptures—the Old Testament, of course—from a child. In these two things Timothy’s resource lay.

In these two things lies our resource today, only for us the two practically coalesce into one. Timothy had Paul’s doctrine from his own lips, expressed in a “form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13), exemplified and enforced by his wonderful manner of life. We have his doctrine in his inspired epistles preserved in the New Testament, and no form of sound words is more reliable than that. In the New Testament we have also an inspired account of Paul’s wonderful life, and also the other apostolic writings. We have therefore in this respect a little more than Timothy had, and we have the Old Testament equally with him, though alas! we may not be nearly as fully acquainted with it or with Paul’s doctrine as he was. For us then the great resource is the Holy Scripture in its entirety.

This being so the Holy Spirit seized the occasion to assure us of the inspiration of all Scripture. Its profitableness for various uses all depends upon this fact. Who can teach or reprove or correct or instruct in what is right, in any perfect and absolute sense, but God? The reason why Scripture can do these things is that it is “inspired of God” or “God-breathed.”

The claim here unquestionably is that the Book which we know as the Bible is a God-breathed book. Some of our readers might like to enquire—What about the Revised Version of this passage? Our reply is that the Authorized Version is right here and the Revised. is wrong. In the original, according to Greek idiom, the verb “is” does not appear, being understood though not expressed. In English it must appear and the question is as to where it should be? Remarkably enough there are eight other passages in the New Testament of exactly similar construction and every one of them but this the Revisers translated just as the Authorized has translated this. Why make an exception in this case?

{*The R.S. V (1952) text is correct here.}

Hebrews 4:13 is one of the eight passages. Had the Revisers followed their rendering of 2 Timothy 3:16 they would have made it, “All things that are naked are also opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,” which simply reduces the solemn statement to a trivial absurdity; hardly more so however than the rendering they have given us of our passage.

The thing that Timothy needed was to be assured that he had in the Scriptures that which was of God and therefore wholly reliable—something on which he could safely take his stand when confronted with the dangers and seductions to be expected in the last days. This is exactly what we too want, and, God be thanked, we have it in the Bible.

In the Scriptures we have an infallible standard because they are God breathed. By that standard we may test all that is presented to us as truth and detect and expose all the deceits of “evil men and seducers” though they grow “worse and worse.” We have however more than that in them as verses 2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 3:17 show us. They can make us wise unto salvation, though it be only a child who is in question. They can equally perfect the man of God and furnish him unto all good works.

In reading verse 2 Timothy 3:15 we must not confine our thoughts of salvation to that which reaches us at conversion. Salvation in that sense is of course included in the statement, but it reaches out to embrace also the daily salvation which we Christians need in a multitude of ways. The whole Scripture—and particularly the Old Testament, which is here primarily in view—abounds with examples which expose before us the snares and pitfalls which beset us, and the workings of our own hearts, and which reveal to us the dealings of God’s grace and government. If enlightened by faith in Christ and giving heed to these warnings, we are made wise to salvation from similar snares which exist in our day.

It is one thing to be preserved from danger; it is another to be thoroughly instructed in what is right. The most devoted of God’s servants, the man of God, will find in Scripture that which equips him in the completest manner. By it he may be rendered “perfect” or “complete” and be “thoroughly furnished” or “fully fitted” to every good work. These statements make a tremendous claim for Scripture. They clearly infer that within its covers there is guidance in regard to every work that can be called good, and that the man of God, who of all believers most needs light from on high, needs no light outside that which Scripture affords.

We do not overlook the fact that we need the teaching and illumination of the Holy Spirit if we are to profit by the Scripture. That is stated in other passages. Here we have the nature and power of the Scriptures brought before us. We may well rejoice and thank God that the Bible has been preserved to us and that the Spirit of God abides with us for ever.


IN VIEW OF all this Paul solemnly charges Timothy to preach “the word.” He carries away his thoughts to the tremendous hour when the Lord Jesus shall appear in glory to judge the living and the dead, so that he should serve and speak in view of that moment, and not succumb to the temptation to speak so as to please the itching ears of men.

In the four striking verses which open chapter 4 the Apostle uses three expressions, all of which are intimately connected with the Scriptures, viz., “the word,” “sound doctrine,” “the truth.” In contrast with them we find “fables,” which are desired by those who merely want to hear those things which pander to their lusts. Timothy however was not merely to preach the word but he was to bring it to bear upon the consciences and hearts of his hearers, either for conviction or rebuke or encouragement, and he was to be urgent about it both in season and out of season.

The word “lusts” simply means “desires.” The time will come, says the Apostle, when men will insist upon hearing, not what is true but what pleases them, and they will “heap up” to themselves teachers who will give them what they want. That time is now arrived. Many features of the Apostle’s doctrine, as recorded in the New Testament are quite repugnant to the “modern mind,” therefore, we are told, they must be discarded by all progressive thinkers and preachers, who must learn to harmonize their utterances with the latest fashions in scientific thought and the latest crazes as to popular pleasures. Hence all that advanced modernistic preaching which the Apostle here dismisses in one word—FABLES!

The servant of the Lord, on the other hand, is to keep steadily on with his ministry. He is to “watch” or rather “be sober” in all things: the word used means, “that sober clearness of mind resulting from exemption from false influences—not muddled with the influence of what intoxicates.” A very important word this for all of us, for there is nothing that so intoxicates the mind and muddles the perceptions as the false modernistic teaching to which we have just alluded. Further he is to be prepared to suffer, for he cannot expect to be popular, either with the purveyors of fables who stand in the pulpit or with the consumers of fables who sit in the pew. Timothy was to do the work of an evangelist and so fill up the full measure of his ministry.

The Apostle’s words here would indicate that to Timothy had been committed a ministry of an all-round character. He was not only gifted to teach and preach the word for the instruction, correction and exhortation of believers, but also to preach the gospel for the conversion of sinners; and he was not to neglect any part of this comprehensive work. Had he reasoned after a human sort he might have concluded that with so much evil threatening inside the church he must concentrate all his energies on inside work in order to meet the situation, and so abandon all effort to reach outsiders. This however was not to be, and we may learn a lesson from it today. It is evidently the will of God that, come what may in the history of the church, the work of evangelization is to go forward. The great Head of the church lives and He is well able to deal in due season with every situation that may arise, however disastrous it may appear to us; and meanwhile an all-round ministry of the truth to both saint and sinner is to be maintained.

Moreover it was to be a special incentive to Timothy that the hour of Paul’s “departure” or “release” was just at hand. He knew full well that his martyrdom was imminent, when like a warrior he would leave the field of combat. All the more need then for Timothy to gird up his loins like a man and be fully engaged in the fight. The more difficult the situation, the fewer those who fight the good fight the louder the call to the true-hearted to engage in it. In exactly that way we should view things today.

The earth is filled with fightings as the fruit of sin, and perhaps none have been fiercer and worse than those that have been waged in the arena of “the church.” What a tragic misuse of energy there has been all down the ages when brother has drawn the sword against brother over comparatively trivial and oft-times selfish matters, to the great delight and profit of the common foe! Alive to this and tired of it, we must not slip into the opposite error of thinking that there is really nothing worth fighting about. There is such a thing as “a good fight” as verse 2 Timothy 3:7 makes manifest. The Apostle fought a good fight inasmuch as his contentions were for God and His truth and not of any selfish sort, and further he used spiritual and not carnal weapons in his warfare (See, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). If we go to war for ourselves, or if warring for God we use carnal weapons, our fight is not a good fight.

Paul not only fought a good fight but he ran his race to the finish and he kept the faith. Having kept it, he could hand it on intact to those who were to follow him. The faith of Christianity is the great object of the adversary’s attack. If he attacks us it is just in order that he may damage the faith. It would almost seem as if the Apostle in these verses had in his mind’s eye a relay race. The baton of the faith had been placed in his hands and beating off the attacks of the foe he had raced through to the finish of his section and was now handing it on intact to another, with the assurance that at the day of Christ’s appearing the crown of righteousness would be his; and not only awarded to him but also to all others who like him faithfully run their bit of the race with their eye on the goal. The rewards of faithfulness will be seen at the appearing of Christ and that moment will be loved by those who diligently seek His pleasure. To those who seek their own pleasure His appearing will be an unwelcome thought.

It is an inspiring yet a searching thought for each believer who reads these lines, that we are now engaged in running our little section of the great relay race with the responsibility of carrying the baton of the faith and of preserving it and of handing it on intact to future runners, or of handing it over directly to the Lord Himself if He comes within our lifetime.

From verse 2 Timothy 3:9 and onwards the Apostle mentions matters of a personal sort, that concerned himself or his acquaintances. Yet even these personal matters present points of much instruction and interest. Timothy was to endeavour to quickly rejoin Paul at Rome since only Luke was with him. Others had left, some evidently on the Lord’s service, such as Crescens, Titus and Tychicus. With Demas the case was different. He had loved the present world and consequently had forsaken Paul, for Paul preached a Gospel that worked deliverance from this present world which it characterized as evil (See, Galatians 1:4). His action in forsaking Paul was therefore only the visible expression of the fact that he had forsaken in heart the real power of the Gospel.

Demas then stands as a warning beacon, illustrating the fact that backsliding may take place even in one who came under the influence of so great a servant as Paul. In happy contrast we have Mark, who is mentioned in verse 11. In earlier days he had been carried into a position which was beyond his faith and in consequence he had after a while retreated from it, as recorded in Acts 15:37-39. This act of his was not only to his own hurt but also furnished the cause of the estrangement which came in between such eminent servants of Christ as Paul and Barnabas. Now however we find him fully recovered and reinstated. Paul, the one who had objected to him previously, now declares him to be “profitable to me for the ministry.” The case of Mark then is full of encouragement as showing how the backslidden may be recovered.

In Alexander we have an opponent of the Apostle and of the truth. whether an open enemy or a secret we have no means of determining. As to him only one thing is said, “The Lord will reward him according to his works.” This seems to be the better attested rendering. Paul just left him in the hands of the Lord, who will deal with him in due season in perfect righteousness. We all may well ask the Lord that we may be preserved from working any kind of evil against His servants or His interests.

Verse 2 Timothy 3:16 shows us that there were others who had not opposed Paul like Alexander, nor definitely forsaken him like Demas, yet they had been guilty of a temporary forsaking, by failing to stand by him in the crisis of his trial. They could not face the stigma entailed by a full identification with this despised prisoner. Still their cowardice only made the faithfulness of the Lord to His servant the more conspicuous and such power was ministered to Paul in that trying hour that instead of summoning every ounce of wit that he possessed and straining every nerve to establish his own innocence, he concentrated upon rendering the fullest and plainest testimony to the Gospel. His trial became the occasion in which “the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” Paul eagerly seized the occasion to fully set the Gospel forth before the most august assemblage that then could be found upon earth. There his words stood on record in the official report of the proceedings available for any and every Gentile.

For the moment the Apostle was delivered “out of the mouth of the lion.” Just when his case looked hopeless he had been snatched back from the jaws of death by the hand of God, acting it may have been through a sudden whim of the capricious and godless Nero. In verse 18 he looks right away from men altogether. No evil work of man could ultimately prevail against him. Come what may, and martyrdom under Nero did very soon come, he would be carried through in triumph to His heavenly kingdom. The coming kingdom of our Lord Jesus has a heavenly as well as an earthly side, and we as well as Paul are destined to the heavenly.

A few more greetings and the Epistle finishes. Verse 20 leads one to think that Paul was released from captivity after his trial since his first voyage to Rome was taken under the circumstances recorded in Acts 27:1-44; Acts 28:1-31, when there was no opportunity for his leaving Trophimus at Miletum. The fact that he left him there sick shows that it is not always God’s way to heal sick believers directly, as is asserted by some. In just the same way verse 2 Timothy 3:13 shows us that the highest spirituality goes quite consistently with carefulness over quite small and humble details of daily life This is a thing that we do well to remember.


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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