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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Timothy 3

 

 

Verse 1

‘But know this, that in the last days grievous times will come.’

Paul now calls on the Old Testament idea of ‘the last days’ in order to point to what is constantly emphasised in the Scriptures that at the same time as God is accomplishing His anticipated saving work and calling His people to Himself, there will also be times of trouble and distress (e.g. Isaiah 24:16-20; Isaiah 26:20; Malachi 4:1-3 and often). Salvation is to emerge out of suffering (Isaiah 48:10; Malachi 3:3). This idea occurs so often in the Old Testament that it can be seen as a central theme of Scripture.

The Jews saw everything in terms of two ages, the present age which would result in ‘the Day of the Lord’, a time when God wrought His judgmental change on the world, which would be followed by the golden age, the future age of glory and plenty, later thought of in terms of the age of the Messiah. They overlooked or ignored the prophecies that revealed that the Coming One would have to suffer at the hands of men (e.g. Isaiah 50:3-8; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12; Zechariah 13:7). When Jesus came He took up the idea and claimed that in Him the new age had come, an age in which the Coming One would suffer and rise again, salvation and deliverance would commence, and His people would be ‘gathered in’ (made into a church), but all in the midst of suffering. Thus salvation and suffering would march forward hand in hand. That is what His disciples describe as ‘the last days’, ‘the end of the ages’ (see Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11) because it is the culmination of the former age.

The fact that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection is clearly stated in Scripture (Acts 2:17). Thus Paul can declare to his contemporaries ‘these things (in the Old Testament) -- were written for our admonition, on whomthe end of the ageshas come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). Peter likewise declares that ‘He was revealedat the end of the timesfor your sake’ (1 Peter 1:20), and can then warn his readers ‘the end of all thingsis at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). So to both Paul and Peter the first coming of Christ has begun ‘the end times’. The writer to the Hebrews also tells us ‘He hasin these last daysspoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once inthe end of the ageshas He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). The early writers are, therefore, at one in seeing their days (and our days) as ‘the last days’ (Acts 2:17), for this age is seen as the culmination of all the days that have gone before and as leading up to the end. Then it is to be followed by the final Judgment and the heavenly Kingdom, when all the ideas of peace and plenty will be fulfilled.

That Paul did not intend his words here to be seen as a prophecy concerning a distant future comes out very clearly in that he applies it very specifically to Timothy’s own time (from 2 Timothy 3:6 onwards the present tense is used). His actual words may well be a citation from a hymn or a recent ‘prophetic teaching’, based on an interpretation of Old Testament prophecies such as Deuteronomy 31:29 - ‘evil will befall you in the last days’; Jeremiah 30:24 or Daniel 10:14. For as Peter makes clear, ‘the last days’ (en tais eschatais hemerais) were already seen as having arrived (Acts 2:17; compare Hebrews 1:1-3).

‘The last days’ (here in 2 Timothy it is ‘en eschatais hemerais’) are regularly mentioned in the Old Testament. See Isaiah 2:2 LXX (en tais eschatais hemerais); Genesis 49:1; Deuteronomy 31:29; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1; Jeremiah 30:24 (LXX Jeremiah 37:24); Daniel 10:14 (LXX - ep eschatown town hemerown). Comparison of Isaiah 2:2 with Micah 4:1 demonstrates that the two phrases are basically equivalent. The last days were thus to be days both of blessing for the people of God and anguish for the whole world. The word translated ‘grievous’ carries within it the suggestion of menace and danger. The growth of God’s Kingly Rule throughout these ‘last days’ would face fervent opposition (compare Matthew 13:36-43).


Verses 1-13

The Grievous Times That Are Coming And What Timothy’s Response Is To Be (2 Timothy 3:1-13).

Paul now stresses that Timothy must expect the grievous times that were prophesied for ‘the last days’. He describes what is involved at length and then calls on Timothy to follow his own example, and to remember that all who would lie godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution.

Analysis.

a But know this, that in the last days grievous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1).

b For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

c Holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power. From these also turn away (2 Timothy 3:5).

d For of these are they who creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

e And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth (2 Timothy 3:8 a).

d Men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Timothy 3:8 b).

c But they will proceed no further. For their folly will be evident to all men, as theirs also came to be (2 Timothy 3:9).

b But you are familiar with my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patient endurance, persecutions, sufferings, what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me (2 Timothy 3:10-11).

a Yes, and all who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, but evil men and impostors will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

Note how in ‘a’ grievous times will come, and in the parallel these grievous times are exemplified. In ‘b’ we find a list of men’s evils, and in the parallel a list of the evils that come on Paul. In ‘c’ the true status of the false teachers is described, and in the parallel their resulting fate is described. In ‘d’ the behaviour of the false teachers is described, and in the parallel the state of their minds. Central in ‘e’ is the example of the magicians of Pharaoh, the foolish opposers of God.


Verses 2-4

‘For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, swaggeringly arrogant (professing loudly about themselves what is not true), boastful (having an all consuming desire, often secret, to control others), abusive, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers (backbiters), without self-control, fierce (uncontrollable), no lovers of good, treacherous, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,’

Paul then lists the reasons why these days in which they are living are so grievous. The picture is in fact one of men in all ages, and it is certainly equally relevant to our own day. It is a description of what is in the heart of man. Compare Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:20-21, although it is noticeable that here the gross sins of murder, adultery and sexual misbehaviour do not have attention drawn to them. The emphasis is more on their daily attitudes towards each other (outside their own intimate circles), and the attitude of men’s hearts towards God. Firstly they are idolaters, although their idols are self and money. They think only of what they can get for themselves, and what they can grab out of life. Then they are totally selfish, having high opinions of themselves while at the same time being objectionable towards others, being swaggeringly arrogant (professing loudly about themselves what is not true), boastful (having an all consuming desire, often secret, to control others) abusive, and contemptuous of the views of their parents. Then they have no time for either what man thinks or for God. They are ungrateful to society (thankless), and offend against all decency (anosios), as well as being ungrateful to God, and thus thankless and ‘unholy’ (not giving God a decent thought, or if they do it is in some way off religion). Then they are hard and unyielding, being without natural affection, implacable (hard hearted, hostile), slanderers (gossipers and talebearers), and without self-control. Thus they easily give way to ‘fierceness’ and belligerence. And finally they have no love for what is truly good, and instead are treacherous, headstrong, and puffed up about themselves, being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Note how having begun with ‘lovers of self and lovers of money’ he has ended with ‘lovers of pleasure and not lovers of God’. The whole heart of those described is set in the wrong direction. They love themselves, they love mammon and they love pleasure, but they have no time for God and His ways.

The list is in the form of a chiasmus. Lovers of self and lovers of money parallel lovers of pleasure, not lovers of God. Swaggeringly arrogant parallels those who are puffed up. A desire to control others parallels headstrong. Abusive parallels treacherous. Disobedient to parents parallels not lovers of good. Those who are ungrateful parallel those who are uncontrollable. Those who offend against all decency parallel those who are without self-control. Those who are hard and unyielding parallel those who are so hard that they gossip about, and bear tales about, others. Those who are without natural affection parallel those who are slanderers. And implacability, that is an unwillingness to be tolerant, takes central place. It is the very opposite of what a Christian leader should be (2 Timothy 2:24-25 a).


Verse 5

‘Holding a form of religious behaviour, but having denied its power. From these also turn away.’

And yet they cling to some kind of ‘eusebeias’, religious thinking and behaviour. But they deny the source of true power in genuine religion, response to and recognition of the risen Christ (2 Timothy 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:10). Thus Timothy must turn away from them (compare 2 Timothy 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:4-7; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:3-5 with 1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Timothy 6:20-21). It is worthy of note how concerned Paul is in his final letters to warn against distortions of Christianity such as are found in the sects, which include Islam, a religion based on Mohammed’s distorted notions about Christian teaching.

‘Having denied its power.’ On one way or another they deny the resurrection and its significance. For example, they say that the resurrection is past already (2 Timothy 2:18). But its power can equally be denied by any failure to truly believe and come to a genuine knowledge of the truth. The power of the resurrection can only be experienced by becoming one with the risen Christ as a result of our opening our hearts to Him (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 3:17).


Verse 6-7

‘For of these are they who creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’

Paul now gives an example by describing in the present tense those who are already doing such things. The description no doubt includes the idea of sexual misbehaviour, but must not be limited to that. The men in question ‘creep into their houses’ (they are entering under false pretences) and seduce and deceive these women by false teaching, capturing their very souls, and making them prisoners to false teaching. The women may even think that what they are being taught is Christianity, but it is a perverted form that leads them away from true righteousness and rather than bringing relief, simply adds to their already heavy load of sin. Uneducated women whose hearts were not fixed on Christ were wide open to such manipulation. As mentioned it probably includes sexual misbehaviour which was a common feature of religion in those days (compare Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20; 2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:7-8; 2 Peter 2:14).

‘Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ In 1 Timothy 2:11 the women were to learn in quietness and in subjection to the elders of the church and to their Christian husbands. That is how they would come to a knowledge (epignosis) of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). But these women, although they are ever learning, and indulge fully in what they learn, fail to learn the truth because they go to false sources, and thus never come to that knowledge of the truth which is essential to salvation (1 Timothy 2:4).


Verse 8

‘And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth. Men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith.’

For these men who creep into women’s houses are like the magicians who opposed Moses in the days of the Pharaoh (Exodus 7:11, where the Jewish commentary, the Targum of Jonathan, mentions Jannes and Jambres; Exodus 8:7; Exodus 9:11). Just as those magicians/false religionists opposed and withstood Moses, so do these false teachers oppose and withstand the truth. They stand firm against the revelation of God’s power. And this is because their minds are corrupted, so that they have become spurious, ‘rejected after testing’, concerning the faith.


Verse 9

‘But they will proceed no further. For their folly will be evident to all men, as theirs also came to be.’

But there is no need to be afraid (the foundation of God stands sure - 2 Timothy 2:19), for they will not advance much further. Rather, as happened with the Egyptian religionists, their folly will eventually be made clear to all. They will be exposed, and be found to be ineffective, if not in this world then at the Judgment.

Note on Jannes and Jambres.

These names are applied to Exodus 2:7 by the Jewish Targum of Jonathan, and were clearly current in Jewish tradition from where Paul took them. Jewish tradition also saw them as the sons of Balaam. According to Eusebius the Pythagorean philosopher Numenius also refers to them.

End of note.


Verse 10

‘But YOU are familiar with my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patient endurance,’

Note the emphatic ‘you’. Paul knows that Timothy is not like these false teachers, if for no other reason than because he is familiar with Paul’s life and ministry. He knows what the genuine article is like. He is familiar with what Paul teaches, he knows how he behaves, he knows what his fixed purpose is, he knows the quality of his faith, he knows how longsuffering he is, he knows the love with which he is filled, love for God and love for the elect (compare 2 Timothy 2:10), and he knows his patient endurance and fortitude. All this should make absolutely clear to Timothy the difference between him and the false teachers, between the true and the false.

These are not the boasts of a man seeking to boost his own ego, but the words of a man under sentence of death who has reviewed his life and knows what he is, and who is reminding Timothy of those happy days when as a young man he had first come into contact with him (Paul) and had been moved by observing his life and what he saw of him to a new dedication. Meeting Paul and seeing what he was and what he had experienced had changed his life, and Paul now says, remember Timothy, for what convinced you then is still equally true today. So go back to your foundations.

‘Are familiar with.’ The verb originally meant ‘to follow up, trace out’ but came to mean ‘are cognisant of, are familiar with’ as used for example in the papyri.


Verse 11

‘Persecutions, sufferings, what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.’

Furthermore he had first hand knowledge of Paul’s persecutions and sufferings, and what befell him at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (Timothy’s home town - Acts 16:1-2), and he knew how he had been delivered, for he was there when some of it happened and would at least have learned about the remainder (see Acts 13:13 to Acts 14:20). Was it something that Timothy could ever forget, when, having watched with great sadness the stoning of the great Apostle who had come to them, and having seen his lifeless corpse dragged out of the town, Paul had somehow survived and had risen up and had come back into the town? Indeed let Timothy remember how the Lord delivered him out of all his afflictions. What more evidence then does he need?

Some may ask, why look so far back? The answer, of course is that Paul knows what a great impression these things had made on the young Timothy, and he wants to remind him of them. They had provided a foundation for Timothy’s faith. Indeed they may well have been partly responsible either for his conversion or for a rededication of his life, and have contributed to his resulting call (Acts 16:1). To him therefore those experiences meant much more than something that had happened more recently. They had been the very bedrock of his dedication. The mention of them reveals therefore that the writer is someone very familiar with Timothy’s inner life, and experience as a young man, and who more so than Paul?


Verse 12

‘Yes, and all who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.’

And he must not think that such suffering and persecution is only true of Paul. It is indeed true of all who would live genuine Christian lives in spiritual oneness with Christ (‘in Christ’), that is, who would live ‘godly’ (in worshipful fellowship with God) in Christ Jesus. This was what the Master Himself had emphasised (Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 10:16-22; John 16:2-3), and Paul constantly taught. When the Thessalonians experienced problems Paul had written to them, saying, "When we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come about, and as you know" (1 Thessalonians 3:4). And when he returned after the first missionary journey to visit the churches he had founded, he "strengthened the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingly Rule of God" (Acts 14:22).


Verse 13

‘But evil men and impostors will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’

In contrast with the ‘persecuted godly’ are evil men and ‘religious impostors’, that is those who make out that they are what they are not (like the Egyptian magicians) They will get worse and worse, and will continue both deceiving others, and being deceived about themselves. But they will not affect the growth of the Kingly Rule of God, for the Lord knows those who are His, and the foundation is solid (2 Timothy 2:19).


Verse 14

‘But you, abide in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them.’

In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul had told Timothy to put great effort into presenting himself to God as a workman who did not need to be ashamed because he rightly handled the word of truth, including that which said ‘the Lord knows those who are His’ and ‘let every one who names the Name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness’. Now he turns him back to the Scriptures once again. He must continue going on in the things which he has learned and been assured of, remembering from whom he has learned them. This may refer to Paul himself, having in mind 2 Timothy 3:10-12, or it may refer to his godly mother and grandmother who had instilled in him his unfeigned faith (2 Timothy 1:5). Or indeed it may be both. he has been well taught. Let him therefore be sure that he abides in what he had learned.

‘Assured of.’ Because he is established on the firm foundation as one of those whom the Lord knows as His (2 Timothy 2:19).


Verses 14-17

Timothy Is To Abide In The Scriptures As He Has Always Done (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

So what Timothy must do is remember what he has learned from the cradle. For he was fortunate enough to be brought up on the sacred writings, the Scriptures, which are able to make him wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. He must remember therefore that they are ‘God-breathed’ and are there in order to provide all that he can possibly need to make him a complete man of God and to prepare him for every good work that might lie ahead. Compare 2 Timothy 2:21. There he was prepared for every good work by being founded on the firm foundation (2 Timothy 2:19) and being a pure vessel in the household of God as a result of purging himself from false teaching and all unrighteousness. Here he will be prepared by studying the Scriptures and thus becoming a complete man of God, ready for every good work.

Analysis.

a But you, abide in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them (2 Timothy 3:14).

b And that from a babe you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

b Every scripture, inspired of God (God breathed) is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

a That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Note that in ‘a’ he is to abide in what he has learned, and in the parallel the consequence is given. In ‘b’ the sacred writings are spoken of and what they will achieve, and in the parallel the same occurs.


Verse 15

‘And that from a babe you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’

And the reason he can be so confident in what has been taught to him is because of its source. For from his cradle he has known ‘the sacred writings’, a name given to the Jewish Scriptures as evidenced by Josephus and Philo. And it is they which are able to make him ‘wise unto salvation’ through faith in Christ Jesus, for they point to Christ, and bring Christ home to the heart in such a way that Timothy has been able to become one with Him by faith, and now continues to experience Him continually. For in the end the source of salvation is not the Scriptures, it is the One to Whom the Scriptures point. The value of the Scriptures is that they reveal Christ to the heart. They are a pointer to Christ. And so salvation is to be found ‘in Christ Jesus’, that is by being united with Him in His death and resurrection (2 Timothy 2:11-12; Romans 6:3-4).

But we may ask, why does Paul here refer to the Scriptures using the description ‘the sacred writings’. The first reason is because he wants to stress that what he is speaking about is the written word. He wanted Timothy to remember how he had read these sacred writings from an early age. They had been the means by which he had learned to read, and had metaphorically cut his teeth on them. And they had been a source of truth to him throughout his childhood, finally bringing him to His acceptance of Jesus Christ. The second reason may have been in order to contrast the source of Timothy’s faith, which was ‘the sacred writings’, with the source of the faith of the false teachers, which was philosophical arguments and theories, and mystical experience. The ancient world put a great value on ancient writings, especially sacred ones in which was to be found the wisdom of the ages. So he wanted Timothy to recognise that there was nothing newfangled about what he believed. It had come down to him in written form from many men of God, and had on it the seal of many generations.

‘Wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’ The phraseology and the thought is typically Pauline. ‘Unto salvation’ is a favourite expression (Romans 1:16; Romans 10:10; compare 1 Peter 1:5), while ‘in Christ Jesus’ is at the root of his theology (nearly thirty times in Paul, nine times in the Pastorals, and once in 1 Peter 5:14). For salvation ‘in Christ Jesus’ was what his message was all about.


Verse 16

‘Every scripture, inspired of God (God breathed) is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.’

By stressing that Christ is central we do not by it diminish the value of the Scriptures. Rather we enhance it. For while it is Christ Jesus the risen Saviour Who is undoubtedly pre-eminent, the Scriptures are all important in pointing to Him. They are the means by which, through prayer, He can be made known to men and women. They are our source of the truth about Him and what He came to do. For the Scriptures are ‘breathed out by God’, they are the very words of God, and are profitable for teaching men, and reproving men, and correcting men, and for instructing them in righteousness. They are thus the means by which Christ and His teaching can be brought home to the heart as they are received in prayerful faith.

We should possibly note here that while it is mainly the Old Testament which is in mind in Paul’s words, by this time the traditions concerning Jesus had taken on a fixed form, even probably a written form (Luke 1:1), and were being equally seen as ‘Scripture’, as were Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16).

Note also how the Scriptures are seen as meeting every spiritual need. They provide sound teaching. They reprove men for their sin. They correct men in their daily walk. They instruct men in righteousness.

One problem that arises here is as to whether we should translate as ‘every Scripture, being God-breathed, --’ or ‘all Scripture is God out-breathed --.’ Both are linguistically possible. In the first case the emphasis would be on each part of Scripture as being God out-breathed so that it can be used in order to speak to the heart, in the other the emphasis is on the Scriptures as a whole being God-outbreathed. But either way they are indicating that all Scripture is ‘God-outbreathed. To all who read Paul’s words in 1st century AD both would basically be saying the same thing. ‘Scripture is God-outbreathed and is in every part therefore profitable --.’ For no one in Paul’s day would have questioned the difference, nor have argued that only some of it was God outbreathed or profitable. Nor more importantly would Paul himself.

It is however, probable, that we should translate as ‘all Scripture is God-outbreathed’, for the contrast is not between different Scriptures, (this is not a dissertation on Scripture), but between the fact that the Scriptures are ‘God-outbreathed’ while the false teachers teach hot air, breath from their own mouth. They are ‘puffed up’ by their own breath (2 Timothy 3:4; 1 Timothy 6:4) and speak with vain babblings (2 Timothy 2:16). In contrast with that Timothy’s foundation in the Scriptures is sure, for that is ‘God-outbreathed’.

Other arguments that favour this translation are:

1) If it was not intended to be seen as a predicate theopneustos would come before graphe.

2) The habit of dropping the copula in the opening clause of the sentence was typical of the writer, compare especially the parallel construction in 1 Timothy 4:4. See also 1 Timothy 1:8; 1 Timothy 1:15 etc.

3) Early Greek fathers translated as ‘all Scripture is God-outbreathed’, and Greek was their native tongue.

All these arguments favour translating as ‘all Scripture is God-outbreathed’.


Verse 17

‘That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.’

And the result is that the man of God (a description used of the prophets in the Old Testament, and having in mind therefore Spirit inspired men) who fully responds to the Scriptures and what is written in them, will become a complete servant of God, completely furnished to every good work. The Scriptures are basically all that he requires in order to be furnished with the truth. Thus through careful study of the Scriptures the purpose of 2 Timothy 2:19-21, to be ‘prepared unto every good work’ will have been accomplished. It is not enough just to be purged from false teaching, we must be grounded in the truth. Note here the interesting point that it is not enough just to be Spirit inspired (a man of God). If such a man is to be seen as teaching the truth he must do so according to the Scriptures.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-timothy-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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