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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Timothy 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Chapter 29

THE NEED OF MACHINERY FOR THE PRESERVATION AND TRANSMISSION OF THE FAITH-THE MACHINERY OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH. - 2 Timothy 2:1-2

In this tenderly affectionate address we have a very early indication of the beginnings of Christian tradition and Christian schools, two subjects intimately connected with one another. St. Paul having pointed out as a warning to his "child" Timothy the cold or cowardly behavior of those in Asia who had turned away from him, and as an example the affectionate courage of Onesiphorus, returns to the charge of which this letter is so full, that Timothy is "not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord," but be willing to "suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God." [2 Timothy 1:8] "Thou, therefore, my child," with these instances in mind on the one hand and on the other, "be inwardly strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." In his own strength he will be able to do nothing; but in the grace which Christ freely bestows on all believers who ask it of Him, Timothy will be able to find all that he needs for the strengthening of his own character and for the instruction of others.

And here St. Paul, in a way thoroughly natural in one who is writing a letter which is personal rather than official, diverges for a moment to give utterance to the idea which passes through his mind of securing permanence in the instruction of the faithful. Possibly it was in reference to this duty that he feared the natural despondency and sensitiveness of Timothy. Timothy would be likely to shrink from such work, or to do it in a half-hearted way. Or again the thought that this letter is to summon Timothy to come to him is in his mind, [2 Timothy 4:9; 2 Timothy 4:21] and he forthwith exhorts him to make proper provision for continuity of sound teaching in the Church committed to his care. "The things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." In other words, before leaving his flock in order to visit his spiritual father and friend, he is to secure the establishment of apostolic tradition. And in order to do this he is to establish a school, -a school of picked scholars, intelligent enough to appreciate, and trustworthy enough to preserve, all that has been handed down from Christ and His Apostles respecting the essentials of the Christian faith. There is only one Gospel, -that which the Apostles have preached ever since the Ascension. It is so well known, so well authenticated both by intrinsic sublimity and external testimony, that no one would be justified in accepting a different Gospel, even upon the authority of an angel from heaven. A second Gospel is an impossibility. That which is not identical with the Gospel which St. Paul and the other Apostles have preached would be no Gospel at all. [Galatians 1:6-9] And this Divine and Apostolic Gospel is the Gospel which has been committed to Timothy’s charge. Let him take all reasonable care for its preservation.

For in the first place, such care was commanded from the outset. Christ has promised that His truth shall continue and shall prevail. But He has not exempted Christians from the duty of preserving and propagating it. He, Who is the Truth, has declared that He is ever with His Church, even unto the end of the world; [Matthew 28:20] and in fulfillment of this promise He has bestowed the Spirit of truth upon it. But He has nowhere hinted that His Church is to leave the cause of His Gospel to take care of itself. On the contrary, at the very time that He promised to be always with His disciples, He prefaced this promise with the command, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you"; as if His promise were contingent upon their fulfillment of this charge. At the very moment when the Church received the truth, it was told that it had the responsibility of safeguarding it and making it known.

And, secondly, experience has proved how entirely necessary such care is. The Gospel cannot be superseded by any announcement possessing a larger measure of truth and authority. So far as the present dispensation goes, its claims are absolute and final. But it may be seriously misunderstood; it may be corrupted by large admixture of error; it may be partially or even totally forgotten; it may be supplanted by some meretricious counterfeit. There were Thessalonians who had supposed that the Gospel exempted them from the obligation of working to earn their bread. There were Christians at Corinth and Ephesus who had confounded the liberty of the Gospel with antinomian license. There was the Church of Sardis which had so completely forgotten what it had received, that no works of its doing were found fulfilled before God, and the remnant of truth and life which survived was ready to perish. And the Churches of Galatia had been in danger of casting on one side the glories of the Gospel and returning to the bondage of the Law. Through ignorance, through neglect, through willful misrepresentation or interested opposition, the truth might be obscured, or depraved, or defeated; and there were few places where such disastrous results were more possible than at Ephesus. Its restless activity in commerce and speculation; its worldliness; the seductiveness of its forms of paganism; - all these constituted an atmosphere in which Christian truth, unless carefully protected, would be likely to become tainted or be ignored. Even without taking into account the proposal that Timothy should leave Ephesus for awhile and visit the Apostle in his imprisonment at Rome, it was no more than necessary precaution that he should endeavor to secure the establishment of a permanent center for preserving and handing on in its integrity the faith once for all committed to the saints.

"The things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses." The last three words are remarkable; and they are still more remarkable in the original Greek. St. Paul does not say simply "in the presence of many witnesses" ( ενωπιον or παροντων πολλων μαρτυρων ), but "by means of many witnesses" ( διαρων). In the First Epistle [1 Timothy 6:12] he had appealed to the good confession which Timothy had made "in the sight of many witnesses." As regards Timothy’s confession these were witnesses and no more. They were able forever afterwards to testify that he had made it; but they did not help him to make it. The confession was his, not theirs, although no doubt they assented to it and approved it; and their presence in no way affected its goodness. But here those who were present were something more than mere witnesses of what the Apostle said to Timothy: they were an integral part of the proceeding. Their presence was an element without which the Apostle’s teaching would have assumed a different character. They were not a mere audience, able to testify as to what was said; they were guarantees of the instruction which was given. The sentiments and opinions which St. Paul might express in private to his disciple, and the authoritative teaching which he delivered to him in public under the sanction of many witnesses, were two different things and stood on different grounds. Timothy had often heard from his friend his personal views on a variety of subjects; and he had often heard from the Apostle his official testimony, delivered solemnly in the congregation, as to the truths of the Gospel. It is this latter body of instruction, thus amply guaranteed, of which Timothy is to take such care. He is to treat it as a treasure committed to his charge, a precious legacy which he holds in trust. And in his turn he is to commit it to the keeping of trustworthy persons, who will know its value, and be capable of preserving it intact and of handing it on to others as trustworthy as themselves.

Some expositors interpret the passage as referring, not to the Apostle’s public teaching as a whole, but to the instructions which he gave to Timothy at his ordination respecting the proper discharge of his office; and the aorist tense ( ηκουσας) favors the view that some definite occasion is intended. {comp. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6} In that case the Apostle is here showing anxiety for the establishment of a sound tradition respecting the duties of ministers, - a very important portion, but by no means the main portion of the teaching which he had imparted. But the aorist does not compel us to confine the allusion to some one event, such as Timothy’s ordination or baptism; and it seems more reasonable to understand the charge here given as a continuation of that which occurs towards the close of the first chapter. There he says, "Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard" ( ηκουσας) "from me"; and here he charges Timothy not merely to hold this pattern of sound words fast himself, but to take care that it does not perish with him.

This, then, may be considered as the earliest trace of the formation of a theological school, -a school which has for its object not merely the instruction of the ignorant, but the protection and maintenance of a definite body of doctrine. That which the Apostle, when he was in Ephesus, publicly taught, under the sanction of a multitude of witnesses, is to be preserved and handed on without compromise or corruption as a pattern of wholesome doctrine. There are unhealthy and even deadly distortions of the truth in the air, and unless care is taken to preserve the truth, it may easily become possible to confuse weak and ignorant minds as to what are the essentials of the Christian faith.

The question as to the earliest methods of Christian instruction and the precautions taken for the preservation of Apostolic tradition is one of the many particulars in which our knowledge of the primitive Church is so tantalizingly meager. A small amount of information is given us in the New Testament, for the most part quite incidentally, as here; and then the history runs underground, and does not reappear for a century or more. The first few generations of Christians did not contain a large number of persons who were capable of producing anything very considerable in the way of literature. Of those who had the ability, not many had the leisure or the inclination to write. It was more important to teach, by word of mouth than with the pen; and where was the use of leaving records of what was being done, when (as was generally believed) Christ would almost immediately appear to put an end to the existing dispensation? Out of what was written much, as we know, has perished, including even documents of Apostolic origin. [Luke 1:1-2; 1 Corinthians 5:9; 3 John 1:9] Therefore, much as we lament the scantiness of the evidence that has come down to us, there is nothing surprising about it. The marvel is, not that so little contemporary history has reached us, but that so much has done so. And what it behooves us to do is to make a sober use of such testimony as we possess.

We shall be doing no more than drawing a reasonable conclusion from the passage before us if we infer that what St. Paul enjoins Timothy to do at Ephesus was done in many other Churches also, partly in consequence of this Apostolic injunction, and partly because what he enjoins would be suggested in many cases by necessity and common sense. This inference is confirmed by the fact that it is precisely to the continuity of doctrine secured by a regular succession of authorized and official teachers in the different Churches that appeal is continually made by some of the earliest Christian writers whose works have come down to us. Thus Hegesippus cir. A.D. 170) gives as the result of careful personal investigations at Corinth, Rome, and elsewhere, "But in every succession (of bishops) and in every city there prevails just what the Law and the Prophets and the Lord proclaim" (Eus., "H.E.," IV, 22:3). Irenaeus, in his great work against heresies, which was completed about A.D. 185, says, "We can enumerate those who were appointed bishops by the Apostles themselves in the different Churches, and their successors down to our own day; and they neither taught nor acknowledged any such stuff as is raved by these men"

But since it would be a long business in a work of this kind to enumerate the successions in all the Churches, he selects as a primary example that of "the very great and ancient Church, well known to all men, founded and established by the two most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul." After giving the succession of Roman bishops from Linus to Eleutherus, he glances at Smyrna, presided over by St. John’s disciple, Polycarp, whose letter to the Philippian Church shows what he believed, and at Ephesus, founded as a Church by St. Paul and presided over by St. John, until the times of Trajan (III 3:1-3). Again he says that, although there may be different opinions respecting single passages of Scripture, yet there can be none as to the sum total of its contents, viz., "that which the Apostles have deposited in the Church as the fullness of truth, and which has been preserved in the Church by the succession of bishops." And again, still more definitely, "The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the Apostles and their disciples the belief in one God, Father Almighty, etc. Having received this preaching and this belief, the Church, as we said before, although dispersed about the whole world, carefully guards it, as if dwelling in one house; and she believes these things, as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and with perfect concord she preaches them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For although the languages up and down the world are different, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For neither the Churches which are established in Germany believe anything different or hand down anything different, nor in Spain, nor in Gaul, nor throughout the East, nor in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor those established about the central regions of the earth And neither will he who is very mighty in word among those who preside in the Churches utter different [doctrines] from these (for no one is above the Master), nor will he who is weak in speaking lessen the tradition" (I 10. I, 2). Clement of Alexandria (cir. A.D. 200) tells us that he had studied in Greece, Italy, and the East, under teachers from Ionia, Coelesyria, Assyria, and Palestine; and he writes of his teachers thus: "These men, preserving the true tradition of the blessed teaching directly from Peter and James, from John and Paul, the holy Apostles, son receiving it from father (but few are they who are like their fathers), came by God’s providence even to us, to deposit among us those seeds which are ancestral and apostolic" ("Strom.," I p. 322, ed. Potter). Tertullian in like manner appeals to the unbroken tradition, reaching back to the Apostles, in a variety of Churches: "Run over the Apostolic Churches, in which the very chairs of the Apostles still preside in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them"; and he mentions in particular Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome. "Is it likely that Churches of such number and weight should have strayed into one and the same faith?" ("De Pries. Hoer.," 28., 36.).

This evidence is quite sufficient to prove that what St. Paul charged Timothy to do at Ephesus was done not only there, but at all the chief centers of the Christian Church: viz., that everywhere great care was taken to provide continuity of authoritative teaching respecting the articles of the faith. It indicates also that as a rule the bishop in each place was regarded as the custodian of the deposit, who was to be chiefly responsible for its preservation. But the precise method or methods (for there was probably different machinery in different places) by which this was accomplished, cannot now be ascertained. It is not until near the end of the second century that we begin to get anything like precise information as to the way in which Christian instruction was given, whether to believers or heathen, in one or two of the principal centers of Christendom; e.g., Alexandria, Caesarea, and Jerusalem.

St. Paul himself had ruled that a bishop must be "apt to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2; comp. Titus 1:9); and although we have no reason to suppose that as a rule the bishop was the only or even the chief instructor, yet he probably selected the teachers, as Timothy is directed to do here. In the great Catechetical School of Alexandria the appointment of what we should now call the Rector or senior professor was in the hands of the bishop. And, as we might expect, bishops selected clergy for this most important office. It forms one of the many contrasts between primitive Christianity and heathenism, that Christians did, and pagans did not, regard it as one of the functions of the priesthood to give instruction in the traditional faith. The heathen clergy, if consulted, would give information respecting the due performance of rites and ceremonies, and the import of omens and dreams; but of their giving systematic teaching as to what was to be believed respecting the gods, there is no trace.

It is more than probable that a great deal of the instruction both to candidates for baptism and candidates for the ministry was from very early times reduced to something like a formula; even before the dangers of corruption arising from Gnosticism rendered this necessary, we may believe that it took place. We know that the Gospel history was m the first instance taught orally; and the oral instruction very soon-fell into something that approached to a stereotyped form. This would probably be the case with regard to statements of the essentials of the Christian faith. In Ignatius ("Philad.," 8.), Justin Martyr ("Apol.," I 61, 66), and in Irenaeus ("Haer.," I 10. i) we can trace what may well have been formulas in common use. But it is not until the middle of the fourth century that we get a complete example of the systematic instruction given by a Christian teacher, in the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, delivered, however, before his episcopate.

But what is certain respecting the earliest ages of the Church is this; that in every Church regular instruction in the faith was given by persons in authority specially selected for this work, and that frequent intercourse between the Churches showed that the substance of the instruction given was in all cases the same, whether the form of words was identical or not. These facts, which do not by any means stand alone, are conclusive against the hypothesis that between the Crucifixion and the middle of the second century a complete revolution in the creed was effected; and that the traditional belief of Christians is not that which Jesus of Nazareth taught, but a perversion of it which owes its origin mainly to the overwhelming influence of His professed follower, but virtual supplanter, Saul of Tarsus.


Verses 3-7

Chapter 30

THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE AS MILITARY SERVICE AS AN ATHLETIC CONTEST AS HUSBANDRY. - 2 Timothy 2:3-7

ST. PAUL represents the Christian life and the Christian ministry under a variety of figures. Sometimes as husbandry; as when he tells the Galatians that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"; and that "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not"; [Galatians 6:7; Galatians 6:9] or when he reminds the Corinthians that "he that plougheth ought to plough in hope, and he that thresheth, to thresh in hope of partaking". [1 Corinthians 9:10] Sometimes as an athletic contest; as when he tells the Corinthians that "every man who striveth in the games is temperate in all things"; [1 Corinthians 9:25] or the Ephesians that "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places". [Ephesians 6:12] Sometimes, and most frequently, as military service: as when he charges the Thessalonians to "put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation"; [1 Thessalonians 5:8] or when he writes to the Philippians of Epaphroditus as his "fellow-soldier". [Philippians 2:25]

In the passage before us he makes use of all three figures: but the one of which he seems to have been most fond is the one which he places first, -that of military service. "Suffer hardships with me," or "take thy share in suffering, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier." He had used the same kind of language in the First Epistle, urging Timothy to "war the good warfare" and to "fight the good fight of faith". [1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:12] Every Christian, and especially every Christian minister, may be regarded as a soldier, as an athlete, as a husbandman; but of the three similitudes the one which fits him best is that of a soldier.

Even if this were not so, St. Paul’s fondness for the metaphor would be very intelligible.

1. Military service was very familiar to him, especially in his imprisonments. He had been arrested by soldiers at Jerusalem, escorted by

2. troops to Caesarea, sent under the charge of a centurion and a band of soldiers to Rome, and had been kept there under military surveillance for many months in the first Roman imprisonment, and for we know not how long in the second. And we may assume it as almost certain that the place of his imprisonment was near the praetorian camp. This would probably be so ordered for the convenience of the soldiers who had charge of him. He therefore had very large opportunities of observing very closely all the details of ordinary military life. He must frequently have seen soldiers under drill, on parade, on guard, on the march; must have watched them cleaning, mending, and sharpening their weapons; putting their armor on, putting it off. Often during hours of enforced inactivity he must have compared these details with the details of the Christian life, and noticed how admirably they corresponded with one another.

Military service was not only very familiar to himself; it was also quite sufficiently familiar to those whom he addressed. Roman troops were everywhere to be seen throughout the length and breadth of the Empire, and nearly every member of society knew something of the kind of life which a soldier of the Empire had to lead.

1. The Roman army was the one great organization of which it was still possible, in that age of boundless social corruption, to think and speak with right-minded admiration and respect. No doubt it was often the instrument of wholesale cruelties as it pushed forward its conquests, or strengthened its hold, over resisting or rebelling nations. But it promoted discipline and esprit de corps. Even during active warfare it checked individual license; and when the conquest was over it was the representative and mainstay of order and justice against high-handed anarchy and wrong. Its officers several times appear m the narrative portions of the New Testament, and they make a favorable impression upon us. If they are fair specimens of the military men in the Roman Empire at that period, then the Roman army must have been indeed a fine service. There is the centurion whose faith excited even Christ’s admiration; the centurion who confessed Christ’s righteousness and Divine origin at the crucifixion; Cornelius, of the Italian cohort, to whom St. Peter was sent; C. Lysias, the chief captain or tribune who rescued St. Paul, first from the mob, and then from the conspiracy to assassinate him; and Julius, who out of consideration for St. Paul prevented the soldiers from killing the prisoners in the shipwreck.

2. But the reasons for the Apostle’s preference for this similitude go deeper than all this.

Military service involves self-sacrifice, endurance, discipline, vigilance, obedience, ready co-operation with others, sympathy, enthusiasm, loyalty. Tertullian in his "Address to Martyrs" draws with characteristic incisiveness the stern parallel between the severity of the soldier’s life and that of the Christian. "Be it so, that even to Christians a prison is distasteful. We were called to active service under the Living God from the very moment of our response to the baptismal formula. No soldier comes to the war surrounded by luxuries, nor goes into action from a comfortable bedroom, but from the makeshift and narrow tent, where every kind of hardness and severity and unpleasantness is to be found. Even in peace soldiers learn betimes to suffer warfare by toil and discomforts, by marching in arms, running over the drill-ground, working at trench-making, constructing the tortoise till the sweat runs again. In the sweat of the brow all things are done, lest body and mind should shrink at changes from shade to sunshine, and from sunshine to frost, from the dress of ease to the coat of mail, from stillness to shouting, from quiet to the din of war. In like manner do ye, O blessed ones, account whatever is hard in this your lot as discipline of the powers of your mind and body. Ye are about to enter for the good fight, in which the Living God gives the prizes, and the Holy Spirit prepares the combatants, and the crown is the eternal prize of an angel’s nature, citizenship in heaven, glory forever and ever. Therefore your trainer, Jesus Christ, Who has anointed you with the Spirit and led you forth to this arena, has seen good to separate you from a state of freedom for rougher treatment, that power may be made strong in you. For the athletes also are set apart for stricter discipline, that they may have time to build up their strength. They are kept from luxury, from daintier meats, from too pleasant drink; they are driven, tormented, distressed. The harder their labors in training, the greater their hopes of victory. And they do it, says the Apostle, that they may obtain a corruptible crown. We, with an eternal crown to obtain, look upon the prison as our training-ground, that we may be led to the arena of the judgment-seat well disciplined by every kind of discomfort: because virtue is built up, by hardness, but by softness is overthrown" ("Ad Mart.," 3.). It will be observed that Tertullian passes by an easy transition from training for military service to training for athletic contests. The whole passage is little more than a graphic amplification of what St. Paul writes to Timothy.

1. But military service implies, what athletic contests do not, vigilant, unwearying, and organized opposition to a vigilant, unwearying, and organized foe. In many athletic contests one’s opponent is a rival rather than an enemy. He may defeat us; but he inflicts no injury. He may win the prizes; but he takes nothing of ours. And even in the more deadly conflicts of the amphitheatre the enemy is very different from an enemy in war. The combat is between individuals, not armies; it is the exception and not the rule; it is strictly limited in time and place, not for all times and all places; it is a duel and not a campaign, - still less a prolonged war. Military service is either perpetual warfare or perpetual preparation for it. And just such is the Christian life: it is either a conflict, or a preparation for one. The soldier, so long as he remains in the service, can never say, "I may lay aside my arms and my drill: all enemies are conquered; there will never be another war." And the Christian, so long as he remains in this world, can never think that he may cease to watch and to pray, because the victory is won, and he will never be tempted any more. It is for this reason that he cannot allow himself to be "entangled in the affairs of this life." The soldier on service avoids this error: he knows that it would interfere with his promotion. The Christian must avoid it at least as carefully; for he is always on service, and the loss of promotion is the loss of eternal life.

Observe that St. Paul does not suggest that Christians should keep aloof from the affairs of this life, which would be a flat contradiction of what he teaches elsewhere. The Christian is to "do his own business, and to work with his hands, that he may walk honestly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing". [1 Thessalonians 4:11-12] He has a duty to perform "in the affairs of this life," but in doing it he is not to be entangled in them. They are means, not ends; and must be made to help him on, not suffered to keep him back. If they become entanglements instead of opportunities, he will soon lose that state of constant preparation and alertness, which is the indispensable condition of success.

The same thought is brought out in the second metaphor by the word " lawfully. " The athlete who competes in the games does not receive a crown, unless he has contended lawfully, i.e. , according to rule ( νομιμως νομος ). Even if he seems to be victorious, he nevertheless is not crowned, because he has violated the well-known conditions. And what is the rule, what are the conditions of the Christian’s contest? "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." If we wish to share Christ’s victory, we must be ready to share His suffering. No cross, no crown. To try, to withdraw oneself from all hardship and annoyance, to attempt to avoid all that is painful or disagreeable, is a violation of the rules of the arena. This, it would appear, Timothy was in some respects tempted to do; and timidity and despondency must not be allowed to get the upper hand. Not that what is painful, or distasteful, or unpopular, is necessarily right; but it is certainly not necessarily wrong: and to try to avoid everything that one dislikes is to ensure being fatally wrong. So that, as Chrysostom says, "it behooves thee not to complain, if thou endurest hardness; but to complain, if thou dost not endure hardness."

Chrysostom and some modern commentators make the striving lawfully include not only the observance of the rules of the contest, but the previous training and preparation. "What is meant by lawfully? It is not enough that he is anointed, and even engages, unless he complies with all the regulations of training with respect to diet, temperance, and sobriety, and all the rules of the wrestling-school. Unless, in short, he go through all that is befitting a wrestler, he is not crowned." This makes good sense, if "is not crowned" be interpreted to mean "is not likely to be first," rather than "does not receive the crown, even if he is first." A victorious athlete is rightly deprived of the reward, if he has violated the conditions of the contest: but no one ever yet heard of a victor being refused the prize because he had not trained properly. Moreover, there are enough examples to show that "lawfully" ( νομιμως ) does sometimes include the training as well as the contest.

But this does not seem to be St. Paul’s meaning. In the first similitude he takes no account of the time which precedes the soldier’s service, during which he may be supposed to be preparing himself for it. The Christian’s life and the soldier’s service are regarded as coextensive, and there is no thought of any previous period. So also in the second similitude. The Christian’s life and the athlete’s contest are regarded as co-extensive, and no account is taken of anything that may have preceded. Baptism is entering the lists, not entering the training-school; and the only rules under consideration are the rules of the arena.

No doubt there are analogies between the training-school and Christian discipline, and St. Paul sometimes makes use of them; [1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 9:27] but they do not seem to be included in the present metaphor.

But it is about the third similitude that there has been most discussion. "The husbandman that laboreth must be the first to partake of the fruits": not, as the A.V., "must be first partaker of the fruits"; which seems to imply that he must partake of the fruits before he labors. What is the meaning of "first?" Some commentators resort to the rather desperate hypothesis that this word is misplaced, as it sometimes is in careless writing and conversation: and they suppose that what St. Paul means is, that "the husbandman, who labors first, must then partake of the fruits," or, more clearly, "the husbandman, who wishes to partake of the fruits, must first of all labor." The margin of the A.V suggests a similar translation. But this is to credit the Apostle with great clumsiness of expression. And even if this transposition of the "first" could be accepted as probable, there still remains the fact that we have the present and not the aorist participle ( κοπιωντα and not κοπιασαντα ). Had St. Paul meant what is supposed, he would have said "The husbandman who has first labored," not "who labor first." But there is no transposition of the "first." The order of the Greek shows that the emphatic word is "labors." "It is the laboring husbandman who must be the first to partake of the fruits." It is the man who works hard and with a will, and not the one who works listlessly or looks despondently on, who, according to all moral fitness and the nature of things, ought to have the first share in the fruits. This interpretation does justice to the Greek as it stands, without resorting to any manipulation of the Apostle’s language. Moreover, it brings the saying into perfect harmony with the context.

It is quite evident that the three metaphors are parallel to one another and are intended to teach the same lesson. In each of them we have two things placed side by side, -a prize and the method to be observed in obtaining it. Do you, as a Christian soldier on service, wish for the approbation of Him who has enrolled you? Then you must avoid the entanglements which would interfere with your service. Do you, as a Christian athlete, wish for the crown of victory? Then you must not evade the rules of the contest. Do you, as a Christian husbandman, wish to be among the first to enjoy the harvest? Then you must be foremost in toil. And the Apostle draws attention to the importance of the lesson of self-devotion and endurance inculcated under these three impressive figures, by adding, "Consider what I say; for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things." That is, He has confidence that His disciple will be enabled to draw the right conclusion from these metaphors; and having done so, will have grace to apply it to his own case.

Timothy is not the only Christian, or the only minister, who is in danger of being disgusted, and disheartened, and dismayed, by the coldness and apathy of professing friends, and by the hostility and contempt of secret or open enemies. We all of us need at times to be reminded that here we have no abiding city, but that our citizenship is in heaven. And we all of us are at times inclined to murmur, because the rest for which we so often yearn is not given us here; -a rest from toil, a rest from temptation, and a rest from sin. Such a sabbath-rest is the prize in store for us; but we cannot have it here. And if we desire to have it hereafter, we must keep the rules of the arena; and the rules are self-control, self-sacrifice, and work.


Verses 8-10

Chapter 31

THE POWER OF A BELIEF IN THE RESURRECTION AND THE INCARNATION-THE GOSPEL OF ST. PAUL. - 2 Timothy 2:8-10

THESE words are a continuation of the same subject. They are additional thoughts supplied to the Apostle’s beloved disciple to induce him to take courage and to bear willingly and thankfully whatever difficulties and sufferings the preaching of the gospel in all its fullness may involve. In the three metaphors just preceding, St. Paul has indicated that there is nothing amazing, nothing that ought to cause perplexity or despondency, in the fact that ministers of the word have to encounter much opposition and danger. On the contrary, such things are the very conditions of the situation; they are the very rules of the course. One would have to suspect that there was something seriously amiss, if they did not occur; and without them there would be no chance of reward. Here he goes on to point out that this hardship and suffering is very far from being mere hardship and suffering; it has its bright side and its compensations, even in this life.

Throughout this section it is well worth while to notice the very considerable improvements which the Revisers have made in it. One or two of these have been already noticed; but for convenience some of the principal instances are here collected together.

"Suffer hardship with me," or "Take thy part in suffering hardship," is better than "Thou therefore endure hardship," which, while inserting a spurious "therefore," omits the important intimation that the hardship to which Timothy is invited is one which others are enduring, and which he is called upon, not to bear alone, but to share. "No soldier on service" is better than "No man that warreth," and "if also a man contend in the games" is more definite than the vague "if a man also strive for masteries." The ambiguity of "must be first partaker of the fruits" is avoided in "must be the first to partake of the fruits." But perhaps none of these corrections are so important as those in the passage now before us. "Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, according to my gospel," gives quite a wrong turn to St. Paul’s language. It puts the clauses in the wrong order, and gives an erroneous impression as to what is to be remembered. Timothy is charged to "remember Jesus Christ"; and in remembering Him he is to think of Him as one Who is "risen from the dead," and Who is also "of the seed of David." These are central facts of the Gospel which St. Paul has always preached; they have been his support in all his sufferings; and they will be the same support to the disciple as they have been to the master.

"Remember Jesus Christ." Every Christian, who has to endure what seem to him to be hardships, will sooner or later fall back upon this remembrance. He is not the first, and not the chief sufferer in the world. There is One Who has undergone hardships, compared with which those of other men sink into nothingness; and Who has expressly told those Who wish to be His disciples, that they must follow Him along the path of suffering. It is specially in this respect that the servant is not above his Lord. And just in proportion as we are true servants will the remembrance of Jesus Christ help us to welcome what He lays upon us as proof that He recognizes and accepts our service.

But merely to remember Jesus Christ as a Master Who has suffered, and Who has made suffering a condition of service, will not be a permanently sustaining or comforting thought, if it ends there. Therefore St. Paul says to his perplexed and desponding delegate, "Remember Jesus Christ as one risen from the dead." Jesus Christ has not only endured every kind of suffering, including its extreme form, death, but He has conquered it all by rising again. He is not only the sinless Sufferer, but also the triumphant Victor over death and hell. He has set us an example of heroic endurance in obedience to the will of God; but He has also secured for us that our endurance in imitation of Him shall be crowned with victory. Had Christ’s mission ended on Calvary, He would but have given to the world a purified form of Stoicism, a refined "philosophy of suffering"; and His teaching would have failed, as Stoicism failed, because a mere philosophy of suffering is quickly proved by experience to be a "philosophy of despair." Renan remarks with truth that the gospel of Marcus Aurelius fortifies, but does not console: and all teaching is doomed from the outset, which comes to a groaning and travailing humanity without any consolations to bestow. What is the thought which through long centuries has wrung, and is still wringing millions of human hearts with anguish? It is the thought of the existence and not only the existence but the apparent predominance of evil. Everywhere experience seems to teach us that evil of every kind, physical, intellectual, and moral, holds the field and appears likely to hold it. To allow oneself to be mastered by this thought is to be on the road to doubting God’s moral government of the world. What is the antidote to it?

"Remember Jesus Christ as one risen from the dead." When has evil ever been so completely triumphant over good as when it succeeded in getting the Prophet of Nazareth nailed to the tree, like some vile and noxious animal? That was the hour of success for the malignant Jewish hierarchy and for the spiritual powers of darkness. But it was an hour to which very strict limits were placed. Very soon He Who had been dismissed to the grave by a cruel and shameful death, defeated and disgraced, rose again from it triumphant, not only over Jewish priests and Roman soldiers, but over death and the cause of death; that is, over every kind of evil-pain, and ignorance, and sin. It was for that very purpose that He laid down His life, that He might take it again: and it was for that reason that His Father loved Him, because He had received the commandment to lay it down and take it again from His Father. [John 10:17-18]

But "to remember Jesus Christ as one risen from the dead" does more than this. It not only shows us that the evil against which we have such a weary struggle in this life, both in others and in ourselves, is not (in spite of depressing appearances) permanently triumphant; it also assures us that there is another and a better life in which the good cause will be supreme, and supreme without the possibility of disaster, or even of contest. We talk in a conventional way of death as the country "from whose bourne, no traveler returns": but we are wrong. We do not mean it so; yet this saying, if pressed, would carry with it a denial of a fact which is better attested than any fact in ancient history. One Traveler has returned; and His return is no extraordinary accident or exceptional and solitary success. It is a representative return and a typical success. What the Son of Man has done, other sons of men can do, and will do. The solidarity between the human race and the Second Adam, between the Church and its Head, is such that the victory of the Leader carries with it the victory of the whole band. The breach made in the gates of death is one through which the whole army of Christ’s followers may pass out into eternal life, free from death’s power for evermore. This thought is full of comfort and encouragement to those who feel themselves almost overwhelmed by the perplexities, and contradictions, and sorrows of this life. However grievous this life may be, it has this merciful condition attached to it, that it lasts only for a short time; and then the risen Christ leads us into a life which is free from all trouble, and which knows no end. The miseries of this life are lessened by the knowledge that they cannot last long. The blessedness of the life to come is perfected by the fact that it is eternal.

Once more, to "remember Jesus Christ as one risen from the dead," is to remember One Who claimed to be the promised Savior of the world, and Who proved His claim. By its countless needs, by many centuries of yearning, by its consciousness of failure and of guilt, the whole human race had been led to look forward to the coming of some great Deliverer, Who would rescue mankind from its hopeless descent down the path of sin and retribution, as a possibility. By the express promise of Almighty God, made to the first generation of mankind, and renewed again and again to patriarchs and prophets, the chosen people had been taught to look forward to the coming of the Savior as a certainty. And Jesus of Nazareth had claimed to be this longed for and expected Deliverer, the Desire of all nations and the Savior of the world. "I that speak unto thee am He." [John 4:26] By His mighty works, and still more by His life-giving words, He had shown that He had Divine credentials in support of His claim: but not until He rose again from the dead was His claim absolutely proved. It was the proof which He Himself volunteered. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up". [John 2:19] "There shall no sign be given but the sign of Jonah the prophet: for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth," [Matthew 12:39-40] and then return again to the light of day as Jonah did. He had raised others from the dead; but so had Elijah and Elisha done. That proved no more than that He was a prophet as mighty as they. But no one before Jesus had ever raised Himself. If His Messiahship was doubtful before, all doubt vanished on Easter morning.

And this leads St. Paul on to the second point which his downcast disciple is to remember in connection with Jesus Christ. He is to remember Him as "of the seed of David." He is not only truly God, but truly man. He was risen from the dead, and yet He was born of flesh and blood, and born of that royal line of which Timothy, who "from a babe had known the sacred writings," had many times heard and read. The Resurrection and the Incarnation; -those are the two facts on which a faltering minister of the Gospel is to hold fast, in order to comfort his heart and strengthen his steps.

It is worth noting that St. Paul places the Resurrection before the Incarnation, a fact which is quite lost in the transposed order of the A.V. St. Paul’s order, which at first sight seems to be illogical, was the usual order of the Apostles’ preaching. They began, not with the miraculous birth of Christ, but with His resurrection. They proved by abundant testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead, and thence argued that He must have been more than man. They did not preach His birth of a virgin, and thence argue that He was Divine. How was His miraculous birth to be proved, to those who were unwilling to accept His Mother’s word for it? But thousands of people had seen Him dead upon the Cross, and hundreds had seen Him alive again afterwards. No matter of fact was more securely established for all those who cared to investigate the evidence. With the Resurrection proved, the foundations of the faith were laid. The Incarnation followed easily after this, especially when combined with the descent from David, a fact which helped to prove His Messiahship. Let Timothy boldly and patiently preach these great truths in all their grand simplicity, and they will bring comfort and strength to him in his distress and difficulty, as they have done to the Apostle.

This is the meaning of "according to my gospel." These are the truths which St. Paul has habitually preached, and of the value of which he can speak from full experience. He knows what he is talking about, when he affirms that these things are worth remembering when one is in trouble. The Resurrection and the Incarnation are facts on which he has ceaselessly insisted, because in the wear and tear of life he has found out their worth.

There is no emphasis on the "my," as the Greek shows. An enclitic cannot be emphatic. The Apostle is not contrasting his Gospel with that of other preachers, as if he would say, "Others may teach what they please, but this is the substance of my Gospel." And Jerome is certainly mistaken, if what is quoted as a remark of his is rightly assigned to him by Fabricius, to the effect that whenever St. Paul says "according to my Gospel" he means the written Gospel of his companion St. Luke, who had caught much of his spirit and something of his language. It would be much nearer the truth to say that St. Paul never refers to a written Gospel. In every one of the passages in which the phrase occurs the context is quite against any such interpretation (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25; cf. 1 Timothy 1:11). In this place the words which follow are conclusive: "Wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor." How could he be said to suffer hardship unto bonds in the Gospel of St. Luke?

A word of protest may be added against the strange and impossible theory that the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles were written by St. Paul himself. If there is one thing which is certain with regard to the authorship of the Books of the New Testament, it is that the Acts was written by a companion of St. Paul. Even destructive critics who spare little else, admit this of portions of the Acts; and the Book must be accepted or rejected as a whole. Moreover, it is admitted by both defenders and assailants that the writer of the Acts did not know the Epistle to the Galatians; and it is highly probable that when he wrote he had not seen the Epistles to the Romans and to the Corinthians. How then can he have been St. Paul? And why should the Apostle write sometimes in the third person of what Paul said and did, and sometimes in the first person of what we did? All this is quite natural, if the writer is a companion of the Apostle, who was sometimes with him and sometimes not; it is most extraordinary if the Apostle himself is the writer. And of course if the Acts is not by St. Paul, the third Gospel cannot be; for it is impossible to assign them to different writers. Moreover, not to mention other difficulties, it may be doubted whether, more than two years [Acts 28:30] before the death of St. Paul, there would have been time for "many" to "have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us," [Luke 1:1] and then for him to have collected material for the third Gospel and to have written it, and then, after an interval, for him to have written the Acts. All the arguments in favor of the Pauline authorship of the third Gospel and of the Acts are satisfied by the almost universally accepted view, that these two works were written by a companion of the Apostle, who was thoroughly familiar with his modes of thought and expression.

The preaching of this Gospel of the Resurrection and the Incarnation had caused the Apostle (as he here tells us) to suffer much evil, as if he had done much evil, even to the extent of a grievous imprisonment. He is bound as a malefactor; but his Gospel "is not bound," because it is "the word of God." He perhaps changes the expression from "my Gospel" to "the word of God" in order to indicate why it is that, although the preacher is in prison, yet his Gospel is free; - because the word which he preaches is not his own, but God’s.

"The word of God is not bound." The Apostle is imprisoned; but his tongue and his companion’s pen are free. He can still teach those who come to him; can still dictate letters for others to Luke and the faithful few who visit him. He can still, as in his first Roman imprisonment, see that what has befallen him may "have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel; so that his bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest". [Philippians 1:12-13] He has been able to influence those whom, but for his imprisonment, he would never have had an opportunity of reaching, - Roman soldiers, and warders, and officials, and all who have to take cognizance of his trial before the imperial tribunal.

"The word of God is not bound." While he is in prison, Timothy, and Titus, and scores of other evangelists and preachers, are free. Their action is not hampered because a colleague is shut up. The loss of him might have a depressing and discouraging effect on some; but this ought not to be so, and he hopes will not be so. Those who are left at large ought to labor all the more energetically and enthusiastically, in order to supply whatever is lost by the Apostle’s want of freedom, and in order to convince the world that this is no contest with a human organization or with human opinion, but with a Divine word and a Divine Person.

"The word of God is not bound," because His word is the truth, and it is the truth that makes men free. How can that of which the very essence is freedom, and of which the attribute is that it confers freedom, be itself kept in bondage? Truth is freer than air and more incompressible than water. And just as men must have air and must have water, and you cannot keep them long from either; so you cannot long keep them from the truth or the truth from them. You may dilute it, or obscure it, or retard it, but you cannot bury it or shut it up. Laws which are of Divine origin will surely and irresistibly assert themselves, and truth and the mind of man will meet.


Verses 13-18

Chapter 32

THE NEED OF A SOLEMN CHARGE AGAINST A CONTROVERSIAL SPIRIT, OF DILIGENCE FREE FROM SHAME, AND OF A HATRED OF THE PROFANITY WHICH WRAPS UP ERROR IN THE LANGUAGE OF TRUTH. - 2 Timothy 2:14-18

WE here enter upon a new section of the Epistle, which continues down to the end of the chapter. It consists in the main of directions as to Timothy’s own behavior in the responsible post in which he has been placed. And these are both positive and negative; he is told what to aim at, and what to avoid.

As to the meaning of "these things," of which he is to put his flock in remembrance, it seems most natural to refer the expression to the "faithful saying" with which the previous section closes. He is to remind others (and thereby strengthen his own courage and faith), that to die for Christ is to live with Him, and to suffer for Christ is to reign with Him, while to deny Him is to involve His denying us; for, however faithless we may be, He must abide by what He has promised both of rewards and punishments. The fact that the Apostle uses the, expression "put them in remembrance," implying that they already know it, is some confirmation of the view that the "faithful saying" is a formula that was often recited in the congregation; a view which the rhythmical character of the passage renders somewhat probable.

Having reminded them of what they already know well, Timothy is to "charge them in the sight of the Lord, that they strive not about words." This phrase "charge them in the sight of the Lord" is worthy of notice. The Apostle twice uses it in addressing Timothy himself. "I charge thee in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without prejudice"; [1 Timothy 5:21] and "I charge thee in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus, Who shall judge the quick and dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word". [2 Timothy 4:1] The word for "charge" ( διαμαρτιθεσθαι ) indicates the interposition ( δια) of two parties, and hence comes to mean to "call heaven and earth to witness"; in other words, to "testify solemnly" or "adjure"; and from this latter meaning it easily becomes employed for a solemn charge or exhortation. In translating, it would be quite legitimate to insert an adverb to express this: "solemnly charging them in the sight of God." In dealing with these pestilent disputes and perilous opinions Timothy, both for his own sake and for that of his hearers, is to remember, and to remind them, in Whose presence he is speaking. God’s eye is upon both preacher and congregation; and in pleading the cause of truth and sobriety the preacher is in fact pleading before the Divine tribunal. This will make the teacher wary in his words, and will lead his hearers to listen to them in a spirit of sobriety.

It has been debated whether St. Paul has in his mind those "faithful men" to whom Timothy is to commit the substance of the Apostle’s teaching (2 Timothy 2:2), or whether he is not now taking a wider view and including the whole of the disciples’ flock. It is impossible to determine this with certainty; and it is not a question of much moment. One thing is clear; viz., that the whole section is applicable to ministers throughout the Church in all ages; and the words under consideration seem to be well worthy of attention at the present time, when so many unworthy topics and so much unworthy language may be heard from the pulpit. One is inclined to think that if ministers always remembered that they were speaking "in the sight of God," they would sometimes find other things to say, and other ways of saying them. We talk glibly enough of another man’s words and opinions, when he is not present. We may be entirely free from the smallest wish to misrepresent or exaggerate; but at the same time we speak with great freedom and almost without restraint. What a change comes over us, if, in the midst of our glib recital of his views and sayings, the man himself enters the room! At once we begin to measure our words and to speak with more caution. Our tone becomes less positive, and we have less confidence that we are justified in making sweeping statements on the subject. Ought not something of this circumspection and diffidence to be felt by those who take the responsibility of telling others about the mind of God? And if they remembered constantly that they speak "in the sight of the Lord," this attitude of solemn circumspection would become habitual.

"That they strive not about words." The spirit of controversy is a bad thing in itself; but the evil is intensified when the subject of controversy is a question of words. Controversy is necessary; but it is a necessary evil: and that man has need of searchings of heart who finds that he enjoys it, and sometimes even provokes it, when it might easily have been avoided. But a fondness for strife about words is one of the lowest forms which the malady can take. Principles are things worth striving about, when opposition to what we know to be right and true is unavoidable. But disputatiousness about words is something like proof that love of self has taken the place of love of truth. The word-splitter wrangles, not for the sake of arriving at the truth, but for the sake of a dialectical victory. He cares little as to what is right or wrong, so long as he comes off triumphant in the argument. Hence the Apostle said in the first Epistle that the natural fruit of these disputes about words is "envy, strife, and railings". [1 Timothy 6:4] They are an exhibition of dexterity in which the object of the disputants is not to investigate, but to baffle, not to enlighten, but to perplex. And here he says that they are worse than worthless. They tend "to no profit": on the contrary they tend "to the subverting of those who listen to them." This subversion or overthrow ( καταστροφη) is the exact opposite of what ought to be the result of Christian discussion, viz., edification or building up ( οικοδομη). The audience, instead of being built up in faith and principle, find themselves bewildered and lowered. They have a less firm grasp of truth and a less loyal affection for it. It is as if some beautiful object, which they were learning to understand and admire, had been scored all over with marks by those who had been disputing as to the meaning and relation of the details. It has been a favorite device of the heretics and skeptics of all ages to endeavor to provoke a discussion on points about which they hope to place an opponent in a difficulty. Their object is not to settle, but to unsettle; not to clear up doubts, but to create them: and hence we find Bishop Butler in his Durham Charge recommending his clergy to avoid religious discussions in general conversation, because the clever propounder of difficulties will find ready hearers, while the patient answerer of them will not do so. To dispute is to place truth at an unnecessary disadvantage.

"Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed." In the previous section St. Paul exhorted Timothy to be ready to suffer for Christ: here he charges him to work for Him; and in the language which he uses he indicates that such work is a serious matter; - "Give diligence." The word which he uses ( σπουδαζειν) is one which scarcely occurs in the New Testament except in the writings of St. Paul. And the corresponding substance (grovel) is also much more common in his Epistles than it is elsewhere. It indicates that ceaseless, serious, earnest zeal, which was one of his chief characteristics. And certainly if the proposed standard is to be reached, or even seriously aimed at, abundance of this zeal will be required. For the end proposed is not the admiration or affection of the congregation, or of one’s superiors, nor yet success in influencing and winning souls; but that of presenting oneself to God in such a way as to secure His approval, without fear of incurring the reproach of being a workman who has shirked or scamped his work. The Apostle’s charge is a most wholesome one: and if it is acted upon, it secures diligence without fussiness, and enthusiasm without fanaticism. The being "approved" ( δοκιμος) implies being tried and proved as precious metals are proved before they are accepted ( δεχομαι) as genuine. It is the word used of the "pure gold" with which Solomon overlaid his ivory throne. [2 Chronicles 9:17] In the New Testament it is always used of persons, and with one exception [James 1:12] it is used by no one but St. Paul. He uses it of being approved both of men [Romans 14:18] and of God. [2 Corinthians 10:18]

The single word which represents "that needeth not to be ashamed" ( ανεπαισχυντος) is a rare formation, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Its precise meaning is not quite certain. The more simple and frequent form ( αναισχυντος) means "shameless," i.e. , one who does not feel ashamed when he ought to do so. Such a meaning, if taken literally, would be utterly unsuitable here. And we then have choice of two interpretations, either

(1) that which is adopted in both A.V. and R.V., who need not feel shame, because his work will bear examination, or

(2) who does not feel shame, although his work is of a kind which the world holds in contempt. The latter is the interpretation which Chrysostom adopts, and there is much to be said in its favor. Three times already in this letter has the Apostle spoken of not being ashamed of the Gospel. He says "Be not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner." Again, "I suffer these things; yet I am not ashamed." And again of Onesiphorus, "He oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain" [2 Timothy 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:16]. Does he not, therefore, mean here also, "Present thyself to God as a workman who is not ashamed of being in His service and of doing whatever work may be assigned to him?" This brings us very close to what would be the natural meaning of the word, according to the analogy of the simpler form. "If you are to work for God," says Paul, "you must be in a certain sense shameless. There are some men who set public opinion at defiance, in order that they may follow their own depraved desires. The Christian minister must be prepared sometimes to set public opinion at defiance, in order that he may follow the commands of God." The vox populi, even when taken in its most comprehensive sense, is anything but an infallible guide. Public opinion is nearly always against the worst forms of selfishness, dishonesty, and sensuality; and to set it at defiance in such matters is to be "shameless" in the worst sense. But sometimes public opinion is very decidedly against some of the noblest types of holiness; and to be "shameless" under such circumstances is a necessary qualification for doing one’s duty. It is by no means certain that this is not St. Paul’s meaning. If we translate, "A workman that feeleth no shame," we shall have a phrase that would cover either interpretation.

"Handling aright the word of truth," or "Rightly dividing the word of truth." There is some doubt here also as to the explanation of the word rendered "handling aright" or "rightly dividing" ( ορθοτομειν). Once more we have a word which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Its radical meaning is to "cut aright" or "cut straight," especially of driving a straight road through a district, or a straight furrow across a field. In the LXX it is twice used of making straight or directing a person’s path.

"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths"; and "The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way". [Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 11:5] The idea of rightness seems to be the dominant one; that of cutting quite secondary; so that the Revisers are quite justified in following the example of the Vulgate (recte tractantem), and translating simply "rightly handling." But this right handling may be understood as consisting in seeing that the word of truth moves in the right direction and progresses in the congregation by a legitimate development. The word, therefore, excludes all fanciful and perilous deviations and evasions, such as those in which the false teachers indulged, and all those "strivings about words," which distract men’s minds and divert them from the substance of the Gospel. It may be doubted whether the word contains any idea of distribution, as that the word of truth is to be preached according to the capacity of the hearers, -strong meat to the strong, and milk to those who are still but babes in the faith. We may feel sure that the expression has nothing to do with the cutting up of victims in sacrifices, or with cutting straight to the heart of a thing, as if the word of truth had a kernel which must be reached by cleaving it down the middle. Yet both these explanations have been suggested. Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius use the substantive derived from St. Paul’s verb ( ορθοτομια ) in the sense of orthodoxy; which seems to imply that they understood the verb in the sense of handling aright ("Strom.," VII 16.; "H.E.," IV 3.).

Once more [1 Timothy 6:20] the Apostle warns his disciple against "profane babblings." He is (according to St. Paul’s graphic word) to make a circuit in order to avoid such things to "give them a wide berth" ( περιιστασο ; comp. Titus 3:9). These empty profanities, with their philosophic pretentiousness, had done much harm already, and would do still more; for the men who propagate them would certainly go still greater lengths in impiety; and they must receive no encouragement. Their teaching is of a kind that will spread rapidly, and it is deadly in its effects. It "will eat as doth a gangrene."

The substitution of "gangrene" for "cancer" is an improvement, as giving the exact word used in the original, which expresses the meaning more forcibly than "cancer." Cancer is sometimes very slow in its ravages, and may go on for years without causing serious harm. Gangrene poisons the whole frame and quickly becomes fatal. The Apostle foresees that doctrines, which really ate out the very heart of Christianity, were likely to become very popular in Ephesus and would do incalculable mischief. The nature of these doctrines we gather from what follows. They are preached by the kind of people ( οιτινες) who miss their aim as regards the truth. They profess to be aiming at the truth, but they go very wide of the mark. For instance, some of them say that it is quite a mistake to look forward to a resurrection of the body, or indeed to any resurrection at all. The only real resurrection has taken place already and cannot be repeated. It is that intellectual and spiritual process which is involved in rising from degrading ignorance to a recognition and acceptance of the truth. What is commonly called death, viz., the separation of soul and body, is not really death at all. Death in the true sense of the word means ignorance of God and of Divine things; to be buried is to be buried in error. Consequently the true resurrection is to be reanimated by the truth and to escape from the sepulcher of spiritual darkness; and this process is accomplished once for all in every enlightened soul. We learn from the writings of Irenaeus ("Haer.," II 31:2) and of Tertullian ("De Res. Carn.," 19.) that this form of error was in existence in their day: and Augustine in a letter to Januarius (55:3:4) shows how such false notions might have grown out of St. Paul’s own teaching. The Apostle insisted so frequently upon the fact of our being dead with Christ and raised together with Him, that some persons jumped to the conclusion that this was the whole of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. The resurrection of the body was a great stumbling-block to Greeks and Orientals, with their low notions of the dignity of the human body; and therefore any interpretation of the resurrection which got rid of the difficulty of supposing that in the world to come also men would have bodies, was welcome. It was calamity enough to be burdened with a body in this life: it was appalling to think of such a condition being continued in eternity. Hence the obnoxious doctrine was explained away and resolved into allegory and metaphor.

Of Hymenaeus and Philetus nothing further is known. Hymenaeus is probably the same person as is mentioned in the first Epistle with Alexander, as having made shipwreck of the faith, and been delivered unto Satan by the Apostle, to cure him of his blasphemies. We are told here that much mischief had been done by such teaching: for a number of persons had been seduced from the faith. "Some," in the English phrase "overthrow the faith of some," conveys an impression, which is not contained in the Greek ( τινων), that the number of those who were led astray was small. The Greek indicates neither a large nor a small number; but what is told us leads to the conclusion that the number was not small. It is probably to this kind of teaching that St. John alludes, when he writes some twenty or more years later than this, and says, "Even now there have arisen many antichrists". [1 John 2:18] Teaching of this kind was only too likely to be popular in Ephesus.

It is by no means unknown among ourselves. At the present time also there is a tendency to retain the old Christian terms and to deprive them of all Christian meaning. Not only such words as "miracle," "Church," "catholic," and "sacrament" are evaporated and etherealized, until they lose all definite meaning; but even such fundamental terms as "atonement," "redemption," and "immortality." Nay, it is quite possible to find even the word "God" used to express a Being which is neither personal nor conscious. And thus language, which has been consecrated to the service of religion for a long series of centuries, is degraded to the unworthy purpose of insinuating pantheism and agnosticism. This perversion of well-established phraseology is to be condemned on purely literary grounds: and on moral grounds it may be stigmatized as dishonest. If Hymenaeus and Philetus wish to deny the resurrection, let them also surrender the word which expresses it. They have abundance of words wherewith to express mental and moral enlightenment. Let them not so handle a word of truth as to make it suggest a lie.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-timothy-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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