2 Timothy 3:1-17

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Paul wanted Timothy to “know” or to be aware of future developments that would seriously affect the community of believers. The apostle mentioned that difficult or stressful times lay ahead, and these hard times would characterize the “last days.” Believers in the first century understood that a new age had dawned with Jesus’ coming to the earth and that they were then living in the “last days” that would culminate in his return in glory. (Acts 2:17-21; Hebrews 1:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:20) Paul, though, used the future tense when mentioning the moral corruption that would come to exist among professing believers, and the moral breakdown is what would make life difficult. This suggests that these “last days” designate the period just before Jesus Christ’s arrival with power and great magnificence. That the apostle’s description relates to professing believers is evident from his later reference (3:5) to their having an outward “form of godliness,” which would not apply to the world of mankind in a general sense. (3:1; see the Notes section.)

Instead of having genuine concern for fellow humans, individuals would be lovers of themselves, selfishly focused on their own interests. They would be lovers of money (literally, lovers of silver), determined to increase their possessions with no regard for any ill effect their inordinate striving for money might have on them or others. People would be boasters, putting on a pretense and making exaggerated claims about themselves and their accomplishments. Through their bragging, they would make others feel like nobodies. They would be haughty, elevating themselves and despising or demeaning persons they considered to have a lower status in society. As “blasphemers,” they would be individuals who used abusive language. Youths would be disobedient to their parents, refusing to listen to sound advice and manifesting disrespect and defiance. A spirit of ingratitude would prevail, with individuals showing no appreciation, and people would have no regard for what is holy or pure. (3:2)

The moral breakdown would be reflected in the absence of the love or tender feelings that should exist among family members. People would be unwilling to resolve conflicts, refusing to reconcile or to come to amiable solutions or agreements. They would be slanderers, defaming fellow humans. Individuals would be unbridled in their conduct. They would be brutal, ruthless, or violent, and would have no love or appreciation for the things that are good or morally excellent but would be hostile to them. (3:3)

People could not be trusted, for they would be betrayers, resorting to treachery either to protect themselves or to gain personal advantage. They would be rash, reckless, or thoughtless, puffed up with conceit or deluded, and “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” Their whole object in living, instead of being concerned about doing God’s will, would be to pursue whatever satisfied their sensual desires. (3:4)

Professing believers would have a form of godliness or piety, suggesting that they would be engaging in the outward forms of worship as a matter of routine or ritual. Yet, their disposition, words, and deeds would reveal that the transforming power of godliness had not taken root. Theirs would be an empty profession, with no evidence of a faith that motivated upright conduct and caring deeds. Thus they would be denying the power of true godliness. (3:5)

At the time Paul wrote to Timothy, certain ones in the community of believers were already manifesting the divinely disapproved traits that characterized persons who merely had a “form of godliness.” Therefore, the apostle urged Timothy, “From these turn away,” avoiding such corrupt individuals and distancing himself from them. (3:5)

In the Greco-Roman world, many women had little exposure to the outside world and their opportunities for learning were significantly fewer than those of men who had the same social standing. The limitations that society imposed on women made them more susceptible than men to be won over by unsound reasoning. That there was a desire to keep women less educated is reflected in Satire VI of Juvenal (Roman poet and satirist of the first/second century CE). He wrote, “Let [a woman] not know all history; let there be some things that she does not understand.” “I hate a woman,” Juvenal continued, “who observes all the rules and laws of language, who like an antiquary quotes verses that I never heard of, and corrects her unlettered female friends for slips of speech that no man need trouble himself about.”

From among those whom Timothy was to avoid were active proponents of error who appear to have regarded women as being more readily persuaded than men. In order to get access to the women in the household, they slyly sought to gain entrance into the homes. Once they were in a home, they would focus their attention on women who were not firmly grounded in the truth about God and Christ and who were insecure about their standing with God. Paul described the women whom the teachers of falsehood made their captives or victims as “simple women [gynaikárion], loaded down with sins, led by various desires, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (3:6, 7)

The term gynaikárion is a diminutive form of the Greek word for woman and was used in a pejorative manner. Translators have variously rendered the expression as “silly women” (NCV, NJB, NRSV, REB), “weak-willed women” (NIV), “weak women” (NASB), “idle women” (HCSB), “foolish women” (NLB), and “vulnerable women” (NLT). In being designated as “loaded down with sins,” these women appear to have been burdened with a guilty conscience because of the life they had led. At the same time, they were subject to various desires that likely made them prone to accept flattery and special attention from men. Corrupt teachers were able to exploit the weaknesses of these women. (3:6)

Although they seem to have wanted to learn new things and were always ready to listen to those who presumed to be teachers, the women never came to a knowledge of the truth. They never really embraced the truth that Jesus Christ revealed by what he did and taught. They remained devoid of the transforming power of this truth in their lives. (3:7)

The advocates of error were like Jannes and Jambres who resisted Moses. Although not mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures, these men were widely known as having been practicers of magic in ancient Egypt. Both Origen (Against Celsus, IV, 51) and Eusebius mentioned a certain Numenius as referring to Jannes and Jambres in the time of Moses. Quoting Numenius, Eusebius (Preparation for the Gospel, IX, 8) wrote, “And next in order came Jannes and Jambres, Egyptian sacred scribes, men judged to have no superiors in the practice of magic, at the time when the Jews were being driven out of Egypt.” In his Natural History (XXX, ii), Pliny the Elder includes Jannes as one from whom a branch of magic was derived. Like Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses, the teachers of error were “corrupted in mind, disapproved respecting the faith.” These proponents of falsehood did not adhere to the truth that Jesus Christ exemplified in his life and teaching. They opposed this truth by their words and deeds. What they taught proved to be a product of twisted reasoning and, in no respect, did they represent genuine faith or trust in God and Christ. Neither in their conduct nor in their teaching did these men uphold the common faith of the community of believers. Unlike the teaching that promoted genuine faith that produced noble conduct and compassionate concern for persons in need, their teaching was base, worthless, defiling, and destructive. (3:8)

Paul confidently looked ahead to the time these teachers of error would be exposed as were Jannes and Jambres when they were forced to acknowledge the power of God and the limits of their magical arts. (Compare Exodus 8:18, 19.) The apostle did not doubt that they would fail to make progress in spreading their error and that (as had happened in the case of Jannes and Jambres) their senselessness would become evident to “all,” probably meaning the whole community of genuine believers. All who followed Jesus’ example and teaching would have been able to identify the dissident teachers as persons who expounded foolish, worthless, and ruinous ideas. (3:9)

Paul had faithfully carried out has commission in advancing the interests of Jesus Christ, and Timothy had “followed” (parakolouthéo) the apostle’s teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings. (3:10, 11)

The Greek term parakolouthéo can convey the thought of following closely, conforming to someone’s example by paying careful attention to it. While Timothy did imitate Paul as the apostle imitated Christ, he would not have been a sharer in the kind of persecutions the apostle endured in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. In the present context, therefore, parakoulothéo may have the sense of carefully observing or taking note of. (3:10) This significance is often found in modern translations. “But you, my son, have observed closely my teaching and manner of life.” (REB) “But you, Timothy, have known intimately both what I have taught and how I have lived.” (J. B. Phillips) “Timothy, you know what I teach and how I live.” (CEV)

As the apostle’s fellow worker, Timothy would have been able to hear his teaching and faithfully to impart it to others. He would have been fully aware of the way Paul lived his life, his purpose in being totally devoted to the Son of God and his Father and to be faithful in discharging his divinely granted commission, and his faith or his unqualified trust in God and Christ. In the apostle’s interactions with others and the manner in which he dealt with unfavorable or distressing circumstances, Timothy would have been able to note his patience or forbearance. Paul set an example in love, foregoing personal rights for the sake of others and being self-sacrificing, doing everything within his power to aid fellow believers and never to be a burden to them. Timothy would have known the hardships and difficulties Paul endured as he traveled extensively to make known the good news about Christ. (3:10; compare Acts 20:18-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.)

The apostle often found himself experiencing persecution and suffering because of his activity in advancing Christ’s interests. Repeatedly his life was threatened, and he endured abuse, mistreatment, and imprisonment. In Pisidian Antioch, Jewish opposers succeeded in inciting prominent women and men against Paul and Barnabas, and both of them were driven out of the city. (Acts 13:50) Thereafter, for a considerable time in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas helped many Jews and non-Jews to become believers. The unbelieving Jews then became hostile and stirred up the non-Jewish population against them. Upon learning of an attempt to stone them, Paul and Barnabas were forced to flee to Lystra and then to Derbe. (Acts 14:1-6) As Lystra appears to have been Timothy’s home, he may have learned about what happened to Paul and Barnabas from believers who had firsthand knowledge, or he may even have been an actual witness. After Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth, the people concluded that he and Barnabas were gods. The priest of Zeus and the awe-struck crowd wanted to offer a sacrifice to them, and Paul and Barnabas were scarcely able to restrain them from doing so. Later, Jewish opposers from Antioch and Iconium arrived in the city and stirred up the populace against Paul. They then stoned him and dragged him outside the city, thinking that he was dead. When a group of believers thereafter surrounded him, he got up, entered the city, and then left the next day with Barnabas. (Acts 14:1-20) Paul credited the Lord Jesus Christ with having rescued him from all the persecutions to which he had been subjected. (3:11)

Based on the experience of believers generally, particularly his own, and the teaching of Jesus Christ (John 15:20), Paul could tell Timothy that all who wanted to live a godly life “in Christ Jesus,” or as persons at one with him as members of his body, would be persecuted. (3:12) Wicked men and impostors, however, would progressively go from bad to worse, “deceiving and being deceived.” Such morally corrupt individuals made a pretense of being believers. They were self-deceived, imagining their views to be right. Both in conduct and teaching, they would depart farther and farther from the example and teaching of God’s Son. With the false reasoning by means of which they had deluded themselves, they would be able to mislead others. (3:13)

In view of the corrupt influence of proponents of error, Paul urged Timothy to hold fast to what he had learned and come to firmly believe, “knowing from whom he had learned” everything. Those who taught Timothy were not deceivers but trustworthy persons who loved him and were concerned about his well-being. His initial exposure to sound teaching about God came from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. (1:5) Later, he continued to learn from others in the community of believers and, especially, from Paul. (3:14)

From infancy, or from his earliest recollection as a youngster, Timothy had known the “sacred writings.” He must have come to this early knowledge through the efforts of his godly grandmother and mother. The sacred writings were read in the Jewish synagogues (commonly from the Greek translation in areas other than the land of Israel), and that is where Lois and Eunice regularly could have heard what they would have been able to impart to young Timothy. These sacred writings could make him wise “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The sacred writings pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah, how forgiveness of sins would be made possible through him, and how reconciliation with God would thus be effected. (Compare Isaiah 53:1-11; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27.) Accordingly, all the essentials for salvation or deliverance from sin had been revealed in the holy writings, requiring only that individuals come to know Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ and to put faith in him. (3:15; compare Acts 8:27-38; see the Notes section.)

Paul referred to the sacred writings as “all scripture divinely inspired [theópneustos] and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, fitted for every good work.” The distinguishing feature about the holy writings was the source of their inspiration — God. With confidence, therefore, Timothy would be able to use the sacred writings to teach others about God and Christ, to reprove any who strayed in their teaching or conduct from faithful adherence to the sacred writings, and to correct developments in the community of believers that reflected a diminishing in love for God, Christ, and fellow humans, especially fellow believers. To bring honor to God and Christ, believers needed to live upright lives, and Timothy would have been able to use the holy writings to assist fellow believers to grow in progressively coming to be more like the Son of God in disposition, word, and deed. Thus they would be trained or disciplined in righteousness or right doing and acting. (3:16; see the Notes section.)

In his beneficial use of the holy writings, Timothy would also have needed to apply the admonition to himself. This required that he personally be attentive to the teaching, reproof, correction, and discipline in righteousness that the sacred writings contained. In the case of Timothy, as a “man of God” or a man belonging to God as his servant, the sacred writings qualified him to meet all the demands of the commission that had been entrusted to him. They made him fit for “every good work,” enabling him to render needed aid, comfort, admonition, and encouragement to others. (3:17)


The context in which the expression “last days” (3:1) is found indicates that, by mentioning the future developments, Paul wanted to stress the need for Timothy to adhere faithfully in his conduct and teaching to the truth about God and Christ that he had learned and on which his faith rested. There is no contextual basis for using Paul’s words to fit into a specific “end times” theology.

The apostle knew both Hebrew and Greek and so would have been aware of the fact that the Greek translation did not always correspond to the Hebrew text with which he was familiar. Still, although Timothy’s exposure to the sacred writings must have been through the Greek translation, the apostle could refer to him (in verse 15) as having known the holy writings from infancy. This suggests that the message, not the specific words, is the main feature of divine inspiration.

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus confirms that children were taught the sacred writings at an early age. He wrote (Against Apion, I, 8), “It becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.”

For the most part, there is no uncertainty about which writings the Jews considered to be sacred in the first century. The way in which Josephus grouped them, however, does leave some room for question. “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us,” Josephus notes, “but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy], which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death.” Regarding the other books, he continues, “As to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.” (Against Apion, I, 8) The twelve “Minor Prophets,” as confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls, were included in one scroll and so would have been regarded as one book. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were definitely among the thirteen. Josephus elsewhere refers to Daniel as a prophet. What cannot be known for a certainty is just how he counted the historical books among the thirteen prophets. The book of Psalms is the one that contains hymns, and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes could be described as containing “precepts for the conduct of human life.” The fourth book in this category, though, is not as readily identifiable.

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, portions of nearly all the books in the present Hebrew Bible have been found. No parts of the books of Nehemiah and Esther have been discovered, and there is a question as to whether one small fragment is actually from a Chronicles manuscript. On the other hand, 20 manuscripts of 1 Enoch have been found, raising the question as to whether there were Jews who regarded this book as one of the holy writings. Other books among the Dead Sea Scrolls are Sirach, the Epistle of Jeremiah, and Tobit (all three of which are included in the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Slavonic Bibles).

The Greek word for “divinely inspired” (theópneustos) is only found in 2 Timothy 3:16 and does not appear in the Septuagint. It is a compound of theós (god) and pnéo (blow, breathe). Whereas the context does not specifically define the sense in which the holy writings could be described as “God-breathed,” “divinely inspired,” or “inspired by God,” many have been very specific in enunciating what is meant. Possibly the words of Josephus reflect the common first-century Jewish view that only the prophets “have written the original and earliest accounts of things as they learned them of God himself by inspiration; and others have written what has happened in their own times.” (Against Apion, I, 7) This does suggest that not everything in the “sacred writings” was regarded as direct revelation, but that these writings contained trustworthy accounts, including what the prophets learned by divine inspiration.