Ministry in the Last Days

The opposition to the gospel that Paul has just been describing is not a passing thing.  It will persist throughout the present age and, indeed, tend to grow worse as the end approaches.

Closely following Hendriksen, we may summarise the message of this chapter thus: continue in the gospel, knowing that enemies of the gospel will arise, who have its form but not its power (1-9); and knowing that it is based on the sacred writings, as you have learned from trustworthy persons (10-17).

vv3:1-9 – This passage is often cited to support the view that the period just prior to Christ’s return will be characterised by unmitigated wickedness and depravity, and that we can accordingly hold out no hope for a latter-day revival. But this view is based on an inadequate interpretation of the passage, for,

  1. Paul, in referring to ‘the last days’ has in mind the gospel-age generally, and not just its final stages, cf Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2.
  2. Paul says to Timothy, ‘avoid such people’; showing that he had Timothy and his contemporaries very much in mind.
  3. Again, the Apostle states, ‘they will not get very far’; showing that the folly spoken of is limited in scope and duration.

A sceptic might wonder why, if Christ has achieved the sort of victory Paul writes about elsewhere in his letters, he can here talk about evil going from bad to worse.  But that, says Paul, is exactly what we should expect; that is precisely how defeated opponents behave.

3:1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come.

There will be terrible times in the last days – As Fee says, this was a common motif in Jewish apocalyptic (See Dan 12:1), and was picked up by Jesus, Mark 13:3–23.  ‘The last days’ draws attention to the end of the present age, but for the early church, the increase of evil was a sign that we have already reached ‘the beginning of the end’, 1 Cor. 7:26; 1 John 2:18; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 17–18.  As Hendriksen says, ‘the expression “in the last days” refers to the age ushered in by Christ’s appearance on earth.’  See Heb 1:1f.

Terrible times = ‘perilous seasons’, indicating that the last days will not be characterised by uniform, unmitigated evil, but rather by an ebbing and flowing of moral and spiritual ill-health.  We might well ask whether we ourselves are living through one of these ‘terrible seasons’ (Williams).

The use of the future tense (‘there will be…’) must be qualified by the here-and-now instruction to Timothy (‘have nothing to do with them’, v5).  Paul is not giving Timothy predictions about some distant future, but instructions about how to continue steadfastly in the gospel here and now.  ‘What looks at first to be a prophecy about the future end of history turns out to be both that and a characterization of the present situation of the church, specifically of Timothy’s and Paul’s situation.’ (Cornerstone)

Stott asks why Paul emphasises so strongly something that Timothy was well aware of: evidence of opposition to the gospel was all around, not least in Paul’s own imprisonment.  Stott answers by suggesting that Paul ‘wants to emphasize that opposition to the truth is not a passing situation, but a permanent characteristic of the age.’  There is no room for complacency.

3:2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3:3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 3:4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 3:5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power.

‘We note what the danger will be in those days. In Paul’s view it will not come from war, famine, disease, or any of the other disasters that happen to physical bodies, but it will come from the wickedness of depraved people.’ (Calvin)

‘Note…who it is that Paul is talking about. He does not attack or accuse outside enemies who are openly opposed to Christ’s name but people who belong to the family and want to be known as church members.’ (Calvin)

Referring to v3f, Calvin says: ‘Paul here lists vices of a kind that are not immediately visible and that can accompany pretended holiness.’

This list consists of a mixture of attitudes and behaviours.  There are 18 items, bookended by the expressions ‘lovers of themselves…rather than lovers of God’.  In between, ‘the list describes not only the breakdown in morals, but also the breakdown in human relationships within the family (parents and children), and in anti-social behaviour (lacking self-control, brutal, haters of the good). In addition, the godless society is materialistic, and governed by the senses in hot pursuit of pleasure and prosperity (lovers of money and lovers of pleasure).’ (Williams)

Boastful, proud, abusive – Self-centredness leads inevitably to self-assertion.

A cluster of five vices (disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving) seem to refer especially to the behaviour of young people in the family setting.  ‘In an ideal society the relationship of children to their parents should be marked by obedience, gratitude, respect, affection and reasonableness. In ‘times of stress’ all five are lacking.’ (Stott)

Unholy – ‘offending against the fundamental decencies of life’ (Barclay).

Not lovers of the good – The underlying word is used only here in the NT, and means, ‘having no interest in the public good.’  They could be said to be guilty of ‘anti-social behaviour’.

Treacherous – betraying their friends.  The same word is used of Judas, Lk 6:16.

Rash – impetuous, thoughtless, stopping at nothing to achieve their goals (Kelly).

Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – ‘Whatever we love more than God we make a god.’ (Thomas Watson)

Wiersbe succinctly states: ‘In this universe there is God, and there are people and things. We should worship God, love people, and use things. But if we start worshiping ourselves, we will ignore God and start loving things and using people.’

Why is it so tempting to be a lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God?

  • Pleasure is something we can control; God cannot be controlled. Most pleasures can be obtained easily; love for God requires effort and sometimes sacrifice.
  • Pleasure benefits us now; the benefits of loving God are often in the future.
  • Pleasure has a narcotic effect; it takes our minds off ourselves and our problems. Love for God reminds us of our needs and our responsibilities.
  • Pleasure cooperates with pride. It makes us feel good when we look good in the eyes of others. To love God we must lay aside our pride and our accomplishments.

(Life Application Bible Commentary)

Stott observes that it may seem shocking that people such as Paul has just described may be religious, but that is the case.  In fact, it has always been the case, and OT prophets such as Amos and Isaiah cried out in protest against the sins of the religious (see, for example, Isa 1:14-17).  Jesus did the same, Mt 23:25.  So Paul protests about those who ‘evidently attended the worship services of the church. They sang the hymns, said the ‘amen’ to the prayers and put their money in the offering-plate. They looked and sounded egregiously pious. But it was form without power, outward show without inward reality, religion without morals, faith without works.’ (Stott)

This particular form of opposition to the gospel comes from within, rather than without.  We are reminded of Jesus’ parable of the weeds, and of the net, Mt 13:47f.

This verse is used by some to support their argument that Western Christianity neglects spiritual warfare. But Paul is discussing here those who in their depravity oppose the truth.

‘Atheists do not believe that God is a jealous God and will call them to account. Therefore it is they put on a mask of religion and are saints in jest, that they may play the devil in earnest. (2 Tim 3:4,5) They pretend God, but Self is the idol they worship. Like barge-men they look one way and row another.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘They are saints at church, and saints to talk to in public. But they are not saints in private, and in their own homes; and worst of all, they are not saints in heart.’ (Ryle, Old Paths)

Going through the motions

Concerning those who have ‘a form of godliness but [deny] its power’, Wright observes: ‘They are going through the motions. But if they stopped to think for two minutes they would realize that in appearing to worship the living God they should be invoking his power and glory to change their lives, to make them reflect his image, not to enable them to go on in the same destructive way as before. This kind of situation arises most painfully when those who have taken part in worship all their lives can’t stop even though they don’t believe it any more. That is the way to real bitterness. Constantly saying one thing while believing something else is like having continual sharp indigestion, when your bodily system rejects what you’re feeding it on.’

What is the ‘form of godliness?

‘The “form” or appearance of godliness includes going to church, knowing Christian doctrine, using Christian cliches, and following a community’s Christian traditions. Such practices can make a person look good, but but if the inner attitudes of belief, love and worship are lacking, the outer appearance is meaningless. Paul warns us not to be deceived by people only appear to be Christians. It may be difficult to distinguish them from true Christians at first, but their daily behaviour will give them away. The characteristics described in 3:2-4 are unmistakable.’ (Life Application Bible)

So avoid people like these. 3:6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 3:7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Have nothing to do with them – Don’t get tangled up with them.

‘From this instruction it is apparent that Paul is not speaking to some distant posterity or prophesying what would happen many centuries later but is pointing out existing evils and so applying to his own day what he has just said about the last days.’ (Calvin)

‘By describing their activities of subverting weak women (vv. 6–7) and by comparing them with the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses (vv. 8–9), Paul intimates what he finally asserts in verse 13, that the false teachers are nothing more than religious charlatans, comparable to the sorcerers and charlatans of all kinds of which the ancient world was full (cf., e.g., Acts 8:9; 13:6–8; 19:13–16).’ (Fee)

Why pick on women?  Fee explains that there is plenty of evidence (although dating from a somewhat later time than this) that because of their disadvantaged position in society and their religious hunger women were particularly vulnerable to religious quackery.  Fee urges that 1 Timothy 2:9–15; 3:11; 4:7; 5:3–16 should be read in the light of this.

Because of their cultural background, women in the Ephesian church had had no formal religious training. They enjoyed their new freedom to study Christian truths, but their eagerness to learn made them a target for false teachers. Paul warmed Timothy to watch out for men who would take advantage of these women. New believers need to grow in their knowledge of the word, because ignorance can make them vulnerable to deception.’ (Life Application Bible)

‘I’ve seen it happen; I’ve watched people with particular agendas, and a strong belief in the rightness of their cause, approach people who can’t say no to them and persuade them to go to a meeting with them, to listen to their ideas, to join their club. There are many people—the ones Paul seems to have known were women, but many men come into this category too—whose moral or immoral past and whose muddled present makes them easy targets for such predators. They are always hoping that the next new thing they learn will finally sort their lives out; but it never happens, for the good reason that all they really want is the stimulus of novel ideas, not the solid, restful satisfaction of learning the truth and reordering their lives by it.’ (Wright)

They…worm their way – They sneak in under false pretences.

Into homes – lit. ‘into the homes’, suggesting that this was actually happening, and that Timothy and others knew about it.

‘The false teachers had to get into the homes because they had less access to the women in public (due to married women’s partial segregation in Greek society). After they had gained access to a household, their male or female convert within the household could supply financial and other help to them. Greek and Roman men often thought of women as easily swayed by passion and emotion; many may have been, because of their lack of education and cultural reinforcement. But Paul here addresses particular, not all, women.’ (IVP Bible Background Cmty)

Weak-willed women – Paul uses a scornful diminutive (lit. ‘little women’) to indicate that they are easy prey.  The sense is that they are easy targets.  Cf. 1 Tim 5:13.

At least some of these women may have been young widows, and it is possible that there was a sexual element (Fee).   This would make sense in the light of 1 Tim. 2:9–10; 3:2; 5:2, 6, 11–15, 22.

It may be that the women were (mis)using their new-found religious freedom by receiving these false teachers and their teaching.  But they found themselves ensnared, rather than liberated.

‘Because women were usually uneducated, they were more susceptible than men to false teaching (see comment on 1 Tim 2:11–12). Women’s penchant for switching religions was ridiculed by satirists like Juvenal and offended conservative Romans. Women reportedly converted to Christianity, Judaism, and the cults of Isis, Serapis and other deities far more readily than men; and in the second century A.D. women were attracted to many heretical movements. Because they were less educated in traditional religion and had less social standing to lose, they more quickly changed religiously, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘As Satan’s strategy was first to deceive Eve, so heretical teachers have often chosen to spread their falsehoods by the same method.  Impressionable women, oppressed by feelings of guilt, are eager to try and quack remedy which does not require them to abandon their sins.  Hence their morbid curiosity in religious novelties prevents them from coming to a realisation of the truth. (Wilson)

Religious training that feeds the curiosity but does not bring us into the freedom of the gospel is worse than useless.

‘No wonder that Paul forbade the women to teach, encouraged submission to their husbands (1 Tim. 2:9–15), and wanted the younger widows, who had given themselves to pleasure (5:6) and had already turned away to follow Satan (5:15), to marry (5:14).’ (Fee)

The loaded ‘mind and body’ shelves of today’s bookshops testifies to the appetite for (and profitability of) learning that does not lead to the truth.

3:8 And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people—who have warped minds and are disqualified in the faith—also oppose the truth. 3:9 But they will not go much further, for their foolishness will be obvious to everyone, just like it was with Jannes and Jambres.

Jannes and Jambres – The OT does not name these two magicians.  According to Enns (The Evolution of Adam), the names were assigned during the Second Temple period, when ‘it was common to “concretize” biblical episodes by giving names to otherwise anonymous biblical figures, and “Jannes and Jambres” is an example of that. These names then became part of a larger cultural conviction about the biblical story (like the names of the three wise men), and 2 Timothy 3:8 is an instance of that process.’

‘In a widespread Jewish tradition (various elements appear in Pseudo-Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbis, etc.), Jannes and his brother Jambres were Pharaoh’s magicians who opposed Moses in Exodus 7:11. Even pagan accounts (Pliny the Elder and Apuleius) record them as magicians of Moses’ time. Because Paul’s opponents appeal to Jewish myths (1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14), Paul cites such stories to fill in the names for these characters.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

It is possible (but by no means certain) that, like the Egyptians who opposed Moses) these false teachers used some kind of magic.  Certainly, magic was around in Ephesus at the time (cf. Acts 19:18f).

Stott comments that it is remarkable that Paul puts himself on a level with Moses as an authoritative teacher of God’s truth.

They will not get very far – Cf. 1 Tim 5:24.  As Stott remarks, numerous heresies have threatened to take hold in the church down the ages, but most are of antiquarian interest only, having ‘died a death’ long ago.  The truth will out, and error will be exposed, sooner or later.  Bernard: ‘Truth must prevail in the end, and imposture cannot permanently deceive.’

As in the case of those men – See, for example, Ex 9:11.

‘There is something patently spurious about heresy, and something self-evidently true about the truth. Error may spread and be popular for a time. But “it will not get very far.” In the end it is bound to be exposed, and the truth is sure to be vindicated. This is a clear lesson of church history. Numerous heresies have arisen, and some have seemed likely to triumph. But today they are largely of antiquarian interest. God has preserved his truth in the church.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 120)

Their folly will be clear to everyone

Why do these challenging seasons occur in the life of the church?  The answer is that in his field (the world) God allows the wheat to grow together with the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30; 36-43).  Within the church itself, there are those who, though that have elevated positions and reputations, are morally and intellectually perverse.

‘Though the spirit of error may be let loose for a time, God has it in a chain. Satan can deceive the nations and the churches no further and no longer than God will permit him.’ (MHC)

‘Just as God’s truth prevailed against the magicians’ tricks, so he promises that the Gospel’s teaching will win over every kind of new type of false teaching.’ (Calvin)

The truth will out

‘We can hide our sin for a while, but eventually the truth will be revealed. Sooner or later, distraction, opposition, anger, or fatigue will wear us down, and our true heart will be exposed. The trials of life will conspire against our efforts to maintain a “religious front.” We can’t pick when and where we will be tested by adversity. Build your character carefully because it will come out under stress. Live each day as if your actions will one day be known to everyone. It is useless, in the middle of a test, to acknowledge that we should have prepared. Now is the time to change anything you wouldn’t want revealed later.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Continue in What You Have Learned

3:10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, 3:11 as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all. 3:12 Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 3:13 But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.

Paul turns here from a consideration of the godlessness which will prevail in the last days, to encourage Timothy in following his own example of godliness. Paul is aware of his impending death, and so reviews his whole ministry and Timothy’s association with it. The list of nine features of his own ministry which Paul cites is not for the purpose of boasting but for encouragement. How many of us could, in the same humble spirit, say similar things to a younger Christian who knew us well?

You…know – ‘Timothy’s knowledge of Paul’s sufferings in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (Acts 13:50–14:19) apparently dates to his family’s initial exposure to the Christian message, before he began traveling with Paul (16:1–3).’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

My teaching – it is significant that this is mentioned first, in view of the important place that doctrine occupies in the writings of Paul, and also in view of the fact that it was Paul’s teaching that first attracted the attention of Timothy, Acts 14:12. But doctrine must lead to practice, and so the next six characteristics in the list are of a practical nature.

My way of life – see 1 Cor 4:17, ‘I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.’

Just as there had been the closest of connections between the teaching and the lifestyle of the heretics, the same applies to Paul and others like him.

Paul’s purpose was his aim in life, which had been established at the beginning of his Christian pilgrimage, and which had been only strengthened by subsequent trials.  It was ‘his steadfast resolve to devote his life to the furtherance of the gospel, by his own faith in God’s word’ (Wilson).

Patience = ‘endurance’, with respect to the various persecutions and persecutors afflicting Paul.

Antioch, Iconium and Lystra – places Paul had visited on his first missionary journey, the journey on which Timothy had been converted. Timothy’s memory of these events would, no doubt, be most vivid.  See Acts 16:1f.

Yet the Lord rescued me – cf. Ps 34:17, ‘The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.’  Yet this confidence in God’s ability to rescue him from all these trials did not lead Paul to imagine that he was immortal.  He was very aware of his imminent death, as this very correspondence shows.

‘It is as if Paul said, “You know from experience that God has never failed me, so that there is no reason for you to hesitate to follow my example.”’ (Calvin)

Everyone…will be persecuted – Just after Paul had visited the places mentioned in v11, he went about, Acts 14:22, …strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Jesus predicted that his followers would be persecuted, Mt 5:11–12; 10:17–23; 24:9–11; Mk 8:34; 13:9–13; Jn 15:18–19, 21 ; 16:33; 17:14–15.  Paul expected it, Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 12:9–10; Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 3:4.

‘Paul’s experience was not exceptional, for persecution is the lot of all who intend to live a godly life in union with Christ Jesus (cf. Acts 14:22).’ (Wilson)

‘Persecution follows piety as the shadow does the body.’ (Flavel)

If, as we have noted, Paul’s teaching here about ‘the last days’ refers to the entire gospel age, then we should probably regard this same period as the time of ‘Tribulation’.  See also Rom 8:18 (‘the sufferings of this present time’).  Persecution of the church began soon after Pentecost, and continued with great intensity for three centuries.  In more recent times, it has been the turn of Uganda, China, and Iran.  (MacLeod, A Faith To Live By)

Evil men and imposters – refers back to the previous section, vv1-9, in which Paul had written at some length about the increasingly-prevalent evil in the last days.

They will be stopped only by God’s final judgement.

Don’t go looking for trouble

‘Believers must set out to follow Jesus, rather than being on a quest to find trouble. It is possible to be persecuted for being obnoxious, rather than for being obedient. Don’t go looking for trouble—obey Christ and let trouble find you!’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Marks of a Christian leader

Following Wiersbe, we can say that in the case of Christian leaders:-

  • their lives are open for all to see
  • they teach true doctrine
  • they practice what they preach
  • their purpose is to glorify God
  • they are willing to suffer
3:14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you 3:15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

'The only way to defeat Satan’s lies is with God’s truth.' (Wiersbe)

But as for you, continue... - In contrast to the false teachers with their constant endeavour to advance something new, Timothy may be satisfied with what he has already received. Paul gives a reason why Timothy should continue in this teaching: because you know those from whom you learned it. Paul appeals to the integrity and trustworthiness of those who have taught the message: Paul himself, and Timothy's mother and grandmother, 2 Tim 1:5.

'With untiring zeal we should resist all the devil’s   p 154  schemes and refuse to alter course with every wind that blows and thus remain fixed on God’s truth as on a sure anchor.' (Calvin)

From infancy...the holy Scriptures = '...the sacred writings'.  Paul now mentions a second, and still more fundamental reason why Timothy should continue steadfastly. The holy Scriptures are literally ‘the sacred writings', the books that we know as the Old Testament. Timothy has known these writings from infancy: this suggests at once the commencement of his spiritual instruction while still a small child, and its continuance up until the present time.

‘The expression, "sacred writings," used here (v 15), is a technical one, not found elsewhere in the NT, it is true, but it occurs in Philo and Josephus designating that body of authoritative books which constituted the Jewish "law." It appears here anarthrously because it is set in contrast with the oral teaching which Timothy had enjoyed, as something still better. To enhance further the great advantage of the possession of these sacred Scriptures the apostle adds now a sentence throwing their nature strongly up to view. They are of divine origin and therefore of the highest value for all holy purposes (3:16bf.).' (Warfield, ISBE)

'At least in pious Palestinian Jewish homes, boys were normally taught the “sacred writings” from around the age of five; teaching Scriptures to the children was commanded in the Old Testament (Deut 6:7; cf., e.g., Ps 71:17; 78:5–7). Other peoples were often amazed at how well instructed Jewish children were in their ancestral traditions.' (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘Timothy was one of the first second-generation Christians: he became a Christian not because an evangelist preached a powerful sermon, but because his mother and grandmother taught him the holy Scriptures when he was a small child (1:5). A parent's work is vitally important. At home and in church, we should realise that teaching small children is both an opportunity and a responsibility. Jesus wanted little children to come to him. (Mt 19:13-15) Like Timothy's mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois, do your part in leading children to Christ.' (Life Application Bible)

‘We read of an ancient king, who, desiring to ascertain what was the natural language of man, ordered two infants, as soon as they were born, to be conveyed to a place prepared for them, where they were brought up without any instruction at all, and without ever hearing a human voice. And what was the event? Why, that, when they were at length brought out of their confinement, they spake no language at all: they uttered only inarticulate sounds like those of other animals. Were two infants in like manner to be brought up from the womb without being instructed in any religion, there, is little room to doubt but (unless the grace of God interposed) the event would be just the same. They would have no religion at all: they would have no more knowledge of God than the beasts of the field, than the wild ass's colt. Such is natural religion abstracted from traditional and from the influences of God's Spirit.' (J. Wesley)

'If anyone has acquired from his youth a knowledge of the Scriptures, he should count it a special blessing from God.' (Calvin)

...able to make you wise for salvation - a knowledge of God and his ways is the source of all true wisdom, Ps 19:7, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple"]. The Scriptures show ‘the Credenda, what we are to believe; and the Agenda, what we are to practise.' (Thomas Watson)

'The plan of salvation may be learned from the Old Testament. It is not as clearly revealed there as it is in the New, but it is there; and if a man had only the Old Testament, he might find the way to be saved.' (Barnes)

But, says Calvin, Scripture will only lead us to salvation if we use it in the right way: eschewing idle speculations, not sticking to the latter of the law only, nor entertaining false interpretations.

...through faith in Christ Jesus - The close association between the holy Scriptures and Christ Jesus is noteworthy. It reminds us of these twin truths, that Christ is both the main theme of the Scriptures and that he is therefore the key to its interpretation, Lk 24:27, And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Jn 5:39-40 "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life."

'Paul has good reason to recall us to faith in Christ, which is the center and sum of Scripture.' (Calvin)

‘The Scripture is a full and perfect canon, containing in it all things necessary to salvation, 2 Tim 3:15. It shows the "Credenda," what we are to believe; and the "Agenda," what we are to practise.' (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 30)

‘I will not undertake to decide what amount of scriptural knowledge is necessary to conversion in any given case, or to question the fact that men under certain circumstances may be renewed where their knowledge is very limited; nevertheless it is certain that religion reflection precedes religious feeling in the order of nature. Before men can feel remorse, much more contrition, for their sins, they must first have held strongly to their minds the fact that they are sinners. They must have reflected upon what is is to be a sinner; on the character of God, not only as a Father, but a Lawgiver; on the reasonableness of their obligations to him, and on the guilt of violating these obligations. Before they can exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they must have reflected on the character of Christ, on the fullness of his atonement, and on the freeness and sincerity of the gospel offer.' (W.B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals, 19f)

3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 3:17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

As Calvin says, Paul commends Scripture first because of its authority (it is God-breathed), and second because of its usefulness.

'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful' is translated by the ASV as 'every scripture inspired of God is also profitable...'.  This would imply that there are other scriptures, that are not inspired of God.  But, (a) although the word ‘Scripture' could mean any writing, its uniform use in the New Testament is to refer to the Old Testament; (b) the same construction is found in 1 Tim 4:4, which, as Simpson notes, no one would translate, 'every good creature of God is also not one of them to be rejected'! (c) the word translated 'every' in the ASV does not inevitably require that rendering: in Acts 2:36, for example, the meaning is clearly, 'all (the) house of Israel', not 'every house of Israel'.  (The preceding follows Wilson quite closely).

God-breathed - the NIV is offering here a literal rendering of an expression generally translated ‘inspired by God', and underscores the fact that Paul is not making a comment about he human writers of the Scriptures (that they were ‘inspired' in the sense that a poet may be said to be inspired to write poetry), nor about the effects of the Scriptures (that they ‘inspire' the reader). The word ‘God-breathed' indicates that ‘all Scripture' owes its origin to the divine breath, the Holy Spirit, Deut 8:3, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

'This translation makes clear that this verse speaks not of God's "inspiring" action in the minds and lives of the authors of the Bible, but instead of his "expiration", his breathing out, of the words of Scripture.  In other words 2 Tim 3:16 proclaims that the Bible's words are entirely God's words.  It is teaching about the divine origin of the Bible, and not about the way in which humans came to cooperate with God in writing those words down.' (Timothy Ward, Words of Life, p83)

‘The Greek term has...nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of "aspiring" or "aspiration." What it says of Scripture is, not that it is "breathed into by God" or is the product of the divine "inbreathing" into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, "God-breathed," the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them. No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the divine production of Scripture than that which is here employed. The "breath of God" is in Scripture just the symbol of his almighty power, the bearer of his creative word. "By the word of the Lord" we read in the significant parallel of Ps 33:6 "were the heavens made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth." And it is particularly where the operations of God are energetic that this term (whether? or?) is employed to designate them - God's breath is the irresistible outflow of his power. When Paul declares, then, that "every scripture" or "all scripture" is the product of the divine breath, "is God-breathed," he asserts that Scripture is the product of a specifically divine operation.' (Warfield, ISBE)

This idea of God ‘breathing out' his word is implicit in key OT phrases such as and God said...and it was so (Gen), and the recurring prophetic formula ‘Thus says the Lord'. See also Mt 1:22.

All Scripture, then, is God-breathed. We should add that this is mentioned by Paul almost in passing (for he moves straight on to assert the practical usefulness of Scripture). The fact is that the doctrine that we refer to as ‘the inspiration of the Bible' was well-known by Timothy already, as it was amongst Jews generally.

‘According to 2 Tim 3:16, what is inspired is precisely the biblical writings. Inspiration is a work of God terminating, not in the men who were to write Scripture (as if, having given them an idea of what to say, God left them to themselves to find a way of saying it), but in the actual written product. It is Scripture - graphe, the written text - that is God-breathed. The essential idea here is that all Scripture has the same character as the prophets' sermons had, both when preached and when written (cf. 2 Pet 1:19-21, on the divine origin of every ‘prophecy of the scripture'; see also Jer 36 Isa 8:16-20). That is to say, Scripture is not only man's word, the fruit of human thought, premeditation and art, but also, and equally, God's word, spoken through man's lips or written with man's pen. In other words, Scripture has a double authorship, and man is only the secondary author; the primary author, through whose initiative, prompting and enlightenment, and under whose superintendence, each human writer did his work, is God the Holy Spirit.' (NBD)

‘The words of Scripture are God's own words. OT passages identify the Mosaic law and the words of the prophets, both spoken and written, with God's own speech. (cf. 1 Kings 22:8-16; Ne 8; Ps 119; Jer 25:1-13 36, etc.) NT writers view the OT as a whole as ‘the oracles of God', (Rom 3:2) prophetic in character (Rom 16:26; cf. 1:2; 3:21), written by men who were moved and taught by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20f.; cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12). Christ and his apostles quote OT texts, not merely as what, e.g., Moses, David or Isaiah said, (see Mk 7:10; 12:36; 7:6; Rom 10:5; 11:9; 10:20, etc.) but also as what God said through these men, (see Acts 4:25; 28:25, etc.) or sometimes simply as what ‘he' (God) says, (e.g. 1 Cor 6:16; Heb 8:5,8) or what the Holy Spirit says. (Heb 3:7; 10:15) Furthermore, OT statements, not made by God in their contexts, are quoted as utterances of God (Mt 19:4-5; Heb 3:7; Acts 13:34-35, citing Gn. 2:24; Ps 95:7; Isa 55:2 respectively). Also, Paul refers to God's promise to Abraham and his threat to Pharaoh, both spoken long before the biblical record of them was written, as words which Scripture spoke to these two men; (Gal 3:8; Rom 9:17) which shows how completely he equated the statements of Scripture with the utterance of God.' (J.I Packer, in NBD)

‘In Mt 19:5, the words of Gen 2:24, not attributed to God in the Genesis narrative, are nonetheless presented as what God ‘said'. God himself spoke by the mouths of the holy prophets. (e.g. Lk 1:70) If the disciples are judged foolish for failing to believe ‘all that the prophets have spoken', (Lk 24:25) the substance of what the disciples should have grasped, and which Jesus then expounds to them, is ‘what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself' (24:27). The gospel is nothing other than what God ‘promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son'. (Rom 1:2-3) The words of Scripture and the words of God are so equated that Paul can personify Scripture: ‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh'; (Rom 9:16) ‘The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith'; (Gal 3:8) ‘But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin'. (Gal 3:22) None of these clauses makes any sense unless Paul presupposes that what Scripture says, God says. The point comes to explicit formulation in 2 Tim 3:16: ‘All Scripture graphe is God-breathed and is useful ...'.' (NBC)

Wiersbe draws the following propositions about Scripture from these verses:-

  • they are the Holy Scriptures
  • they lead us to salvation
  • they are true and dependable
  • they are profitable
  • they equip for service
Points to be noted

There are three points worth noting with regard to this proposition.

First of all, the word theopneustos points not so much to inspiration as to expiration. The meaning is not that God breathed into the Bible. It is that God breathes out the Bible. It is the breath of God…The subject of inspiration is not the human author, but the book itself: the scripture is breathed out by God. We are familiar today with the idea of inspired men: for example, poets, composers of music and great orators. These men are said to be inspired and to give inspired performances. But the Bible doesn’t speak in this way. It speaks of the quality of theopneustos, of God-breathedness, as a quality of the actual book itself.

Secondly, the Bible has this quality invariably and inalienably. Inspiration is completely independent of our feelings with regard to the Book. The Bible won’t allow the idea that somehow when you enjoy this book, or when this book moves you, or when this book comes at you, then it is inspired. The Bible’s position is that even when this book is, so far as our experience goes, as dead as dead can be and as dry as dry can be (and that can sometimes happen) it is still theopneustos. It is still the breath of God. That does not depend on our human emotions at all, and it does not vary with our human emotions. The Bible does not become God’s word when it encounters us ‘existentially’. The Bible is always God’s Word.

Thirdly, according to this statement theopneustos belongs to the whole of scripture: to the Bible in its entirety. Every scripture, we are told, is breathed out by God. Pasa graphe: every single scripture! Whatever is scripture has the quality of theopneustos. Now that does not mean that every part of God’s Word is equally interesting, or that every part of God’s Word is equally stimulating, or equally elevated, or equally moving. The Gospel of John, for example, is far more elevated than the book of Esther. But the Gospel of John is not more inspired than the book of Esther. The book of Esther, the Epistle to the Romans and the Gospel of John all share equally in this quality of divine expiration. God has breathed them all out. If you can say of something, ‘It is written’, then you mean, ‘It is God-breathed’. The inspiration defined here -the expiration-belongs to every single entity that qualifies for the designation ‘scripture’: to Old Testament and New Testament, to doctrine and history, to theology and precept, to experience and ethics. Every chapter and every verse have the quality of theopneustos. (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘"All Scripture is God-breathed." (2 Tim 3:16) According to this passage the whole Old Testament (or any element of it) is divinely inspired. Extension of the same claim to the New Testament is not expressly stated, but it is not merely implied. The New Testament contains indications that its content was to be viewed, and was in fact viewed, as no less authoritative than the Old. The apostle Paul's writings are catalogued with "other Scriptures." (2 Pet 3:15-16) Under the heading of "Scripture," 1 Tim 5:18 cites Lk 10:7 alongside Deut 25:4. (compare 1 Cor 9:9) The book of Revelation, moreover, claims divine origin (Rev 1:1-3) and employs the term "prophecy" in the Old Testament sense (Rev 22:9-10, 18). The apostles did not distinguish their spoken and written teaching but expressly declared their inspired proclamation to be the Word of God.' (1 Cor 4:1; 2 Cor 5:20; 1 Thess 2:13) (P.W. Comfort, ed. Origin of the Bible)

While noticing that NT passages such as this technically have the OT Scriptures in view, John Murray argued as follows that they can legitimately be used to confirm the inspiration of the NT itself:

  1. 'the greater glory of the New Testament required a no less plenary and real inspiration for the New than for the Old;
  2. the New Testament writers give evidence of a consciousness of divine authority (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:10–13; 14:37–38; 2 Thess. 3:12–14); and
  3. the New Testament writers refer to other parts of the New Testament in the same way they refer to the Old (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:15–16).'

(Sinclair B. Ferguson, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians)

Wright points out three ways in which 'inspiration' (although not exactly a mistranslation of the relevant word) can be a misleading term: (a) it can be understood in the same way that we regard a piece of music, say, as 'inspired' - we think of it as especially original, moving, or in some other way out of the ordinary; (b) it can suggest that the writer's mind went into neutral and that he or she became the passive recipient of a dictated message; (c) it can be used to bless our own particular theology (whereas a true doctrine of inspiration should free us from all man-made systems, including our own).

'It is hardly surprising that many people doubt the authority of Scripture. For although God’s majesty is displayed in it, only those who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit have eyes to see what should have been obvious to all, but, in fact, is only visible to the elect.' (Calvin)

The Inspiration of the Bible

‘By inspiration we understand that supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of which their writings are given divine trustfulness, and constitute an infallible and sufficient rule of faith and practice.’ (Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation)

‘God the Father is the giver of Holy Scripture; God the Son is the theme of Holy Scripture; and God the Spirit is the author, authenticator, and interpreter of Holy Scripture.’ (J. I Packer)

Some argument against: (a) wars and bloodshed; (b) “can make the Bible say what you want it to;” (c) “Bible contradicts itself;” (d) claims of other religions; (e) real problem: difficult to obey.

Some arguments for: (a) Bible teaches own inspiration; (b) teaching of Christ; (c) testimony of miracles and prophecy; (d) teaches the otherwise unknowable; (e) essential point: the witness of the Holy Spirit.

And is useful - 'It follows from this that it is wrong to use it to gratify our curiosity or satisfy our desire for ostentation   p 156  or provide us with a chance for foolish conversation. God meant it for our good. So the correct use of Scripture will always benefit people.' (Calvin)

Paul will now mention four areas in which Scripture is useful. Teaching indicates positive doctrinal instruction. Rebuking suggests the same from the negative aspect; Paul himself underscored the importance of exposing false teachers, 1 Tim 5:20; Tit 1:9, The overseer must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Tit 2:15. Correcting denotes negative practical guidance, Pr 6:23, For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life. Training in righteousness casts the same ethical guidance in a positive light.

Applying Scripture

This verse offers a basic template for applying Scripture:-

1. Doctrine—What basic truth that God wants me to know does this passage teach?
2. Reproof—What error in judgment, understanding, or behavior might this passage be reproving in my life?
3. Correction—How might this passage correct, balance, or direct me?
4. Training—What does this passage present to prepare me for some future spiritual challenge?

(Life Application Bible Commentary)

Zuck paraphrases: 'The Bible “is useful for teaching” (showing us God’s ways), for “rebuking” (calling our attention to those times we fail to heed what the Scriptures have taught us), for “correcting” (restoring us back to an obedient path), and for “training in righteousness” (continuing to nurture us in righteous living).' (Basic Bible Interpretation)

Zuck adds: 'Many statements in Scripture indicate that the Bible is given to us for more than satisfying our curiosity about what God is like, what He has done in the past, or what He will do in the future. Its intended impact on lives is seen in that the Bible convicts (Heb. 4:12–13), regenerates (2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Peter 1:23), nurtures (2:2), cleanses (Ps. 119:9; John 15:3; 17:17; Eph. 5:25–26), counsels and guides (Ps. 119:24, 105), prevents sin (v. 11), renews (vv. 50, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156), strengthens (v. 28), sustains (vv. 116, 175), gives wisdom (vv. 98, 130, 169), and delivers (v. 170).'

Zuck cites Ramesh Richard, who points out that some of the Bible's own practical teaching is direct, coming in the form of 'commands and prohibitions, exhortations (“let us”), wishes (e.g., 2 Thes. 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2), permissions (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:15; Matt. 8:32)'.  But other practical teaching is indirect, coming in the form of examples (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1), narratives (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11), parables, and proverbs.

‘The poor man's Bible is the Word of God, in which he has no suspicion that there is anything but perfection. The Bible of the profoundly erudite scholar is often a book that is not so necessary to instruct him, as one that needs his hand for alteration, or amendment, or confirmation...If the imputation of Adam's sin and of Christ's righteousness be doctrines contained in the Word of God, commentaries that labor to expel them from that Word must be grossly pestiferous books which no Christian ought to recommend, but which, on the contrary, to the utmost of his power, it is his duty to oppose.' (Robert Haldane)

The GNB translates this verse as follows:-

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living.

This clarifies that the 'usefulness' of Scripture has to do with two main areas: doctrine ('teaching the truth, rebuking error') and ethics ('correcting faults, and giving instruction in right living').

2 Tim 3:17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So that the man of God may be...equipped - here is the lofty and ambitious reason we have a God-breathed scripture: the scriptures are able to equip the Christian teacher completely for his work.

‘The phrase "man of God" appears to apply specifically to the Christian teachers rather than to Christians generally. (cf 1 Tim 6:11) "The man of God is before all the man of the Bible" (Spicq). There may be an allusion to the work of the prophets in the use of this title, for it was frequently applied to them in the Old Testament.' (Guthrie)

The TNIV loses both the robust individualism and the focus on the Christian teacher by rendering this phrase, 'all God's people'.

May be thoroughly equipped for every good work - ‘If there is one fact, or doctrine, or promise in the Bible, which has produced no practical effect upon your temper or conduct, be assured that you do not truly believe it.' (Payson)

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