A. The Heresy in Ephesus in Prophetic Perspective (3:1–9)
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
The theme that is taken up in this subsection is not new; the heretics surfaced in 2:14–26 and Paul characterized them strongly there in terms of the danger posed by their methods and doctrine and from the perspectives of the threat of judgment and the hope of their repentance. A thorough understanding of the opponents, however, requires placing them within the framework of prophecy. The discourse proceeds in two parts. First, vv. 1–5 paint in prophetic fashion a general picture (with some local color) of the evil associated with “the last days.” To create a profile of the worst sinners, Paul employs the vice list technique that was used widely in Hellenistic Jewish and Greek ethical literature to establish deviance from the values that produce virtue. At v. 5b, with the insertion of a warning to Timothy, the picture fades to the present. Second, vv. 6–9 apply that prophetic paradigm to the opponents troubling the church. By drawing again on traditions connected with Moses’ leadership, the opponents are typed as pagans in opposition to God and denounced in the strongest terms.
In function, this section parallels 1 Tim 4:1–5, particularly in the way that the present distress is identified as being an expected feature of the last days. In this passage, the literary approach and impact are achieved by the combination of the prophetic element and the vice list form of denunciation. As Johnson advises, 1 the vice list was not a precise tool; it tended to string together a list of numerous evils (or in this case evildoers) to caricature generally and thoroughly whichever opponent was in mind. Such lists were often crafted for oral presentation, so that repetition of sounds 2 and other rhythmic devices sharpened the impact. The polemical discourse reaches its climax at vv. 6–9, when the opponents step clearly into the spotlight as those who specifically embody the evil associated with the End. The list does not intend to lay each and every sin mentioned at the feet of the false teachers in Ephesus (i.e. it is not a reliable guide to specifics of their behavior). But the picture it paints suggests Paul regarded the false teachers as actual deviants from the norms established by his gospel, whose deviance endangered their faith and the faith of their followers.
1 The passage begins by establishing a prophetic point of view for Timothy. The phrase used to catch his attention is similar to that used in 1:15 with an important difference; there Paul called to mind knowledge that Timothy already had (“this [what follows] you know”), here he instructs him with the present tense imperative “know this” (i.e. accept what I am about to tell you). 3 The prophetic framework is not established by means of a verb of prophecy or revelation, but by reference to the times as “the last days” and to warnings about this time that had become traditional (cf. 2 Pet 3:3; 1 Tim 4:1–2).
In this phrase several notions come together about which we must be clear. First, we may hear in the language a reference to the future and events that have not yet unfolded, 4 and Paul’s use of it with future verbs in this passage produces that tone to create a prophetic atmosphere. 5 But the term was widely used by NT writers in ways that shed light on Paul’s use of it here. As Luke reported it, Peter identified the beginning of the period “the last days” with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:17). For the writer of Hebrews, “the last days” were aptly characterized by God’s sending of the Son (1:2). And in various other ways it becomes clear that the present age of the Spirit (launched by Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection) is in fact “the last days” (1 Cor 10:11; 1 Pet 1:20; 1 John 2:18). Used in this way, the phrase was understood to imply that with Jesus’ appearance, the End, marked by divine intervention, had been inaugurated and would culminate in God’s final intervention (in the parousia of Christ) to complete salvation and execute judgment.
Second, it was a stock belief in the early church, as inherited from the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, that the time before the End would be characterized by an unprecedented upswing in evil (Mark 13 pars; 2 Thess 2:3; Rev 13) accompanied by a falling away of believers (Matt 24:10; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 17–19; Rev 13:11–18). 6 Thus Paul is not simply making a reference to future times in the phrase; he is speaking about eschatological events, and focused primarily on the evil and danger that prophecy has foretold. Although the wider usage of the term suggests that Paul might be viewing the present events as in some sense fulfilling those predictions (the present age as the last days), we will formulate that conclusion after the future tense verbs have been considered.
In accordance with the prophetic tradition, Paul announces that “there will be terrible times in the last days.” The verb (“there will come, there will be”) is future 7 and speaks of impending events (cf. 1 Cor 7:26), but we should be wary of the prophetic stance Paul is taking with regard to the present (see below). The graphic language emphasizes the severity of the circumstances (“terrible”) 8 that will go on for some time. 9 The emergence of evildoers to be described is the one part of this dangerous scenario (which might include various things from persecution to betrayal) that Paul wishes to exploit.
2–5a The main point of the prophecy comes in the description of its fulfillment—the appearance of evildoers. A second future tense verb (“will be”) sustains the prophetic tone of the warning, and the danger has to do with a certain kind of people; as v. 5 makes clear, “people” is not a general reference to sinners but a specific reference to those who apostatize from the faith. Paul describes them with a list of seventeen adjectives that finally gives way to two contrasts before closing with a brief command to Timothy. The items themselves do not appear to be arranged in any specific order, 10 but are rather bracketed by two kinds of misguided love—self-love and love of pleasure. Within this grouping, a broad description of self-centeredness is discernible in the first four items, followed by various immoral tendencies that draw strength from that basic selfish disposition. 11 But Paul’s intention is not to unravel the chemistry of impiety in a precise way. Some see the similar vice list of Rom 1:29–32 behind this list; 12 but the behavior indicated is denounced in similar fashion in Hellenistic and Jewish writings 13 which suggests that conventional wisdom and traditional values are more at work in the formation of this list than any one specific source. One important point of divergence from the list in Rom 1:29–32 is of course the fact that here the impious behavior, which is generally regarded by all as wicked, is associated not with pagans who have never acknowledged God, but with believers who have defected from the faith. The list intends to create a broad impact on the readers; nevertheless, it will be useful to consider each quality separately.
(1) “Lovers of themselves” is a reference to selfishness. 14 Linked to the following evil by the root phil-, meaning “love,” it establishes the basic anti-God disposition of the people being described. While love of self was encouraged as a positive attribute in the sense of self-esteem, 15 in excess it becomes egotism and selfishness and in this sense is regularly denounced as a destructive human force. Philo, for example, connected love of self with atheism, 16 which is the direction of this list as well.
(2) “Lovers of money” brings the ideas of avarice and greed into the profile. Its rudimentary influence in corrupting behavior places it early in the list. 17 1 Tim 6:10 employs the cognate noun (see discussion and note) to develop the common view that love of money, or avarice, is an evil that spawned other evils.
(3) The theme of selfishness continues in the next noun, “boasters” (“boastful” TNIV). This vice was widely denounced by the secular writers and was a weakness often associated with the boisterous, self-aggrandizing rich and other public figures. 18 This word lent itself well to descriptions of those who in their arrogance take themselves to be gods and in so doing oppose the one true God; 19 human conceit which refuses to acknowledge God and God’s hatred of this sin are carried into this list as in the list of Rom 1:30. 20
(4) Corresponding closely to “boasters” is the next adjective, “proud,” which also occurs in Rom 1:30. This too was a stock vice that was widely criticized in both secular and biblical writings. 21 Use of the term in James 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5, which each quote Prov 3:34 (“God resists the arrogant and gives grace to the humble”), creates the same fundamental dissonance between impiety and God seen in this term’s counterpart, “boaster” (cf. Luke 1:51). This antithesis between human pride and acknowledgment of God is thus imported into the list in this second pair of terms.
(5) “Abusive” is the TNIV and NRSV translation of the Greek term that may mean either “blasphemer” of God in a technical religious sense, or more generally “slanderer” (see on 1 Tim 1:13). In the list it marks the turn from selfish egotism to behavior and attitudes towards other people fueled by self-centeredness. As a part of the widely used ethical vocabulary, the general sense of slander prevails in secular usage, and that sense is at least partly intended here; but in a case like this, where, in Christian communication, rude and selfish behavior is being equated ultimately with opposition to God, the distinction is not so clear and both senses may be present. 22
(6) The archetypal End-time villains are also “disobedient to their parents.” At this point in the list, there is a slight shift in the rhythm as two words are used to construct this vice and a transition is made to negative words beginning with the Greek a- prefix. “Disobedience” occurs elsewhere in these letters in the vice list of Titus 3:3, where it identifies disobedience to God as one of the characteristics of pagan behavior, and in Titus 1:16 as a way of describing false teachers. This use mirrors Rom 1:30 which is probably defining paganism as especially marked by a failure to honor parents as taught in the Torah (Deut 21:18–21; cf. Exod. 20:12; Deut 5:16). This offense amounted to rebellion that could be manifested in any number of ways and was abhorred within the church and Judaism and in the secular world. 23 And there was a close connection between disobedience to parents and disobedience to God.
(7) Ingratitude (“ungrateful”) is the next quality in the list. This deficiency is a general one; there is no specific object of this attitude in mind. It was widely disdained as being evil and barbaric. 24
(8) Closing v. 2 is the religious deficiency “unholy.” The term views these sinners in terms of their actions which show disregard for sacred duties or laws or as people who live in rejection of sacred norms (i.e. those by which the community of faith lives; see on 1 Tim 1:9).
(9) Verse 3 continues the list of evils using a-privative terms. “Without love” inclines again to the list in Romans 1 (v. 31). 25 It characterizes the evildoers as lacking in any basic love for people.
(10) The next deficiency of character, “unforgiving,” (“implacable” NRSV), occurs only here in the biblical writings. It describes the harshest of attitudes that refuses reconciliation and thus leads to the destruction of relationships and lives. 26
(11) “Slanderous” (better “slanderers” as NRSV) departs from the pattern of a-words. It is a term that in the singular may refer to the devil (e.g. 2:26; 1 Tim 3:6), but in this case means people who are accusers or maligners who seek to damage the reputation of those who are innocent. 27
(12) Returning to the alpha-word pattern, the list continues with yet another character flaw, the lack of self-control. This term identifies the inability to deal with temptation, a complete lack of restraint. 28 And people exhibiting this weakness contrast with authentic believers who are characterized rather by their possession of the opposite virtue of “self-control,” an essential element of true spirituality throughout the NT (Titus 1:8; cf. Acts 24:25; Gal 5:23; cf. 2 Pet 1:6).
(13) The next adjective, “brutal,” typically described wild animals and people who behave like them. Titus 1:12 (cf. Jude 10) employs the same metaphor with more explicit language. There is no way to identify specifics of behavior here; the category, however, smears those so described as belonging to the category of the uncivilized barbarian. 29
(14) The final a-trait, “not lovers of good,” is another deficiency of character that contrasts with the positive profile of godliness in these letters. 30 This characteristic covers a great deal of ground, but put simply it is a lack of appreciation and pursuit of the virtues. Within the list, this “disinterest in good” is the corollary of the first vice “an excessive interest in self.” The willful inward turn of the heart and emotions robs the individual of the capacity to love the good. 31
(15) At v. 5, the list departs from the a-pattern, listing three more single qualities and then introducing the first of two comparisons. The plural noun “traitors” (“treacherous” TNIV, NRSV) describes those who betray a cause to which they had once been committed—Jews who killed the prophets (Acts 7:52), Judas who betrayed Christ (Luke 6:16), those who betrayed the Maccabean revolt (2 Macc 5:15; 10:13, 22; 3 Macc 3:24). They are those who have broken faith, display a complete lack of loyalty, and come to serve the opponent’s cause. In later Christian writings, this becomes a term closely associated with blasphemers and apostates. 32
(16) Deficiency in self-control takes another form in the term “rash” (“reckless” NRSV). The meaning of this rare term can be narrowed in its NT occurrences from usage in the Wisdom literature where it refers to speaking before thinking, and from wider secular usage for hotheaded, impetuous and overbold acts which end up badly. 33
(17) The characteristic of being “conceited” that follows is identified in 1 Tim 6:4 as a trait of the opponents. Because of the way it can result from youthful over self-estimation, “conceit” is warned against in the sketch of leadership qualities (see on 1 Tim 3:6). In both cases where the opponents are thus described, the perfect passive form is used to denote a fixed condition of conceit involving self-delusion.
(18) The list closes formally with a contrastive phrase that reaches back to the first vice (self-love) and accentuates the basic opposition of all such behavior to God: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” The tendency in the NT to associate “the seeking of pleasure” (hēdonē) with the baser side of life (Titus 3:3; Luke 8:14; James 4:1) is duplicated here in the use of the compound term meaning “lovers of pleasure” (philēdonoi). 34 As Johnson illustrates, this was a stock charge against philosophical opponents (to love pleasure above virtue or wisdom). 35 The comparative contrast was also a stock device used to set opposing inclinations completely apart—here, the inclination to pleasure and the inclination to God. 36
(19) Finally, in v. 5a a second contrastive construction serves both a summarizing and a transitional function. The corollary of their lack of love for God (devoutness) is a superficial “piety.” Before we consider the precise thrust of the contrast (which allows that these people have either the appearance or embodiment of “godliness” but lack its power), the transition from general prophecy to the actual situation should be brought out. In the first letter to Timothy Paul stressed the opponents’ misunderstanding and exploitation of godliness (eusebeia). 37 With that linkage of ideas in mind, the occurrence of the concept here creates the transition from the general description to the local setting, in which Paul brings the full weight of the disparaging list to bear on the present opposition movement: behavior, attitudes and motives do not correspond to pious claims. This application is deepened in the verses that follow.
The contrast itself is generally mirrored in Titus 1:16, where Paul asserts that the opponents in view there claim to know God but deny him by their deeds. Here, however, the paradox is expressed in other terms. In the first half of the statement, Paul might seem to concede that they have “a form 38 of godliness.” 39 But the stress is on pretense and insubstantiality, and the phrase describes the opponents (and people like them) as those who make a strong pretense to being pious, perhaps even claiming to be more “spiritual” than the imprisoned apostle and his colleagues, with insistent teaching and claims to a better knowledge of God, but who in various ways unmask themselves as contradictions and fakes. 40
Some suggest that the use of the term eusebeia in this connection may indicate that the false teachers in Ephesus had coined it in reference to their notions of spirituality (cf. 1 Tim 6:5–6); 41 while this is a possibility, the point of the whole statement is to contrast the opponents’ pretentious claim to piety (or their shallow piety) with authentic Christian existence (= eusebeia) on the basis of the thing they lack—“power.”
In the term “power,” Paul renews a theme initiated earlier in the letter (1:7–8, 2:1), by which the role of the Holy Spirit in generating strength for Christian living, service and suffering is drawn out. Here too the distinction between what the false teachers might claim and authentic Christian existence is the presence (or absence) of “power” produced in responsive believers by the Holy Spirit. The “people” referred to back in 3:2, who have been in view all along, are said to have “denied its [piety’s] power.” The verb of denial underlines the culpability of the “decision” to veer from the apostolic faith towards some other alternative and carries overtones of apostasy and desertion (see on 2:12–13; Titus 1:16; 2:12; 1 Tim 5:8). The perfect tense (“having denied”) reflects on this action of denial as a settled state.
Consequently, in this closing of the profile of the “eschatological” sinners, Paul sums up their error in terms of a counterfeit spirituality that is actually devoid of the Spirit’s indwelling presence. Moreover, he indicts them as culpable in having made the decisions that have brought them to this point. Hanging over the indictment is the implicit contrast made with authentic Christian spirituality, for which eusebeia is the code word linking “godliness” with the Pauline gospel. At the same time, the transition is made from eschatology or prophecy to the actual situation in this closing description and especially in the command to Timothy that follows.
5b The present tense command to separate from those indicted (“have nothing to do with such people”) reflects the actual situation; 42 the instruction to Timothy is thematic. 43 In this case, the “separation” seems at odds with the redemptive approach urged in 2:23, but the people in view now are probably those who are completely hardened in their opposition—the core of the movement (about to be discussed in 3:6–9) that can no longer be reached. “Separation” possibly means exclusion (or expulsion) from the fellowship (cf. 1 Tim 1:20). 44
6 Verses 6–9 explain the reason for the command (gar) by describing the present apostates. This picture incorporates the same features as the picture drawn in 2:16–19: a description of some aspect of their present activity (v. 6), the futility of the movement (vv. 7, 9), and an indictment of their rejection of divine authority and ungodliness made by associating them with traditional opponents of Moses (v. 8).
Those of the opposition caricatured above who are singled out here are characterized on the basis of the devious methods of their work. The present tense participle translated “who worm their way into” carries the sense of secretive “infiltration,” 45 in this case into houses. In the Ephesian context, the tendency to target households already surfaced in 1 Tim 5:13 (cf. Titus 1:11), and it is just possible that the “gullible women” are those vulnerable young widows (who then go “from house to house”). However, in this case Paul digresses from his main point—the opponents and their tactics—to describe in some length and detail a particular target within the household that the false teachers managed to “gain control over.” 46 Many recent scholars link this tendency to prey on women with Gnosticism. 47 But the practice of singling out women was far more widespread and connected with the belief that they were more easily swayed by novel ideas than were men. 48 In some way or other, this focus on women might have been a compensation for the false teachers’ commitment to an ascetical regime (i.e. religious activity among women in place of sexual activity; cf. 1 Tim 4:3). 49 Otherwise, the appeal of the teaching for women is not clear, but from other relevant texts, 50 it is reasonable to imagine that the false teaching included a new ascetical approach to the traditional female role in household and community, or endorsed a cultural trend that was influencing Christian women from outside the church (see on 1 Tim 2:9–15).
But Paul’s concern is to identify the kind of women among whom the false teachers had success, and in doing so he limits his scope. First, he uses the derogatory diminutive term “gullible women” (“silly women” NRSV). 51 While it might be tempting to read into this usage a low opinion of women on the part of Paul, the term clearly describes a very specific group that has proven especially susceptible to the false teachers’ advances 52 and should be balanced with a number of references to women in these letters that contain nothing disparaging (1:5; 1 Tim 2:11; 5:3ff.; Titus 2:3–5). Second, the women who have been so captivated are set apart from women (and others) in general by means of the description of their present sinful state: the perfect tense participial construction, “who are loaded down,” 53 graphically depicts these women as chiefly characterized by a heavy load of past “sins” under which they continue to struggle in the present. What, or what type of, “sins” are envisaged is not spelled out (see on 1 Tim 5:22); the point seems to be that it is the influence of sin on the conscience that has made these women vulnerable to the lies of the false teachers.
Their weakness against sin is amplified in the next participial phrase that closes the verse: “swayed by all kinds of evil desires.” Here the present passive participle refocuses on the present outworking of the past sinfulness and depicts the effects as an inability to fight off harmful impulses (i.e. rather to be “led” by them); 54 enslavement to “various lusts” is already established as a characteristic of the life outside of Christ (Titus 3:3; cf. 2 Tim 2:22). 55
7 The futility of these women’s situation is finally emphasized, with heavy irony, by describing them as incessant learners who are, however, unable to learn what really matters. The picture drawn depicts them as constantly seeking out every kind of teaching 56 (or of listening patiently to nonsense), to grasping at any and all teaching, with no discernment, in hopes of finding something of meaning. Their inability to arrive at the supreme goal, “a knowledge of the truth,” is to be linked to their sin-burdened consciences which leave them completely unable to search with discernment. As we have seen, in these letters the phrase “coming to a knowledge of the truth” is a polemical conceptualization of conversion; it views the process of coming to faith from the perspective of the cognitive affirmation of the apostolic gospel (see on 1 Tim 2:4). The futility of all the women’s striving, and of the false teachers’ claims to be able to offer this knowledge, is contrasted openly in 3:15 with the singular capacity of the Scriptures to enlighten unto salvation. It is worth mentioning again that this select group of disciples and some of the opponents are singled out for very harsh treatment in this passage in a way that seems to rule out the options, stressed in 2:23–26, of correction and repentance. 57 The previous passage shows how those involved in the false teaching might be dealt with, while the present passage sets out the worst case scenario; perhaps the previous passage should guide our reading of this denunciation (see below).
8 Paul’s central interest is in the core group of the opposition. At this point he develops further the indictment begun above, by drawing a parallel between them and the traditional opponents of Moses. The shift back to this topic is abrupt, signaled by the phrase “in the manner which” (“just as,” TNIV). 58 Two characters from Israel’s past are named, Jannes and Jambres, two of the magicians of Pharaoh’s court who opposed Moses. The derivation of the names is debated. 59 Jannes may be the Greek transliteration of Johana, which is possibly derived from the Hebrew verb ʿanah, meaning to oppose or contradict. 60 Jambres may be a misspelling of an original Mambres (as some Latin and Greek versions have it), which may then be derived (via the spelling Mamrey) from the Hebrew marah, meaning to rebel. 61 Whatever the derivation of the names, their link to the tradition is established by the Damascus Document (CD) 5:17–19: “For formerly Moses and Aaron arose by the hand of the Prince of Lights; but Belial raised up Jannes and his brother, in his cunning, when Israel was saved for the first time.” Subsequent references are numerous and spread among Jewish, 62 Christian 63 and secular Latin and Greek writers. 64 What is noticeable, apart from varieties of spelling and variance from single to double mention of the two characters, is the way the tradition elevated their roles to archetypal status. They came to represent Moses’ arch-nemeses who would counter his displays of divine power with various tricks of their own; and by their association with various stories (as Balaam’s servants or sons, trailing Israel through the wilderness, and instigating the Golden Calf rebellion 65 ), they acquired symbolic status as opponents of the truth. Paul’s purpose is to place the false teachers troubling the Ephesian church into the same category of those who oppose God’s work and who will consequently never succeed, and more implicitly to establish the connection between Moses’ authority as YHWH’s specially appointed servant and his own apostolic ministry (just as in 2:18–19).
This indicting function of the well-known story 66 is activated against the present opponents in two ways. First, syntactically, Paul “distributes” the charges against the historical characters (“just as”) to the contemporary opponents (“so also”). Second, a bit of word play substantiates the link between the past activities of Jannes and Jambres and the present activity of the false teachers as each is summed up generally with the verb “to oppose, resist,” with the tenses adjusted (aorist first, then present) as needed: 67
“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed [antestēsan] Moses, so also these teachers oppose [anthistantai] the truth.”
However, the special circumstances surrounding the present challenge require the traditional pattern to be contextualized. Thus in the contemporary setting, it is “the truth” which the opponents oppose rather than Moses. As we have seen, “the truth” is the gospel which Paul preaches (v. 7; see on 1 Tim 2:4). Its authority, already underlined by the polemical identification of it as “the truth,” is strengthened by association with Moses. To this point, the opponents of Paul have been charged with standing in opposition to God’s truth; they have also been typed as those outside of God’s people by association with the traditional figures; and they have been indicted both for their ineffectiveness in leading people to salvation (v. 7) and for practicing outright defiance of the truth.
Two parallel statements add to the denunciation of the present opponents. First, they are “men of depraved minds.” In these letter to coworkers this is a stock description of the opponents, 68 whom Paul depicts as people with malfunctioning minds, as revealed (and also probably caused) by their rejection of the gospel (= “the truth”). 69 They are unable to discern between error and truth. 70 In this state, it is impossible for them to apprehend the truth of the gospel or its ethical implications.
Second, and more summarily, Paul categorizes these people as those whose faith has been tested and found to be “unfit” (“rejected” TNIV; see note Titus 1:16). The commentators and translations are divided over whether the reference point indicated by the qualification “as far as the faith is concerned” is the personal faith of the opponents or “the objective faith” (i.e. the Christian faith). 71 On the basis of the closely parallel phrase in 1 Tim 1:19, their failure is measured in terms of their the personal faith-relationship with God (or claims thereto), which in the case of the false teachers is worthless, non-existent and a sign of their rejection by God, rather than in terms of their substandard doctrine, though the two things are closely related.
As the OT allusion fades momentarily (see below), the appropriation of the archetypes of deception has placed the present reader(s) into the past narrative, and the unity of God’s story is understood: what has gone around is now (again, in “the last days”) coming around. The pattern established in the early stage of God’s story of redemption finds renewed expression in the opposition of “the last days.” Equally present in the adoption of the analogy, though more implicit, is a comparison of Moses’ authority with Paul’s. As in the seminal story, so in the latter days—God’s representatives and people will triumph over all opposition.
9 As in the historical duel between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, the present rebels’ days are numbered. Paul returns to familiar patterns of language to describe the movement here in terms of “progress” (see on 2:16; 3:13). 72 In this case, however, there is no irony involved as Paul stresses the end of these opponents. The translations reflect some uncertainty in this statement about progress (“they will not get very far” TVIN), 73 but the sense is probably that in spite of their success in the community, they will not go farther. 74 Paul pronounces their end, and can do so with confidence on the basis of the linkage he has created with the OT pattern.
This narrative reemerges as the interpretive grid as Paul explains the reason (gar; v. 9b), which involves to some degree the effectiveness of Timothy’s work in the churches and of his encounter with the opponents. Through this prophetic encounter (Moses is the model), which includes correct teaching and preaching of Paul’s gospel and the correction of those who have fallen in with the heretics, the “folly” (Luke 6:11) of the opponents “will become clear” 75 to all. This measurement of their failure is, however, not simply a matter of a lack of teaching; the moral dimension to “folly” is developed fully in the Wisdom and Intertestamental literature; 76 the malfunctioning of their mental processes (v. 8) has yielded error in thought and action for which they are culpable. Their rejection of Paul and his gospel is proof enough of both dimensions (though the vices of vv. 2–5 are not far from mind), and their bold proclamation of a false message is finally equated with the antics of the magicians who opposed Moses. The closing statement compares the folly of the present day opponents with that of Jannes and Jambres (“as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to all”); the futility of their opposition to the God of Israel was finally demonstrated when they could no longer produce imitations of the miracles worked by Moses (see Exod 7:12; 8:18; 9:11).
Although it is quite clear that Paul wishes to separate the hardened apostates from the rest of the community, and that his method of caricaturing (vice list and use of well-known traditions) intends to put forth a blanket case, we need to read this passage not as so many latter-day “Timothys” but, I would argue, as those whose own potential includes apostasy. What makes an apostate? First, there is one’s disposition towards the gospel. In the case of this letter, apostates are those who have not simply deserted the faith, but who have remade the gospel into a shape that for some reason they found more accommodating. Certain elements in that remaking emerge, but there is a broader influence that is more useful for us to notice. For whatever reasons, they found Paul’s gospel insufficient or uncomfortable, probably because it did not affirm them as they wished to be affirmed, or protect the things that were most valuable to them. Perhaps in its stress on equality or universality, those whose insecurities depended instead on affirmation of their uniqueness tended to resort to interpretations that underline limitations and reinforce boundaries. Perhaps in its stress on the unfinished nature of salvation and the pervasiveness of sin, those who are unsettled by a gospel that continually addresses immaturity and imperfection found it more comfortable to reshape the gospel into the proclamation of a finished salvation now. Whatever reasons lay beneath the production of a false, competing gospel, it must be assumed that the Pauline gospel somehow failed to satisfy some. Only those who had become hardened in their rejection of the traditional apostolic gospel are separated off in 3:1–9, but the tendencies that were almost certainly at work in bringing them to this point are tendencies with which we ourselves have to wrestle.
Within our churches there exists this kind of apostasy, often passing itself off as doctrinal purity or rigorous adherence to “the traditional faith” or “orthodoxy” be it Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist or what have you. At the level of movements, at some point in time “the faith” came to be set in concrete, determined by historical councils and the documents and creeds that they produced. While the usefulness of such historical events and documents in helping us to understand the trajectories of the faith and the ways in which historical factors influence theology should not be denied, the habit of setting the faith into concrete is nothing less than a caging of the gospel. At the personal level, the same is true. Whenever one reaches the point where the gospel or “the faith” has been completely systematized, completely molded into a shape that one feels most comfortable to live with, the gospel has been incarcerated. Its teeth have been removed.
But the gospel is untamable, and to “cage” it in this way is really to reach a point where one or a group does not listen to it anymore. Paul’s gospel is wild, it seeks out weak spots in life, it challenges traditions and long held notions, and it refuses to allow Christians to live too comfortably in their understanding of the faith or to cherish their personal interpretations. It stands over all actions and theologies, critiques them; and when that critique is not heeded, the road to apostasy has been entered. 77 It is embarrassingly obvious from our own experiences with movements, churches, denominations, traditions and theologies that reaching such a place in our belief is a very real possibility. But this is also obvious from another perspective. Another glance at the qualities listed in the vice list of 3:2–5 reminds us that these are sins to which all people are prone, and which in contemporary Western society (I will leave other cultures for those who live in them) have been easily incorporated into a comfortable, materialistic, appearance-oriented way of life (e.g. “lovers of money, boastful, proud, without self-control, conceited, rash, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”). And just as Paul drew the similar picture of sin in Rom 1:29–31 on his way to the statement that “there is no one who is righteous … there is no one who seeks God … all have sinned” (Rom 3:10, 11, 23), so too here Paul more than half contemplates the possibility that the picture he has drawn of End-time villains could just as easily turn out to include any number of lazy, unwary, uncommitted believers, as well as believers committed to the wrong things. Rather than taking this passage safely as a graphic portrait of “them” in distinction from “us,” and so using it to reinforce the boundaries (theological, social, sexual, economic, cultural) we prefer to live cozily within, it is capable of functioning as a mirror that is ready to reflect unsettling and painful tendencies in our character. The mirror reveals to bring healing and growth, but the one gazing into it must own the reflection for this to happen. The way of Paul’s gospel that Timothy is credited with having taken is about to be described (vv. 10–17); it is a way filled with its own dangers, but it is a better way to go.
2 In vv. 2–4, nine words beginning with a; the oi-ending occurs fifteen times; the ph-sound eight times, five of which in compounds built on the stem phil.
3 Gk. τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε (for the phrase, see Rom 6:6cf. 2 Pet 3:3). “This” refers forward to the statement about to be made. For the implication of the imperative, cf. K. L. McKay, “Aspect in Imperatival Constructions in New Testament Greek,” NovT 27 (1985), 201–225, esp. 210.
6 Cf. 1QpHab 2:1–10; 1 En 90:22–27; 91:7; 93:9; Jub 23:14–17; 4 Ezra 5:1–2, 10.
8 Gk. χακεπός (“troublesome, hard, difficult”; cf. the versions; of “fierce” demoniacs in Matt 8:28); used in describing horrid diseases (Plutarch, Moralia 131B; Josephus, Antiquities 13.422), and perilous circumstances (2 Macc 4:4); Spicq, TLNT 3:494–95.
9 Gk. καιρός (see 1 Tim 2:6 discussion and note). Here the plural καιροί carries no automatic theological meaning in this context, but simply refers to an indefinitely long span of time which may or may not be somehow theologically significant (1 Tim 4:1; Acts 3:19; but cf. J. Baumgarten, EDNT 2:232–35).
13 Philo, Sacrifices of Cain and Abel 32; 1QS 4:9–11. See the discussions in Johnson, 404–405; J. T. Fitzgerald, “Virtue/Vice Lists,” ABD on CD-ROM. Version 2.1a. 1995, 1996, 1997; A. Vögtle, Die Tugend- und Lasterkataloge im Neuen Testament (Munster, 1936), 8, 12–15.
14 Gk. φίλαυτος (pl. only here in the NT; Josephus, Antiquities 3.190).
17 Gk. φιλάργυρος (adj. see the noun in 1 Tim 6:10). Going back to Plato (Laws 9.870) and developed further by Plutarch (see Spicq, TLNT 3:446–47 for refs.). In the biblical tradition see Luke 16:14; 4 Macc 2:8; T. Jud. 19:1; T. Levi 17:11. See also Vögtle, Tugend- und Lasterkataloge, 233.
18 Gk. ἀλάζων (pl.; Rom 1:30; for ἀλαζονεία = “pride, arrogance,” see James 4:16; 1 John 2:16). Wis 5:8; Philo, On the Virtues, 161–162; Special Laws 4.170; 2 Macc 15:6; cf. 1 Clement 21:5. Spicq, TLNT 1:63–65.
21 Gk. ὑπερήφανος (pl. adj. “arrogant, haughty”); for refs. to secular authors, see Spicq, TLNT 3:390–92. See the noun ὑπερηφανία (“arrogance, haughtiness”) as a sin originating in the heart but manifested in outward forms, in Mark 7:22; 1 Sam 17:28; Obad 3; Ps 101:5; Deut 17:12.
23 Gk. γονεῦσιν (γόνευς, used only in the pl. in NT for “parents”: Rom 1:30) ἀπειθεῖς (for ἀπειθής, “disobedient,” Titus 1:16; 3:3; R. Bultmann, TDNT 6:10). See Philo, On the Decalogue 119–20; Life of Moses 2.198; Josephus, Against Apion 2.206; Sib. Or., 3.593–94; T. Reub. 3:8; Epictetus 2.17.31; 3.7.26. Osiek and Balch, Families in the New Testament, 165–66.
24 Gk. ἀχάριστος (Luke 6:35; Wis 16:29; Sir 29:25; 4 Macc 9:10; Josephus, Antiquities 6.305.
26 Gk. ἄσπονδος (“unwilling to negotiate, irreconcilable, unforgiving”); included in some mss. in the list in Rom 1:31. See esp. Philo, On the Virtues 131; Life of Moses 1.242.
27 For Gk. διάβολος, see discussion and notes 1 Tim 3:11.
29 Gk. ἀνήμερος (only here in the NT; Philo, Allegorical Laws 3.11); see The Cynic Epistles (ed. Malherbe), 292.16, where brutishness and brotherly love are opposed. Cf. Spicq, 776; Epistle of Aristeas 289; Epictetus 1.3.7; Dio Chrysostom 1.14. Cf. further, Vögtle, Tugend- und Lasterkataloge, 233.
31 Cf. Spicq, p. 776; W. Grundmann, TDNT 1:18.
33 Gk. προπετής (“impetuous, rash, thoughtless”; Acts 19:36); cf. Wisdom usage: Sir 9:18; Prov 10:14; 13:3; cf. Philo, Special Laws 3.175; Josephus, Antiquities 15.82; Life 170. See Spicq, TLNT 3:189–190.
34 Gk. φιλήδονος (“loving of pleasure”; G. Stählin, TDNT 2:918) and φιλόθεος (“devout, having affection for God”; Philo, On Husbandry 88; BDAG; MM.) each occurring only here in the NT. the contrast (φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”) may be traditional; see esp. Philo, On Husbandry 88 (speaking of the soul that is: φιλήδονον καὶ φιλοπαθῆ μᾶλλον ἢ φιλάρετον καὶ φιλόθεον: “loving pleasure and loving passion rather than loving virtue and loving God”); cf. Epictetus, Gnom. Stob. 46.
36 For similar contrastive constructions (φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”), see esp. Philo, On Husbandry 88 (speaking of the soul that is: φιλήδονον καὶ φιλοπαθῆ μᾶλλον ἢ φιλάρετον καὶ φιλόθεον: “loving pleasure and loving passion rather than loving virtue and loving God”); cf. Epictetus, Gnom. Stob., 46.
39 Gk. ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας; the construction is close to Rom 2:20, the only other NT use of μόρφωσις (ἔχοντα τὴν μόρφωσιν τῆς γνώσεως), where the content is knowledge.
40 See the similar charge in Philo, On Noah’s Work 70: “there are some who make a pretense of piety” (εἰσί τινες τῶν ἐπιμορφαζόντων εὐσέβειαν). An alternative explanation stresses the meaning “embodiment”: the reference is a roundabout one to the teaching (= “the embodiment of godliness”) that has been made available to the opponents, the “power” of which they have simply failed to appropriate (W. Pöhlmann, EDNT 2:443–44). But with such clear denunciation of the opponents’ misuse and misunderstanding of the “sound teaching” elsewhere, it seems unlikely that Paul would be so allusive here.
42 Gk. ἀποτρέπομαι (mid. voice “to turn away from, avoid”; only here in the NT; 4 Macc 1:33); see discussion in Towner, Goal, 64–65; Dibelius and Conzelmann, 116. The reference to “them” (τούτους) also forms a bridge between the paradigm set out in vv. 2–5 and the description of “those” beginning in v. 6 (ἐκ τούτων) who are fulfilling the prophetic picture in Ephesus.
45 Gk. ἐνδύνω (“to enter by devious means, slip in”; only here in the NT; cf. Jude 4 παρεισδύνω; Johnson, 406).
47 See e.g. H. Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity (Philadelphia, 1982), 303–304; Haufe, “Gnostische Irrlehre und ihre Abwehr in den Pastoralbriefen,” 331–332; Rudolph, Gnosis, 225, 229–30, 291–93.
51 Gk. γυναικάριον (only here in the NT; “little women”); see Epictetus, Encheiridion 7; BDAG; Johnson, 411–414.
52 Cf. the technique in 1 Tim 5:15.
55 For ἐπιθυμία (“lust, desire”; see on 1 Tim 6:9). The language and thought of addiction to sin (ἀγόμενα ἐπιθυμίαις ποικίλαις; “led by various lusts”) parallels Titus 3:3 (δουλεύοντες ἐπιθυμίαις καὶ ἡδοναῖς ποικίλαις; “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures”).
56 Gk. πάντοτε μανθάνοντα (for μανθάνω, see 3:14[2x]; 1 Tim 2:11 [discussion and note]; 5:4, 13; Titus 3:14); the present tense participle strengthened by the adverb “always” underlines the ongoing nature of this incessant activity.
58 The Greek phrase, ὃν τρόπον (the conjunction δέ need not be translated), is idiomatic, used to introduce a comparison (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34; Acts 7:28 [citing Exod 2:14]); BAG, s.v.; for examples of the phrase followed by οὕτως to introduce the thing compared, see LXX Josh 10:1; Isa 10:11; 62:5; Acts 1:11.
59 Gk. Ἰάννης and Ἰαμβρῆς; for discussion of the various forms in which these names appear, see A. Pietersma, The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians (Leiden/New York/Köln: E. J. Brill, 1994), 36–42; idem, ABD on CD-ROM. Version 2.1a. 1995, 1996, 1997; Dibelius and Conzelmann, 117; Schürer, History, 3:2, 781–83; H. Odeberg, TDNT 3:192–94; Marshall, 778–79.
65 See H. Odeberg, TDNT 3:192–93.
66 It is not possible to determine a source for this tradition (Spicq, 779, suggests Paul learned it from the Targum). The NT attests to the fact that other expansions of OT stories were common currency in the early church’s tradition (Acts 7:22, 23, 53; 1 Cor 10:2, 4; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2; Jude 9). Paul alludes to these figures generally in the way that the rabbinic writers did. His reader(s) presumably knows the developments surrounding these two characters in tradition.
69 Gk. καταφθείρω (“to destroy, ruin, corrupt”; pft.; only here in the NT). The perfect tense denotes a present state entered into in the past; the association of this state with their past and ongoing rebellion is surely implied. Cf. 1 Macc 8:11; Spicq, TLNT 2:278–79.
70 See on 1 Tim 6:5; Towner, Goal, 158–59.
72 Cf. the Gk. here (ἀλλʼ οὐ προκόψουσιν ἐπὶ πλεῖον; “but they will not get far”) with that of 2:16 (ἐπὶ πλεῖον γὰρ προκόψουσιν ἀσεβείας; “for they will progress more and more in ungodliness”).
73 Cf. “they will not make much progress” (NRSV) and “they will progress no further” (e.g. NKJ).
75 Gk. ἔκδηλος (only here in the NT; see 3 Macc 3:19; 6:5; Epistle of Aristeas 85). The future tense “will be” (ἔσται) expresses the statement either as a promise or an assertion, either way stressing the certainty of what will take place (see Burton, Moods and Tenses, 33–34; Marshall, 780).
76 Gk. ἄνοια (Prov 14:8; 22:15; in 2 Macc 4:6, 40; 14:5; 15:33; 2 Clement 13:1); ἄνοια is equivalent to wickedness; in Josephus, Antiquities 8, 318 it is associated with rude behavior (see also Ps 22:21; Job 33:23; Wis 15:18; 19:3; 3 Macc 3:16, 20). Cf. J. Behm, TDNT 4:962–63; G. Harder, “Reason, Mind, Understanding,” n.p., NIDNTT on CD-ROM. Version 2.7. 1999.
77 Cf. the perspective of M. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 208–209, as he describes the world of the Scriptures that (along with the world of culture) Christians inhabit: “Is this world best thought of as a ‘coherent tradition,’ in the sense in which Thomism, for instance, represents a coherent tradition … ? I do not think so. The biblical texts are a canonical bundle of overlapping testimonies from radically different contexts to the one history of God with humanity which culminates in Christ’s death and resurrection. The Scriptures come to us in the form of plural traditions. The texts and the underlying ‘story of the history’ which unites them … do not offer a coherent tradition. Instead, they demand a series of interrelated basic commitments—beliefs and practices. These commitments can be developed into traditions. But such traditions are always secondary phenomena, in need of being interrogated and reshaped in the light of both basic commitments and changing cultural contexts. Christian theologians have their own good reasons to suspect that there is some truth to Nietzsche’s aphorism in Twilight of Idols, which states that ‘the will to a system is a lack of integrity’.”