2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.—Timothy must bear in mind that things in the Church of Christ on earth will not change for the better. The great drag-net of the Church, in its wide sweep, would keep drawing into its meshes something of every kind. Errors now just apparent, he must remember, would attain more formidable dimensions. The thirst for novelties in doctrine, the desire for a teaching which, while offering peace to a troubled conscience, would yet allow the old self-indulgent life to go on as before, would increase. In full view of this development of error, in sure expectation of a future full of anxious care, Timothy and his brother teachers must indeed be wakeful, watchful, and earnest in their preaching and ministrations. And the thought that more and ever more of the so-called Christians would dislike the preaching of the “sound doctrine,” as taught by the Apostle, the very knowledge of this growing unpopularity, must serve as an incentive to greater labour, more interest, and more loving activity on the part of Timothy and his companions.

But after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers.—“Their own lusts:” this expression gives us some insight into the reason which led to this future apostasy of so many, concerning which St. Paul warned Timothy. “Their own lusts,” which, at all risks, they would gratify, would serve to alienate them from that severe and strictly moral school of Apostolic teaching, in which the sternest morality was bound up with purity of doctrine, to which school St. Paul’s pupils—men like Timothy and the presbyters of Ephesus—belonged. These worldly ones to whom St. Paul referred, reluctant to part with the hope Christianity taught, and unwilling to live the life which St. Paul and Timothy insisted upon as necessary to be lived by all those who would share in that glorious hope, sought out for themselves more indulgent teachers, who would flatter and gratify their hearers with novelties in doctrine, and would, at the same time, lay comparatively little stress on the pure and saintly life.

4:1-5 People will turn away from the truth, they will grow weary of the plain gospel of Christ, they will be greedy of fables, and take pleasure in them. People do so when they will not endure that preaching which is searching, plain, and to the purpose. Those who love souls must be ever watchful, must venture and bear all the painful effects of their faithfulness, and take all opportunities of making known the pure gospel.For the time will come ... - Probably referring to the time mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:1, following.

When they will not endure sound doctrine - Greek, "healthful doctrine;" i. e., doctrine contributing to the health of the soul, or to salvation. At that time they would seek a kind of instruction more conformable to their wishes and feelings.

But after their own lusts - They will seek such kind of preaching as will accord with their carnal desires; or such as will palliate their evil propensities, and deal gently with their vices; compare Isaiah 30:10. "Speak unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits."

Shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears - The word rendered "heap" - ἐπισωρεύω episōreuō - does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It means "to heap up upon, to accumulate;" and here "to multiply." The word rendered "itching" - κνήθω knēthō - also occurs only in this place in the New Testament. It means "to rub, to scratch;" and then "to tickle," and here to feel an "itching" for something pleasing or gratifying. The image is derived from the desire which we have when there is an itching sensation, to have it rubbed or scratched. Such an uneasiness would these persons have to have some kind of instruction that would allay their restless and uneasy desires, or would gratify them. In explanation of this passage we may observe,

(1) that there will be always religious teachers of some kind, and that in proportion as error and sin abound, they will be multiplied. The apostle here says, that by turning away from Timothy, and from sound instruction, they would not abandon all religious teachers, but would rather increase and multiply them. People often declaim much against a regular ministry, and call it "priest-craft;" and yet, if they were to get rid of such a ministry, they would by no means escape from all kinds of religious teachers. The deeper the darkness, and the more gross the errors, and the more prevalent the wickedness of men, the more will a certain kind of religious teachers abound, and the more it will cost to support them. Italy and Spain swarm with priests, and in every pagan nation they constitute a very numerous class of the population. The cheapest ministry on the earth is a well-educated Protestant clergy, and if society wishes to free itself from swarms of preachers, and prophets, and exhorters, it should secure the regular services of an educated and pious ministry.

(2) in such classes of persons as the apostle here refers to, there is a restless, uneasy desire to have some kind of preachers. They have "itching ears." They will be ready to run after all kinds of public instructors. They will be little pleased with any, and this will be one reason why they will have so many. They are fickle, and unsettled, and never satisfied. A desire to hear the truth, and to learn the way of salvation, is a good desire. But this can be better gratified by far under the patient and intelligent labor of a single religious teacher, than by running after many teachers, or than by frequent changes. How much would a child learn if he was constantly running from one school to another?

(3) such persons would have teachers according to "their own lusts;" that is, their own tastes, or wishes. They would have those who would coincide with their whims; who would foster every vagary which might enter their imagination; who would countenance every wild project for doing good; who would be the advocates of the errors which they held; and who would be afraid to rebuke their faults. These are the principles on which many persons choose their religious teachers. The true principle should be, to select those who will faithfully declare the truth, and who will not shrink from exposing and denouncing sin, wherever it may be found.

3. they—professing Christians.

sound doctrine—Greek, "the sound (see on [2506]1Ti 1:10) doctrine (didascalias)" or "teaching," namely, of the Gospel. Presently follows the concrete, "teachers."

after their own lusts—Instead of regarding the will of God they dislike being interrupted in their lusts by true teachers.

heap—one on another: an indiscriminate mass of false teachers. Variety delights itching ears. "He who despises sound teaching, leaves sound teachers; they seek instructors like themselves" [Bengel]. It is the corruption of the people in the first instance, that creates priestcraft (Ex 32:1).

to themselves—such as will suit their depraved tastes; populus vult decipi, et decipiatur—"the people wish to be deceived, so let them be deceived." "Like priest, like people" (1Ki 12:31; Ho 4:9).

itching—like to hear teachers who give them mere pleasure (Ac 17:19-21), and do not offend by truths grating to their ears. They, as it were, tickle with pleasure the levity of the multitude [Cicero], who come as to a theater to hear what will delight their ears, not to learn [Seneca, Epistles, 10.8] what will do them good. "Itch in the ear is as bad in any other part of the body, and perhaps worse" [South].

For the time will come; this time always was, (as appears by the writings of the prophets), but it will come more and more; as the world grows older, it will grow more mad.

When they, very many that shall live in the world, yea, in the bosom of the church,

will not endure sound doctrine, will not endure that preaching which hath any soundness in it, or is of any tendency, life, power, or efficacy, to recover their souls from the diseases of sin and lusts.

But after their own lusts, but in favour of their own lusts, and to secure their satisfaction in them,

shall they heap to themselves teachers, will be finding out teachers, not according to God’s, but to their own hearts; and there will be plenty of them to be found, they shall heap them up, choosing them without any judgment, regarding nothing but whether they will not be smart upon their lusts.

Having itching ears; for their ears itch, and they must have those that will scratch them. The disease of lust in their souls brings forth an itch in their ears, that they will have a mind to hear only such as will by scratching please them. For the time will come,.... This is a reason of the solemn charge above given: the time referred to was future, when the apostle wrote, but quickly came on; and the characters of it have appeared more or less in all ages since; and in none more than in ours:

when they will not endure sound doctrine; the Gospel which contains the wholesome words of Christ, and is sound itself, having no corruption in it, and salutary in its effects to the souls of men; and yet such is the depravity of some men, both in principles and practice, that they cannot receive it, nor bear to hear it, turn their backs on it, express their indignation at it, and treat it not only with neglect, but with ridicule and contempt:

but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers; not being content with the ministry of one man only, or of a few, though of their own sort; but must follow many, and have heaps of them; which seems to express not only the number of false teachers which they accumulate to themselves, but the confused and indiscreet choice they make of them; and that after their own lusts; choosing to hear such as either indulge them in their sinful lusts and pleasures; or are agreeable to their private corrupt sentiments, in opposition to the generally received doctrine of faith. It is a blessing to have pastors and teachers after God's heart, and who preach according to the word of God; these feed men with knowledge and understanding, Jeremiah 3:15 but it is a curse upon a people, when they are left to choose teachers after their hearts' lusts:

having itching ears; always desirous of new things, as the Athenians of old; or loving to have their ears scratched and tickled with smooth things; that are pleasing and agreeable to natural men, and carnal minds; as the purity of human nature, the power of man's free will, the excellency of his righteousness, and the merit of his works, and the like; see Isaiah 30:9. Now, this being the case, should not discourage, but rather animate the ministers of the Gospel to preach it; for should they desist, in all likelihood the Gospel would soon be gone.

{2} For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

(2) Faithful pastors in times past took all occasions they could, because men were very prompt and ready to return to their fables.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2 Timothy 4:3-4. Ground of the previous exhortation, ἔσται γὰρ καιρὸς, ὅτε] see 2 Timothy 2:16-17, 2 Timothy 3:1 ff.

The ἔσται shows that he is speaking not of the present (Heinrichs), but of the future; comp. 2 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:1.

τῆς ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλίας] see 1 Timothy 1:10.

οὐκ ἀνέξονται] comp. Acts 18:14; 2 Corinthians 11:4. De Wette: “find intolerable, because not consistent with their desires.”

ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας] “according to wilful, selfish lusts;” the accent is on ἰδίας—a contrast to obedience under the divine will.

ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισωρεύσουσι διδασκάλους] ἐπισωρεύειν (ἅπ. λεγ., the simple form in 2 Timothy 3:6), “heap up, procure in abundance.” Heydenreich’s conjecture is groundless, that the word here has the suggestion of: they will set him up for a burden to themselves (Luther: “burden themselves”) for their own hurt; on the other hand, Chrysostom is right: τὸ ἀδιάκριτον πλῆθος διὰ τοῦ· ἐπισωρεύσουσι, ἐδήλωσε. We cannot but see that the word here is meant to indicate the contemptible part of their conduct. The ἐπι does not compel us to follow Hofmann in his exposition: “in addition to those who represent sound doctrine;” what follows rather shows that they turn away from all such.

The reason is given in the words: κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν. Κνήθω (ἅπ. λεγ.), tickle, cause to itch; κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν, “be tickled in the ear,” i.e. feel a tickling in the ear (τὴν ἀκοήν being the accusative of more precise definition). This tickling is usually taken to mean a pleasant sensation;[57] so Hesychius: ζητοῦντες τὶ ἀκοῦσαι καθʼ ἡδονήν, and almost all expositors. But this view, before adopted in this commentary, is opposed by the fact that ζητοῦντες is purely imported. The present participle cannot mean: “that they wish to feel a tickling in the ear, but only that they do feel it.” Hofmann is therefore right in explaining this tickling of the ear to mean the desire of hearing something different from what they had heard before; “because they feel a tickling in the ear, they procure for themselves teachers after their own lusts.”—2 Timothy 4:4. καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς ἀλ κ.τ.λ.] τῆς ἀληθείας = τῆς ὑγ. διδασκαλίας.

ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς μύθους] see 1 Timothy 1:4.

ἐκτραπήσονται] see 1 Timothy 1:6.

[57] Plutarch (De Superst. p. 167): μονσικὴν ἀνθρώποις οὐ τρυφῆς ἕνεκα καὶ κνήσεως ὠτῶν δοθῆναι.2 Timothy 4:3. ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλία: See note on 1 Timothy 1:10.

ἰδίας: ἴδιος here, as constantly, has merely the force of a possessive pronoun. See on 1 Timothy 3:4.

ἐπισωρεύσουσιν: coacervabunt (Vulg.). “He shews the indiscriminate multitude of the teachers, as also their being elected by their disciples” (Chrys.).

κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν: prurientes auribus (Vulg.). The same general idea is expressed in πάντοτε μανθάνοντα (2 Timothy 3:7). Their notion of a teacher was not one who should instruct their mind or guide their conduct, but one who should gratify their æsthetic sense. Cf. Ezekiel 33:32, “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, &c.” The desire for pleasure is insatiable, and is increased or aggravated by indulgence; hence the heaping up of those who may minister to it. Ell. quotes appropriately from Philo, Quod Det. Pot. 21, ἀποκναίουσι γοῦν [οἱ σοφισταὶ] ἡμῶν τὰ ὦτα.3. sound doctrine] The sound doctrine as in 1 Timothy 1:10, where see note.

but after their own lusts] Vulg. ‘ad sua desideria,’ in opposition to the healthful doctrine. Compare the same phrase in the singular, James 1:14, ‘Each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.’ R.V. still retains ‘lusts’; this word in the age of the A.V. had also the wider sense of ‘strong desire’ not being restricted as now to one passion only. ‘Lust’ in Psalm 92:10, Pr. Bk., is ‘desire’ in A.V. and R.V. But the word here denotes a corrupt will leading both to corrupt doctrine and corrupt life. See note on 2 Timothy 3:6. Trench, N.T. Syn. § 87, quotes Cicero’s definition of the word here rendered ‘lust’; ‘immoderata appetitio opinati magni boni rationi non obtemperans,’ Tusc. Quæst. iii. 11. It is sometimes ‘concupiscence’ Romans 7:8; very rarely in a good sense ‘desire,’ Php 1:23.

shall they heap to themselves] A compound form of the verb used in ch. 2 Timothy 3:6 for ‘laden.’

having itching ears] An ambiguous rendering in A.V.; but the original is clear, the nominative case shewing that it is the pupils not the teachers who have the itching ears. R.V. corrects this by transposing the clause to the commencement of the sentence; but this gives up the close proximity of the two words for ‘ears’; because they have itching ears should be the rendering. The participle is middle, lit. ‘scratching themselves,’ as Arist. H. A. ix. 1, 18. Out of a prurient longing for novelty and excitement, ‘instead of receiving those Teachers who are authorized by Christ to instruct them and have a regular call and mission from Him to execute their sacred office, and preach by the Rule of Faith, they will stray away from their Pastors and from their own proper Fold and will raise up for themselves a confused heap of Teachers.’ Wordsworth.2 Timothy 4:3. Ἔσται) will be, and now is, ch. 2 Timothy 3:1.—διδασκαλίας, doctrine) The concrete follows, teachers. He who despises sound doctrine, leaves sound teachers; they seek instructors like themselves.[13]—ἐπιθυμίας) carnal lusts, in the indulgence of which they are unwillingly interrupted by true teachers, and the seasoning of which they seek in the sweetness of softer (laxer) doctrine.—ἐπισωρεύσουσι, they shall heap up) A weighty compound, denoting abundance. Variety delights those who have itching ears.

[13] “Similes labra lactucas quærunt.” Our proverb is, “like teacher, like pupil,” or “like priest, like people.”—TR.Verse 3. - The sound for sound, A.V.; having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts for after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, A.V. The sound (τῆς ὑγιαινούσης). Nothing is gained by the addition of the article in English. The phrase, ἡ ὑγιαίνουσα διδασκαλία, is characteristic of the pastoral Epistles, having arisen, no doubt, from the growth of heresy (see 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:3. 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9, 13; Titus 2:1; also Titus 2:8). In classical Greek, ὑγιής is frequently applied to words, sentiments, advice, etc., in the sense of "sound," "wise;" and ὑγιαίειν is also applied to the mind and character. Endure (ἀνέξονται); usually, as Bishop Ellicott observes, applied by St. Paul to persons as the object, as elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 17:17; Acts 18:14; Ephesians 4:2, etc.); but not invariably (see 2 Thessalonians 1:4; so too Hebrews 13:22). In classical Greek, ἀνέχεσθαι, followed by persons or things, usually governs an accusative case, if any, but a genitive frequently in Plato. Having itching ears (κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν); only here in the New Testament. The phrase, κνησέως ὤτων, is ascribed by Plutarch to Plato (Alford), "scratching the (itching) ear;" κνᾶσθαι τὰ ῶτα, "to tickle the ears" (Lucian); ἀποκναίουσιν ἡμῶν τὰ ᾤτα (Philo, ap. Ellicott). The verb κνήθω (i.q. κνάω) means "to scratch;" "to tickle," and in the passive "to itch." Will heap to themselves (ἐπισωρεύσουσι); a contemptuous word (found only here in the New Testament, and nowhere in early classical Greek), implying the indiscriminate multiplication of teachers (compare our use of "exaggerate"). The simple σωρεύειν occurs in ch. 3:6. After their own lusts. The measure of the number or the quality of their self-chosen teachers will be their own insatiable and ever-varying fancies and mental appetites, not the desire to be taught God's truth by teachers sent from God. Compare Jeroboam's conduct in ordaining a feast "in the mouth which he had devised of his own heart" (1 Kings 12:33). For (γὰρ)

Ground for the preceding exhortations in the future opposition to sound teaching.

Endure (ἀνέξονται)

Only here in Pastorals. Mostly in Paul. Comp. Acts 18:14; 2 Corinthians 11:4; Hebrews 13:22.

Sound doctrine (τῆς ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλίας)

Or healthful teaching. The A.V. overlooks the article which is important. The teaching plays a prominent part in these Epistles, and signifies more than teaching in general. See on 1 Timothy 1:10.

Shall they heap to themselves teachers (ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισωρεύ σουσιν διδασκάλους)

A vigorous and graphic statement. Ἑπισωρεύειν to heap up, N.T.o. Comp. σεσωρευμένα laden, 2 Timothy 3:6. The word is ironical; shall invite teachers en masse. In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found. "The master of superstition is the people, and in all superstition wise men follow fools" (Bacon, Ess. 17).

Having itching ears (κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν)

Or, being tickled in their hearing. Κνήθειν to tickle, N.T.o. olxx. Κνηθόμενοι itching. Hesychius explains, "hearing for mere gratification." Clement of Alexandria describes certain teachers as "scratching and tickling, in no human way, the ears of those who eagerly desire to be scratched" (Strom. v.). Seneca says: "Some come to hear, not to learn, just as we go to the theater, for pleasure, to delight our ears with the speaking or the voice or the plays" (Ephesians 108). Ἁκοή, A.V. ears, in N.T. a report, as Matthew 4:24; Matthew 14:1; Matthew 24:6 : in the plural, ears (never ear in singular), as Mark 7:35; Luke 7:1 : hearing, either the act, as Acts 28:26; Romans 10:17, or the sense, 1 Corinthians 12:17, here, and 2 Timothy 4:4.

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