Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.III.
(1) This know also.—Better rendered, But know this. The Apostle had warned Timothy (2Timothy 2:3-13) not to allow fear of oncoming peril and trouble to paralyse his efforts in the Master’s cause, for the Lord’s true servant should never lose heart, and then had proceeded (2Timothy 2:14-26) to detail how these efforts of his were to be directed, showing him how his teaching should stand in contrast with that of the false teachers. St. Paul now (2Timothy 3:1), having told him that although there was no reason to fear, yet warns him that grave dangers to the Church would surely arise, and that God’s servants, like Timothy, must be prepared to combat.
In the last days.—The majority of commentators have referred “the last days” here spoken of to the period immediately preceding the second coming of the Lord—a day and an hour somewhere in the future but hidden, not merely from all men, but from the angels, and even from the Son (Mark 13:32).
It seems, however, more in accordance with such passages as 1John 2:18 : “Little children, it is the last time”—where the present, and not an uncertain future is alluded to—to understand “the last days “as that period, probably of very long duration, extending from the days of the first coming of Messiah—in which time St. Paul lived—to the second coming of Christ in judgment. The Jewish Rabbis of the days of St. Paul were in the habit of speaking of two great periods of the world’s history—“this age,” and “the age to come.” The former of these, “this age,” including all periods up to Messiah’s advent; the latter, “the age to come,” including all periods subsequent to the appearance of Messiah. We find the same idea embodied later in the Talmud (treatise “Sanhedrim”) 6,000 years are mentioned as the duration of the world, 2,000 years, waste or chaos, 2,000 years under the law, 2,000 years the days of Messiah.” This last period, “the days of Messiah,” are often alluded to by the Hebrew prophets under the expression, “in the last days”—literally, in the end of days. (See Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1.) The words of 2Timothy 3:5, “from such turn away,” would require certainly a strained interpretation if we are to suppose that the “last days” referred to a time immediately preceding the end, or, in other words, the last period of the Christian era. The sad catalogue of vices is, alas, one with which all ages of the Church of Christ has been too well acquainted. The Christian teacher has no need to look forward to a future time of deeper iniquity, when in the Church of the living God will be found those who will deserve the dreary titles of this passage. The Church of his own age will supply him with examples of many such, for “In a great house . . . are there not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood, and earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour.”
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,(2) For men shall be lovers of their own selves.—Hofmann and others have attempted to portion out these vices into groups. But any such effort seems artificial. A certain connection seems to exist in some part; but when pressed to preserve the groups, a strained meaning has to be given to some of the terms. It seems, therefore, best simply to understand the catalogue as representing the various more prominent vices which appeared on the surface of Christian society, and threatened the very existence of the Church, even in those early times when Timothy ruled over the congregations of Christians at Ephesus. Hofmann, however, divides the catalogue contained in 2Timothy 3:2-4 into three groups, consisting of five, six, and seven terms, respectively.
Lovers of their own selves.—Selfishness well heads the dreary list. It is the true root of all sin.
Covetous.—More accurately rendered, lovers of money. This “love of money” has been happily termed “the daughter of selfishness.”
Boasters.—Those who arrogate to themselves honour which does not fairly belong to them.
Proud.—These are they who contemptuously look down on others beneath them, either in social position or wealth, or perhaps in natural gifts. The Latin, ostentatio, represents the vice which affects the first of these classes—“the boasters;” and superbia, that which affects the second class—“the proud.”
Blasphemers.—The two vices just mentioned refer to man’s conduct to his brother man; this alludes to his behaviour towards his God. The pride with which he looks down on his fellows develops itself into insolence in thought, if not in word, towards his God: and this is termed blasphemy.
Disobedient to parents.—The blasphemer of the Father which is in heaven is only too likely to train up little ones who, in their turn, will display a disobedience and disrespect of their earthly parents. The home life of the man who chooses not to know God in his heart will too easily reflect his evil thoughts and senseless pride.
Unthankful.—Or, ungrateful. The children who begin life with disobedience to their parents, with rare exceptions, are ungrateful to all others who may show them kindness in their life journey.
Unholy.—Unholy through their want of inward purity. (See 1Timothy 1:9.)
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,(3) Without natural affection.—Careless and regardless of the welfare of those connected with them by ties of blood.
Trucebreakers.—Better rendered, implacable.
False-accusers.—Or, slanderers. (See 1Timothy 3:11.)
Incontinent.—Having no control over the passions.
Fierce.—Inhuman, savage, or merciless.
Despisers of those that are good.—Better rendered, no lovers of good—that is, hostile to every good thought and work.
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;(4) Traitors.—Or, betrayers, probably, as it has been suggested, of their Christian brethren. (Comp. Luke 6:16, where this epithet is used of Judas Iscariot, “which also was the traitor;” and also Acts 7:52, where Stephen, in his Sanhedrin speech, uses this term “betrayers” of the Jews, “of whom—the Just One—ye have been now the betrayers.” In these days of Timothy, and for many a long year, to inform against the believers in Jesus of Nazareth, to give information of their places of meeting in times of persecution, was often a profitable’ though a despicable work.
Heady.—Better rendered, headstrong in words, or thoughts, or actions.
Highminded.—Better translated, blinded by pride. (See 1Timothy 3:6.)
Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.—Men who would make any sacrifice to procure a fleeting pleasure, and who would give nothing up in order to do honour to the eternal but invisible God. Need the ministers of the Lord tarry for the last period preceding the return of Messiah for judgment—when a still more awful iniquity shall reign—for examples of these short-sighted mortals? The sorrowful catalogue began with “love of self,” that unhappy vice which excludes all love for others; it closes with that “love of pleasure” which shuts out all love of God.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.(5) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.—Keeping up a show of observing the outward forms of religion, but renouncing its power and its influence over the heart and the life; shewing openly that they neither acknowledged its guidance or wished to do so. These, by claiming the title of Christians, wearing before men the uniform of Christ, but by their lives dishonouring His name, did the gravest injury to the holy Christian cause. Another dreary catalogue of vices St. Paul gives in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:29, and following verses); but in that passage he paints the sins of Paganism. Here he describes the characteristics of a new Paganism, which went under the name of Christianity.
From such turn away.—These, daring to assume the sacred name, no doubt with the thought of claiming its glorious promises, without one effort to please the Master or to do honour to His name—these were to be openly shunned by such as Timothy. No half measures were to be adopted towards these, who tried to deceive their neighbours and possibly deceived themselves. The Pagan was to be courteously entreated, for in God’s good time the glory of the Lord might shine, too, on those now sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. The heretic, seduced by false men from the school of the Apostles, where the life as well as the doctrine of Jesus was taught, was to be gently instructed. Perhaps God would lead him once more home. But these, who, while pretending to belong to Jesus, lived the degraded life of the heathen, were to be shunned. No communion, no friendly intercourse was possible between the hypocrite and the Christian.
The command here is so definite—“from these turn away”—that any theory which would relegate the vices just enumerated to a distant future would require, as above stated, that a strained and unnatural meaning should be given to this positive direction to Timothy. The plain and obvious signification of the passage is: men committing the sins alluded to lived then in the Church over which Timothy presided; they were to be avoided by the chief presbyter and his brethren.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,(6) For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women.—The corrupting influence of these hypocritical professors of the religion of Jesus must have been already great, and the danger to all real vital godliness in Ephesus imminent, for Paul here specifies one of the most—perhaps the most—successful work of these toilers for Satan: the power they were acquiring over women. As we shall see, these unhappy men busied themselves in securing popularity among the female portion of the flock in the Ephesian Church, and the way by which they won their popularity was by supplying anodynes for the guilty consciences of these women, laden, we are told, with sins The expression, “which creep into houses,” although perfectly natural, and one which, even in these Western countries, could be used with propriety to express the method in which these deceiving and perverting men make their way into households, yet, when we remember the comparative state of seclusion in which women usually lived and still live in Eastern lands, the words used by Paul acquire an increased force. Special fraud and deceit was needful for these false teachers to creep into the women’s apartments in Asia. The Greek word translated “lead captive” is a peculiar one, and is only found in comparatively later Greek. It is supposed to be a word of Alexandrian or Macedonian origin. It here represents these women as wholly under the influence of these bad men, to the utter destruction of all true, healthy, home life. The Greek word translated “silly women,” in the Vulgate “mulierculas,” is simply a diminutive, expressing contempt. There is no doubt but that the older Heresiarchs made great use of women in the propagation of their new and strange systems. They worked more easily, perhaps, on the impulsive and emotional female mind; but what has never sufficiently been taken into account is the reaction which was then taking place among women, so long relegated to an inferior and subordinate position, and now, by the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, raised to a position of equality with men as regards the hope of future glory. In many instances, in the first ages of Christianity, there is no doubt, but that they misunderstood their position; they claimed work they could never do, and aimed after an influence they could never exercise, and thus, no doubt, in these first feverish years many a woman fell a comparatively easy prey to these proselytisers, who, laying claim to a higher and deeper wisdom, proposed now to lead some into the knowledge of profound and hidden mysteries, now offered ease of conscience to others if they would but follow them. Irenæus, in the second century, speaks of the special power which the Valentinian Gnostic Marcus had acquired over women; and Epiphanius, in the same century, also refers to the Gnostics’ deceitful influence with the female sex. Jerome, in an interesting though rhetorical passage (Epist. ad Ctesiphontem), cites a number of instances in which a woman shared in the baleful influence exercised by the leading masters of heresy in doctrine and laxity of life.
Simon Magus, he tells us, was accompanied by the wicked Helen. Nicolas, of Antioch, a teacher of immorality, gathered round him what Jerome calls choros fæmineos. Montanus is associated with the well-known names of Maximilla and Prisca. Donatus is coupled with Lucilla. Marcion, Arius, Priscillian, and other Heresiarchs, famous in the annals of the early churches, he speaks of as intimately associated with or supported by female influence.
Laden with sins, led away with divers lusts.—This gives us some insight into the source of the power which these false teachers acquired over those women of Ephesus who in name were Christians. They had accepted the faith of Christ, but were unable to live His life; over their passions and lusts had these no mastery. “Laden with sins,” and “led away with divers lusts,” these weak women fell an easy prey to men who procured them, by means of their lying doctrines, a false peace. By their words they seemed to have lulled the consciences of their female listeners to sleep. They showed them, no doubt, how in their school they might still be Christians and yet indulge their divers lusts.
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.(7) Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.—A morbid love of novelty, and a hope to penetrate into mysteries not revealed to God’s true teachers, spurred these female learners on; but “to the full knowledge of the truth”—for this is the more accurate rendering of the Greek word—they never reached, for by their evil life their heart was hardened. That some of these false teachers laid claim to occult arts, to a knowledge of magic and sorcery, is clear from the statement contained in the next verse, where certain sorcerers of the time of Moses are compared to them.
Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.(8) Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses.—To one brought up, like Timothy, by a pious Jewish mother, and who from a child knew the Holy Scriptures and all the history and ancient traditions connected with the early history of the people, such a comparison would be very striking. No child of Israel could hear the name of Moses, the loved hero of the chosen people, unmoved; and to be told that these false teachers of Ephesus stood in the same relation to him and the Church of Christ as, in old days—in the never-to-be-forgotten Egyptian episode—those famous magicians Jannes and Jambres stood to Moses, would throw for Timothy a new light on all the words and works of these wicked and ambitious men. We can well imagine the comparison being repeated in many an assembly of the faithful, long after the great Apostle’s death: how St. Paul had likened these early Heresiarchs to those evil men who before Pharaoh had dared to resist God and His servant Moses. These magicians, also termed wise men and sorcerers (Exodus 7:11-22) at the court of Pharaoh, appear as the enemies of Moses. The names “Jannes” and “Jambres,” though not given in the sacred text, are preserved in the oral tradition of Israel. The names are found in the Targum of Jonathan on Exodus 7:11; Exodus 22:22. These traditions relate how these men were sons of Balaam, and in the first instance were the instructors of Moses, though subsequently his enemies and opponents. One legend mentions them as perishing in the catastrophe when the waves of the Red Sea overwhelmed the armies of Egypt; another tradition speaks of their having met their death in the slaughter after the worship of the golden calf, the making of which they advised. It was their prophetic words, so say these legendary histories, which, foretelling the birth of Moses, induced Pharaoh to give this order for the destruction of the Jewish children. The later Jews distorted the names into John and Ambrose.
So do these also resist the truth.—The point of comparison between the depraved teachers of Ephesus and these Egyptian sorcerers consisted in a persistent and deadly enmity to the truth, which existed in both cases. The life of the prophet Balaam, the traditionary father of this Jannes and Jambres, supplies a vivid illustration of this malignant and persistent hatred of what is known and felt to be true. That these Ephesian heretics in like manner availed themselves, or pretended to avail themselves of occult power is just probable, though in the comparison this point is of but little moment. We know, however, that the claim at least to possess mysterious and unearthly powers was often made by covetous and worldly men in these times: as, for instance, by Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24), by Elymas the sorcerer, the false prophet and Jew in Cyprus (Acts 13:6-12). See also the episode of Acts 19:18-20, when “many which used curious arts came to Paul and his companions, and confessed and shewed their deeds.”
Men of corrupt minds.—Literally, corrupted in their minds. Timothy might possibly have been induced to regard these evil men, though erring in some particulars, as still of the flock of Christ, to which they belonged nominally; but he was now instructed that they were simply enemies to the truth: that it was vain to hope that they would ever come to a knowledge of the truth, for their “mind,” the human spirit, the medium of communication with the Holy Spirit of God, was corrupted. There was no common ground of faith, save in the bare name of Christian, between Timothy and these men, for they, in the matter of faith, had been tried and found wanting.
But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.(9) But they shall proceed no further.—After that St. Paul, with no gentle hand, had torn aside the veil which was hiding apparently from Timothy the real state of his great charge at Ephesus, and had pointed out what fearful ravages among his flock had been committed by these ambitious and evil men, the Apostle proceeds to comfort his friend and disciple with the assurance that, great though the mischief already accomplished was, still it should proceed no further. To human eyes, such a state of things as here pictured by the Apostle would appear desperate. It would seem as though a deadly and incurable cancer was eating away the whole life of the community; but Timothy need not despair: the evil would only be allowed to advance to a certain point; and since St. Paul thus wrote, the same prophecy, not only in Ephesus but in a thousand churches, has been fulfilled to the very letter. Still, the same old foes under new faces make havoc of the Church. But they never seem to advance beyond a certain point, and after all these centuries the Church is still full of faith and life, bright, too, in spite of discouragements, in spite of the perpetual presence of these treacherous, deceitful men, with promise for the future.
For their folly shall be manifest.—Men and women would be led away for a season by the plausible words of such deceivers, but one school of error after another would fall into disrepute, then into neglect, then into the silent darkness of utter oblivion (the event in numberless instances has shown the truth of this prophecy); and Timothy might take comfort, by considering what Holy Scripture had placed on record respecting the Egyptian sorcerers, whose folly was manifest unto all men (Exodus 8:18-19; Exodus 9:11). Their folly was yet more manifest when men considered their latter end. (See Note above on Jannes and Jambres, 2Timothy 3:8.)
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,(10) But thou hast fully known my doctrine.—Literally, But thou wert a follower of my doctrine; thou followedst as a disciple, and thus hast fully known. The Greek word translated “fully known” (see 1Timothy 4:6) denotes a diligently tracing out step by step. See Luke 1:3, where the same word is rendered, in the English version: “having had perfect understanding,” having traced up to their source all the events relating to the foundation of Christianity. Here St. Paul recalls to Timothy’s mind what had been his—St. Paul’s—life, and words, and works. No one knew the history of this life like Timothy, the pupil and the friend, who had been long trained to assist in carrying on his teacher’s work after St. Paul was removed. And this appeal to Timothy’s recollection of the past has two distinct purposes: (1) It was to contrast that life of St. Paul’s, with which the disciple was so well acquainted, with the lives of those false men, of whom Timothy was warned so earnestly, who were poisoning the stream of Christianity at Ephesus; and (2) the memory of the master was to serve as a spur to the disciple, the heroic faith of the old man was to act as an incentive to the young teacher to suffer bravely in his turn.
With this pattern of steady faith and heroic work before his eyes, Timothy would never be able to endure the wretched mock Christianity these new teachers were labouring to introduce into the communities of the believers of Asia; he would at once separate himself and his from these evil influences.
My doctrine.—Or, teaching, in which the leading of a pure self-denying life was inseparably bound up with a belief in the great Christian doctrines. “This hast thou, my pupil from boyhood, known in all its details. Thou hast known how I taught others.”
Manner of life.—“And also how I lived myself:” “my ways which be in Christ,” as he once before phrased it (1Corinthians 4:17), “my conduct.”
Purpose.—“My purpose—from which you know I never swerved—of remaining true to the Gospel of my Lord and to my great life’s mission to the Gentiles.” (See Acts 2:23, where the word is used in respect to others’ purpose.)
Faith.—Possibly, trust in God, but better, St. Paul’s faith or belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
Longsuffering.—Towards his many bitter adversaries, especially those among his own countrymen. In spite of all that long, unwearied, sleepless persecution, which he, the former Pharisee leader, endured at the hands of the Jews, he loved Israel to the end, with a love intense as it was changeless, loved them even to be willing for their sake to give up his eternal hopes. (See Romans 9:3.)
Charity.—My love, which (in his own sunny words) beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things—the love which never faileth. (See 1 Corinthians 13)
Patience.—That characteristic virtue of St. Paul, that “brave patience” which hopefully endured opposition to his favourite schemes, which cheerfully bore the most painful suffering when it came as a consequence of work in his Master’s cause. This concluding word led naturally on to the brief catalogue of persecutions of the next verse.
Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.(11) Persecutions, afflictions.—St. Paul adds to “persecutions” “afflictions”—for not merely were his plans thwarted, his hopes baffled, his friends alienated, through the persistent enmity of his opponents, but bodily suffering was inflicted on him—stoning, scourging, long and weary periods of imprisonment, were among the repeated sufferings he endured for his Master’s sake. The question has been asked why, out of the pages of the closely written diary of his life’s experiences, does St. Paul select the events which took place at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra? Was there anything special in what he endured in these places? The most satisfactory answer seems to be that, with regard to the general reader or hearer of this Epistle, what happened in these places, years before, were good examples of what had often taken place since. These were among the first cities in which St. Paul preached in the course of his missionary journeys. But a deeper reason existed for the choice of these places in his case to whom the Epistle was originally addressed. What happened on that first journey would never be forgotten by Timothy: some of the incidents were among his first experiences with St. Paul of the work—others had taken place just before St. Paul took him as his friend and associate, and, no doubt, had been often discussed in Timothy’s hearing in those anxious never-to-be-forgotten hours which preceded his choice of the calling of a missionary. Hearing of these very deeds of endurance done for the crucified Master, perhaps, not a little contributed to Timothy’s resolve to emulate these acts, and to join himself closely to the heroic missionary teacher. Certainly, the memory of what happened then St. Paul knew would possess a strong and weighty influence with his disciple, even though the events themselves were only such as had been repeated often since in his long life’s experience. (For details respecting what took place at Antioch, &c., see Acts 13, 14)
What persecutions I endured.—Some commentators understand these words as an exclamation: “What persecution I endured!” It is, however, better simply to translate the Greek, Such persecutions as I endured; in other words, Thou hast been a witness of my sufferings, such [sufferings] as I endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, such persecutions as I endured, but out of them, &c. Chrysostom remarks how both these clauses supply encouragement to the harassed servant of God. The first, that St. Paul displayed a noble readiness to endure persecution; the second, that God never left him alone. It was as though he said to Timothy, “surely no danger, no trouble, however great, need appall you. You know what I have gone through, yet in all God was with me and has kept me safe. Be sure He will be with you too.”
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.(12) Yea, and all that will live godly.—But St. Paul would not allow it to be thought for a moment that in the fact of his enduring persecution and suffering there was anything remarkable or singular; so he adds the words of this verse, which repeat in a peculiarly solemn way the great Christian truth that eternal glory was only to be reached by man through an avenue of sufferings. “No cross, no crown,” is one of the watchwords of the faith. To the statement, “all that will live godly,” it is noticeable that the Apostle adds “in Christ Jesus:” thus telling us there can be no true piety except in communion with Him. So Bengel: “Extra Jesum Christum nulla pietas.” And piety, adds St. Paul, will ever suffer persecution; for the world is at enmity with the kingdom of God. “Because ye are not of the world . . . therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19; so, too, Matthew 10:22; Matthew 10:38-39).
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.(13) But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.—This verse is closely connected with the following (2Timothy 3:14), to which, indeed, it serves as an introduction. 2Timothy 3:14 takes up again the exhortation to Timothy begun in 2Timothy 3:10 : “But thou hast fully known my doctrine,” &c. 2Timothy 3:14 takes up the thought: “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” Here, in 2Timothy 3:13, these evil men and seducers (or better, perhaps, deceivers) are spoken of as advancing towards the worse. History has borne witness to the accuracy of these prophetic words. The false teachers known to St. Paul and Timothy developed into the leaders of the various wild and speculative Gnostic sects, whose connection with Christianity consisted alone in the name; and each succeeding age has witnessed a development in opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus. In this allusion to the gradual development of hostility to the truth it will hardly be out of place to instance the eighteenth Christian century, when opposition to the teaching of Jesus had reached such a pitch that, with the approval or even the applause of thousands, the most brilliant writer in Europe wrote of Christ and His religion in the well-known words, “Ecrasez l’infame!” while it was reserved for our own century—the nineteenth—to witness the rare, though we believe ephemeral popularity, among so-called Christian peoples of a work which, with honeyed phrases, and in romantic, graceful language, paints the Redeemer of man in the strange and apparently contradictory characters of a loving enthusiast and of a conscious impostor!
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;(14) But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned.—But Timothy, on the other hand, was to continue in the things he had learned. Evil teaching would become worse; the opposition to truth would, as the ages rolled on, become more intense; but Timothy and his successors must remember that there was to be no development in the fundamental doctrines of his most holy faith. He had (2Timothy 3:10) fully known St. Paul’s doctrine—that doctrine which St. Paul had received directly from the Holy Spirit of God.
Knowing of whom thou hast learned them.—There is some doubt whether the Greek word rendered “whom” is in the singular or plural, the older authorities being nearly equally balanced. The reading here of the singular has been adopted with the Syriac versions, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the Vulgate. The reference then is to St. Paul. If the plural, were adopted, then the reference would probably be to St. Paul and Barnabas, or to some other distinguished teacher. Some commentators believe that Lois and Eunice are here alluded to, the pious mother and grandmother of Timothy. This, however, seems unlikely: for such a reminiscence, although a touching memory and one likely to appeal to his affection, would hardly be of that weighty and important character as to warrant its introduction into this solemn exhortation; besides, any reference to home and family reminiscences would be included in the next verse: “From a child thou hast known,” &c.
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.(15) And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures.—The Greek words translated “from a child” should be rendered, from a very child, as the word denotes that Timothy’s instruction in the Holy Scriptures began at a very early and tender age.
The holy scriptures.—Literally, the sacred writings. The Scriptures of the Old Testament are here exclusively meant. The expression “writings” for the Scriptures is not found elsewhere in the New Testament; it is, however, used by Josephus.
Two powerful arguments have been here used by the Apostle to induce Timothy to remain steadfast to the great doctrines of faith, and neither to take anything from them or to add anything to them. The first presses upon him the source whence he had learned them. He, better than any one, knew who and what St. Paul was, and the position he held with his brother Apostles, as one who had been in direct communication with the Lord Himself; and the second reminded him of his own early training, under his pious mother. He appealed, as it were, to Timothy’s own deep knowledge of those Old Testament Scriptures. St. Paul’s disciple would know that the great Christian doctrines respecting the Messiah were all based strictly on these Old Testament writings. Timothy had a double reason for keeping to the old paths pointed out by the first generation of teachers. He knew the authority of the master who instructed him; and then, from his own early and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures of the Jews, he was able to test thoroughly whether or no his master’s teaching was in accordance with those sacred documents.
Which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.—The present participle rendered by “which are able” is noticeable, being here used to express the ever-present power of the Scriptures on the human heart. The Holy Scriptures had not completed their work on Timothy when, in his boyhood, he first mastered their contents. It was still going on. “Wise unto salvation” marks the glorious end and destination of the true wisdom which is gained by a study of these sacred books. Other wisdom has a different goal. In some cases it leads to power, fame, wealth; but this wisdom leads only to one goal—salvation. The last clause—“through faith which is in Christ Jesus”—points out the only way to use these Scriptures of the old covenant so as to attain through them the goal of all true wisdom—“eternal salvation.” They must be read and studied in the light of faith in Jesus Christ. “Those (Old Testament) Scriptures, he (St. Paul) granteth, were able to make him wise unto salvation;” but, he addeth, “through the faith which is in Christ” (Hooker, Ecc. Polity, i. 14, 4). Faith in Jesus must be the torch by the light of which these ancient prophecies and types must be read.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:(16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God.—Although this rendering is grammatically possible, the more strictly accurate translation, and the one adopted by nearly all the oldest and most trustworthy versions (for example, the Syriac and the Vulgate), and by a great many of the principal expositors in all ages (for instance, by such teachers as Origen, Theodoret, Grotius, Luther, Meyer, Ellicott, and Alford), runs as follows: “Every scripture inspired by God is also profitable for doctrine, for reproof,” &c.
The rendering followed by the English version, and which is certainly grammatically possible, by making—“all Scripture” the subject, and “given by inspiration of God” the predicate, declares positively the inspiration of all the Old Testament Scriptures, for this is what the Apostle must have referred to, if we understand this verse as we have it rendered in the English version above. The New Testament at this period was certainly not all written; for instance, St. John’s Gospel, St. John’s Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, with several of the Catholic Epistles, probably were composed at a later date than that assigned to this letter to Timothy. St. Paul, massing together an evidently well-known number of writings under the term πᾶσα γραϕή, spoke of the Jewish Scriptures, the “canon” of which was then determined.
But such a declaration of the inspiration of these writings to Timothy and to those associated with him would seem unnecessary and uncalled for. Timothy and the trained Jew of the first century would never dream of doubting the divine origin of their most prized and sacred writings. There is nothing in the verses immediately preceding which would call out such a statement. It seems, therefore, on exegetical, as well as on grammatical, considerations best to follow the interpretation of those ancient and venerable witnesses the Syriac and Latin (Jerome’s) versions, and to understand St. Paul’s words here, as asserting that every inspired writing (this, it should be observed, does not exclude those recent sacred compositions which—Gospels or Epistles—he had seen or written himself, and the divine origin of which he well knew) is profitable for doctrine, &c. Thus he exhorted Timothy to show himself a contrast to the false teachers—ever shifting their ground and waxing worse and worse—by keeping steadily to the old teaching of doctrine and of life. He was not to change, not to advance, but was to remember that every inspired Scripture was profitable for doctrine and for life. It was by these writings, St. Paul would remind him, that he must test his teaching. On the way in which “inspiration of God” was understood in the Church of the first days, see Excursus at the end of this Epistle.
Inspiration of God.—This thought, perhaps, rather than these words, is admirably paraphrased by St. Peter: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2Peter 1:21). The various uses of Holy Scripture in the training of the man of God are set forth in the enumeration which closes this verse. These sacred writings must, in all ages, St. Paul would urge, be the hand-book of the Christian teacher. From it he must prove the doctrines he professes; hence, too, he must draw his reproofs for the ignorant and erring. It must be the one source whence he derives those instructions which teach the Christian how to grow in grace.
EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO II. TIMOTHY. ON THE WAY IN WHICH “INSPIRATION OF GOD” [2Timothy 3:16] WAS UNDERSTOOD IN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
ON THE WAY IN WHICH “INSPIRATION OF GOD” [2Timothy 3:16] WAS UNDERSTOOD IN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
“See and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
THE question of “inspiration” is one that in the present day often is the subject of debate. In the hot and often angry controversies on this subject among us, it will be useful and interesting to see what were the opinions held by those learned and devoted men living, many of them, in the times immediately succeeding the first age of the Faith, when those walked on earth who had seen and conversed with the Lord Jesus. We wilt give the words of a few of the more distinguished of the early fathers of the Faith, selecting them from different centres of Christianity.
ROME.—Clement, Bishop of Rome, A.D. 70-96. Ad Cor Ep. i. 45. Ad Cor. Ep. i. 47.
Our quotations begin from the very days of the Apostles. Clement mentioned by St. Paul (Philippians 4:3), who, as history tells us, was the second Bishop of Rome, exhorts his readers “to look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit;” and in another place in the same writing he expressly refers to a well-known New Testament Epistle thus:—“Take up the Epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle, what did he write to you in the beginning [that is, in the first days of the preaching] of the gospel? In truth, divinely inspired πνευματικῶς, divinitus inspiratus], he wrote to you Corinthians about himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because just then factions [party spirit] existed among you.”
ASIA MINOR.—Polycarp of Smyrna, A.D. 108. Ep. to Philippians, cap. iii.
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of St. John, in the one letter we possess of his, tells us “that neither he nor any like him is able to attain perfectly to the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he was with you, before the men who were then living taught the word of truth perfectly and surely.”
SYRIA.—Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 107. Ep. to Philad., cap. v. Ep. to Magn., cap. viii. Ep. to Romans, cap. iv.
“Let us love the prophets” (of the Old Testament), wrote Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, the pupil of St. John, to the congregations of Philadelphia, “because they proclaimed the gospel, and believed in Christ, and waited for His coming, and through their faith in Him were saved.” “These most divine prophets lived according to Jesus Christ,” he writes to the Church of Magnesia, “being inspired by His grace.” Again: “I do not command you [Romans] like Peter and Paul: they were Apostles; I am a condemned man.”
EGYPT.—Barnabas of Alexandria, probably A.D. 140-160. Ep. Barnabas, ix. Ep. Barnabas, x. and v.
Barnabas (probably not the friend of St. Paul, but a teacher of Alexandria who lived some seventy or eighty years after St. Paul’s martyrdom), in his well known letter, speaks there of the inspiration of the Old Testament writings. Writing of Ps. 17:45, “The Lord saith in the prophet;” and of Psalm 33:13, “The Spirit of the Lord prophesieth;” and in another place he tells us how “the prophets received their gift from Christ and spoke of Him;” also that “Moses spake in the Spirit.”
ROME & EPHESUS. Justin Martyr, A.D. 140-150. Cohortatio ad Gen tiles, 12. Apologia, i. 44. Apologia, i. 44, &c.; i. 40; i. 35. Apologia i. 36. Cohortatio ad Gentiles, 8.
This writer, several of whose works we still possess, was a scholar and thinker of no mean order. He wrote within half a century of St. John’s death. He in several places gives us his view of the inspiration of the divine writings. Referring to the Old Testament, he speaks of the history which Moses wrote by divine inspiration. while the Holy Spirit of Prophecy taught us through the instrumentality of Moses. Of David and of Isaiah he writes in similar terms (propheta Isaias divinitus afflatus a spiritu prophetico). His view, of the prophetic office is remarkable. “We must not suppose,” he writes, “that the expressions go forth from the men who are inspired, but from the divine word which moves them.” Speaking of the writers of the Old Testament, he calls them “holy men who required no eloquence, no skill in argumentative speaking, but who only needed to present themselves pure for the Divine Spirit to act upon, in order that the divine plectrum [an instrument, usually of gold or ivory, used for striking the lyre], coming down from heaven, acting on just men as a plectrum on a lyre or harp, might reveal to us the knowledge of divine and heavenly things.”
ATHENS.—Athenagoras, A.D. 160-180. Leg. pro Christ. 9.
This Athenian philosopher, who, while studying the Holy Scriptures with a view of refuting Christianity, was converted by the very writings he was endeavouring to bring into disrepute, writes (using the same strange, powerful metaphor which we found in the above quotation from Justin): “The prophets, while entranced . . . by the influence of the Divine Spirit, they gave utterance to what was wrought In them—the Spirit using them as instruments as a flute-player might blow a flute.”
LYONS.—Irenœus, A.D. 180. Contra Hœr, iii. 1. Contra Hær.iii. 5.
This famous writer and bishop of the early Church was connected in his early years with Polycarp, the pupil of St. John. He (to choose one out of many passages of his writings on this subject) thus writes of the Apostles:—“After that our Lord rose from the dead, and they [the Apostles] were clothed with the power of the Spirit from on high, they were filled with a perfect knowledge of all things.” “The Apostles, being the disciples of truth, are beyond all falsehood, though they speak according to the capacity of their hearers, talking blindly with the blind.”
Contra Hœr. ii. 28.
In another passage this Bishop of Lyons of the second century tells us, “The Scriptures are perfect, inasmuch as they were uttered by the Word of God and His Spirit.”
NORTH AFRICA: CARTHAGE.—Tertullian, A.D. 200. Apologia xxxi.
Tertullian, perhaps the ablest—and, had it not been for his unhappy choice in later life of a wild and perverted form of Christianity, the greatest—of the Latin fathers, calls the Holy Scriptures the “voices of God” (voces Dei). In another place he writes that “the four Gospels are built on the certain basis of apostolical authority, and so are inspired in a far different sense from the writings of the spiritual Christian. All the faithful, it is true, have the Spirit of God; but all are not Apostles.”
EGYPT: ALEXANDRIA.—Clement master of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, A.D. 199-200. pæd. i. 11. Protr. i. 5
Clement of Alexandria was master of the catechetical school of the most learned city of the world at the end of the second century, only 100 years after the death of St. John; and taught in famous school—as did well-nigh all the early fathers of Christianity—the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture. “It was by the masters of Israel,” wrote Clement, “that God led men properly to the Messiah—speaking to them in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets . . . The word of God, disregarding the lifeless instruments, the lyre and the harp, reduces to harmony . . . man, and through that many-voiced instrument makes melody to God, and says to man, ‘Thou art my harp, my flute, my temple: my harp, from the harmony [of many notes]; my flute, from the Spirit that breatheth through thee; my temple, from the word that dwelleth in thee.’ Truly of man the Lord wrought a glorious living instrument, after the fashion of His own image—one which might give every harmony of God tuneful and holy.”
De Antichriitn 2. ROME.—Hippolytus of Portus, A.D. 218. De antichristo, 2.
Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus (one of the suburban districts of Rome), a most learned and distinguished writer of the Italian Church of the early part of the third century, a pupil of Irenæus of Lyons, in one of his treatises preserved to us, expresses himself very clearly and with singular force on this subject. Speaking of the Jewish prophets, he writes, “These blessed men . . . spake not only of the past, but also of the present and future, that they might be shown to be heralds of things to come, not for a time merely, but for all generations. . . . For these fathers, having been perfected by the Spirit of Prophecy, and worthily honoured by the Word Himself, were brought to an inner harmony like instruments; and having the Word within them to strike the notes, by Him they were moved, and announced that which God wrote. For they did not speak of their own power, be well assured, nor proclaim that which they wished themselves, but first they were rightly endowed with wisdom by the Word, and afterwards well foretaught of the future by visions, and then, when thus assured, spake that which was revealed to them by God.”
ALEXANDRIA.—Origen, A.D. 230. De Principiis, lib. i. Proœmium, 4. De Principiis, i. Proœmium, i. Contr.Celsum, vii. 4 Hom. in Jer. xxi. 2.
The Church, while condemning the errors into which the greathearted Origen fell, still reads in every age with reverence and admiration his marvellous and brilliant teaching. It will be well to close this short paper on a great subject with two or three extracts from this famous Alexandrian master, on the subject of inspiration: “The Holy Spirit inspired each of the Saints, Prophets, and Apostles. . . . The same Spirit was present in those of old times as in those who were inspired at the coming of Christ.” “Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophet and by His Spirit they sake and did all things.” Again, in his work against Celsus, he writes the following wise and beautiful words:—“The true God acted on the prophets to enlighten and strengthen them, and not to cloud or to confuse their natural powers . . . . for the divine messengers, by the contact of the Holy Spirit with their soul, so to speak, gained a deeper and a clearer intuition of spiritual truth, and they then became more perfect men as well as wise seers.” In one of his homilies Origen does not hesitate even to say that “there is nothing, whether in the Law or in the Prophets, in the Evangelists or in the Apostles, which does not descend from the fulness of the divine majesty.”
Hom. in Ex. xi. Hom. in Gen. xi. 3. De Principiis, iv. 16 Home. in Jos. xx.
This gifted teacher’s noble words on the way in which these God-inspired writings should be read deserve to be graven on the heart of every Christian believer: “We must read them with pure hearts, for no one can listen to the word of God . . . unless he be holy in body and spirit: . . . no one can enter into this feast with soiled garments. He who is a student of God’s oracles must place himself under the teaching of God; such a one must seek their meaning by inquiry, discussion, examination, and, which is greatest, by prayer. . . . Prayer is the most necessary qualification for the understanding of divine things. . . . If, then, we read the Bible with patience, prayer, and faith; if we ever strive after a more perfect knowledge, and yet remain content in some things to know only in part—even as prophets and apostles, saints and angels, attain not to an understanding of all things—our patience will be rewarded, our prayer answered, and our faith increased. So let us not be weary in reading the Scriptures which we do not understand, but let it be unto us according to our faith, by which we believe that all Scripture, being inspired by God, is profitable” (Origen, quoted by Westcott).
[For many other early patristic references on this subject of the teaching of the Church of the first days on the subject of the “Inspiration of the Scriptures,” see the exhaustive paper of the Religious Professor of Divinity (Cambridge), Canon Westcott, in his Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, Appendix C, pp. 383-423, upon which this short Excursus is mainly based.]
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.(17) That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.—The “man of God” here is no official designation, but simply designates the Christian generally, who is striving, with his Master’s help, to live a life pleasing to God; and the “good works” have no special reference to the labours of Timothy and his brother presbyters, but include all those generous and self-sacrificing acts to which, in these Epistles, so many references have been made.
It was in the Holy Scriptures that the true servant of the Lord, the man of God, would find defined with clearness and precision the nature of those works the Holy Spirit was pleased to call “good.”