“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).
One focus of attention in the previous chapter of 2 Timothy involved the importance of accurate Biblical teaching (2 Timothy 2:15). That point of emphasis involved more than just good doctrine; it also included several other essential elements, including…
- Courage (2:1).
- Potential hardship (2:3, 2:9).
- Personal reflection upon the meaning and application of God’s Word (2:7).
- Refusal to engage in quarrels or unprofitable discussions (2:16, 2:24).
- Moral purity (2:19-22)
Here now in chapter three, Paul the Apostle will illustrate why sound Biblical teaching is so important. You see, 2 Timothy chapter three will address several characteristics associated with the last days. These characteristics describe a world populated with those who have turned their backs upon their Creator and His attributes. If we take a sober assessment of this chapter, the critical importance of accurate, expository Biblical instruction should become abundantly clear.
In light of this, we should be alert to the societal elements that are described for us within this chapter. Doing so will help prepare us for whatever unfolds in God’s agenda for humanity. However, it’s also important to ensure that our interest in the last-days events of this chapter does not dominate our spiritual attention. This is especially true in dealing with media outlets and others who regularly seek to interpret daily news events through the lens of end times theology.
Virtually anyone can develop a website or post a video that seeks to associate various Biblical prophecies with contemporary news headlines or current events. Some of those efforts may be highly questionable and cause great spiritual injury among those who are young, naïve, or undiscerning.
Even a sincere, well-meaning man or woman of God may fall into the trap of viewing every negative news event, political occurrence, or astronomic sign as a potential omen that signals the end of this human era. So while it is important to remain vigilant and watchful, it is also important to view this portion of Scripture in a discerning, responsible manner.
Finally, we should recognize the difference between the “end times” and the “last days” mentioned here in 2 Timothy 3:1. Although they are often used interchangeably, the phrase “end times” generally refers to the events that will occur just prior to the close of the current chapter of human history. In contrast, the “last days” began with Jesus’ ascension and will conclude upon His return. We’ll consider that lengthy interval in greater detail next.
“But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1 NET).
Here in 2 Timothy chapter three, Paul the Apostle will offer some additional detail regarding the societal degradation that will characterize the last days. One commentator offers an insightful perspective upon this portion of Scripture that warrants a lengthy excerpt…
“Many people take the phrase, ‘these last days,’ to refer to the time just before Christ’s return, but the biblical usage of that phrase indicates that it refers to the whole period of time between the first coming of our Lord and his second coming. In other words, for 2,000 years we have been living in the last days…
In the account in Acts 2, we read that, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the prophecy of Joel, in which the prophet said that “in the last days” God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, (Acts 2:17). That, Peter said, was beginning to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, almost 2,000 years ago. The first words of the book of Hebrews are: ‘In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,’ (Hebrews 1:1-2a RSV).
So it is clear, from that, that ‘the last days’ is a period which has now grown to 2,000 years’ duration. The Apostle Paul is saying that within this extended period of time there will come repetitive cycles of distress, times of stress, perilous times, when all the conditions which he describes with these chilling words will obtain.” (1)
As noted in the Scripture quoted above, this time period will be “terrible” (NIV), “difficult” (HCSB), “perilous” (KJV), or “grievous” (ASV). As another source observes, this word “…is used only one other time, in connection with the demoniacs in the country of the Gergesenes, describing them as ‘exceeding fierce’ (Matthew 8:28).” (2)
In addition to the characteristics that will follow in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, the Biblical book of Romans offers a further glimpse into the human mindset behind these perilous conditions…
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Romans 1:28-31).
This sets the stage for our look into the characteristic elements of the last days beginning next.
(1) Excerpted with permission from Dangerous Times © 2021 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/timothy/dangerous-times
(2) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [2 Timothy 3:1] https://www.icr.org/bible/2Timothy/3/01/
“For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:2-5).
2 Timothy 3:2-5 provides us with several distinctive attributes that characterize the cultural attitude of the last days. As mentioned previously, this time period will prove to be “grievous” (ASV), “perilous” (NKJV), “difficult” (GNB), or “violent” (GW). These words communicate an atmosphere of threat, menace, danger, and hostility towards Christ and those who follow Him.
You see, this passage describes a world that has turned against its Creator and holds no interest in emulating His character. In identifying the personality traits that will mark this period, Paul the Apostle begins by observing that people will be lovers of themselves. Today, we might use a descriptive term such as, self-centered, conceited, egotistical, or narcissistic to describe such individuals.
This is important, for a person who seeks to reject the idea of a Creator must replace Him with something else on the priority scale of life. That “something else” might be a person, an idea, an object, or anything that someone loves, fears, or respects above all else.
For instance, a person who is searching for the most attractive substitute for God often needs to look no further than him or herself. Thus, the needs, wants, and priorities of self take precedence over the Creator’s agenda. This may lead to the type of narcissistic mindset that is described for us in the passage quoted above.
A love of money then follows that characteristic. One perceptive commentator links this character quality with a “love of self” in the following manner: “This is a natural outgrowth of self-love. We cannot pamper self without money.” (1) These are important attributes to note, for whenever someone places a love for self and a love for money above his or her love for God, bad things are sure to follow. Thus, as we were reminded earlier in 1 Timothy 6:10-11…
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).
(1) Don De Welt, Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, [Comment on 2 Timothy 3:2] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright 1961
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4 ESV).
In addition to the characteristics already mentioned, 2 Timothy 3:2-4 continues with a series of additional qualities that typify the last days. The next character trait mentioned in this list involves those who are boastful (CSB) or braggarts (Mounce). This word refers to one who is “an empty pretender” (1) and it describes the type of person who is driven by a need to embellish their accomplishments, skills, qualities, or capabilities.
The most visible form of this attribute is often exhibited in those who are clearly less than what they claim to be. However, this quality may also appear in casual conversations, workplace relationships, or other forms of social interaction as well. From an acquaintance who is driven by the need to subtly “one-up” another person’s accomplishment, to the individual who seeks to draw attention to his or her achievements, one author exposes the hidden reality behind this mindset…
“When we’ve got something to boast about, we work it into conversation, don’t we? We are so sneaky, so effectively dropping those statements that let people know that we got the raise, that we won the prize, that we were so spiritual, that we did so well. We can work anything into any conversation, no matter how much of a stretch it is.” (2)
The problem is that this quality does not originate with God. The New Testament epistle of 1 John puts it like this: “…everything in the world -the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16 NIV). This brief declaration effectively summarizes the attitude of self-praise that characterizes the last days.
Finally, we should recognize that these expressions may serve to mask a hidden sense of insecurity, one that seeks to promote ourselves at the expense of others. But for those who find their approval in Christ, the need for such boastfulness disappears. Therefore, as we’re told in the Biblical book of Romans…
“Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us. Since Christ’s blood has now given us God’s approval, we are even more certain that Christ will save us from God’s anger” (Romans 5:8-9 GW).
(1) G213 alazon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g213/kjv/tr/0-1/
(2) Ron Daniel, Study Notes Galatians 6:6-18 http://rondaniel.com/library/48-Galatians/Galatians0606.php
“People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, and irreligious; they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce; they will hate the good; they will be treacherous, reckless, and swollen with pride; they will love pleasure rather than God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4 GNB).
The next “last days” characteristic given to us in the passage quoted above is pride (NKJV), arrogance (AMP), or abusiveness (ESV).
Depending on the context, the word “pride” is often associated with a gratifying sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that accompanies a job well done. However, the destructive form of pride referenced here involves those who possess an inflated self-opinion and look down upon others with contempt. In the words of one Biblical scholar, “This describes someone who thinks he/she is superior and expresses it in words and deeds (cf. Luke 1:51; Rom. 1:30; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).” (1)
The Scriptures repeatedly condemn this type of attitude. For instance, Proverbs 25:27 tells us: “Just as it is harmful to eat too much honey, so also it is bad for men to think about all the honors they deserve!” (TLB). The Bible denounces this sort of thought-process because it reflects the negative type of pride mentioned in here 2 Timothy 3:2 . In addition to what we read in Proverbs 25:27, the Biblical books of Psalms and Proverbs have more to say about this characteristic…
“Pride causes arguments, but those who listen to others are wise” (Proverbs 13:10 ERV).
“Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; Though they join forces, none will go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5 NKJV).
“I will not tolerate anyone who secretly slanders his neighbors; I will not permit conceit and pride” (Psalms 101:5 TLB).
This type of pride also appears in a Biblical list of seven things the Lord hates…
“These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NKJV).
In light of these things, we should prayerfully seek to avoid this mindset.
This characteristic is followed by “blasphemers” (NKJV). While we typically associate blasphemy with an expression of contempt or disrespect for God, this passage references a form of the word blasphemy that involves speaking in an evil, reproachful, or abusive manner. (2) We’ll consider this quality in greater detail when we examine the word “slander” that appears later in this list of negative characteristics.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, www.freebiblecommentary.org 2 Timothy 3:2 http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL09/VOL09_13.html
(2) G989 blasphemos https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g989/kjv/tr/0-1/
“People will be selfish and love money. They will brag, be arrogant, and use abusive language. They will curse their parents, show no gratitude, have no respect for what is holy, and lack normal affection for their families. They will refuse to make peace with anyone. They will be slanderous, lack self-control, be brutal, and have no love for what is good. They will be traitors. They will be reckless and conceited. They will love pleasure rather than God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4 GNB).
As we continue our look at the characteristic qualities associated with the last days, we now come to several rapid-fire attributes…
- Disobedient to parents (NKJV). This phrase expresses an attitude of unruliness, rebellion, and/or insubordination towards a legitimate authority figure.
- Unthankful, ungrateful (AMP), or “utterly lacking in gratitude” (Phillips). This describes those who fail to appreciate the blessings that God has extended to us. One commentator adds, “Many people receive kindnesses from others without even thinking of thanking them. And they accept everything from God without ever returning thanks to Him.” (1)
- Unholy, a reference to those who act in a manner that is opposed to God and His character.
- Unloving (HCSB), a word that indicates a lack of natural affection. This word appears in only one other place in the original language of the New Testament. That place is Romans 1:31 where it is translated “heartless” (ESV). Nevertheless, it’s important to note that those who exhibit this quality will not be entirely devoid of love. As we saw earlier, these individuals will be “lovers of themselves.”
- Unforgiving (NIV), a consequence that naturally follows a failure to recognize or appreciate how God has forgiven us in Christ.
- Slanderous. This refers to a false statement that is intended to damage the reputation of someone else. This word also forms the basis for our modern-day word “diabolical.” As another source observes, “There is a sense in which slander is the most cruel of all sins. If a man’s goods are stolen, he can set to and build up his fortunes again; but if his good name is taken away, irreparable damage has been done.” (2)
- Without self-control, brutal. We can associate these qualities with a person who is self-indulgent while holding others to a standard that he or she would never personally seek to attain. In other words, “The persons noted here have no restraint or self-control in anything, none of their ambitions, passions, lusts, appetites or desires being under any discipline whatever.” (3)
(1) J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, “2 Timothy 3:1-9 Apostasy In The Last Days” Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
(2) Barclay, William. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, “The Qualities Of Godlessness (2Ti_3:2-5 continued)”
(3) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Timothy 3”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4 HCSB).
This portion of Scripture contains some additional fast-paced descriptions of the qualities that characterize the last-days…
- Despisers of those that are good. Like many things, the meaning and application of a word largely depends upon how you define it. For instance, those who define “good” as “what’s best for me,” typically exclude what is good for others. If we link that definition with those who are “lovers of self” (a characteristic also found in the Scripture quoted above), it is easy to become someone who is a “despiser of those who are good.”
- Treacherous (ESV) or traitors. This word describes those who are willing to sell others out in order to gain a personal advantage. It is also significant to note that the word translated “traitor” here in 2 Timothy 3:4 is the same word used to describe Judas in Luke 6:16.
- Reckless, rash (NIV), or headstrong (NKJV). The Living Bible paraphrase of this passage employs the word “hotheaded” to identify this quality. A person who fits this description might be someone who acts impulsively or makes imprudent decisions without regard for the advice or counsel of others.
- Conceited or haughty (NKJV). Much like the alternative definitions for “lovers of self” mentioned earlier, we can use descriptive terms like self-centered, vain, egotistical, or narcissistic to characterize these individuals.
- Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. This can refer to the existence of a prevailing, “if it feels good, do it” attitude among those who hold little interest in fulfilling God’s objectives for humanity. One commentary expands upon this characteristic with some important observations…
“Why is it so tempting to ‘love pleasure rather than God’? Pleasure is something we can control; God cannot be controlled. Most pleasures can be obtained easily; love for God requires effort and sometimes sacrifice. Pleasure benefits us now; the benefits of loving God are often in the future. Pleasure has a narcotic effect; it takes our minds off ourselves and our problems. Love for God reminds us of our needs and our responsibilities. Pleasure cooperates with pride. It makes us feel good when we look good in the eyes of others. To love God we must lay aside our pride and our accomplishments.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible [2 Timothy 3:4] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5 KJV).
The list of negative characteristics given to us in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 concludes with those who possess “…a form of Godliness but deny it’s power” (NIV). While these individuals maintain an external façade of spirituality, they effectively reject God by placing a love of money, a love of pleasure, and a love of self ahead of Him. Much like a vocalist who lip-synchs his or her way through a song, there is no substance behind their performance. They claim to be religious, but “…reject the power that could make them godly” (NLT).
Because of this, Paul the Apostle offered some wise counsel: “Don’t have anything to do with such people” (CEV). You see, these characteristics have always existed, even among those who lived during Paul’s lifetime. The difference is that as we draw closer to the end of this chapter of human history, greater numbers of people will exhibit these qualities.
This counsel is also similar to the advice Paul gave to the church at Corinth in the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). You see, it has often been said that a person is known by the company that he or she keeps. Since our friendships and relationships influence our attitudes and beliefs, we often take on the habits, mannerisms, and convictions of those who become our companions.
This is not a new idea, for as we’re told in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26). This further serves to remind us that our relationships have an effect upon us for better or worse.
While it is important to maintain good relationships with others as we seek to be ambassadors for Christ, it is also important to evaluate our relationships with those who claim to be Christians but show little interest in validating that claim through their choices and decisions. This has led one author to the following conclusion…
“The simple responsibility of Christians is to turn away not only these attitudes, but also from the people who do these things… ‘This exhortation clearly implies that Paul did not consider the state of moral depravity just pictured as wholly a matter of the future. He was keenly aware that the evils about which he was forewarning were already at work.’ [a]” (1)
(1) [a] D Edmond Hiebert, Second Timothy- Everyman’s Bible Commentary “The Minister And The Coming Apostasy 3:1-17” quoted in Guzik, Dave, 2 Timothy 3 – Perilous Times And Precious Truth, (2-5) A description of the human condition in the last days, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-timothy-3/
“having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5 ESV).
Before we leave this passage, we should pause to consider some important insights from the following commentators and their efforts to advance our understanding of this passage…
“Having a form of godliness but denying its power. That is an accurate description of much of the church today. They observe rituals, and have a form of godliness, but there is no power there. Churches have often just become social centers, where you can get some entertaining messages dealing with psychological issues, and hear some inspiring music, but the power of God is lacking. You can learn all the practical steps toward having a better life, how to communicate, how to quit smoking, how to raise your children, how to invest your money, and it is often good advice; but the power of God is left out. Jesus said, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).” (1)
“All that is left of the Christianity of such men is the outward form; they are dead while they live. There is no power to overcome for they are servants of sin. The form of godliness is only maintained because of its advantage to them. What a tragic picture: the walking dead! It is no wonder Paul instructs Timothy to withdraw fellowship from such persons.” (2)
“Outwardly these people seem religious. They make a profession of Christianity, but their actions speak louder than their words. By their ungodly behavior, they show that they are living a lie. There is no evidence of the power of God in their lives. While there might have been reformation, there never was regeneration… Phillips puts it: ‘They will maintain a façade of ‘religion’ but their conduct will deny its validity.’ They want to be religious and to have their sins at the same time (cf. Rev_3:14-22). Hiebert warns: ‘It is the fearful portrayal of an apostate Christendom, a new paganism masquerading under the name of Christianity.’” (3)
“Paul was here speaking of the general apostasy in which evil souls would themselves be in control of the visible machinery of the church; and the thought seems to be directed to the proposition that the true Christian should himself turn away from the corrupt majority. There have been many historical examples of that situation… When one becomes convinced that a whole communion of professing Christians has so far departed from the word of God that he must turn away from them, the social consequences can be very unpleasant.” (4)
(1) Chuck Smith, The Word For Today Bible, study note on 2 Timothy 3:5, pg. 1598
(2) Don De Welt, Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, [Comment on 2 Timothy 3:5] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright 1961
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg. 2120
(4) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Timothy 3”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts” (2 Timothy 3:6).
This passage offers a glimpse into an effective strategy employed by those who promote heretical teachings. You see, 2 Timothy 3:6 tells us how false teachers work their way into people’s lives. In fact, the tactics described within this verse may be more effective today than they were in the days of the first century.
We can begin by noting that the heretical teachers of the New Testament era were partially successful in their efforts to smuggle false doctrine into the churches of Ephesus. Nevertheless, a healthy church would never permit an aberrant belief to gain widespread acceptance within its congregation. Paul the Apostle’s counsel to “Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5 ESV) would also serve to limit the options available to those who sought to promote such teachings.
Therefore, these heretics opened a second tactical front. In addition to their efforts to introduce these aberrant beliefs to others within the church, they also worked to gain access to private homes that were inhabited by those who lacked the ability to discern between truth and error. Once they had convinced someone to adopt their teachings in that manner, that person subsequently became a follower and supporter. They also acquired access to that person’s circle of friends, thus increasing the potential to add more followers and new avenues of support.
It’s important to note that false teachers continue to employ this strategy today. But unlike the false teachers of the first century, modern-day heretical teachers never have to set foot within a private home. Instead, he or she can reach countless individuals through the technological advances that characterize our modern day world.
Some of the more obvious transmission paths into a private home include social media, broadcast media, and streaming media. It might also include books, magazines, and various other forms of written communication. As it was in the days of the first century, these methods permit false teachers to “creep into households” and “…mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught” (Titus 1:11 NET). The difference is that today’s false teachers now have the advantage of 21st century technology to market and package their messages in a far more effective manner.
Thus, it is easy to be taken captive by such teachings if we aren’t diligent to prayerfully read the Scriptures each day. Those who neglect to do so place their spiritual lives at risk.
“For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:6 NET).
Contemporary Biblical critics may be quick to attribute a sexist agenda to the gullible (NIV) or silly (KJV) women referenced in this verse. However, this passage has little to do with gender. Unlike many modern societies, the educational options that were available to women of that era were often very limited. This meant that those who lacked a firm foundation in good Biblical doctrine were especially vulnerable to any message carried by a false or deceptive teacher. Of course, this was also true of anyone who lived during that period, just as it is today.
Therefore, it is important to understand the essence of this passage: false teachers target the naïve and uninformed. In the first-century city of Ephesus, that target audience included many members of the female population. Today, that group might include anyone who neglects to read the Bible regularly and has little familiarity with its teachings.
Thus, in the words of one scholar, “Paul’s point is not that all women are this way, but that some have been especially vulnerable to deception. The false teachers at Ephesus had been especially successful in deceiving women (1 Tim. 2:14; 5:13–15).” (1) Another commentary adds, “Out of a so-called ‘openness to learn’ they evidently embraced as a fad whatever new heresy came along. Their problem was that they could not recognize the truth when they saw it.” (2)
We should also note the reference to those who are “overwhelmed with sins” in 2 Timothy 3:6. A religious belief that permits its followers to engage in sinful behaviors without guilt or repentance is false, despite what its proponents may be led to believe. Sadly, a person who adheres to such a belief may simply wish to ease his or her conscience and obtain the benefits of “religion” while foregoing the sacrifices that often accompany genuine Christianity.
This passage should thus prompt us to ask a difficult and challenging question: “Am I truly seeking God through Christ or am I seeking the benefits of ‘spirituality’?” In the words of another Biblical scholar, “DeWette (quoted by Alford), notes that a sin-laden conscience is easily tempted to seek the easiest method of relief. And that method of getting relief from a sin-laden conscience, is the embracing of a false religion, one that satisfies the religious instinct of the individual, and at the same time fails to deal with the sin question and the true way of salvation.” (3)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2173). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [p.756]
(3) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [note on 2 Timothy 3:6-7] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7 HCSB).
The Woodstock Rock Festival, held in August 1969, is generally acknowledged as a pivotal moment in music history. Over 400,000 people attended that event and the National Register of Historic Places of the United States has given official recognition to the site where the Festival took place.
As Woodstock recedes further into past, this great cultural event from the 1960s will inevitably fade in relevance for each succeeding generation. Nevertheless, the film that documented the Woodstock Rock Festival contains a scene with one observation that endures throughout the generations.
You see, the cinematographers who documented the Woodstock Festival also recorded the activities and opinions of those who attended the event as well as the musical acts that played there. One youth who was interviewed expressed his opinion of those who had gathered together at Woodstock…
“People who are nowhere are coming here ’cause there’s people they think are somewhere. So everybody is like, really looking for, you know, some kind of answer, you know, where there isn’t one … People don’t know, you know? They don’t know how to live, they don’t know what to do, and they think that if they can come here and they can find out, you know, what it is … It’s just like, people are very lost.” (1)
Even though those words were spoken decades ago, the truth behind that youthful observation remains unchanged: “So everybody is like, really looking for, you know, some kind of answer… It’s just like, people are very lost.” This brings us to 2 Timothy 3:7, and it’s observation that some are “…ever learning and never able to come to a precise and experiential knowledge of the truth” (Wuest).
Those who are seeking to fill a void in life apart from Christianity may choose to follow many religious beliefs or life philosophies. Many of those ideologies allow us to entertain the illusory belief that we are growing, learning, and making progress in life. But in the end, those avenues never really get us anywhere. In fact, the Bible devotes an entire book to an examination of that subject in great detail.
The youth who was interviewed at Woodstock recognized this inconvenient truth when he said, “People who are nowhere are coming here ’cause there’s people they think are somewhere.” It is only through Christ that we can avoid the treadmill of a life that is “…always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (NET).
(1) Woodstock: The Movie Copyright 1970 Warner Bros. Inc. All rights reserved [see 1:08:47 – 1:09:20. Rated R – nudity, graphic language, sexual content. Viewer discretion advised]
“Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was” (2 Timothy 3:8-9).
The philosopher George Santayana was famously quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (1) In a similar manner, the false teachers of first-century Ephesus had unwittingly duplicated a mistake that others also made centuries earlier.
You see, the Old Testament book of Exodus relates the account of Moses and his brother Aaron as they approached Pharaoh, the king of Egypt with a request. Exodus 5:1-2 details that request and Pharaoh’s response…
“…Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go’” (Exodus 5:1-2 ESV).
God’s response to Pharaoh followed shortly thereafter…
“Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When Pharaoh says to you, “‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’” then you shall say to Aaron, “‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs” (Exodus 7:8-12 ESV).
Although they are not mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jannes and Jambres are traditionally identified as the Egyptian sorcerers who opposed Moses and Aaron as detailed within this passage. Thus, the connection between Exodus chapter seven and 2 Timothy 3:8-9 is this: just as Jannes and Jambres could not stand against the work of God through Moses and Aaron, neither could the false teachers of Ephesus stand against the truth.
One commentator provides us with a modern-day application of this centuries-old passage with a century-old observation: “Wait for the inevitable unfoldings of God’s purpose. Time will show what is true and what is false. In the meantime, examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.” (2)
(1) George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense: The Life of Reason. 1905 pg. 284
(2) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on 2 Timothy 3”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbm/2-timothy-3.html. 1914.
“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men” (2 Timothy 3:8-9 ESV).
The Egyptian sorcerers who opposed Moses and Aaron as they appeared before Pharaoh are traditionally identified by the names Jannes and Jambres. These men sought to invalidate Moses’ claim to represent the one true God by duplicating the miraculous signs that God had given to Moses to perform. Their actions characterized the opposition posed by the false teachers of Ephesus.
Although Jannes and Jambres were initially successful in their efforts to reproduce these signs, their failure to do so entirely presents us with an important spiritual lesson…
“When Moses cast down his rod and it turned into a serpent, Jannes and Jambres could do the same. When he turned water into blood, they could do the same. When Moses brought forth a plague of frogs, Jannes and Jambres could do the same. Yet eventually they could not match God miracle-for-miracle, and their occult powers were shown to be inferior to God’s power.
The ability to do miracles by the power of darkness and the willingness to receive them as authentic will characterize the end times (Revelation 13:13-15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9). Some of us are amazed by any spiritual power that is real, without carefully thinking that real power may have a demonic source instead of a Godly source. And even if a psychic or new age power seems to feel right, we must not be seduced by it because demonic powers can come masquerading as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:15).” (1)
Thus, their failure was immortalized for all to see in the pages of the Scripture and represents the kind of example we should seek to avoid…
“We can hide our sin for a while, but eventually the truth will be revealed. Sooner or later, distraction, opposition, anger, or fatigue will wear us down, and our true hearts will be exposed. The trials of life will conspire against our efforts to maintain a religious front. We can’t pick when and where we will be tested by adversity. Build your character carefully because it will come out under stress. Live each day as if your actions will one day be known to everyone. It is useless, in the middle of a test, to acknowledge that you should have prepared. Now is the time to change anything you wouldn’t want revealed later” (2)
(1) Guzik, Dave, 2 Timothy 3 – Perilous Times And Precious Truth (8-9) https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-timothy-3/
(2) Life Application Study Bible [2 Timothy 3:9] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra–what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
It is no coincidence that the word “doctrine” appears first in the list given to us here in 2 Timothy 3:10. Of all the subjects covered in Paul the Apostle’s New Testament letters, the importance of accurate doctrine is one that appears again and again. While some may choose to focus upon other areas of spiritual interest (such as Biblical prophecy, spiritual gifts, or humanitarian concerns, to name a few), the need for accurate doctrine outweighs all of them.
Here’s why: in this context, “doctrine” corresponds to the things we believe in respect to God, humanity, Christ, the church, and other related subjects. If our doctrines are inaccurate regarding those subjects, everything that follows is likely to be inaccurate as well. Therefore, our doctrinal beliefs should hold a position of primary importance.
This is crucial for another reason. You see, everyone holds doctrinal beliefs whether or not they realize it. For instance, everyone believes something about God, even those who deny He exists. We then proceed to act upon those doctrines (whatever they may be) through our choices and decisions.
This was certainly true of Paul the Apostle, for his doctrine influenced his “way of life” (NET) as we’re told in the passage quoted above. From the opposite perspective, those who hold unbiblical doctrines are sure to act upon them as well.
One of the best ways to separate true and false doctrine involves reading a portion of the Bible each day. This will not only build our understanding of God’s Word but help us identify false teachings wherever we encounter them. Another commentator addresses this subject in a very forthright manner…
“Much could be said about every one of these words; but perhaps the big lesson may be found in their order. As always, Paul put DOCTRINE first. Other things are important, but the true doctrine is the most important of all. Without exception, Paul stressed the doctrine, then the pragmatic teaching derived from it. None of his major epistles departs from this order: doctrine first, then the practical admonitions. This needs to be pondered by some current preachers who boast that they do not preach doctrine; in reply to which it might be stated that if one does not preach doctrine he does not preach the gospel Paul preached.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Timothy 3”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all” (2 Timothy 3:10-11 ESV).
Here in 2 Timothy 3:10-11, Paul the Apostle referenced his experience in three different cities: Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. The events that took place in the city of Antioch are recorded for us in the New Testament book of Acts…
“And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:49-50).
The second reference to the town of Iconium involved an assault upon Paul’s life: “…a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them” (Acts 14:5). This method of execution took the form of rocks or stones that were thrown against someone until he or she died. Paul survived that attempt and subsequently fled to the third city mentioned in this trilogy.
This final incident occurred in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra and likely refers to the same event that Paul mentioned in a letter to the church at Corinth: “Once people tried to stone me to death” (2 Corinthians 11:25 GW). The record of that attempt upon Paul’s life is found in Acts 14:19…
“Some Jewish leaders from Antioch and Iconium came and turned the crowds against Paul. They hit him with stones and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead” (CEV).
So in addition to the various forms of punishment he was forced to endure, Paul also faced a riotous mob that attempted to murder him. These experiences should prompt us to consider the examples of other prominent Biblical personalities who were protected from danger as they sought to pursue God’s call upon their lives. That list includes (but is certainly not limited to)…
This brings us to an important application from the following commentary…
“The Lord had not delivered from trouble, but He had delivered him out of the troubles. This is a reminder to us that we are not promised freedom from difficulties, but we are promised that the Lord will be with us and will see us through.” (1)
(1) MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer’s Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, Thomas Nelson: Nashville
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
A small child begins his or her academic life by learning the basics of subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics. But as the child grows older and progresses through each grade level, the lessons do not grow easier. Instead, they grow more challenging as the child builds upon the things that he or she has already learned. Such is (or should be) the case with our life in Christ as well.
Whenever we encounter trouble, abuse, or persecution for a decision to follow Christ, it may be easy to assume that we have done some something wrong. To be fair, some Christians are mistreated in this way because they fail to follow the directives given to us in 1 Peter 3:15-17. Then there are those who invite persecution by engaging others with the wrong motives. Finally, some who claim to be Christians may not have a relationship with Christ at all.
Nevertheless, 2 Timothy 3:12 tells us that anyone who is serious about living the kind of life that honors Christ will encounter trouble. That trouble may take the form of direct persecution (as in those nations that are openly hostile to Christianity) or various forms of indirect opposition. As one commentator notes, “Given the right conditions, such oppositions would be just as deadly as the great Roman persecutions.” (1) Another source adds…
“Often new believers, and even older believers, interpret difficulty as a sign that they need to change something. Timothy reminded them that persecution is a normal experience for the Christian (cf. Matt. 5:11-12; 10:16-28; 20:22-23; 24:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:12; et al.), just as Paul had previously instructed them.” (2)
With these things in mind, we should note of Jesus’ counsel to those who seek to follow Him…
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25).
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Timothy 3”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) Constable, Thomas. DD. “Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2019 Edition” “Timothy’s visit 3:1-5” [3:3-5] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1thessalonians/1thessalonians.htm
“Indeed all who delight in piety and are determined to live a devoted and godly life in Christ Jesus will meet with persecution [will be made to suffer because of their religious stand]” (2 Timothy 3:12 AMPC).
Jesus once made an important statement that relates to the verse quoted above. That statement is found in the New Testament gospel of John…
“…this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
This passage draws our attention to several key points, First, we should recognize that Christians inhabit a world that is populated by many who choose to live as if God did not exist. Because of this, a God-honoring man or woman is always under pressure to adopt a similar attitude. Since it is always easier to “go with the flow” of a world that isn’t interested in God, a person who seeks to follow Christ is bound to meet with resistance to that decision.
For instance, a person who represents the One who is “…the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and “…the light of the world” (John 8:12) is not likely to be welcomed by those who prefer to remain in darkness. When such persecutions occur, it may be helpful to remember the following passage from Matthew 5:3-12…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
“But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
The passage quoted above is barely more than a dozen words but offers a great deal of insight for those who are willing to prayerfully reflect upon it.
We should first note the two types of individuals mentioned here: “…evil men and impostors.” The first refers to those who are actively engaged in wicked behavior. The second represents others who appear to be moral, ethical, or virtuous but are really something different. This unfortunate reality should come as no surprise, for as we were reminded earlier in 1 Timothy 5:24, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later.”
We’re next told that those who comprise these groups “…will grow worse and worse.” In other words, those who are evil will become more aggressive in their attitudes and behaviors while those who are imposters will grow more convincing in their appearance. The first group is visible and obvious, while the second group is largely hidden and anonymous. Nevertheless, both groups are equally destructive, each in their own way.
Finally, the individuals within these groups will deceive others while being deceived as well. Thus, they become living examples of the wisdom contained within the Biblical book of Proverbs: “If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will crush you instead” (Proverbs 26:27 NLT).
So those who fit these categories are both agents and objects of deception. This is important because deception usually involves some form of lying- and it has been said that if a lie is told often enough, many will begin to accept it as truth. This seems to be an accurate portrayal of those who are described for us here in 2 Timothy 3:13. Over time, they will begin to believe their own lies, thus being deceived by the deception they sought to spread among others.
We can largely avoid a similar fate by remembering that “truth” can be defined as “that which corresponds to reality.” Whenever we are called upon to evaluate a teaching or idea, we can ask, “Does this accurately reflect Biblical truth?” Some additional questions to ask might also include the following…
- Does this teaching focus upon a small portion of God’s Word and neglect others?
- Does this idea contradict what the Bible says about God?
- Does this teaching or idea glorify the teacher or Christ?
Asking these questions now can help us avoid deception later.
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14).
Throughout his Biblical letters to Timothy, Paul the Apostle has repeatedly emphasized the primary importance of God’s Word. For instance…
“If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6).
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
In light of the numerous examples of spiritual deception that abound within our world today, we can help avoid such dangers as we prayerfully take heed to the Scriptures quoted above. However, 2 Timothy 3:14 should also prompt us to ask an important question: where did Timothy gain access to the things he had “…learned and been assured of”?
The following commentator gives us some potential answers that offer a pattern we can follow today…
“Paul didn’t specify exactly whom he had in mind when he mentioned those who taught Timothy. Was he referring to Timothy’s family, especially his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, who nurtured Timothy in the faith (2 Tim. 1:5)? Was he referring to himself as Timothy’s mentor? Or was Paul directing Timothy’s attention to the ultimate source of the things he had learned, namely God? We cannot be sure.
But what is clear is what Timothy had learned—the Scriptures. He had been taught the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, from an early age, and it is clear that Paul wanted Timothy to continue to be a diligent student of the Word of God.” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (2008). Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow, © 2008 by R.C. Sproul Reformation Trust Publishing, a division of Ligonier Ministries
“and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
As was the custom in the home of a Jewish parent, a child in the Biblical era began to receive instruction in the Old Testament Scriptures around the age of five. This represented the type of instruction that enabled Timothy to become “…wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” This approach was also in keeping with the Biblical wisdom given to us in the Old Testament book of Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
While it is certainly true that many come to Christ following a misspent youth, a child who learns God’s Word from an early age has an opportunity to avoid many of the mistakes that often accompany an ungodly life. Therefore, those who seek to be God-honoring parents can draw inspiration from this portion of Scripture and teach the Scriptures to the children who have been entrusted to their care.
This reference to “…the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (GNT) is reminiscent of a conversation that Jesus once had with two of His disciples…
“And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets” (Luke 24:27 GNT).
Jesus also referenced His presence within the Scriptures in speaking with a group of His opponents…
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39 NLT).
The New Testament book of Hebrews adds some additional insight regarding this passage…
“That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God… ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God— as is written about me in the Scriptures’” (Hebrews 10:5, 7 NLT).
Thus, as one commentary observes, “Salvation is through faith which is in Christ Jesus. We should mark this well. It is not through good works, baptism, church membership, confirmation, obeying the Ten Commandments, keeping the Golden Rule, or in any other way that involves human effort or merit. Salvation is through faith in the Son of God.” (1)
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg. 2123
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
One of the best-known and most important portions of the New Testament is found here in 2 Timothy 3:16. In fact, this portion of Scripture is so important that we will take the time to consider its implications over the course of several studies.
You see, 2 Timothy 3:16 alerts us to something that makes the Biblical Scriptures unique and different from any other book ever written. The difference is that God inspired the Bible. Before we look into the definition of “inspiration,” we should first note its extent: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” This tells us that God’s inspiration of the Biblical Scriptures…
- Comprises all that is written – 2 Timothy 3:16.
- Encompasses every individual word – Matthew 22:43 , 1 Corinthians 2:13.
- Extends to verb tenses – Matthew 22:32, Galatians 3:16.
- It even includes the smallest parts of individual words – Matthew 5:17-18. (1)
Two commentators provide us with some additional insight into the concept of “all Scripture” from this passage…
“All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16–17), and that means there is nothing insignificant in the Bible. Every word was carefully chosen by the Apostles and prophets, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we must put in the hard work required to understand each word in context. In so doing, we show the proper respect for our Creator, and we are equipped to rightly understand and apply the text of Scripture to our lives.” (2)
“When Paul speaks of all Scripture, he is definitely referring to the complete OT, but also to those portions of the NT that were then in existence. In 1Ti_5:18, he quotes the Gospel of Luke (Luk_10:7) as Scripture. And Peter speaks of Paul’s Epistles as Scriptures (2Pe_3:16). Today we are justified in applying the verse to the entire Bible.” (3)
With these things in mind, we can say that God is personally responsible for every single word of the Biblical Scriptures. This explains why the Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us, “Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6, emphasis added). But how did God’s Word take the form of the Biblical Scriptures we have today? We will begin our look at the answer to that complex question beginning next.
(1) See Geisler, N. L. 1999. Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker reference library. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Mich
(2) “Who Is Israel” Tabletalk magazine, August, 2014 pg. 50
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, pg. 2123
“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NET).
We often use the word “inspired” to describe an artist, musician, or author who creates an emotional or thought-provoking work. However, the Biblical concept of inspiration goes far beyond anything created solely by a mere human being.
The word translated “inspired” is taken from the word theopneustos (literally, ” God- breathed”) in the original language of 2 Timothy 3:16. Much like the human act of respiration, the idea behind this passage is that God “breathed-out” His Word through the pen of each Biblical author. This concept also extends to God’s absolute oversight, guidance, and direction over each Biblical writer.
One author provides us with a useful definition of this word when used in a Biblical context…
“Inspiration, therefore, can be defined as the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men whom God chose to write the books of the Bible. This guaranteed that the final result would be exactly what God intended. Thus, the Bible is the written Word of God to humanity, and, when originally written, was without error. It is the final authority for all matters of faith and practice.” (1)
Another Biblical scholar offers further clarity on this passage…
“God-breathed does not mean that God somehow took over their bodies or pushed them out of the chair and took up their pens…. Rather, inspiration means that God breathed his own words through their personalities and pens. He gave them the insight and understanding, so that the finished literary product had two authors, one human and one divine.” (2)
It is this unique two-part authorship that makes the Bible different from any other book. God is completely responsible for the content of the Scriptures while the Biblical authors wrote what they received from Him. Yet, as the quotation above implies, Biblical inspiration does not mean that these mortal authors acted as human word processors, copy machines, or stenographers.
Instead, God elected to use each Biblical writer’s personality, cultural background, vocabulary, and writing style to communicate the Scriptures in a precise and errorless manner. For example, the Scriptures display the humanity of each human author through such things as human research (Luke 1:1-4), human emotion (Nehemiah 13:25), and even human memories that were fragmentary and incomplete (1 Corinthians 1:15-16).
The Scriptures provide us with an excellent word-picture to describe this process, and we’ll examine that illustration in greater detail next.
(1) Stewart, Don “In What Sense Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?” Retrieved 16 August, 2021 https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/bible-authoritative-word/question2-is-the-bible-the-inspired-word-of-god.cfm
(2) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living” (2 Timothy 3:16 CJB).
The New Testament book of 2 Peter provides us with some additional insight into the “God-breathed” nature of the Bible. In the passage quoted below, the apostle Peter helps us understand how the process of Biblical inspiration took place…
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV).
In the original language of this passage, Peter used a seafaring word that meant “to move or be conveyed” to describe this process. (1) We can illustrate this idea with the image of a sailboat on a lake. Just as a sailboat is moved by the wind that fills its sails, the Biblical writers were also carried along by the Holy Spirit so they went exactly where the Spirit wanted them to go in their Biblical works.
Nevertheless, it’s also important to remember something else: just as there is human activity aboard a sailing vessel, these human authors were also active in communicating the words of the Scriptures as God’s Spirit carried them along. This brings us to the following definition of Biblical inspiration…
“With these two acts of God—breathing out His Word and carrying the writers along by the Spirit—we can come to a definition of inspiration: The Holy Spirit moved men to write. He allowed them to use their own styles, cultures, gifts, and character. He allowed them to use the results of their own study and research, write of their own experiences, and express what was in their minds.
At the same time, the Holy Spirit did not allow error to influence their writings. He overruled in the expression of thought and in the choice of words. Thus, they recorded accurately all God wanted them to say and exactly how He wanted them to say it in their own character, styles, and languages.” (2)
This explains why the Bible claims to be authoritative (Exodus 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), eternal (Psalm 119:89, Matthew 24:35), and true (Psalm 119:142, John 17:17). Despite these things, it often remains difficult to grasp how the Bible can simultaneously reflect the Word of God and the words of human beings as well. One Pastoral commentator offers a useful answer to that question and we’ll examine that explanation next.
(1) See G5342 phero Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5342/kjv/tr/0-1/
(2) Brian H. Edwards Why Should We Believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture? Answers in Genesis https://answersingenesis.org/is-the-bible-true/why-should-we-believe-in-the-inerrancy-of-scripture/ Retrieved 21 August 2021
“All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live” (2 Timothy 3:16 ERV).
How could the Bible reflect the words of men like Moses, the Old Testament prophets, Paul the Apostle, the Apostle Peter and others, yet also be the Word of God as well? Here’s how one Pastoral author answers that question…
“Part of the answer to this complex question is simply because God made Paul and Peter and the other writers of Scripture into the men that He wanted them to be. God made the writers of Scripture the men He wanted them to be by forming their very personalities. He controlled their heredity and their environments. He controlled their lives, all the while giving them freedom of choice and will, and made them into the men He wanted them to be.
And when these men were exactly what He wanted them to be, he directed and controlled their free and willing choice of words so that they wrote down the very words of God. God made them into the kind of men who He could use to express His truth and then God literally selected the words out of their lives and their personalities, vocabularies, and emotions.
The words were their words, but in reality their lives had been so framed by God that they were God’s words. So, it is possible to say that Paul wrote the book of Romans and to also say that God wrote it and to be right on both counts.” (1)
These God-inspired messages took many different routes on their way to becoming a permanent written record, including…
- A voice from a burning bush (Moses in Exodus 3:2-5).
- A prophetic vision (Ezekiel, Isaiah, and others).
- A study of some other prophecy (Daniel 9:2).
- The accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of experience (Solomon in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes).
- A personal and orderly account (Luke 1:1-4).
- An undefined means of communication such as, “The word of the Lord came to me…” or similar statements (which appear repeatedly within the Old Testament Scriptures).
So God used a variety of methods to reveal His message to each Biblical writer. The New Testament book of Hebrews condenses these various communication methods into one summary statement…
“Long ago God spoke in many different ways to our fathers through the prophets [in visions, dreams, and even face to face], telling them little by little about his plans” (Hebrews 1:1 TLB).
(1) John MacArthur, How Did God Inspire His Word? http://www.gty.org/Blog/B160713 Retrieved 21 August 2021
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV).
As we continue our look at the topic of Biblical inspiration from 2 Timothy 3:16, we now stop to consider what the Bible claims for itself regarding this subject.
As mentioned previously, the Bible repeatedly claims to be the written word of God. For example, the words “God said” and “God spoke” appear dozens of times within the Scriptures. In addition, we should also note that God’s inspiration of the Bible extends to both the Old and New Testaments. Consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 5:18 as an illustration…
“…the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (NIV).
While this passage may seem unremarkable at first glance, there is more to this portion of Scripture than it may appear. You see, 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes an Old Testament passage (Deuteronomy 25:4: “Do not muzzle an ox…”) right alongside the words of Jesus from Luke 10:7 and refers to both as “Scripture.” We find a similar example in the Biblical book of 2 Peter…
“…our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16 HCSB, emphasis added).
Here is some more of what the Bible says regarding itself and its inspiration by God….
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV).
So God “breathed out” His word through the Biblical authors so we could have a written record of His message. As we’re told in 1 Corinthians 10:11, these things were written for our benefit to provide us with an accurate understanding of God and His will for our lives…
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…” (ESV).
“Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval” (2 Timothy 3:16 GW).
When it comes to the God-inspired nature of the Bible, there is another important question to consider: what did Jesus believe about the Bible?
For instance, most sporting contests feature an official who serves as a final authority. Typical examples might include an umpire, referee, judge, linesman, official scorer, or other individual who oversees each contest. These officials are responsible to make judgments throughout the competition and ensure that every competitor adheres to the rules.
In a similar manner, Jesus is the ultimate authority on any question, including those related to the God-inspired nature of the Biblical Scriptures. So with this in mind, let’s consider Jesus’ view of the Bible.
We can begin by observing that Jesus held some positions on the Biblical Scriptures that are not shared by many today. For example, Jesus identified the Scriptures as both the Word of God (John 10:35) and the command of God (Matthew 15:3-4). Jesus also taught that the Bible was truth (see John 17:17). He also held another position that conflicts with a view held by many today; Jesus believed that the Scriptures were error-free and infallible…
“But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17 NAS).
“… the Scripture cannot be broken…” (John 10:35b NIV).
Jesus certainly would have known if the Bible contained erroneous statements and these passages reveal His belief that the Scriptures were God’s infallible message to humanity. So if Jesus taught that the Bible was true and mistake free, it seems reasonable to expect that those who identify as Christians should accept it that way as well.
Jesus also accepted the factual nature of several Biblical passages that many find controversial today, including…
- The Biblical account of creation (Matthew 19:4-5).
- The prophet Jonah and his encounter with a large fish (Matthew 12:39-41).
- Noah and the ark (Matthew 24:37-39).
Finally, we can say that Jesus “pre-authenticated” the New Testament in the following message to His disciples: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). This promise anticipates the future body of work concerning Jesus’ teachings that we know today as the New Testament.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living” (2 Timothy 3:16 GNT).
Another important concept related to 2 Timothy 3:16 concerns the doctrine of “inerrancy.” In this context, “inerrancy” means that the Bible, as originally written, is completely true and doesn’t contain any mistakes. We can clarify this idea by first defining what we mean by “truth.”
When we say that something is “true,” we are saying that it corresponds (or “goes along”) with reality. In other words, “truth” means that we’re talking about the way things really are. With this in mind, we can say that “inerrancy” means that the Bible always talks about the way things really are and the way things really happened with complete accuracy.
This is a critical definition because there are many who believe that the Bible may contain mistakes in scientific or historical matters but is completely true when it comes to spiritual teachings. While this may seem like a good compromise, this “have it both ways” approach creates a problem. After all, if the Bible is inaccurate on relatively minor subjects (such as history), then why should we trust it in spiritual matters?
Inerrancy is important because the Bible claims to be the Word of God. Since it is impossible for God to make a mistake (Psalm 18:30), we should expect the Bible to be mistake-free as well if it is truly what it claims to be in 2 Timothy 3:16.
Nevertheless, there are some important things to remember when it comes to the subject of Biblical inerrancy. The first is that the doctrine of inerrancy doesn’t guarantee that every copy of the Bible ever produced is free of mistakes. For instance, there have been typographic errors that have clearly slipped into various Biblical copies over the years.
Perhaps the best known of these errors occurred in the 16th century when a copy of the Bible translated the seventh commandment from Exodus 20:14 as, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Despite the glaring nature of that mistake, many such examples are simple spelling or punctuation errors. Fortunately, we have the ability to compare many Biblical copies from ancient times and use them to identify and eliminate any “typos” that may exist.
This is one reason why we can be confident that the Bible has been accurately passed down to us even though an occasional error may have slipped into various Biblical copies from time to time. We’ll discuss the accuracy of Biblical transmission down through the ages at greater length beginning next.
Image Credit: Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by PhiLiP using CommonsHelper., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB).
Before the advent of the printing press, word processors, and copy machines, all written communication took place by hand. This included the Biblical Scriptures as well. While it is true that we don’t have any perfect copies of the Scriptures, there are some compelling reasons to believe that the Old Testament books we have today are trustworthy, reliable, and authentic.
Over time, a detailed procedure was developed for copying the books of the Old Testament by hand to minimize the potential for errors. For example, here are some of the steps that were followed whenever a scribe undertook the process of copying God’s Word…
- Each page must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the volume.
- Each column length must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines.
- The breath of each column must consist of 30 letters.
- The ink should be black, prepared according to a definite recipe.
- An copy must be taken only from an authentic example, from which the transcriber ought not deviate in the least.
- No word or letter must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the volume before him.
- Between every consonant the space of a hair, or thread must intervene.
- Between every new section, the breadth of nine consonants. Between every book, three lines.
- The fifth book of Moses must terminate with an exact line, but the rest need not do so.
- The copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, wash his whole body, not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink.
- Should a king address him while writing that name, he must take no notice of him (1)
These scribes were so dedicated to accuracy when copying the Old Testament Scriptures that they devised an elaborate error detection process to help prevent mistakes. In the words of another source…
“Statistics were also placed at the end of each book. As an example, the total number of verses in Deuteronomy is 955, the total in the entire Torah is 5,845; the total number of words is 97,856, and the total number of letters is 400,945. By assembling statistics such as these, each book could be measured mathematically to see if there was any copyist error!” (2)
(1) See Charles Swindoll, A Look At The Book: Traveling the Original Route 66 [pg.14]
(2) J. Warner Wallace., Establishing The Reliability Of The Old Testament: A Trustworthy Process Of Transmission https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/establishing-the-reliability-of-the-old-testament-a-trustworthy-process-of-transmission/ Retrieved 04 September 2021
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV).
Much like the books of the Old Testament, there are good reasons to believe in the reliability of the New Testament Scriptures. Our starting point for that position begins with the events that took place in Acts chapter two and the birth of the church.
Following His death and resurrection, Jesus’ teachings were first communicated to others through word of mouth. For example, the Apostle Paul spoke to large groups of individuals during his missionary journeys while the other apostles verbally presented the Gospel throughout their travels. But as the years went on and the church began to grow, the need to secure a written account of these teachings (along with an accurate record of Jesus’ life and ministry) grew as well.
Several of Jesus’ apostles and their close associates filled this need by writing letters to individual churches under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some of those letters (like James and Galatians) were intended for general circulation among many churches while others were targeted to the needs of a specific audience (see Luke 1:1-5). These works were later copied and distributed among these first-century congregations.
This helped provide the members of the early Christian community with access to a genuine account of Jesus’ life along with these teachings from His apostles. In fact, the practice of copying and circulating these documents may have started at the church in the town of Thessalonica around the middle of the first century.
You see, the Thessalonian church already had two pieces of correspondence from the Apostle Paul. We know these letters today as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Since the ancient town of Philippi was located relatively close to the city of Thessalonica, it would have been easy for someone from the Thessalonian church to pick up a copy of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (the letter we know today as the book of Philippians) and give the Philippians copies of the letters they already had.
It’s interesting to note that Paul suggested this sort of arrangement when he wrote the following message to the church that met in the town of Colossae…
“After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16).
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be proficient, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 Mounce).
The New Testament Scriptures can trace their recorded lineage back to ancient handwritten copies of the original documents. However, this may raise a concern in regard to these Biblical records, since a copy is rarely as good as an original. With this in mind, there are some important things to remember when it comes to the reliability of these Scriptural texts.
To begin, we should note that the New Testament writings were all produced within a period of about sixty-five years during the mid to late first century. While sixty-five years may sound like a long time, it is actually a very brief period in the context of ancient literature. Although some sources dispute that timeline, it is generally agreed that there was a relatively short interval between the original New Testament documents and the handwritten copies that followed. This is important because this limited timeframe offers less opportunity for mistakes and errors to creep into each reproduction.
This leads us to the next item for our consideration: the preservation of these New Testament documents.
Many New Testament copies were originally written on papyrus, a paper-like material that was made from a marshy plant. Papyrus-based paper was relatively inexpensive but not very durable. However, some papyrus fragments have been discovered with portions of Biblical text that date back to the second century A.D. One such fragment was found in Egypt, thus indicating that the New Testament documents had entered into wide circulation during that period.
Another ancient writing material was called vellum or parchment. Vellum was made by processing animal skins into a medium that was suitable for writing. Vellum was more durable than papyrus and served as the writing material that was used to produce many of the ancient New Testament manuscripts we have today. There are more than 20,000 of these ancient documents that remain in existence. This includes complete manuscripts and portions of other New Testament books.
These comprise over 5000 copies of the New Testament written in Greek, 10,000 copies written in Latin, and over 8000 copies written in other languages. Taken together, the wealth of manuscript evidence for the Biblical Scriptures is greater than that of any other piece of ancient literature. This enables scholars to reproduce the original documents with great accuracy and promotes confidence in the reliability of the New Testament.
Additional information: See Norman Geisler, The Dating of the New Testament https://www.bethinking.org/bible/the-dating-of-the-new-testament
“The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 TLB).
In addition to the manuscript evidence that exists for the New Testament, we also have quotations from the New Testament Scriptures in the works of early Christian authors. These individuals are known to us today as the Apostolic Fathers and their writings cover a period that spans 90 to 200 A.D. Much like an ancient living organism that has been preserved within a piece of amber, the New Testament documents have also been preserved within the writings of these early church leaders.
These authors used so many New Testament quotations in their works that it is possible to reconstruct the New Testament almost entirely from their writings. We should also note that some of the earliest church leaders personally interacted with Jesus’ Apostles. Because of this, it is inconceivable that an inauthentic copy of the Scriptures would have been accepted, circulated, or endorsed by them.
This leads to another important question: what about the myriad of errors that are supposedly contained within these ancient Biblical manuscripts? To address that question, we should first remember that misspellings or missing words are labeled as “variant readings” when comparing two manuscripts. A change in word order or minor variation in word usage is also classified in this manner.
Many “errors” within these manuscripts are attributable to these minor variations. Others may reflect changes in word order that do not affect the meaning of the Biblical text. Nevertheless, each of these variant readings may be listed as “errors” whenever they appear. They are also counted as such in every subsequent copy. This explains how some are able to claim that there are “thousands of errors” within the Bible.
The good news is that no Biblical teaching is affected by any of these variant readings. One Biblical scholar offers the following explanation…
“There are less than 40 places in the New Testament where we are really not certain which reading is original, but not one of these has any effect on a central doctrine of the faith, Note: the problem is not that we don’t know what the text is, but that we are not certain which text has the right reading. We have 100 percent of the New Testament and we are sure about 99.5 percent of it.” (1)
(1) Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks (1990), When Skeptics Ask, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books [pg. 160]
“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NET).
As we continue our look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we now come to another important aspect of this passage: while the original Biblical writings were inerrant, that does not mean that the original human authors were inerrant as well. This is important because it is natural to wonder how a mistake-prone human being could be used of God to produce a mistake-free Biblical document.
Although this objection sounds compelling, it overlooks something important: while imperfect people do make mistakes, that doesn’t mean they always make mistakes. For instance, human beings are capable of completing many tasks without error. Furthermore, it would seem relatively easy for God to use error-prone human beings to communicate His Word in an error-free way when we consider the all-powerful nature of His being.
Others may object to the God-inspired nature of the Biblical Scriptures by pointing to the use of technically incorrect terms like “sunrise” in passages such as Numbers 34:15. This objection finds its origin in the belief that an all-knowing Creator would know that the earth orbits the sun and therefore, the sun doesn’t actually rise each morning.
It might seem easy to reject this objection as a minor squabble over word meanings that the Bible tells us to avoid. However, this type of objection often functions as a tool that others may use to cast doubt upon the credibility of the Scriptures. So before we dismiss this argument as a hypercritical objection, we should remember the words of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and observe that it is not a mistake to communicate with others in common, everyday terms.
Since the context of a word helps define its meaning, we can say that the use of the term “sunrise” in the Bible does not refer to the movement of the sun in relation to the earth. Instead, this word is employed as we commonly use it today- it accurately describes the way the sun appears as morning draws near.
Some may also take issue with the varying details that appear within the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. In response, we may simply note that it is unnecessary for two or more people to produce a word-for-word description of the same event to be truthful. For instance, the act of describing the same event in varying detail (as is often seen within the Gospels) doesn’t necessarily mean that those accounts are contradictory. Instead, the variety of detail in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life helps provide us with a fuller, richer description of His ministry.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV).
In our look at the various objections that have been raised to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we now come to the subject of Biblical promises that have yet to be fulfilled. For example, a critic might object to the God-breathed nature of the Scriptures by pointing to certain Biblical promises that have not yet come to fruition. However, this objection ultimately fails for an important reason: just because a Biblical promise has yet to be fulfilled doesn’t mean that the Bible is mistaken.
To illustrate this point, let’s consider a passage from the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Around 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a man named Cyrus who would build Jerusalem and lay the foundation of the Temple (see Isaiah 44:28-45:7). That may have sounded like a mistake to the people of Isaiah’s day if we consider the fact that the city and Temple were fully intact during that period.
However, Jerusalem was later destroyed by the invading Babylonian army around 586 B.C. A few decades following this, the city and Temple began reconstruction under an arrangement with a Persian king named Cyrus just as Isaiah had predicted more than a century earlier (see Ezra 1:1-3). Thus, the Word of God was validated and shown to be accurate with the passage of time.
We should also note that the Bible anticipates this kind of objection and addresses it in the New Testament book of 2 Peter…
“First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: ‘So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4 TLB).
In light of these things, we can have confidence that God will fulfill all His promises, even those that have yet to be fulfilled. Even a questionable Biblical character named Balaam acknowledged this reality when he once remarked, “…God is not a man, that he should lie; He doesn’t change his mind like humans do. Has he ever promised, Without doing what he said?” (Numbers 23:19 TLB).
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT).
How did we come to possess the Biblical books we have today? We should note that the early church councils applied several standards in recognizing whether a book was inspired of God. Those standards included several of the following questions…
- Is it authoritative? In other words, does the book find its origin in the well-known Biblical phrase, “Thus saith the Lord“?
- Is it authentic? Does the book have the authority of a spiritual leader of Israel (an Old Testament prophet, king, judge, or scribe), a New Testament apostle, or the testimony of an apostle?
- Is the book consistent with Biblical truth? Does the book correspond with the established body of Scriptural truth?
- Is it dynamic- does the book demonstrate God’s transformative power? As we’re told in Hebrews 4:12, “…the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
- Is the book received, accepted, and used by the men and women of God? This important consideration finds its origin in the words of 1Thessalonians 2:13: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the Word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
- Does the book tell the truth about God? God cannot contradict Himself (2 Corinthians 1:17-18), nor can He utter what is false (Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, no book that contains a false claim can rightfully assert to be the Word of God. For reasons such as these, the church fathers maintained the policy, “If in doubt, throw it out.“(1)
Finally, we should recognize that no human council possessed the capability to decide which books were “good enough” to make it into the Bible and which books were not. Humanity’s responsibility involved discovering, recognizing, collecting, and preserving the books that God had already inspired. This is how we received the Bible that we have today.
(1) These standards were adapted and summarized from…
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God To Us [pg. 67] © 1974 by The Moody Bible Institute Of Chicago [pg. 67].
Norman L. Geisler and E. William Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible “How Canonicity Was Discovered” [pp. 137-147] © Copyright 1968 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
“Every scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for conviction, for improvement, for training with respect to righteousness, in order that the man of God may be complete, fitted out for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 Wuest).
We can summarize the final verses of 2 Timothy chapter three by remembering several key points from this passage. The Biblical Scriptures thoroughly equip us by…
A.) Teaching– or instruction in the truth.
B.) Rebuking– reprimanding those who hold false beliefs.
C.) Correcting– maintaining the right course with God.
D.) Training in righteousness– learning and living a God-honoring lifestyle.
So, as we close our look at these verses, we will finish with some final observations. The following commentators offer several important insights regarding the value of this passage, the distressing absence of genuine Biblical instruction, and the risks awaiting a church that neglects to focus upon expository Biblical teaching…
“…the Bible also provides a basis for ethical authority: it is profitable ‘for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:17). Wherever the Bible issues commands and prohibitions, we are under moral obligation to obey them because they come from God Himself. The Bible applies to all contemporary ethical situations, and authoritative standards may be formulated on issues not specifically found in the Bible (e.g. stem-cell research, cloning, or euthanasia).” (1)
““All Scripture is … profitable … for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (v. 16). In these words Paul articulates the practical value of Bible study… There is no shortage of books written to teach excellence in almost every area of life. They all claim to be profitable for training readers in particular skills. But where are the books that will train us in righteousness? All those other books cannot answer the question, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul’ (Matt. 16:26).” (2)
“Widespread disregard of the Bible by the present day Church is simply appalling. Many prominent church leaders not only neglect the Bible, but with great intellectual pride, in the name of ‘modern scholarship,’ resort to every conceivable means to undermine its Divine Origin…” (3)
“As I travel around America, and around the world, I am troubled that, in church after church today, the congregation is biblically illiterate. They are evangelical churches, but they do not know the Bible; they do not know the great truths of Scripture; they have never realized the radical counterculture movement that this Book represents. As a consequence they are drifting down the broad way that leads to perdition, along with all the rest who do not believe the Book at all, because they know nothing about it.” (4)
(1) Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, Don Kistler, ed. Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995 [pg. 64]
(2) Sproul, R. C. (2000). R.C. Sproul’s chapters from symposium volumes (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Books. [pg. 6]
(3) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, II Timothy Chapter 3. Grievous Times Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc. [pg. 639]
(4) Excerpted with permission from Thinking Christianly © 2021 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The word “spirit” carries a wide variety of meanings depending on its context. For example, we might associate this word with things like enthusiasm, fortitude, or ambition. It might refer to a supernatural apparition or a ghost. Or perhaps it might to alcohol or other type of flammable liquid.
When used in a Biblical context, the word “spirit” finds it’s origin in the Old Testament Hebrew word “ruach” and the New Testament Greek word “pneuma.” In fact, a remnant of the word “pneuma” still exists today in the form of the word “pneumatic” as it relates to an automotive tire, air tool, or gas.
In a larger sense, the word pneuma is used to express the idea of a breeze, a gust of wind, an air current, or the act of breathing. In this respect, the human spirit is invisible and immaterial, much like a current of air. It represents the eternal and non-corporeal part of every human being that remains following the death of his or her physical body. Once that physical separation occurs, the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “…your spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8 NCV).
The word used for soul in this passage is the Greek word psuche, a word survives today as the root of such modern-day words as psychology or psychoanalysis. In this context, the soul refers to the human being as an individual personality.
For instance, the soul reflects our individual preferences- that which we like and that which we dislike. In addition, this word carries an emotional component that involves the things we love, hate, or feel indifferent about. The soul also embodies our talents, skills, and abilities- those we were born with and those we have developed. In addition, this word refers to the will, intellect, and all that distinguishes an individual human being from every other human who has ever lived or ever will live. In short, the soul represents the “you” inside your body.
Finally, the “body” is represented by the word soma in the original language of this passage. As one source explains, “It is an indisputable fact that the Greek word for ‘body’ (soma), when used of a person, always means physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this.” (1) We’ll tie these elements together in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 next.
(1) Ron Rhodes, The Complete Book Of Bible Answers [pg. 133] Copyright © 1997 by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers