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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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This chapter has a vivid description of the great apostasy (2 Timothy 3:1-9), signs of which were already present, an appeal to Paul’s own inspiring and inspired example (2 Timothy 3:10-15), and one of the most impressive paragraphs in all the Bible with reference to the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

For more extensive discussion of the apostasy, the man of sin, and antichrist, see excursus at end of 2 Thessalonians 2.

Verse 1

But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come.

Know this … "Be keeping this in mind."(F1)

In the last days … It is a mistake to identify this period as restricted to times immediately prior to the Second Advent; because, as the passage itself shows, examples of the grievous times were plentiful at the time Paul wrote. Wesley said, "This means the times of the gospel dispensation."(F2) As Spain pointed out, "The word here is the same as in Acts 2:17 where Peter refers to the Christian age or the age of the church on earth."(F3) "The days of the Messiah are often alluded to by the Hebrew prophets as `the last days’ (Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1)."(F4)

Grievous times … Although perhaps a better rendition than "perilous times," as in KJV, scholars seem to be agreed that the word actually means "hard times"(F5) or times of stress.

Verse 2

For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

There are many such lists of sins in Paul’s writings; and none of them is exhaustive or complete. What is given here in the twenty earmarks of an apostate world is a general description of the type of characters meant.

Lovers of self … Self-love is pride, selfishness and a total unawareness of God; and the other sins enumerated actually derive from this basic root of all wickedness.

Lovers of money … The Pharisees who crucified Jesus were described by the gospel of Luke as "lovers of money"; and, in all ages, the money-lovers have never stopped crucifying the Son of God. The New Testament describes covetousness as idolatry, and so it is (Luke 16:14).

Boastful, haughty, railers … What a graphic picture of the unregenerated opponent of the truth is this! The words hardly need any explanation.

Disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy … The breakdown of family discipline, the graceless and ungrateful behavior of spoiled and undisciplined children which inevitably follows, and the gross wickedness that inevitably derives from such conditions are characteristic of the current history of our times; but in various degrees these sins have always been present in our society. Paul’s teaching is that the intensification and proliferation of these shall indeed mark the final apostasy.

Verse 3

without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good,

Without natural affection … This refers to the unnatural child which does not love the parents, or to mothers who do not love their children, or to any person without the basic affections which are the glue which holds the social order together. As Lipscomb said, "The affection here is common to every class of brutes; consequently, men and women without it are worse than brutes."(F6)

Implacable … is the attitude of a person unwilling to make a truce or to agree to peace under any circumstance, a vicious fighter who fights for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Slanderers … The Greek word here is [@diabolos], one of the names of Satan, and has the literal meaning of "false-accusers."(F7)

Without self-control … Some of the older translations render this "incontinent," thus restricting the meaning to sexual laxity; but much more is meant. 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.

Fierce … is also rendered "savage."

No lovers of good … The natural animosity of darkness against the light, of wickedness against righteousness, of error against truth, etc., is the mark of these. "The wolves always hate the sheep."

Verse 4

traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;

Traitors … Every selfish, undisciplined person exhibiting the qualities Paul was describing is at heart a traitor to all that is good and holy, every one of them a potential Judas instantly ready to betray the holiest for self-gratification.

Headstrong, puffed up … How Paul piled word upon word in this graphic composite of the wicked person.

Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God … Is this two qualities, or one? It makes no difference; because lovers of pleasure, unless such love is renounced, will inevitably find themselves drifting away from the Lord. Whether or not SINFUL pleasures is meant here is not stated, because the words apply to all pleasures, even those which in themselves may be said to be innocent and harmless. The love of pleasures has the potential of robbing the soul of its love of the Lord. In the parable of the sower, it will be remembered that the cares and riches and pleasures were the thorns that choked out the word. Ward noted that this expression is a well-known figure of speech, meiosis, or understatement for the sake of emphasis. "In literal fact, they always please themselves and do not love God at all!"(F8)

Verse 5

holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away.

The fact of the gross sinners described here "holding a form of godliness" identifies this particular discussion of the apostasy as descriptive of the inner character of many in the apostate religion that shall characterize the last days. Outsiders are not primarily in view here, but those who hold a form of godliness. "Paul here described a class of people who went under the name of Christ."(F9) Hervey quoted Alford thus, "This command shows that the apostle treats the symptoms of the last times as in some respects present."(F10) This ought not to be surprising, however, for in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul also represented the "spirit of lawlessness" as already working. Neither passage may be pressed into service for the support of the noxious error that Paul expected the Second Advent in his own days.

Note also the powerful implication of this passage regarding the "power" of the form of godliness, a power denied by the evil behavior of some, but nevertheless a power resident in the form of holy religion itself. "Genuine Christians must also be professing Christians."(F11) The very ordinances of holy religion are power-laden; they are not mere symbols. Many today hold to such forms but in a positive unbelief of the gospel as a regenerating force. The admonition here is not to leave off the forms of the gospel, but not to deny the power of them through godless living. Gould has a very perceptive passage on this, as follows:

This is not intended to suggest that true religion is formless. Indeed form and power are not natural enemies or mutually exclusive. In fact, there must be a marriage between form and power if the worship of God is to be the thing of grace and beauty that God desires.(F12)

From these also turn away … Lipscomb and DeWelt believed that here is apostolic authority for withdrawal, or excommunication of gross sinners. De Welt said, "Here is the reason for withdrawal of fellowship."(F13) True as this assuredly is in many instances, 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. This is no less difficult to do than the other. 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.

Verse 6

For of these are they that creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts,

"One of the great virtues of womanhood, namely, that of trusting another, is here turned into a weakness by Satan. Eve was deceived. Adam sinned with his eyes wide open."(F14) Paul did not say that all women were capable of being so deceived, but a certain class, present in every society; and as Ward said, "They are fruit waiting to be plucked by a `nice man’ with a novelty!"(F15)

The notorious Manson, sentenced by the State of California for murder, was supported and maintained by a small company of women whom he had deceived; and there has hardly been a charlatan in all history whose modus operandi failed to exhibit this same device. A similar deception was perpetrated against Patricia Hearst.

Verse 7

ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Ever learning … That is, "Ever learning new things, but never learning the word of God."(F16) There is a type of person, by no means restricted to women, who is always seeking novelty, something new and different, such persons having never learned to "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way" (Jeremiah 6:16).

Verse 8

And even Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth; men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith.

Jannes and Jambres … These were the evil magicians who withstood Moses during his appearances before Pharaoh; and Paul’s identification of them here is the very earliest mention of these names which has descended to us through history. That these names have appeared in later Jewish writings in slightly different form is not a reflection against Paul, but against those writings. Though their names are not in the Old Testament, the works of these impostors are recorded in Exodus 7:11; Exodus 9:11. They could indeed counterfeit some of the miracles of Moses; but in others their weak pretensions were exposed, and their folly became evident to all. For example, when Moses cast down his rod and it became a serpent, the magicians also produced serpents; but all of their serpents were swallowed up by the serpent that came from the rod of Moses. At any time in history when the grace of God is very active, Satan always responds with his own brand of wonders. When the Holy Spirit in the Person of Christ dwelt on earth, Satan entered the arena with demon possession; the "lying miracles" of the apostate church are another example.

Reprobate concerning the faith … This indicates that the evil men Paul spoke of had once been in the faith but had fallen away from it. "The faith" is understood subjectively in this place by some; but as Lenski wisely observed:

The Lord has not supplied us with a touchstone that may be applied to men’s hearts; but he has supplied us with his word, thereby to test all that men offer as "the faith" or doctrine.(F17)

Verse 9

But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be evident to all men, as theirs also came to be.

They shall proceed no further … has the meaning that all the devices of evil opponents shall be unable to checkmate or foil the truth. As Hervey put it, "Heresies shall not prevail against the truth."(F18)

Their folly shall be evident to all men … This is certain to be true eventually, even if, for some great length of time, the heretical teaching seems to prevail (Revelation 6:12-17).

Verse 10

But thou didst follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience,

In this and the following verse Paul listed ten aspects of his own life which he was leaving to Timothy as an example of faithful conduct. As Spain said, "They serve as a sort of check list for Timothy to use as he reflects on his close companionship with Paul through the years."(F19)

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.

Thou didst follow … A marvelous compliment to Timothy is inherent in this. As Ward noted, the meaning is, "You, in contrast to the false teachers."(F20) Through a long time, Timothy had been given every opportunity to listen and to observe Paul’s life and teachings, finding absolutely nothing in either that was inconsistent with the whole; and therefore he had wholeheartedly followed the blessed apostle’s example.

Verse 11

persecutions, sufferings; what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: and out of them all the Lord delivered me.

At Antioch … Any forger, writing at a later date, would certainly have specified which Antioch he meant; but Paul, writing to one who was there when it all happened, had no such need, providing inadvertently a convincing mark of the genuineness of this epistle. It was of course Antioch of Pisidia, not of Syria. Of Paul’s almost innumerable hardships and persecutions, he chose here exactly those with which Timothy was familiar. Acts 13 and Acts 14 record the events mentioned here, as well as Timothy’s connection with them.

Rather than recounting again all of the persecutions endured by the apostle, we should dwell upon the lesson which he advanced on the basis of them, namely, that the Lord had stood by him and delivered him out of every one of them. This, of course, was intended to arm Timothy to the utmost during the persecutions which were certain to descend upon him also.

Verse 12

Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

The absence of persecution, in any active sense, from the lives of most Christians of this era is generally due to the watered-down version of their Christianity and not to any subsidence of the savage hatred of the darkness for the light. Besides that, persecutions today are manifested much more indirectly. Promotions are withheld, invitations are denied, and a snickering unpopularity are the daily portion of many precious souls working in a hostile, atheistic environment. Given the right conditions, such oppositions would be just as deadly as the great Roman persecutions.

Why does the world hate Christians? "Because ye are not of the world … therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19; Matthew 10:22; Matthew 10:38-39). In the light of this warning from the Saviour, no Christian should be surprised at persecution. The doctrine of the necessity of persecution was no new thing to Paul. Luke recorded the very words spoken on the mission field long ago, "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22); and, in the words of White, "Consistency in the life of Christ must necessarily be always opposed by the world."(F21) See also under 1 Thessalonians 3:3.

Verse 13

But evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Sin, like cancer and certain other diseases, is progressive, becoming worse and worse in each succeeding stage. As Christ is received and honored, here and there, upon the earth, rampant wickedness appears to subside and diminish; but with every relaxation of the Christian ethic, a new wave of terror follows.

Verse 14

But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

"The Latin translations blunder here,"(F22) making the meaning to be that tradition and Scripture (which really means tradition superimposed upon Scripture) are both basically authoritative; but as Hendriksen declared:

It is clear that those who nurtured Timothy are not viewed as independent authorities apart from the word, but as secondary and intermediate sources of knowledge, and even this only because they had accepted Scripture!(F23)

It is true of all men who have the good fortune to come from godly homes, that the teaching and example of Christian parents is a priceless advantage; but such parents always teach their children that the authority is not in themselves but in the word of the Lord.

Still, there was powerful motivation for Timothy in that three generations of his family had accepted Scriptural authority, consenting to walk in the light of it; and in this probably lies the reason for Paul’s appeal here.

Verse 15

and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

From a babe … This is hyperbolic, and, as White said, "Timothy could not recall a period when he had not known the sacred writings. This is the force of the hyperbole."(F24)

The sacred writings … In the next verse, Paul used the word "Scripture." Why the distinction?

Paul did this for the simple reason that he wishes to draw a distinction between the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:15) and WHATEVER has a right to be called divinely inspired Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). The latter comprises more than the former.(F25)

The earnest conviction of this writer supports Hendriksen’s comment on this, and no objections to it have any weight against it. Scholars agree that this verse applies to the Old Testament, but the error comes when some of them also refer 2 Timothy 3:16 to the Old Testament, on the premise that the New Testament at the time of Paul’s writing had not been written. Nevertheless, a great deal of the New Testament had indeed already been written. In fact every book of the New Testament preceding 2 Timothy, of which there are no less than fifteen, had already been in circulation for a period of time covering up to three decades! Indeed some of the New Testament was to come subsequently to the publication of 2 Timothy, but as regards the central message of the New Testament, it had already been published for decades; besides that, Paul left room here for whatever writings in the future might qualify as Scripture. Also, the notion that Paul did not consider his own writings as Scripture is also false. Time and again in his epistles, he used the ancient formula of the prophets of God, "thus saith the Lord," or "He saith," as in Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, etc. Therefore, 2 Timothy 3:15 refers to the Old Testament, and 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the New Testament, in addition to and inclusive of the Old Testament, thus, to both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Zerr accepted this understanding of the passage, thus, "2 Timothy 3:16 means both the Old and New Testament as to their divine source."(F26) As Ward said, "(2 Timothy 3:16) can be interpreted as covering the New Testament as well as the Old."(F27)

Able to make wise unto salvation … The Old Testament was able to do this, because therein were contained the prophecies which pointed out and identified the Messiah when he came into the world. Only in this sense could the Old Testament make one wise unto salvation, as Paul immediately added in the qualifying clause, "Through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

Through faith which is in Christ Jesus … This clause is interesting in that it defines the arena where the faith that saves is operative, giving a concise definition of what "faith in Christ" actually means. It has no reference to the subjective trust/faith of believers, but means faithful adherence to the teachings of Christ, true fidelity, exercised by one who is in Christ. Thus, people who have not accepted the gospel by being baptized "into Christ" may indeed have faith "out of Christ" (that being where they are), but not "faith in Christ," no matter what professions of faith may be enunciated.

Verse 16

Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness:

There are two ways of rendering this verse, as seen by a glance at the KJV, compared to this.

Every Scripture that is inspired of God (ASV).

All scripture is given by the inspiration of God (KJV).

Many scholars such as Lenski and Lipscomb insist that there is no difference in the meaning of these renditions; but such a viewpoint has always been a mystery to this writer. The passages simply do not say the same thing. "The first of these renderings necessarily implies that there are some Scriptures which are not inspired";(F28) and, in context, it is impossible to suppose that Paul meant to imply that.

All Scripture … In distinction from the "sacred writings" (2 Timothy 3:15), "all Scripture" here means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical. When Paul wrote these words, the direct reference was to a body of sacred literature which even then contained more than the Old Testament.(F29)

Is inspired of God … The Greek words here are "God-breathed," meaning that the canonical writings are absolutely trustworthy. The great prophecies of the New Testament have been and are being fulfilled. Every line of it has stood the test of centuries, shattered every attack of evil men, and yet stands enshrined in the hearts of millions as God’s saving word for lost men.

Profitable for teaching … If the church would prosper, let it teach the word of Scripture, for there is no profit in the postulations of men.

For reproof … Only the Christian morality is the true ethic governing human behavior. The pre-Christian Gentiles forsook God, and the result was the near-universal debauchery of the human race. There can be no doubt that forsaking the New Testament ethics on such things as adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., if persisted in, will have the same final result.

For correction, for instruction … Such uses as these could not be attributed to human works; therefore, it is in view of the holy inspiration of the Bible that Paul was able to add this and 2 Timothy 3:17.

Verse 17

that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.

The man of God here is not merely Timothy. "Man" is generic and means "human being." All persons who walk in the way of God are made complete and completely furnished unto every good work by the Holy Scriptures. As Lenski said:

The value of these two verses (2 Timothy 3:16-17) is beyond question. It is a proof passage for verbal inspiration and for much more besides. As a proof passage it is outstanding and yet forms only a part of the entire volume of proof and evidence for verbal inspiration. It is one of the peaks in the Rocky Mountain range that establishes "The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture" (Gladstone) as inspired.(F30)

Before leaving this incredibly important passage, we shall explore a little further the Scriptural evidence bearing upon the subject of INSPIRATION.


First of all, and most importantly, our Lord himself believed in the inspiration of the Old Testament.

Matthew 4:4 ff. Our Lord, the Redeemer and Saviour of the human race, in his confrontation with the prince of evil at the time of Jesus’ great temptation, turned aside every thrust of Satan with the words, "It is written … it is written … and again it is written." Is it possible to believe that the Lord of Life in such a confrontation would have appealed to a book that was merely human, fallible or untrustworthy?

Matthew 19:5 ff. "God (he who created man) said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, etc." Jesus said this, thus attributing the authorship of Genesis to the Creator of the world.

John 10:34-36. In this passage, Jesus referred to the Old Testament as "your law … the Scriptures … the word of God," adding that "the Scriptures cannot be broken."

Matthew 22:29. Jesus attributed the ignorance of the Sadducees to the fact of their not "knowing the Scriptures."

Luke 24:25. Jesus denounced as "foolish" those who did not "believe all" that stands in the Scripture.

Jesus frequently explained occurrences as coming to pass "that the Scriptures might be fulfilled" (Mark 14:49; John 13:18; John 17:12; Mark 12:13, etc.), indicating his utmost confidence that everything in the holy Scriptures would indeed be fulfilled. Of course, as Warfield said, Jesus made such appeals upon the basis "of his ascription of it (the Bible) to God as the author of it."(F31)

Secondly, the holy apostles implicitly believed in the total accuracy, infallibility and inspiration of the sacred Scriptures, further proof that Jesus was also the source of that belief; for it is inconceivable that they would have believed such a thing unless it had been taught to them by the Master. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. See discussion above.

2 Peter 1:21. "But no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." This passage says all that Paul said in the passage above. Furthermore, "prophecy" must be understood in the sense of "all scripture" and not limited to predictive elements. The source of Scripture is God; Scriptures were spoken by man indeed; but the men who spoke it spoke "from God."

The total preaching of the apostles was geared to the conviction that the gospel they delivered was prophetically unfolded in the Old Testament. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ were "according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When Judas betrayed the Lord, it was "because it is written" (Acts 1:20). The Bereans were "more noble" because they tested even the preaching of apostles "searching the Scriptures to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Dozens of other examples could be cited, every one of which testifies to the apostolic confidence in the inspiration of the Old Testament (and of the New Testament as well).

This same certainty of its inspiration pertains also to the New Testament.

We have already observed Paul’s frequent use of the ancient formula "He saith," or simply "Saith" in the Greek to introduce sections of his own writings (Romans 15:10; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 5:14, etc.). Warfield noted that "saith," standing without the pronoun in the writing of the apostles always meant "God saith." "For who could be the speaker of the words of Scripture but God only?" How deplorable it is, therefore, that some commentators and translators supply the pronoun "it" (meaning the Old Testament); and then when they cannot find the passage Paul "quoted," they accuse him of garbling or misquotation! when the truth is that Paul was writing, not quoting Scripture. Paul possibly referred to Luke’s gospel in 2 Timothy 2:8; and in 1 Timothy 5:18 he certainly quoted from Luke 10:7. Likewise Peter recognized the inspiration of Paul’s writings even regarding some things "hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16).

Our Lord made an argument for immortality and the resurrection to depend upon a single word, the verb "I AM," and the tense of it at that. Paul also made an argument relative to the whole Christian religion on a single word, the noun "seed," and the number of it! Those who believe in the Lord and his holy apostles have no trouble whatever with the doctrine of inspiration, despite there being many things concerning it which we shall never be able to understand.

Regarding the inspiration of the New Testament, Jesus promised the apostles, "It is not ye that speak but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matthew 10:10), and also that "he (the Spirit) will bring to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26), and that "he will teach you all things" (John 14:26), and that "he will guide you unto all truth" (John 16:13), and that "he will declare unto you the things that are to come" (John 16:13). The consent of Christians in all ages has viewed these expressions as certification of New Testament inspiration, a fact attested by the apostolic writings having been bound (in the form of the New Testament) to the Old Testament which preceded it, thus forming the Bible, all of which is inspired.

Unintentionally, the enemies of the New Testament are themselves a witness in favor of its inspiration, because of the inordinate amount of time and effort expended by them in their vain efforts to discredit even a single line of it. Why do they not spend similar time and energies in efforts to prove the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, or the works of William Shakespeare to be forgeries, fraudulent or unreliable? Simply because they know instinctively that the New Testament is the word of God, therefore far more important, and much more challenging to their evil genius.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-timothy-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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