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Bible Commentaries
2 Timothy 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Paul had given Timothy some instruction concerning the apostasy of the last days in his first epistle (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Now he gave much more. The "last days" refers to the days preceding the Lord’s return for His own (i.e., the Rapture). [Note: Kelly, p. 193; Earle, p. 406.] They are "last" not because they are few but because they are the final days of the present age. In another sense the entire inter-advent age constitutes the last days (cf. Hebrews 1:2). [Note: Lea, p. 223.] Timothy was already in the last days, but they would continue and grow worse. These times would be "difficult" for all, especially faithful Christians. A list of 19 specific characteristics of these days follows.

Verses 1-7

1. Evidences of faithlessness 3:1-7

Verses 1-8


Paul anticipated dark days ahead for the church. He listed several characteristics of this time, clarified the most important conduct in it, and explained his own role to prepare Timothy and all his readers for what lay ahead.

Verses 1-13

A. Characteristics of the last days 3:1-13

Paul instructed Timothy concerning what God had revealed would take place in the last days. He did so to help him realize that he faced no unknown situation in Ephesus and to enable him to combat it intelligently.

Verse 2

People would be (1) self-centered and narcissistic (Gr. philautoi), (2) lovers of money (philargyroi, cf. 1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:8), (3) boastful of their own importance (alazones), and (4) proud, arrogant in attitude (hyperephanoi). They would be (5) abusive toward others (blasphemoi), (6) unresponsive to parental discipline, (7) ungrateful, unthankful, unappreciative (acharistoi), and (8) impure, unholy (anosioi).

Verse 3

Furthermore, they would be (9) heartless, callous, hateful (astorgoi), (10) unforgiving (aspondoi) and consequently irreconcilable, and (11) slanderous of others (diaboloi), speaking with malicious gossip. They would be (12) lacking in self-control, especially self-restraint (akrateis), (13) brutal, brutish, uncivilized (anemeroi), and (14) antagonistic toward whatever is good (aphilagathoi).

Verse 4

They would also be (15) disposed toward betrayal, treacherous (prodotai), and (16) headstrong, reckless (propeteis). They would be (17) conceited (tetyphomenoi), puffed up with pride, wrapped in a mist of self-delusion, and (18) devoted to personal pleasure (philedonoi) rather than to God (philotheoi).

This "vice list" is quite similar to the one in Romans 1:29-31. [Note: A. T. Hanson, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 144. See René A. López, "A Study of Pauline Passages with Vice Lists," Bibliotheca Sacra 168:671 (July-September 2011):301-16.] Vice lists were commonly used in Greco-Roman rhetoric to caricature an opponent. They often employed the repetition of sound and other rhythmic devices to increase the impact. [Note: See Towner, The Letters . . ., pp. 552-53.]

Paul wrote this list of 18 characteristics in a somewhat chiastic arrangement. His list begins and ends with two groups of two words expressing a misdirection of love. Then come two groups with three terms each that focus on pride and hostility toward others. Then come two groups, five words followed by three words, all of which begin with a in the Greek text that negate some good quality that God’s common grace affords. These eight words-the first one is in a two-word phrase-depict people who are devoid of the most basic characteristics of human life. The center of the chiasm is the word diaboloi, meaning slanderers, devilish people (cf. 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:3). [Note: Knight, pp. 429-32.]

Verse 5

Finally these people would (19) make a pretense of being religious but deny the source of true spiritual power (i.e., God’s Word). This last characteristic makes clear that those individuals described in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 would even claim to be Christians (i.e., false teachers and their followers). Timothy was to avoid association with people who demonstrated these characteristics except, of course, for purposes of evangelism and instruction.

"Self-love is the basic shortcoming mentioned in the list of vices in 2 Timothy 3:2-5. This vice leads to action in 2 Timothy 3:6-9 that is deceitful, determined to dominate, stubborn, and rejected by God." [Note: Lea, p. 230.]

Verses 6-7

Paul evidently had the false teachers in Ephesus in view in these verses, though what he wrote here applies to all false teachers. Teachers manifesting some of the characteristics he just enumerated made a practice of gaining entrance into households in which the wives were spiritually weak (lit. little). He described these women further as dominated by various sins, responsive to their sinful desires, and seemingly ever learning but never really able to comprehend the truth of God. They cannot learn the truth because what they are learning is falsehood. The false teachers captivated such women with their teaching. Women were probably more susceptible to the influence of false teachers than men because in Paul’s culture women occupied a lower status in society. [Note: Wiersbe, 2:250.] Furthermore, they did not usually have as much education as their husbands. Another explanation is that they had more time on their hands with which they could dabble in various things.

"It is the immaturity and thus the weakness of these ’childish women’ that make them susceptible to the false teachers. Paul does not use the term to derogate women but to describe a situation involving particular women. That he uses a diminutive form shows that he is not intending to describe women in general." [Note: Knight, p. 433.]

Verses 8-9

Paul used the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses in the plagues (Exodus 7:11; Exodus 9:11) to illustrate the fate of these false teachers. Jewish oral or written tradition preserved their names even though the Old Testament did not. [Note: Homer A. Kent Jr., The Pastoral Epistles, p. 285. See also Fee, pp. 272, 274.] Their names, probably nicknames, mean "the rebel" and "the opponent." [Note: Walter Lock, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 107.] Like these magicians, the false teachers opposed God’s revealed truth, possessed corrupt minds, and were outside the fold of the faithful. They would proceed only so far, as their Egyptian predecessors did. Their foolishness would become common knowledge when their power would prove inadequate.

Verses 8-13

2. Negative and positive illustrations 3:8-13

Verses 10-11

Timothy’s past character and conduct stood in stark contrast to that of the false teachers. He had fully followed Paul’s ministry (teaching, conduct, and purpose) and his life (faith, patience, love, and perseverance). The fact that God had delivered Paul from all his persecutions would have encouraged Timothy to continue following the apostle’s example.

"The Lord ever rescues his people, frequently from death, sometimes by means of death. Either way, nothing ever separates them from his love (Romans 8:38-39)." [Note: William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, p. 293.]

Verses 12-13

Timothy needed to realize, as all Christians do, especially those to whom "prosperity theology" appeals, that when a person determines to live a godly life he or she will suffer persecution. With his or her commitment to follow Christ faithfully the Christian sets the course of his or her life directly opposite to the course of the world system. Confrontation and conflict become inevitable (cf. Matthew 10:22-23; Luke 21:12; John 15:20; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:4).

The wickedness of evil people, particularly charlatans, will increase as time passes. They will not only deceive others, but their sins and other deceivers will deceive them increasingly too. Such is the perversity of sin.

This statement does not contradict what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:9. In 2 Timothy 3:13 he meant that evil becomes more intensive as time goes on. In 2 Timothy 3:9 he meant that the teaching of evil does not necessarily become more extensive and capture a wider audience as evil becomes worse. [Note: Knight, p. 442.]

B. Conduct in the last days 3:14-4:5

Paul identified two of Timothy’s duties in the last days to impress him with what was of highest priority.

Verses 14-15

In his personal life Timothy should continue living as he had rather than turning aside to follow the example of the evil men Paul just mentioned. Timothy’s conduct grew out of what he had learned that gave him personal convictions.

"Jewish parents were expected to teach their children the Law from the age of five onwards." [Note: Kelly, p. 201. Cf. Mishnah Pirke Aboth 5:21.]

Timothy’s convictions grew stronger because Paul’s life had backed up the truth that Timothy had learned from him. Furthermore they were consistent with the sacred Scriptures that he had known all his life (i.e., the Hebrew Scriptures, cf. 2 Timothy 1:5). These inspired writings convey wisdom and lead to personal salvation from sin because they point to Christ. Thus they are reliable and powerful.

Verses 14-17

1. Adherence to the truth 3:14-17

Verses 16-17

Paul wanted to reemphasize the importance of Scripture in Timothy’s present and future ministry. His emphasis in 2 Timothy 3:15 was on its importance in Timothy’s life in the past.

There is no reason to limit the universal force of "all" to matters of salvation. When the Greek word translated "all" or "every" (pas) occurs with a technical noun such as "Scripture," it is better to render it "all" rather than "every." [Note: H. Wayne House, "Biblical Inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:545 (January-March 1980):54-56; Mounce, p. 566; Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 587.] Furthermore, the context seems to suggest that Paul had Scripture as a whole in view. [Note: See Fee, p. 279.] Paul had been speaking of the Old Testament as a whole in 2 Timothy 3:15, and he undoubtedly carried that thought over into 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is divinely inspired (Gr. theopneustos, lit. God-breathed, cf. 2 Peter 1:21). This fact in itself should be adequate reason for proclaiming it. It does not merely contain the Word of God or become the Word of God under certain conditions. It is God’s Word, the expression of His person (heart, mind, will, etc.). This was the view of the Hebrew Bible that Jews in the first century commonly held. [Note: Kelly, p. 203. See also Louis Igou Hodges, "Evangelical Definitions of Inspiration: Critiques and a Suggested Definition," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:1 (March 1994):99-114.] "Scripture" means sacred writing and applies to all divinely inspired writings (Old and New Testaments). The Greeks used the word graphe, translated "Scripture," to refer to any piece of writing, but the New Testament writers used it only of holy Scripture. When Paul made this statement the books of our Old Testament were the inspired writings he had in view primarily. However even in Paul’s day Christians recognized some New Testament books as inspired (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

"God’s activity of ’breathing’ and the human activity of writing are in some sense complementary (cf. 2 Peter 1:21)." [Note: Towner, The Letters . . ., p. 589.]

Scripture is useful. Therefore Timothy should use it in his ministry. It is profitable for teaching (causing others to understand God’s truth) and reproof (bringing conviction of error when there has been deviation from God’s truth). It is helpful for correction (bringing restoration to the truth when there has been error) and training in righteousness (child-training type guidance in the ways of right living that God’s truth reveals). This is a selective rather than an exhaustive list of the ways in which the Scriptures are useful.

"They are profitable for doctrine (what is right), for reproof (what is not right), for correction (how to get right), and for instruction in righteousness (how to stay right)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:253.]

Consequently the man (or woman) of God has all that is essential to fulfill his (or her) ministry (cf. 2 Peter 1:3). The "man of God" refers to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:11) but also anyone who commits himself (or herself) to God, especially, in view of the context, those in positions of spiritual oversight. He is adequate (complete, filled out, equipped with all the essential tools he needs).

"The Christian minister has in his hands a God-given instrument designed to equip him completely for his work." [Note: Guthrie, p. 165.]

"Every good work" is the ultimate goal of our lives (Ephesians 2:10). The mastery and use of Scripture is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. God did not give us the Bible to satisfy our curiosity alone but to enable us to help other people spiritually.

"The divine inspiration of the Scriptures is stated in the Pastorals more forcefully than anywhere else in the NT." [Note: Ralph Earle, "1 Timothy," in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 345.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-timothy-3.html. 2012.
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