2 Timothy 3
Last days: danger ahead
People will be all about themselves1 Pay attention to this. In the last days, life is going to get tough. 2 People will love themselves and their money. They’ll be braggers, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, and nonreligious. 3 They’ll be unwilling to express love and unwilling to forgive. They’ll badmouth others and act wild, showing no self-control. They’ll have nothing to do with goodness. 4 They’ll be traitors, reckless, and conceited. They’d rather have a good time than make time for God. 5 These folks might look religious. They’re not. They’ve said no to the power that would have made them into people of faith. Stay away from these folks. 6 These people infiltrate families. They start by targeting vulnerable women who feel overwhelmed with guilt because of wrong things they’ve done—sometimes in moments of passion. 7 These women constantly look for answers in new teachings. But they never get around to the true knowledge they need. 8 Remember the story of Jannes and Jambres, who opposed Moses? These folks I’ve been talking about are like them; they oppose the truth. Their minds have been poisoned and their counterfeit faith is faithless. 9 These folks won’t get very far. People will see through them, just as others saw through Jannes and Jambres.
On a personal note, to Timothy10 You have followed in my footsteps in so many ways. You follow my teachings, my lifestyle, my mission, and my faith. Like me, you’re patient, loving, and persistent. 11 You’ve also followed me into the kind of persecution and suffering I experienced in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. The Lord got me through that. 12 Listen, everyone who follows Jesus the Messiah will suffer for it. 13 Dreadful people along with frauds will go from bad to worse. They’ll con people and get conned themselves. 14 But I want you to hang onto what you learned and believed. You know who taught you. 15 You grew up studying the sacred writings. They opened your eyes. They helped you see that having faith in the Messiah Jesus will save us. 16 All of scripture is God’s way of talking to us. It’s good for us to use scripture when we’re teaching people, or when we need to correct them, help them, or give them advice about how to live and how to nurture spiritual integrity. 17 Scripture helps give God’s people what they need, so they can do the good work they’ll be doing.
The Greek word for “nonreligious,” is often translated “unholy.” It can also mean “evil,” “wicked,” and “disrespectful about anything referring to God.”
Paul’s readers might have remembered who these two men were, but no one does today. The men aren’t mentioned in the Old Testament stories of Moses leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Some students of the Bible speculate that they were two Egyptian sorcerers who pitted their magic against the miracles of God (Exodus 7:11-12). There are a lot of stories about these men in ancient Jewish writings and teachings of rabbis and Jewish scholars.
Jews in Antioch rioted and ran Paul and his associate, Barnabas, out of town (Acts 13:50). Ditto in Iconium, where Jews plotted to “kidnap, shame, and stone the two” (Acts 14:5-6). Jews in Lystra stoned Paul and left him for dead (Acts 14:19). He recovered and walked back into town.
Most Bible experts say Paul was talking about the Jewish scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament or the First Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been completely written yet. And the writings weren’t officially endorsed by church leaders until about 300 years later. That’s when the church in formal councils declared that the Christians writings were inspired by God.
Word-for-word from the original Greek, the phrase reads: “All scripture God-breathed.” Most Bibles translate the unique Greek word theopneustos [God-breathed] as “inspired.” That word doesn’t show up anywhere else in the Bible, and in very few other places. Theo means “God,” with theology being the study of God. Pneustos probably comes from pneo, meaning “blow, breathe, wind.” Air-driven pneumatic tools get their name from this word. The idea is that God spoke to Bible writers, in spirit if not more dramatically, inspiring them to write the stories, songs, poems, and letters that make up the Bible. He breathed life into their words perhaps like he breathed life into Creation by simply speaking: “God said, ‘Lights.’ Lights came on” (Genesis 1:3). Because the Greek version has so few words, some scholars say it’s possible to interpret the phrase two ways. The most common way: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching (New American Standard Bible). We have to add “is” to make that work. The second option: “All God-inspired Scripture is profitable for teaching….” The implication here is that some writings that people considered scripture might not be something we should blame on God. Either way, most scholars say they agree that Paul’s point is that Timothy could depend on the scriptures he had studied, and that the warped teachings of some people in Ephesus, where Timothy pastored, were worthless.
When Paul talks about “the last days” (3:1), it doesn’t sound like the kind of time anyone wants to look forward to. Many Christians read references like this, to the “last days,” as a description of what life will be like at the end of time, when the age of humanity is over. Many Bible scholars say that’s not what Paul had in mind. They say the verb tenses and the context reveal that he was talking about life in Timothy’s day. Yet it might seem like a good description of life 2000 years after Timothy. Of the descriptors Paul unleashes in two Timothy 3:1-5, what would you say is a standout description that best fits life as we know it?
Paul described some alleged Christians this way: “These folks might look religious. They’re not” (3:5). React to this related comment. Author Stephen M Miller said he heard from a non-Christian who sometimes attends church that the Christians he knows act normally while they’re living their life, doing their work, and enjoying fun stuff like fly-fishing. But put them in a room with a preacher and it’s as though they become different people.
In the political and news world, we hear about “fake news” and about how it pollutes the brains of good people to the point that a sensible person armed with legit facts can’t get through to the brainwashed folks. Paul talks about a heresy that has been doing much the same—polluting the brains and the faith of Christians in Ephesus. “Their minds have been poisoned and their counterfeit faith is faithless” (3:8). Paul says, “These folks won’t get very far. People will see through them” (3:9). Really?
Paul said, “Everyone who follows Jesus the Messiah would suffer for it” (3:12). What about Christians who live in cultures that are favorable to Christianity?
Those of us who have studied the Bible are used to hearing the verse that says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (3:16 New International Version). Would it bother you to know that Paul wasn’t talking about our Bible, and that a more accurate translation of what he had in mind is this: “All the Old Testament is God-breathed”? Paul was talking about his Bible. Our Bible had not yet been written.
Paul says the Bible as he knew it is helpful for “teaching people, or when we need to correct them, help them, or give them advice about how to live and how to nurture spiritual integrity. Scripture helps give God’s people what they need, so they can do the good work they’ll be doing” (3:16-17). If Paul had asked you to help him come up with a list of what makes the Bible so valuable, what would you have suggested he add?