A Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:1-5
By Johann Gerhard, Th.D.
The following was translated from Adnotationes ad Posteriorem D. Pauli ad Timotheum Epistolam, in Quibus Textus Declaratur, Quaestiones Dubiae Solvuntur, Observationes Eruuntur, & Loca in Speciem Pugnantia quam Brevissime Conciliantur (Commentary on St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, in Which the Text Is Explained, Difficult Questions Are Answered, Observations Are Drawn Out, and Seemingly Contradictory Passages Are Reconciled as Concisely as Possible) by Johann Gerhard, Th.D. (Jena: Steinmann, 1643), pp. 53-57; available from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. The third edition (Leipzig, 1712), available from Lutheran Legacy, was also consulted.
Chief among the merits of Johann Gerhard is his ability, without wasting words, to familiarize the reader with the original Scripture text, the various available versions, and the remarks of the preeminent church fathers all at the same time.
In this particular section of his commentary on 2 Timothy, due to the nature of the content, he also familiarizes the reader with some secular classics. In so doing, he confirms the importance of a classical, liberal arts education for biblical interpretation and scholarship.
This translation was prepared in connection with an exegetical presentation assigned to me for a circuit meeting in Merrill, Wisconsin, on November 4, 2013, the day after the observance of the Lutheran Reformation. In going over it and digesting it, it struck me how well this portion of Scripture fits the context of a Reformation remembrance and celebration. Many of the characteristics of the troublesome times Paul warns about are precisely the characteristics Martin Luther noted, lamented, and battled in his time, ultimately leading him and his followers to separate from the Roman Catholic Church (2 Timothy 3:5).
Yet we would be fools to think that we are safe from these characteristics in the confessional Lutheran church. The same evils which grow in the garden of the Roman Catholic Church may be noted here and there in our own, and are always sprouting up in our own hearts. If we spend our time trumpeting our supposed superiority over other church bodies and denominations, we have become the very “boastful, arrogant” and “conceited” people against whom Paul warns (3:2,4). Yes, we have shown ourselves to possess that source trait of all evil traits – “lovers of self” (3:2).
My prayer then is that this work, and particularly the meditation on the Bible text to which it lends, leads us to be watchful rather than boastful, to be swollen with gratitude rather than with conceit, and to fall to our knees in humility rather than in despair. God graciously grant it for Jesus’ sake.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
This chapter has three parts:
- The apostle’s prophetic prediction about the circumstances of the end times (vv. 1-9),
- The patience that should be exhibited, illustrated by the apostolic example set forth for imitation (vv. 10-12), and
- A serious forewarning against seducers and an exhortation to unfold Holy Scripture diligently (vv. 13-17).
1. Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί
Hoc autem scito quod in novissimis diebus instabunt tempora periculosa
Lest Timothy or anyone else be amazed or offended that evil people and hypocrites are multiplying in the church, he warns him in advance that this will be the case.
- ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί
He understands ἡμέρας ἐσχάτας as the entire time spanning the distance between Christ’s first coming and his second coming, so that his prediction also pertains to Timothy’s times. For at the end of his warning he adds, “and avoid these people” (vs. 5). Therefore he is thinking of all the time subsequent to the apostolic age. Cf. 1 Timothy 4:1.
The Vulgate translated this Greek phrase as tempora periculosa, “dangerous times.” But it is properly translated tempora difficilia, “difficult times” – times during which it is difficult for someone to get advice as to how to conduct himself in the face of such people. It can also be rendered tempora molesta, “troublesome times,” since nothing more troublesome can happen to a pious person than having to contend with people like this. Luther translated greuliche Zeiten, “horrible times.” It can also be rendered beschwerliche Zeiten, “oppressive times.”
Epithets of this kind are given to time metonymically, in view of the things that happen in time, especially in view of the morals and endeavors of the people who are going to prevail in those times. For we must note that the apostle does not identify the difficulties of the times by external evils, such as war, famine, plague, etc., but by humanity’s corrupt morals.
2. ἔσονται γὰρ οἱ ἄνθρωποι φίλαυτοι φιλάργυροι ἀλαζόνες ὑπερήφανοι βλάσφημοι, γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς, ἀχάριστοι ἀνόσιοι
et erunt homines se ipsos amantes cupidi elati superbi blasphemi parentibus inoboedientes ingrati scelesti
- ἔσονται γὰρ οἱ ἄνθρωποι φίλαυτοι
The Vulgate reads se ipsos amantes, “lovers of self.” Augustine provides an excellent explanation of the force of this description in Tractate 123 on John:
In some inexplicable way – I do not know how – whoever loves himself, not God, does not love himself. And whoever loves God, not himself – it is he who loves himself. For he who cannot live by himself1 surely dies by loving himself; therefore he does not love himself who loves himself to the point that he cannot live. But when he is loved by the One by whom life is lived, by not loving himself he loves more, when he does not love himself for this reason, that he may love Him by whom he lives.2
The apostle has set this vice in the first position because it is the fountainhead and origin of the rest. Augustine says in the work just cited, “For when the apostle said, ‘For people will be lovers of themselves,’ he continued and added, ‘lovers of money, puffed up, arrogant, blasphemers…’ All these evils flow from that which he set first, as from a fountain, namely ‘lovers of themselves.’”3 He says the same thing in the beginning of his books on the city of God, that the love of self has built the city of the devil, just as the love of God has built the city of God.4
Theophylact comments on “lovers of themselves” in this verse: “At once he sets down the cause of all the evils – looking out not for one’s neighbor, but looking out only for oneself. For a φίλαυτος is someone who only loves himself, the result of which is that he does not even love himself.”5
Apparent Contradiction: “No one has ever hated his own flesh” (Eph 5:29). Yet in this verse the love of self is mentioned among the most grievous vices!
Response: We must distinguish between an ordinate or moderate love of self, which is spoken of in the passage, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and an inordinate or absurd love of self which this passage is talking about. Those who love themselves, or are lovers of self, are people seeking to gain things which are their own, who only pursue what is good for themselves.
The Vulgate has cupidi, “desirous.” The Greek properly says amantes pecuniarum, “lovers of money,” or cupidi divitiarum, “desirous of wealth,” just as φίλαυτοι are desirous of honor.
The Vulgate has elati, “puffed up.” Ambrosiaster has insolentes, “insolent.”6 The Greek word properly signifies jactatorem, “a boaster,” gloriosum, “a vainglorious person,” or ostentatorem, “a show-off.” Luther has ruhmredig, “boastful.” Grammarians derive from ἄλη and ζῆν that it is properly one who tries to make a living by wandering, just like those who are called ἀγύρται, i.e. circulatores, “peddlers.” As a consequence, however, he turns into a boaster, show-off, or vaunter. Xenophon in Cyropaedia 2, 2, 12:
ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἀλαζὼν ἔμοιγε δοκεῖ ὄνομα κεῖσθαι ἐπὶ τοῖς προσποιουμένοις καὶ πλουσιωτέροις εἶναι ἢ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀνδρειοτέροις καὶ ποιήσειν ἃ μὴ ἱκανοί εἰσιν ὑπισχνουμένοις, καὶ ταῦτα φανεροῖς γιγνομένοις ὅτι τοῦ λαβεῖν τι ἕνεκα καὶ κερδᾶναι ποιοῦσιν.7
For to me, the name ἀλαζών seems to be given to those pretending to be both richer and more manly than they are, and to those professing to do what they are not capable of doing, and to those getting exposed for doing these things simply for the sake of getting something and making a profit.8
“Ulpianus, the expositor of Demosthenes, says that ἀλαζονείαν is used of people promising more than they can fulfill.”9
These are superbi, “arrogant,” people who despise the lowly and weak, übersichtige, “presumptuous.”10 Ἀλαζονεία, a proud bearing in words and gestures, stems from ὑπερηφανίᾳ, arrogance lurking in the heart.
These are maledici, “slanderous.” Some explain this to be referring to maledictis in Deum prolatis, “slanders directed against God.” But the Greek descriptor is general, denoting those who damage the reputation of others so that they alone might be elevated. Luther has Lästerer, “slanderers.”
These are parentibus immorigeri, “disobedient to parents.” The Greek properly signifies those who do not allow themselves to be persuaded to show due obedience to their parents.11 The Syriac translated it as לאנָשַׁיהוּן לָא מֵתּטפִּיסִין, “not submitting to their own people.”12
Ἀπειθεῖς and ἀχάριστοι are listed together because ἀπείθεια, “disobedience,” stems from ἀχαριστίᾳ, “ingratitude.”
The Vulgate has scelesti, “villainous.” The Greek properly signifies profanos, “profane,” nefarios, “godless,” or contemtores religionis et sacrorum, “despisers of religion and sacred rites,” people who have no respect for what is holy and right to keep them from daring to perpetrate any wicked deeds. Luther has ungeistliche, “unspiritual.”
3. ἄστοργοι ἄσπονδοι διάβολοι ἀκρατεῖς ἀνήμεροι ἀφιλάγαθοι
sine affectione sine pace criminatores incontinentes inmites sine benignitate
These are people in whom the natural affections toward parents, children, and brothers are completely extinguished. Luther has störrige, “stubborn.” The Vulgate has sine affectione, “without affection,” people who are moved by no affection of love toward their neighbor, not even toward those whom nature usually incites us to love most of all.
These are foedifragi, “perfidious,” or infidi, “unfaithful.” Σπόνδη signifies familiaritatem and amicitiam, “familiarity” and “friendship.” So ἄσπονδοι are those who do not keep agreements or who are implacable and do not let reconciliation take place. Ambrosiaster has sine fide, “without faith.”13 The Vulgate has sine pace, “without peace,” in this verse and absque foedere, “without agreement,” in Romans 1:31. Luther has unversöhnliche, “irreconcilable.”
These are calumniatores, “calumniators,” people who suppress the innocence of others by their lies and made-up accusations. The Vulgate has criminatores, “accusers.” Luther has Schänder, “defilers.”
These are incontinentes, “uncontrolled,” people who give themselves up to carnal pleasures. Luther has unkeusch, “unchaste.” The Vulgate has intemperantes, “immoderate.”
These are inhumani, “inhuman,” people possessed of a brute character. The Vulgate has inmites, “harsh.” Luther has wilde, “wild.”
This can be understood of both persons and things, describing those who love neither a good thing nor good people. Ambrosiaster has bonorum inimici, “enemies of good people or good things.”14 The Syriac has סָניַי טָבָתָא, “haters of good things.”15 Luther has ungütige, “unkind.” But it is probably better to apply it to persons, so that it signifies those who are averse to friendship with good people and hate them because of the discrepancy in character.
4. προδόται προπετεῖς τετυφωμένοι, φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι
proditores protervi tumidi voluptatium amatores magis quam Dei
These are proditores, “traitors,” or amicitiae desertores, “abandoners of friendship,” people who expose well-deserving friends to things that endanger their life.
These are praecipites, “rash,” or temerarii, “heedless,” people who follow the impulses of their desires without consideration and counsel. The Vulgate has protervi, “brash.” Luther has Frevler, “wanton offenders.”
These are inflati prae superbia, “inflated with arrogance,” or qui sibiipsis sunt Suffeni, “those who are each a Suffenus to themselves,”16 people who are swollen with conceit. The Vulgate has tumidi, “swollen.” Luther has aufgeblasen, “puffed up.”
- φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι
These are voluptatum magis quam Dei amantes, “lovers of pleasures more than of God.” In Greek this is an elegant play on words.
Incidentally, since the apostle here is not only talking about wicked people in general, but also about false teachers, Augustine makes elegant work of applying all these descriptions to false teachers in Tractate 123 on John. He says:
Let those who feed the sheep of Christ not be “lovers of themselves.” Otherwise they will feed the sheep as if the sheep were their own, and not as Christ’s sheep, and they will want to make their own profits from them, just like the “lovers of money,” or they will lord it over them, just like the “puffed up,” or they will glory in the honors they get from them, just like the “arrogant,” or they will go so far as even to create heresies, just like the “blasphemers.” They will part ways with the holy fathers, just like those who are “disobedient to their parents,” and to those who wish to correct them because they do not want them to perish they will repay evil for good, just like the “ungrateful.” They will destroy their own souls and the souls of others, just like the “villainous.” They will scatter the motherly offspring of the Church, just like the “irreligious.” They will not have compassion for the weak, just like those “without affection.” They will attempt to defile the reputation of the saints, just like the “detractors.” They will not rein in the basest desires, just like the “uncontrolled.” They will occupy themselves with disputes, just like the “harsh.” They will be ignorant of how to lend help, just like those “without kindness.” They will make known to the enemies of the pious what they know ought to be kept secret, just like the “traitors.” They will embarrass human modesty by stirring up what is immodest, just like the “shameless.” They will understand neither what they are saying nor the things about which they are affirming [1Ti 1:7], just like the “blinded.”17 They will prefer carnal delights to spiritual joys, just like those who are “lovers of pleasures more than of God.” For these vices and others like them – whether all of them befall one human or some rule in these while others rule in those – sprout in some measure from that one root, namely when people are “lovers of themselves.” This vice must be most diligently guarded against by those who feed the sheep of Christ…18
5. ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας τὴν δὲ δύναμιν αὐτῆς ἠρνημένοι · καὶ τούτους ἀποτρέπου
habentes speciem quidem pietatis virtutem autem eius abnegantes et hos devita
- ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας τὴν δὲ δύναμιν αὐτῆς ἠρνημένοι
The Vulgate reads: habentes speciem quidem pietatis virtutem autem eius abnegantes, “having at least a form of piety, but refusing its power.”
The Greek μόρφωσις properly signifies formationem, “a shaping.” Ambrosiaster reads formam, “a shape.”19
- Some understand this to mean a speciem, imaginem, or similitudinem pietatis, “kind, image, or likeness of piety,” so that it is spoken against hypocrites and the sense is this: In external words and gestures they put on a show of piety, but in reality they do not have it, or rather they are so foreign to piety that they seem to have refused it and sworn off it.
- Others think that the apostle is reprimanding those who do a beautiful job prescribing to others whatever deed must be done, even though they themselves are the last ones to carry out those deeds (Mt 23:3). For μόρφωσις signifies a philosophy of educating and training that says that when the teacher prescribes something to the pupil, he ought to speak or conduct himself the same way (Ro 2:20).
But both of these interpretations can be combined. For those who prescribe rules of piety to others and do not observe them themselves have but a μόρφωσιν of piety.
The δύναμις εὐσεβείας consists of true faith in Christ, “which purifies the heart” (Ac 15:9), of spiritual and inner obedience of the heart (1Ti 1:5), of ἀνυποκρίτῳ and sincere love for God and one’s neighbor. This is also what it means “to live piously in Christ” (2Ti 3:12).
Some want δύναμιν to be treated like ἀλήθειαν, for the truth of nature is understood from the power and working of everything in nature.
Paul does not write ἀρνημένοι, a present tense participle, as the Vulgate has translated it with abnegantes, but ἠρνημένοι, a past tense participle, inficiati, “having denied.”
The Vulgate has devita, “avoid.” The Greek properly signifies illos aversare, “turn yourself away from them,” namely by:
- neither agreeing with them nor approving of them,
- drawing yourself away from their midst, and
- not putting on a yoke with them.
From this apostolic admonition we conclude that Paul is speaking in such a way about the future that he might show at the same time that this kind of people will also not be lacking in Timothy’s time. Otherwise it would not have been worth the effort to urge Timothy to turn himself away from them.
1 “By himself” not in the sense of “alone,” but in the sense that he cannot make himself live.
2 J.-P. Migne, ed., Sancti Aurelii Augustini, Hipponensis Episcopi, Opera Omnia, vol. 3, part 2 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864), col. 1968.
3 Ibid., col. 1967-1968.
4 Gerhard’s citation lends itself to confusion. First, the quote can be said to come from “the beginning of [Augustine’s] books on the city of God” only if one understands said books in the narrow sense, namely the second part of De Civitate Dei, Books 11-22, which properly deal with the origin, nature, etc. of the two cities. Secondly, Gerhard is paraphrasing Augustine. The opening lines of Book 14, Chapter 28, read: “Accordingly, two loves have made two cities. The love of self, even to contempt of God, has made the earthly city, but the love of God, even to contempt of self, has made the heavenly city” (J.-P. Migne, ed., Sancti Aurelii Augustini, Hipponensis Episcopi, Opera Omnia, vol. 7 [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], col. 436). Cf. Saint Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: The Modern Library, 1993), p. 477.
5 J.-P. Migne, ed., Theophylacti, Bulgariae Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Quae Reperiri Potuerunt Omnia, vol. 3 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864), col. 115, 116.
6 J.-P. Migne, ed., Sancti Ambrosii Mediolanensis Episcopi Opera Omnia, vol. 2, part 2 (Paris: Vrayet de Surcy, 1845), col. 493.
7 Xenophon, Cyropaedia I, trans. Walter Miller (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914), p. 162.
8 Cf. ibid., p. 163. Gerhard does not include the last clause, since he is citing a partial quote from Henricus Stephanus, Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, vol. 1 (Paris: Henricus Stephanus, 1572), col. 306.
9 Ibid., col. 307.
10 Transferred sense of übersichtig. It is properly used of one who has a real or perceived sight defect – a blink-eyed person, a person with a sideways glance, or someone who has oblique, distorted eyes so that he squints strongly. From this it came to be used of someone who looks disapprovingly or disparagingly at others whom he considers to be inferior to himself.
11 Gerhard is probably overdoing the exegesis here.
12 Peshitta New Testament text viewable here.
13 Rf. endnote 6.
15 Rf. endnote 12.
16 Gerhard is alluding to poem 22 in Catullus’ Carmina. The entire poem is about a poet named Suffenus, a nice, pleasant, witty man who had written “a thousand or ten thousand or more” verses and published them with the finest available materials. Yet in spite of his otherwise pleasant and witty character and the fancy dress of his poems, Catullus lambasts Suffenus’ poems as worthy only of a goatherd or a ditch-digger. He analyzes: “So much he’s altered from the man he was. | How can this be? and what can be the cause? | Yet he that but just now in others’ sense | Was destitute of every excellence, | Was made the common jest of all the town, | And thought much more unlearned than a clown, | Is wise, and to perfection, in his own. | When he puts pen to paper and indites, | No man so blest as he in what he writes. | He joys so much, and wonders at his skill, | As if the Muses had inspired his quill.” Catullus then concludes: “No wonder; all are subject to mistakes; | None but in something a Suffenus makes. | Our neighbour’s bunch upon his back is known, | But we forget what rises from our own” (Walter K. Kelly, tr., ed., The Poems of Catullus and Tibullus, and the Vigil of Venus [London: George Bell and Sons, 1887], p. 191). Rf. the original here.
17 Even though Augustine was not known for his ability in Greek, he appears to exhibit some familiarity with the Greek text here. He substitues caecati, “blinded,” for the Vulgate’s tumidi, “swollen.” Both are acceptable translations of the Greek τετυφωμένοι. Cf. BDAG ad τυφόω, 1 & 2.
18 Rf. endnote 2.
19 Rf. endnote 6.