QUESTIONS & RESPONSES
On June 30, 2015, we received the following inquiry:
“In light of recent events, is it your opinion that scriptures such as 2 Timothy 3:1-7, have no real significance for today?”
To the author, thank you for your email. Here are the verses you are referring to:
“But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. From among these arise men who slyly work their way into households and captivate weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth."
– 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Some Christians view these verses as a prophecy that will be fulfilled in our generation during ‘the last days of the system of things.’ But there are some important factors that must be taken into consideration.
First, it is believed that this letter was penned in or about 65 C.E., just few years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Paul, the writer of the letter, was not prophesying. He was expressing an observation of what was actually occurring at that time. They were in “the last days” of the Jewish religious system and Paul was reminding Timothy that these things are to be expected when an oppressive system is nearing its end. Not prophecy, but more like a wise observation.
Second, these verses are part of a personal letter from Paul to his protégé Timothy encouraging him to stand faithful in the face of the expected destruction of Jerusalem. Paul was not writing an open letter to a congregation, or to a community of believers; it was a personal communique between brothers. (It is similar to a Circuit Overseer’s personal letter of encouragement to an Elder who was serving in a difficult territory.) Subsequent generations have had the privilege of reviewing some of Paul’s personal letters, but we are all only spectators and third party beneficiaries of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, not the direct intended recipients.
Does it have real significance today? Yes, wise observations and sound counsel is good for every age. The verses you refer to would apply to any generation facing the concluding phase of an era or the ‘last days of a system of things.’ The Jews experienced this prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The Romans faced similar conditions as their empire began to crumble. And if we examine history, we will see that prior to the destruction or conclusion of an oppressive government, an oppressive religious authority, or a outgrown way of doing things, conditions such as those described in 2 Timothy were present. In fact, every generation since the destruction of Jerusalem that faced a major upheaval has applied Paul’s words to their own time.
Accordingly, it is not unusual that people today would look at Paul’s personal letters and see similarities. We, too, are nearing a concluding phase of oppressive regimes, both religious and political. Some people, as Paul described in his day, are responding to these times with a gross lack of faith and a hopeless resignation. But we can look to Paul’s words to Timothy as encouragement to not fall victim to the common attitude. In chapter 4, Paul goes on to say to Timothy:
“You, though, keep your senses in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.”
– 2 Timothy 4:5
When a generation is faced with ‘critical times hard to deal with,’ it is not the time to give up hope. These times, while challenging, are also a time of great hope, as Jesus reminded his followers who would live to see the destruction of Jerusalem:
“But as these things start to occur, stand up straight and lift up your heads, because your deliverance is getting near.”
– Luke 21:28
The response of those who follow Jesus is to continue in their ministry of spreading the good news of deliverance and of better times ahead. And when this ministry has reached into all the inhabited earth, it will bring an end to critical times.
“But the one who has endured to the end will be saved. And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
– Matthew 24:13-14
So Paul’s words to Timothy need cause no fear. For the one who endures to the end – either of the end of their mortal life, or the end of the critical times – will experience a kind of salvation that they could not have ever imagined.
“But just as it is written: “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:9