All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
These two verses are frequently quoted on God’s Word and its work in our lives, but have you ever looked at their context in 1 Timothy 3? Paul begins chapter three by telling Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come,” and then he explains why:
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
2 Timothy 3:2–5
The evil characteristics of people living in those times make them difficult….
The list has a somewhat chiastic arrangement: It begins and ends with terms expressing similar concepts and has within this framework other matched groupings of terms working from the beginning and end of the list….1
These aren’t words Paul reeled off the top of his head—he purposefully chose and arranged them. A chiastic arrangement is way to arrange and structure the flow of words or ideas. If you’re unfamiliar with this beautiful form of literary artistry, you’ll find an explanation and some examples in Wonders In God’s Word.
To illustrate the pattern in 2 Timothy 3:2–5, Knight indents the Greek terms as I’ve charted below. I’ve highlighted corresponding groups of terms with the same color, added identifying letters and verse numbers, using the English translations from my inter-linear New Testament.2, 3 If the NAS gives a different translation, it’s in parentheses.
A: Self-lovers v. 2A: Money-lovers v. 2B: Boasters v. 2B: Arrogant v. 2B: Blasphemers (revilers) v. 2C: Disobedient to parents v. 2C: Unthankful (ungrateful) v. 2C: Unholy v. 3C: Without natural affection (unloving) v. 3C: Implacable (irreconciliable) v. 3C: Slanderers (malicious gossips) v. 3)C: Incontinent (without self-control) v. 3C: Untamed (brutal) v. 3C: Haters of good [things/men] v. 3B1: Betrayers (treacherous) v. 4B1: Reckless v. 4B1: Puffed-up (conceited) v. 4A1 Pleasure-lovers v. 4
A1 Rather than God-lovers v. 4
Do you see the structure?
A and A1 are corresponding parallel ideas.
B and B1 are corresponding parallel ideas.
C is the middle group of ideas. (You’ll learn why slanderers is a darker blue below).
A (yellow) —> B (green) —> C (blue) —> B1 (green) —> A1 (yellow)
Dr. Knight explains:
The list begins and ends with words expressing a misdirection of “love.” This suggests what is fundamentally wrong with these people is that their life is misdirected and that the other vices flow from this misdirection….”lovers of self,” is put first, for when self rather than God (and others) is made the central focus of one’s life all else goes astray….To this self-centeredness is joined that these people are…(in Lk. 16:14 a characteristic of the Pharisees), “lovers of money,” one of the basic characteristics of the false teachers (cf. 1 Tim. 6:5–10… Tit. 1:11; warnings against this evil in 1 Tim. 3:3, Tit. 1:7).
At the end of the list this misdirection of love is described in the revealing comparison…”lovers of pleasure instead of lovers of God,” or, “lovers of pleasure and not lovers of God.” …”lovers of God,” summarizes in one word [in the Greek] what Jesus (citing the OT) said to be mankind’s highest duty (Mt. 22:37–38 par, Mk. 12:28–30/Lk. 10:27–28) and is the concept Paul uses elsewhere to describe those who know God (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 2:9; 8:3; Eph. 6:24).4
The next layer of terms, working from both the beginning and the end of the list, focuses on pride and hostility toward others…
The innermost part of the list, vv. 2c-3, consists of eight ἀ-privative words (one in a two-word phrase) surrounding the word διάβολοι [diaboloi: slanderers]. In each case the ἀ- negates some good quality…6
A διάβολος is an accuser, and according to W. E. Vine in the New Testament the word “is used 34 times as a title of Satan,” and in “1 Tim. 3:11; 2 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 2:3, of false accusers, slanderers.”7 As you can guess, the English words devil and diabolical are derived from the Greek root.
Even in the English we can see that the other eight qualities are the negation of a good quality, i.e., disobedient to parents as opposed to obedient to parents. Dr. Knight conjectures that the use of slanderer within the list may refer back to 2 Timothy 2:26 or,
[It] may well mark a turning point from a group of words, the five preceding…that speak of decay of family relationships, to three…that, with διάβολοι, have a wider perspective.8
Paul closes the sentence by writing that these men hold to a form of godliness, but deny its power; Avoid such men as these. Remember Jesus’ teachings that false prophets will be ravenous wolves in sheeps clothing, but they will be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15–20).
Difficult times are here. This is the context of our lives, and in these times we must know and study God’s Word. I am very concerned for Christian women because many are taken in by false teachers: those who promise prosperity and health, and those who promise an intimate, but unbiblical—and that means dangerous—experience of God. When we neglect God’s Word, we become weak, and susceptible to promises of false security and false assurances of God’s love. When we don’t compare what we hear to what God has said in the Bible, we are vulnerable to building our lives on sand, rather than the rock of God’s Word. In Reading the Bible, Geoffrey Thomas writes:
Life is exceedingly complex: the prevailing climate in present-day Society is hostile to the Christian faith. Marx, Darwin and Freud have all contributed to the dominant philosophy of unbelief that prevails in the Western World. The mass media repeatedly attack the faith of the Bible. The breakdown of the family, promiscuity, divorce, abortion—these things present considerable ethical problems to Christians. We are beset with baffling questions and we need to know what is the right thing to think and to do….Answers to our complex contemporary questions are found in the Bible and our task is to equip ourselves with the knowledge of the Word so that all needed insight and strength will be ours. Laziness is our great temptation. Reliance on knowledge gained in the past is a great danger. We must be growing Christians. Our convictions, our conduct and our devotion must be rooted in the Word of God.9
I have more to say on 1 Timothy 3 about God’s Word & Our Times, and I’ll continue to discuss it in future posts. Pray and read through this chapter. Your growth in faith, hope and love is through hearing and heeding the preaching and the teaching of the Bible, and through your own reading and study of His Word.
2 Timothy 3–4: Be Ready in Season & Out of Season.
Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 35: House On The Rock
In Sheep Clothing: cropped flickr photograph by Pierre Tourigny
ESV: English Standard Version
1, 2, 4, 5, 8George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI: 1992) 429, 430, 430–431, 431, 432.
3The Reverned Alfred Marshall D.Litt, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI: 1958, 1959) 840.
6R. Kent Hughes & Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2000) 222.
7W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Old Testament edited by F. F. Bruce (Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan NJ: 1981) vol. 1, 27.
9Geoffrey Thomas, Reading the Bible.
Original content: Copyright ©2012 Iwana Carpenter