Looking at Scripture Mastery - 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Looking at Scripture Mastery - 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Greek: 1 Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί· 2 ἔσονται γὰρ οἱἄνθρωποι φίλαυτοι, φιλάργυροι, ἀλαζόνες, ὑπερήφανοι, βλάσφημοι, γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς, ἀχάριστοι, ἀνόσιοι, 3 ἄστοργοι, ἄσπονδοι, διάβολοι, ἀκρατεῖς, ἀνήμεροι, ἀφιλάγαθοι, 4 προδόται, προπετεῖς, τετυφωμένοι, φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι, 5 ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείαςτὴν δὲ δύναμιν αὐτῆς ἠρνημένοι· καὶ τούτους ἀποτρέπου.

My Translation: 1 But know this, y'all, because in the last days fierce seasons will be present. 2 For humans will be selfish, loving money, empty boasters, haughty, slanderous, not compliant to parents, ungracious, unholy, 3 unsociable,truce breakers, false accusers, without self-control, savage, opposed to goodness, 4 betrayers, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, 5 having holy form but denying the strength of it; and shun these, y'all.

KJV: 1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

My translations are purposefully stretched and should not be viewed as more accurate than the KJV translation unless I say so in the post. I'm trying to show the range lying between the original Greek text and the English.

Update May 2013
This scripture has been removed by the Church Educational System from the Scripture Mastery list. However, it had remained within this list for over two decades and as such is still familiar to many graduates of the LDS Church's Seminary program. So I'm keeping this exploration of it online, but it is no longer applicable to CES.

Without Natural Affection

One quick translation issue: occasionally, I've heard multiple CES teachers (both Seminary and Institute) interpret the phrase "without natural affection" to mean "homosexuality". This is not a correct interpretation but is based entirely upon the word choices of the English translation. The word under the phrase is ἄστοργος ástorgos, where the initial alpha is a negation like the English prefix "un" and negates the word στοργή storgā, meaning "deep love or affection" and usually used for affection between parents and a child or between good friends. It's not sexual in nature, and the term "without natural affection" might be better translated as "sociopathic". This idea can still be found in the official LDS Church Institute manual, unfortunately, where they quote Elder Spencer W. Kimball:

There are said to be millions of perverts who have relinquished their natural affection and bypassed courtship and normal marriage relationships.

If you hear anyone using this phrase in reference to homosexuality, even if they're an LDS Apostle, you have my permission to interrupt them boldly and declare their usage of it to be highly mistaken. And I don't give permission for that sort of thing lightly! :-)

The Pastoral Epistles

The Letter to Titus and the Letters to Timothy are commonly known as the "Pastoral" Epistles, from the Latin word for "shepherd", used by the early Church for the office of bishop. In the early Christian movement, after an ecclesiastical structure emerged through years of chaotic ecstatic self- governance, the office of Bishop quickly became the highest office of a local church. Over the course of the 2nd Century, a complicated organization structure began to emerge: deacons (male and female), teachers, bishops (almost always men), evangelists, widows, (widows were women who, after their husbands had died, were set apart in service to the local Church), elders.

The story of the Pastoral Letters is that Paul, on the sunset of his life, is writing to two leaders of Christian communities: Titus, and his old friend and oftimes missionary assistant, Timothy. Paul's perspective here is a calm acceptance of his impending death, but he wants to give a final word to these younger leaders he loves. The letter are rich with emotion, mostly of kindness and grandfatherly advice, though he does state some rather passive aggressive statements against his enemies.

The only problem is that Paul almost certainly didn't write these letters. Their perspectives are extremely different from the genuine letters of Paul that we've already covered. Genuine Paul seems to have given little care to issues of church hierarchy and authority. In the Pastorals, he gives clear instructions on who is (and, by negation, who is not) allowed to serve in specific offices. Genuine Paul seems to have had little to say about women (apart from a few verses in 1 Corinthians that seem to have been interpolated by a later scribe), never mentioning gender as a qualification for belief or of spiritual gifts and going insofar as to be the only New Testament writer to refer to women leaders by name (Phoebe, a deacon, and Junia, an apostle). In the Pastorals, Paul infamously teaches about the lower roles of women in the local congregation. Genuine Paul fully expects to see the Kingdom of God in his lifetime. In the Pastorals, Paul has very vague references to the coming day of the Lord, but gives a strong impression of much longer time scales. And, as with 2 Thessalonians, he indicates a number of signs that need to occur in the "last days". And there are many other reasons why the vast majority of scholars reject the Pastorals as being authored by Paul.

But while we aren't dealing with Paul, we are dealing with letters written by an early member of the Jesus movement. For simplicity's sake, let's call him Pseudo-Paul. What does the purpose of this letter appear to be? The author was certainly familiar with other letters of Paul, often employing famous pauline phrases, and Pseudo-Paul does an immense amount of name-dropping and story creating to cast the illusion of an early letter from one leader in the movement to another (both Paul and Timothy were probably long dead when this letter was written). He really wants these letters to be read as though Paul wrote them.

The Context of 2 Timothy for this Scripture Mastery

The majority of the letters seem to be focused on the issue of doing things correctly. Turning specifically to 2 Timothy, Pseuo-Paul makes reference to martial training and sports training and compares this to Timothy's efforts to resist the challenges ahead of him. Pseudo-Paul warns Timothy:

  • hold to correct words
  • protect that good thing entrusted to you
  • do not wrangle over words: it will bring ruin
  • avoid profane chatter
  • do not engage in heated disputes
  • avoid evil people
  • evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse
  • preach the message whether or not its convenient
  • reprove, rebuke, and exhort
  • be self-controlled and endure hardship

It appears that the author wants his audience to follow this same advice. Perhaps the community he lived in was experiencing severe internal conflict. Perhaps he wants to do more than just say that his enemies in the Christian movement are wrong: he wants Paul to say that they are wrong. Perhaps he could point to this letter and say, "We're in the last days, and Paul warned us about people like you!"

In particular, the verses of this Scripture Mastery are a complete and utter laundry list of every bad quality you could ascribe to a person. The historical Paul would have felt that these people were already present in the world because this world is by it's nature evil, fallen, and under the control of evil men and angels. Pseudo-Paul warns Timothy to be ready for even worse things. Notably he warns Timothy and Timothy's charges personally, without much mention of how they should be passing this message on to others. Timothy should be ready for this stuff, because it's going to happen to him. (He does mention how this is already affecting other Christians just a few verses later, but that will be its own post.)

Often when modern readers approach the Bible they think it's a book written for us in the 21st Century. The Book of Mormon is really rather strong in supporting this misguided idea, because some of the writers actually are aware of their modern readers, and modern readers are explicitly told by LDS Church leaders that the Book of Mormon was written for them. The Bible is not like this at all. Nobody in it was writing for the future (mostly because they thought there wouldn't be much of a future left), not even the author of the Revelation of John. Whatever Pseudo-Paul wanted to say with his letter, it's not written to warn people in a long-distant time about what conditions in the world would be like after nearly 1800 years. Pseudo-Paul was writing about his own day and age, possibly with specific enemies in mind.

Why Do I Think This Is Part of Scripture Mastery?

I think this scripture was chosen because it helps support the apocalyptic perspective of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That "Latter- day" means the last days, so Mormons believe that Pseudo-Paul is describing their day and age. However, the authorship is almost certainly a later writer than Paul who was willing to use Paul's name and fame to advance their own objectives. There have been Christians thinking that their days are the "last days" since at least the 400s; Mormons are not unique in this respect, and frankly I'd not be surprised if there are pockets of Christian communities 500 years from now that each believe that their day and age is at the end of human history. Mormons are not misusing this scripture, though, and so if they want to keep it in Scripture Mastery I say more power to them.

See other posts in my Scripture Mastery New Testament Series

Tom Doggett

Tom Doggett

I'm a programmer, Ancient Greek reader, feminist, spouse and partner, and a dad.

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