Of Hymenaeus and Philetus

Over the past couple months, I have been studying Paul’s two letters to Timothy. I must have read each of these letters a dozen times since the start of the year, and every time they become more and more convicting as I gain a deeper understanding of Paul’s zeal for good doctrine and disdain for bad doctrine. He stressed the critical importance of teaching the good and refuting the bad to his young protegĂ©, and to the millions who have studied these letters in the two millenia since.

Early on in the study of these books, I made 1 Timothy 1:5 a theme verse for my study, and committed it to memory:

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

The “charge” of which he speaks is from verse 3, when Paul instructs Timothy to remain in Ephesus to correct those who teach a different doctrine than the one he had taught (which was also a problem in Galatia). I must constantly remind myself that this charge is motivated by love and a desire that those with whom I disagree might ultimately be reconciled with God (1 Cor. 5:5). Otherwise, I have a tendency to take pride in my “rightness”. My passion is stirred more by what I know than by Who I know, and all that matters is winning a debate.

Over the course of First & Second Timothy, Paul describes many types of false teaching, but only rarely gives the names of specific men. I took note then, when in 2 Timothy 2:17, Hymenaeus (also mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20) and Philetus are called out. It was especially noteworthy to see that their error occurred while they were spouting off about eschatology (“saying that the resurrection has already happened“). This “irreverent babble” was leading “people into more and more ungodliness“, and “upsetting the faith of some“.

I began to wonder why it is that people’s discussion of “End Times” issues always seems to upset so many people… and then I started thinking about some of the things that I have said and written (on this blog and elsewhere) in regard to eschatology. Did what I say (and how I said it) match up with my theme verse of 1 Timothy 1:5?

The ESV Study Bible note on 1 Timothy 1:5 is very helpful:

Whereas false teaching results in meaningless speculation, proper apostolic teaching results in practical good behavior rooted in love. And that love must come from internal, Spirit-worked changes that have produced a pure heart (rather than one filled with sinful desires), a good conscience (rather than one laden with guilt), and a sincere faith (rather than pretense and hypocrisy).

The following two verses show us the result of swerving from these love-issuing traits of pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith: “vain discussion” by those who desire to teach “without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

Reflecting on these passages a few weeks ago, I made the decision to remove from this blog my previously-posted series on eschatology, which I finished a little more than a year ago. While nothing I wrote amounted to “blasphemy” (such as what Hymenaeus taught), it certainly didn’t pass the heart/conscience/faith test. I made many “confident assertions”, but could I say that I truly understood what I was saying? How could I, when good and Godly scholars disagree on eschatological positions all the time? The more I have studied, the more I have been convicted that I must concentrate my writing and teaching on the things which I can proclaim with real confidence.

Does this mean I no longer feel eschatology is worthy of study and debate? Not at all. My personal position hasn’t changed much from what I wrote before, though I would say my views are more mature now. I still consider myself a Historical premillennialist (though I’m a hair’s breadth away from being amillennial), and am happy to discuss with anyone why I feel that way. What has changed most, then, is the attitude with which I approach these sort of debates. I desire “the stewardship of God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4) rather than vain speculation about things which are not crystal clear. It is not worth risking upsetting the faith of some (especially since my eschatological views are not in accord with all of our church members or staff) by giving an undue emphasis to doctrines not essential to salvation.

I will not avoid writing about eschatology when it is merited (in fact, look for another related post tomorrow), but from now on I will keep the focus squarely on Christ and His cross, which is exactly where it ought to be, no matter what the subject. Perhaps this (hopefully) more mature view of eschatology is best summarized by pastor and SBTS professor Hershael York, who wrote in this recent excellent blog post of how Christians have missed the point of eschatology: “We are not encouraged to be convinced by a system but to be comforted by a promise.”

I may not agree with my dispensationalist colleagues at Stevens Street on the interpretation of some passages of Scripture, but we absolutely agree that the Bible is God’s authoritative and infallible Word, and that Jesus Christ is coming back in glory for those whom He has seated at His side in the heavenly places through his sacrificial atonement for our sins. And, in the words of convinced postmillennialist Doug Wilson: “I’m not opposed to changing my theology in mid-air!”

One comment on “Of Hymenaeus and Philetus

  1. […] is important to note that, as alluded to yesterday, each of these views falls under the realm of Christian orthodoxy, and has been held by […]

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