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6) 2 Tim 3:1–4: Recognizing that his life would soon end in martyrdom, Paul wrote 2 Timothy with a sense of urgency (2 Tim 4:6–9).[1]

This letter represents the apostle’s last will and testament, as he passed the responsibility for standing firm for the gospel to his spiritual heir (2 Tim 3:10–17).[2]

As Paul’s top lieutenant, Timothy worked in Ephesus to counteract the effects of false teachers who had infiltrated the church since Paul’s visit with the elders of that church (Acts 20:17, 28–30; 2 Tim 2:14–26).[3]



The apostle began by identifying them,[4] then he created a vice list. Greco-Roman authors commonly applied this literary technique.[5]

Although it may resemble a standard catalog of offenses, Paul tailored it to fit the situation in Ephesus (2 Tim 3:6–9).[6]

A vice list consisted of a string of numerous evils to avoid.

Since authors crafted them for an oral culture, they employed repetition of sounds and other rhythmic literary devices to produce a memorable impact.[7]

Eleven of the evils begin with the Greek letter “a,” which like the English prefix “un-,” negates the quality associated with it.[8]

The inventory concludes with a stern warning: “these people avoid.”



People in the early church believed that wickedness would intensify in the last days.

In addition, many individuals within their congregations would fall away (Matt 24:9–14; 2 Thess 2:3–4; Jude 17–19).[9]

Due to sin within the church, Paul believed that he and Timothy lived in the last days.[10]

Consequently, the apostle began this section of his letter by writing, “But know this: that in the last days, difficult times shall come.”

Due to the conflict and moral decay which Timothy encountered in Ephesus,[11] Paul asserted, “the future is now” (1 Tim 4:1–6).[12]

Old Testament writers identified the final period of the world as the “last days.”[13]

At that time, the messiah would come to set all things right, restoring the godly and judging sinners (Mic 4:1–5; Zeph 1:14–18).[14]

New Testament (NT) authors described the last days in various ways.

Peter pinpointed their onset with the coming of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (1 Pet 1:20–21; Acts 2:16–21).

The author of Hebrews cited the ministry of Jesus as beginning this era (Heb 1:1–2).

John specified that the last days had arrived because antichrists had appeared (1 John 2:18–22).

Paul simply noted that the last days are here (1 Cor 10:11).[15]

Thus, the last days consist of the period of time between Christ’s birth and his return to earth.[16]

When he comes, Jesus shall execute judgment while fully completing the salvation of believers (Matt 25:31–46; Rom 2:5–10; 1 Cor 4:5).[17]

Therefore, in this present age, God calls us to use every available opportunity to share Christ with those who do not belong to him (Gal 1:3–5; Eph 5:6–16).[18]



By stating, “In the last days, difficult times shall come,” Paul reminded Timothy that this period of distress would remain for a long duration.[19]

The word translated as “difficult” (kalepos) appears elsewhere in the New Testament only in Matt 8:28. It connotes being “hard to bear,”  “cruel,” or “dangerous.”[20]

Although strong commonalities exist with the list of vices in Rom 1:28–32, note that Paul attributed the evils mentioned in these verses to those who claimed to follow Christ.[21]

As a result, this passage provides a convenient catalog of sins which believers must avoid today.[22]

A word study of each character trait included in this list reveals that authors during or close to Paul’s era charged their contemporaries with committing every sin on this list.[23]



Two types of misguided love—for self and for pleasure—appropriately bookend the series of vices,[24] for a self-centered lack of morality emerges as a prominent theme.

When a person places love for self and greed at the forefront of life, all the other vices follow.[25]

Paul ended his catalog of sins with this powerful conclusion: “loving pleasure rather than loving God.”[26]

This brings us full circle back to self-love, the first vice in the list.[27]

Although the word “loving pleasure” (philēdonos) occurs only here in the New Testament,[28] Scripture condemns the concept (Luke 8:14; Tit 3:3; Jas 4:1–3).[29]

People in the Greco-Roman milieu also criticized those intent upon the pursuit of pleasure.[30]

In fact, they often charged their philosophical opponents with valuing self-gratification above virtue or wisdom.[31]



Dio Chrysostom (ca. 40–112 AD) sarcastically wrote of the type of behavior a king should avoid at all costs:

Let his steps also be guided by Delusion, a very beautiful and enticing maid, decked out in harlot’s finery, smiling and promising a wealth of good things and making him believe that she is leading him to the very embrace of happiness, till unexpectedly she drops him into the pit, into a morass of foul mud, and then leaves him to flounder about in his garlands and saffron robe.

In servitude to such a tyrant and suffering such tribulation those souls wander through life…enslaved to pleasure, pleasure-loving (philēdonos), and carnally-minded, go on living a disgraceful and reprehensible life, not from choice, but because they have drifted into it.[32]



“Lovers of God” (philotheos) alludes to Deut 6:4–9.

Jesus denoted loving God as the most important commandment (Mark 12:28–34).

When people replace love for the Lord with the love of self, money, and pleasure, the other vices naturally follow.[33]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 2 Tim 3:1–4. How would you briefly characterize the type of people Paul described in these verses? What warning does this passage give to you? How do we know that Paul believed that he lived in the last days? In what ways are our last days like the time before the flood?






Go to Having a Form of Godliness (2 Tim 3:5)

[Related posts include Having a Form of Godliness (2 Tim 3:5); The Cult of Artemis (False Teaching in Ephesus); Prayer without Anger (1 Tim 2:8); Adorned with Good Works (1 Tim 2:9–10); She Must Learn (1 Tim 2:11); Domineering Women (1 Tim 2:12–14); Saved through Childbearing (1 Tim 2:15); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); and Guilty of Misconduct (Jude 8)]

[Click here to go to Chapter 5: Groaning and Grieving (Genesis 5:28–6:8)]


[1]Keener, IVPBBCNT, 2 Tim.

[2]Jerome D. Quinn, “Timothy and Titus, Epistles to,” ABD 6:560–71, 562.

[3]Keener, IVPBBCNT, 2 Tim.

[4]Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 552.

[5]Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 269.

[6]William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2000), 542.

[7]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 552–3.

[8]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 543.

[9]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 554.

[10]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 552.

[11]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 543.

[12]Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 268.

[13]Walter Elwell et al. (eds.), Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (BEB) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 1310.

[14]Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 269.

[15]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 553.

[16]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 544.

[17]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 553.

[18]Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 269.

[19]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 554.

[20]Verlyn D. Verbrugge, “χαλεπος” (kalepos), New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged (NIDNTTA) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 600.

[21]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 555.

[22]Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 276.

[23]I originally examined each character trait listed but the result is too long and boring to publish.

[24]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 554.

[25]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 543–5.

[26]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 546.

[27]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 559.

[28]Result of Logos 7 word study of φιληδονος (philēdonos).

[29]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 559.

[30]Gustav Stählin, “φιληδονος” (philēdonos), TDNT 2:918.

[31]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 559.

[32]Dio Chrystostom, “The Fourth Discourse on Kingship,” in Orations, 5 vols. (LCL; trans. H. Lamar Crosby; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946), 1:221–3,

[33]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 547.