Paul's Letters To Timothy
by Greg Williamson (c) 2014, 2019
Featuring the text of the New American Standard Bible *
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Intro | 1 Timothy 1:1-11 / 1:12-17 / 1:18-20 | 2:1-8 / 2:9-15 | 3:1-7 / 3:8-13 / 3:14-16 | 4:1-6 / 4:7-12 / 4:13-16 | 5:1-16 / 5:17-25 | 6:1-2 / 6:3-10 / 6:11-21 | 2 Timothy 1:1-7 / 1:8-12 / 1:13-18 | 2:1-7 / 2:8-13 / 2:14-18 / 2:19-26 | 3:1-9 / 3:10-12 / 3:13-17 | 4:1-4 / 4:5-8 / 4:9-22 ** | Articles & Definitions | Sources

(2 Timothy 2:14-18)

14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness,
17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

God’s grace strengthens us and enables us to be faithful ... workers. God’s grace ... helps us do work of which we are not ashamed. - Warren Wiersbe [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Because ... Build
Because God will examine what kind of workers we have been for him, we should build our lives on his Word and build his Word into our lives. - Life Application Study Bible [ref]

2 TIMOTHY 2:14 - The Difference Between False Teachers and God's Worker (vv. 14-18)
Countering False Doctrine

Spiritual leaders must counteract the lingering influence of false teachers. (see 2 Timothy 2:14-19) [ref]

Remind (them) of these things (2 Timothy 2:14)
Meaning: "remind those over whom you are placed of the need and the reward of courage and endurance." [ref] "Remind" is literally "Keep reminding" (present active imperative) - "which means that this was to be Timothy’s regular practice. The bulk of preaching to a knowledgeable audience frequently consists of reminding them of what they already know." [ref]

not to wrangle about words (2 Timothy 2:14)
Meaning: "not to indulge in controversy." [ref] Words can be used to build up or tear down. Here Paul is speaking against a "war of words" [ref] the aim of which is the thorough defeat of one's opponent. "Paul is clearly willing to argue when the gospel is at stake -- he opposed Peter to his face (Gal. 2:11). What is prohibited here is meaningless argument." [ref]

and leads to the ruin of the hearers (2 Timothy 2:14)
"The ruin" (Greek katastrophē) is the source for our English "catastrophe" [ref] [ref], and "[i]n the LXX, the word is used of the destruction or overthrow of men or cities." [ref] In the NT it used only one other time, in reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:6). [ref]


Too much talk and too much discussion can have two dangerous effects.

First, they may give the impression that Christianity is nothing but a collection of questions for discussion and problems for solution. The discussion circle is a characteristic phenomenon of this age. As G. K. Chesterton once said: "We have asked all the questions which can be asked. It is time we stopped looking for questions, and started looking for answers." In any society the discussion circle must be balanced by the action group.

Second, discussion can be invigorating for those whose approach to the Christian faith is intellectual, for those who have a background of knowledge and of culture, for those who have a real knowledge of, or interest in, theology. But it sometimes happens that a simple-minded person finds himself in a group which is tossing heresies about and propounding unanswerable questions, and his faith, so far from being helped, is upset. It may well be that that is what Paul means when he says that wordy battles can undo those who listen to them. The normal word used for building a person up in the Christian faith, for edification, is the same as is used for literally building a house; the word which Paul uses here for ruin (katastrophe) is what might well be used for the demolition of a house. And it may well happen that clever, subtle, speculative, intellectually reckless discussion may have the effect of demolishing, and not building up, the faith of some simple person who happens to become involved in it. As in all things, there is a time to discuss and a time to be silent.

- William Barclay [ref]

The phrase before God reveals the importance that Paul placed on this command to Timothy, for a teacher's responsibility is great (see James 3:1). Paul urged Timothy to remind the believers not to argue over unimportant details (quarreling about words) or have foolish discussions (godless chatter, see 2 Timothy 2:16) because such arguments are confusing, useless, and even harmful. False teachers caused strife and divisions by their meaningless quibbling over unimportant details (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Quarreling about words is a major problem today. Churches split over nonessentials. Quarrelsome people nitpick church programs, undermine productivity with criticism, and verbally attack the innocent. When someone shows a pattern of quarrelsomeness, church leaders should visit that person to deal with the issues in private.

- Life Application Bible Commentary on the New Testament [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:15 - The Difference Between False Teachers and God's Worker (vv. 14-18)

Be diligent (2 Timothy 2:15)
"Be diligent" (Greek spoudazō) means "to do something with intense effort and motivation -- ‘to work hard, to do one’s best, to endeavor.’" [ref] We would say "make every effort." [ref]

present yourself ... approved (2 Timothy 2:15)
Meaning: Present yourself for service, and also perhaps for judgment. [ref] [ref] "Approved" means "tested by trial, and found to have stood the test" [ref] (cf. Romans 14:18; 2 Corinthians 10:18; James 1:12). It is used to describe "anything which has been tested and is fit for service." [ref]

Within the NT, "[w]hat seems important in the notion of approval is its linkage with testing. Approval is not lightly given; it is won. Our character and our commitments emerge over time. It is only on evidence provided by experience and the passage of time that approval can be extended." [ref]

As one commentator notes well, Timothy is to "make an effort so to discharge the duties of the ministerial office as to meet the divine approbation. The object of the ministry is not to please men. Such doctrines should be preached, and such plans formed, and such a manner of life pursued, as God will approve. To do this demands study or care -- for there are many temptations to the opposite course; there are many things the tendency of which is to lead a minister to seek popular favor rather than the divine approval. If any man please God, it will be as the result of deliberate intention and a careful life." [ref



How do we win the approval of God? This is the focal issue in the NT’s use of the word group that the translators render “approve” in modern versions. While OT uses involve the paraphrase of a number of expressions, NT use is particularly significant and draws on a distinctive Greek word group.

The Greek words
The occurrences of “approve/approval” in modern versions almost always signal the appearance in the original of a distinctive Greek word group. Dokimos, the noun, is used in the NT in the sense of recognition, of being officially approved and accepted. It is found in Ro 14:18; 16:10; 1 Co 11:19; 2 Co 10:18; 13:7; 2 Ti 2:15; Jas 1:12. Dokimazō, the verb, implies putting to the test with a view to approving the genuine. That which has been tested is demonstrated to be genuine and trustworthy. This verb is used twenty-three times in the NT. Three times (Lk 11:48; Ac 8:1; 22:20) Luke uses a compound word that expresses complete approval: syneudokeō. This word is used in only three other places in the NT (Ro 1:32; 1 Co 7:12–13). In 1 Co 7:12–13, Paul says that if an unsaved spouse is “willing” to live with the partner who has become a believer, no divorce should be initiated. Only in Jn 6:27 is the idea of approval not a rendering of some word in the dokimos word group. There the Greek word is sphragizō, “seal,” correctly interpreted by the NIV as “has placed his seal of approval.”

What seems important in the notion of approval is its linkage with testing. Approval is not lightly given; it is won. Our character and our commitments emerge over time. It is only on evidence provided by experience and the passage of time that approval can be extended.

The approval of people
Time and experience provide the evidence on which one can be approved. But the criterion by which a person is evaluated is also important. The NT warns against trying to “win the approval of men,” even when these persons are fellow believers (Gal 1:10). There are a number of reasons for this warning. Christ alone is our Master; it is he whom we are to serve (Gal 1:10). It is dangerous for us to even try to evaluate ourselves. Only God’s evaluation and commendation counts (2 Co 10:18; cf. 1 Co 4:3–5). As for the standards of unbelievers, Paul’s preconversion approval of the stoning of Stephen shows how questionable their standards were (Ac 8:1; 22:20)! Clearly the warped consciences of the unsaved will often lead them to overlook serious sin or even to approve of those who today may be called “beautiful people,” whose lifestyles deny righteousness (Ro 1:32).

The approval of God
Since the approval of God is so vital for us, what does the Bible say about winning it? Several NT passages link God’s approval to a subjective attitude and an objective standard.

The subjective attitude is one of commitment to serve Christ (Ro 12:2; 14:18). The objective standard is the Word of God. In Romans, Paul writes of Jewish reliance on the law and of the fact that through the Scriptures the Hebrew people knew God’s will. They even approved of it as superior. But, in fact, the Jewish people failed to do what they knew to be the will of God (Ro 2:17–29).

Paul warns Timothy against chattering on in theological dispute while drifting into ungodly behavior. An approved workman “correctly handles the word of truth” and demonstrates God’s approval by turning away from wickedness (2 Ti 2:14–19). Romans 12:1–2 sums it up: we are to commit ourselves to be living sacrifices, dedicated to pleasing God. We must no longer conform to this world’s patterns; our whole perspective on life is to be reshaped by God. Then we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” Paul’s point is a vital one. The Word of God -- through which we come to know God’s will -- must itself be put to the test by us. We put Scripture to the test by acting on what it says. When we do this, we experience God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. When we do God’s will, he will be able to approve of us as good workers who have no need to be ashamed.

- Lawrence O. Richards [ref]

who does not need to be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15)
Meaning: "a workman who has no cause for shame when his work is being inspected" [ref]; "a workman whose work does not disgrace him." [ref] There would indeed be great shame or disgrace if his work was of "poor quality" [ref] and thus "found unworthy." [ref]

"Each of us as God’s workman will be either approved or ashamed. The word approved means 'one who has been tested and found acceptable.' The word was used for testing and approving metals. Each trial that we go through forces us to study the Word to find God’s will. As we rightly use the Word, we succeed in overcoming our trials, and we are approved by God. Martin Luther once said that prayer, study, and suffering make a pastor; and this is true. We cannot be approved unless we are tested." [ref]

accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
"The antidote to 'word battles' (speculation and mere argumentation) is to correctly understand and teach the word given by God, which is itself true." [ref] "Truth defines the nature of Scripture. It is a beacon of truth in the darkness of all kinds of falsehoods." [ref]

"Accurately handling" (Greek orthotomeō) literally means "to cut straight" [ref], although "just what image Paul had in mind here is uncertain. Stone masons, plowers, road builders, tentmakers, and (least likely of all) surgeons have all been suggested, but a firm conclusion remains elusive." [ref] That said, a few comments are worth noting:

  • The main idea is "'to manage rightly,' 'to treat truthfully without falsifying.'" [ref] The Amplified Bible: "correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth" (AMP).
  • "How then is ‘the word of truth’ being pictured that Timothy is commanded to make or cut it straight? ... [A]s a road or path or -- to be more modern -- as a motorway or freeway needs to be cut straight through the countryside. Thus, Arndt and Gingrich define the verb as meaning to 'cut a path in a straight direction' or 'cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction', so that the traveller may go directly to his destination’. Or, possibly, the metaphor may be taken rather from ploughing than from roadmaking, so that the NEB, following Chrysostom, renders it ‘driving a straight furrow in your proclamation of the truth’. ... ‘The word of truth’ is the apostolic faith which Timothy has received from Paul and is to communicate to others. For us it is, quite simply, Scripture. To ‘cut it straight’ or ‘make it a straight path’ is to be accurate on the one hand and plain on the other in our exposition." [ref]
  • "The Greeks themselves used [orthotomeō] in three different connections. They used it for driving a straight road across country, for ploughing a straight furrow across a field, and for the work of a mason in cutting and squaring a stone so that it fitted into its correct place in the structure of the building. So the man who rightly divides the word of truth, drives a straight road through the truth and refuses to be lured down pleasant but irrelevant by-paths; he ploughs a straight furrow across the field of truth; he takes each section of the truth, and fits it into its correct position, as a mason does a stone, allowing no part to usurp an undue place and so knock the whole structure out of balance." [ref]
  • "[T]he one who would be a faithful teacher of God's Word must diligently study it and be careful to accept and teach it as it is. This means taking it to mean exactly what the writer intended it to mean, not deviating to right or left. Normally, this would require taking it literally, unless the writer himself makes it evident that he is using symbolic language or a figure of speech. The writers -- especially writers inspired by the Holy Spirit -- wanted their writings to be understood. Consequently, they would normally use figurative language only if this would make their message easier to understand." [ref]

God's worker will demonstrate unashamed commitment to the gospel. Paul's rather traditional views may not have seemed as interesting as the doctrines of the "new" movement, but regardless of popularity Timothy was to make his stand for the apostolic faith [2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 16]. The NIV translation correctly handle expresses well the intention of the Greek term traditionally rendered "rightly divide" (KJV). Attempts to isolate the precise image in mind have varied: (1) cutting a stone to fit into a building (Barrett 1963); (2) a father distributing food at a meal (Calvin); (3) cutting a road through the countryside (Barclay 1975; Stott 1973). But certainty is not possible. Nevertheless, as Paul has employed the metaphor in this context, the broad idea of accurate interpretation and appropriate use of Scripture is at least clear. For Timothy this meant to provide a responsible interpretation of the word of truth in the midst of controversy and quarrels about "new-fangled" teaching (see on 1 Tim 1:4).

This certainly applies to the interpretation of the Bible today as well, but in view of the tremendous historical, cultural and social distance that separates us from the Christians of the first century and the Israelites of the Old Testament, our task is more complicated. Our "correct handling" of the biblical text includes first understanding the original message in its original context, which requires knowledge of the biblical languages and the historical-cultural-social setting that the author addressed (or depending on those who do have such knowledge). But the task is not finished until the original message has been brought across the centuries and applied freshly in our own situations. This is not the task of a single person, but is to be carried out in the church in dependence on the Holy Spirit and with a view to the understanding of the church down through the ages and in our present time.

- Philip H. Towner [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Bible Study
Believers who ignore the Bible will certainly be ashamed at the judgment. Consistent and diligent study of God's Word is vital; otherwise we will be lulled into neglecting God and our true purpose for living. - Life Application Bible Commentary on the New Testament [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:16 - The Difference Between False Teachers and God's Worker (vv. 14-18)

worldly (and) empty chatter (2 Timothy 2:16)
This "was apparently a characteristic of the false teachers in Ephesus (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-4; 4:7; 6:20)." [ref]

it will lead to further ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16)
"It will lead to" is irony. "It literally means to cut down in front; to remove the obstacles from a road so that straight and uninterrupted progress is possible. Paul says of these senseless talkers that they progress further and further into ungodliness. They progress in reverse. The more they talk, the farther they get from God." [ref] "They will make progress -- on a downward grade." [ref]

"False teaching bears fruit, but the fruit is rotten. It produces death or separation from God, and a way of life so marked. Ungodliness depicts this way of life as the exact opposite of genuine Christianity, which Paul defined with the term 'godliness.'" [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:17 - The Difference Between False Teachers and God's Worker (vv. 14-18)

and their talk will spread like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:17)
Heretical teachings "sweep through the church like a plague or a disease." [ref]

Literally meaning "will have pasture" [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref], "will spread" (Greek nomē echo) is medical terminology "for the consuming progress of mortifying disease." [ref] [ref] [ref] "Gangrene" (Greek gaggraina) is defined as "a disease involving severe inflammation and possibly a cancerous spread of ulcers which eat away the flesh and bones -- ‘ulcers, gangrene, cancer.’" [ref] "Gangrene was nearly always a fatal disease, thus the comparison was vivid to Paul's listeners. Gangrene begins in the body when tissues die from obstructed circulation. Once a limb gets gangrene, it often has to be amputated as the only way to stop the gangrene from spreading. The spread and deadly result of false teaching could not be more aptly described." [ref]

"[H]eresy, advertised by too much attention, will develop both extensively and intensively" [ref] -- doubtless due to the common human condition of being curious about, if not fascinated with, whatever is new and different. Along those lines: "Paul's rather traditional views may not have seemed as interesting as the doctrines of the 'new' movement, but regardless of popularity Timothy was to make his stand for the apostolic faith [2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 16]." [ref]

Just as in other areas of our Christian walk, the key word here is balance: "In important areas of Christian teaching, we must carefully work through our disagreements. But when we bicker long hours over words and theories that are not central to the Christian faith and life, we only provoke anger and hurt feelings. Even if 'foolish talk' reaches a resolution, it gains little ground for the Kingdom. Learning and discussing are not bad unless they keep believers constantly focusing on false doctrine or unhelpful trivialities." [ref]

Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17)
These men are infamous rather than famous, having "gained an undesirable immortality, destined to be known to the end of time only as the advocates of error." [ref] The fact that Paul calls them out by name "suggests that they were well known and probably leaders of the movement (1 Tim 1:20)." [ref]


2 TIMOTHY 2:18 - The Difference Between False Teachers and God's Worker (vv. 14-18)

(men) who have gone astray (2 Timothy 2:18)
"Their error is not that of a difference of opinion or of a mere mistake, but they 'have wandered away from the truth' [2 Timothy 2:18a]." [ref]

saying that the resurrection has already taken place (2 Timothy 2:18)
Apparently they (mis)interpreted man's future bodily resurrection "in an ethical or spiritual sense only." [ref] (This is similar to some folk today who deny the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus and speak instead of faith rising in the hearts of both the first Christians and subsequent converts. [ref])

Regarding this heresy:

There can be little doubt that the false teaching here alluded to was akin to, if not the same as, that of some in Corinth a few years earlier who said, “There is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:12). What these persons meant was that the language of Jesus about eternal life and a resurrection received its complete fulfilment in our present conditions of existence, through the acquisition of that more elevated knowledge of God and man and morality and spiritual existence generally which Christ and His coming had imparted to mankind. This sublimest knowledge of things divine is, they said, a resurrection, and the only resurrection that men can attain unto. These false teachers combined a plausible but false spirituality, or sentimentality, with an invincible materialism; and they attempted to find support for their materialistic disbelief in the resurrection of the body in a perverse misunderstanding of the Christian language about “newness of life” (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 3:1). [ref]

Why so much fuss over the resurrection? Because:

  • "[B]odily resurrection is the keystone of Christian doctrine, as Paul showed (1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Without it, the entire edifice of the gospel collapses." [ref]
  • Resurrection = the completion of our salvation. If this pertains only to the spirit, then "life in the flesh and life in the world diminishe[s] in importance." [ref]
  • Similarly, a denial of a real, bodily resurrection "leads to withdrawal from the world or a disregard for sin connected with the body." [ref]
  • To deny a real, physical resurrection is to deny Jesus Christ's real, physical resurrection -- "and thus destroys the very basis of the faith." [ref].
  • The resurrection assures us of our ultimate destiny. As Paul further stated in his letter to the Corinthians: "And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world" (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT). Or, as The Message renders it: "If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot."
  • Specifically regarding Jesus' resurrection:
    ■ "Just as he said, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that Jesus will accomplish all he has promised."
    ■ "Jesus' bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or impostor, is ruler of God's eternal kingdom."
    ■ "We can be certain of our own resurrection because Jesus was resurrected. Death is not the end -- there is future life."
    ■ "The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life."
    ■ "The Resurrection is the basis for the church's witness to the world." [ref] (all)

In truth, there is both a spiritual and a physical dimension to our resurrection. "Paul, too, believed in a spiritual resurrection, the act of God whereby he imparts the new life to those who are dead in sins and trespasses (Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:11; Colossians 2:12; 3:1; and cf. Luke 15:24). But the apostle also most definitely taught the resurrection of the body (I Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21), just as Jesus had done (John 5:28)." [ref]

Related: Resurrection | The Resurrection of Jesus


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. ( | **This outline is from The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe