Monday, December 7, 2009

A Look at Repentance in 2 Timothy 2:24-26

In writing to Timothy, Paul desires to share some final thoughts concerning the proper and effective use of God's word. Chapter two focuses especially on keeping the correct purpose in sight—to not get sidetracked. Mishandling of Scripture had gotten two Christian brothers off course, and they were teaching the resurrection had already taken place. Against this, Paul exhorts believers to be faithful as a useful vessel for the master by striving for righteousness, faith, etc. from a pure heart rather than getting involved with controversies. Against this backdrop he writes these words.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
There is much that can be said about the character of the Lord's servant and how it relates to the previous exhortations, but my main goal is to look at the outcome—what is being sought and from whom it is sought.

Paul makes his point clear that the outcome is repentance. This recurring theme in the New Testament is first seen in John where Bock describes it as producing

a life lived with a sense of responsibility before a sovereign God. It is an internal attitude that aims at a product. The term itself, given the Semitic setting of John’s ministry, is related to the Hebrew term שׁוּב (šûb, to turn). This idea in a religious context speaks of a reorientation of one’s perspective from sin to God (1 Kings 8:47; 13:33; 2 Kings 23:25; Ps. 78:34; Isa. 6:10; Ezek. 3:19; Amos 4:6, 8).[1]
This repentance will be in accord with the proper goal of knowing the gospel moving "beyond a theoretical knowledge to fullness of knowledge gained by experience (cf. 1 Tim 2:4)"[2] and is according to God's sovereign methodology. Every call for repentance is preceded by a clear proclamation or teaching of Scripture. It is only through receiving this that the heart and mind can be altered. At that point John Gill states the preacher should leave the matter to the one who
opens the eyes of the understanding, and works conviction in the mind, and leads into all truth, as it is in Jesus; and induces men to repent of their errors, confess their mistakes, and own the truth.[3]
Paul makes it clear that the recipients of the gentle correction are opponents of some kind being actively and personally engaged. If we consider the movement of the chapter with warnings of those who swerved from the truth (v. 18) to those who have been captured by the devil to do his will (v.26), the conclusion must be that these are Christians who have erred greatly and need restoration. This seems most plausible not only because of what has been stated but also the care being taken by the spiritual teachers. When spiritual elders are guiding the immature or erring, they are to be gentle in their instruction (Galatians 6:1-2), but in regards to those who will not listen need to be rebuked sharply (Titus 1:10, 13).

If these are believers, this passage cannot be used to bolster the Calvinist argument of the "Gift of Repentance." Curt Daniel gives a typical argument for its use this way.

No Christian knows for sure if any person in particular will be saved, for he doesn't know if God will bestow on that one the gift of faith and repentance. God might and He might not. It is His sovereign prerogative to give or withhold.[4]
Daniel's entire paragraph is written with the understanding this passage is speaking of unbelievers, but it simply will not hold this idea. Rather believers have been led astray and are close to making shipwreck of the faith. These precious souls need to be turned, so they do not go any further to their own destruction.

Paul reminds Timothy of the great task ahead and the diligence required to stay the course. There will be those Christians who mishandle the Bible leading themselves and others to places the Lord never intended. Timothy is to help lead these wayward ones back. It is entirely possible they will not listen, but it is not the preacher's task to drag them back but to faithfully teach, reprove, and correct with all diligence (2 Timothy 3:16) and leave the effect to God's almighty care.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994, p. 287.
[2] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 537.
[3] John Gill, Expositions on the Old & New Testaments, electronic edition.
[4] Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, Springfield: Good Books, 2003, p. 392. It is a series of outlines for lectures given by the author in 1987-89. I am unaware how to secure a copy (mine was a gift), but the lectures are freely available at

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