The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 26, 2012

This post includes Father Callan’s brief summary of 4:1-8, followed by his notes. Text in red are my additions.


A Summary of 2 Timothy 4:1-8~Now that the end is drawing near, the aged Apostle, feeling his days are numbered and his work is done, adjures Timothy incessantly to continue the labors of the ministry and to bear up under its trials, being prepared for the onslaughts of future false teachers. As for Paul himself, he is about to pour out his blood as a sacrifice for the cause; but he is ready and his reward is waiting for him. The just Judge will never fail him, nor anyone else who has lived and labored for the cause.

1. I charge thee, before God and Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming and his kingdom:

St. Paul in verses 1-4 solemnly charges Timothy so much the more to preach the word of God as the wicked stray farther from the truth.

I charge thee, etc. Better, “I solemnly charge thee, etc.” The same solemn formula occurs again in 1 Tim 5:21 and 2 Tim 2:14.

The living and the dead. See commentary on 1 Thess 4:16-17.

His coming, in General Judgment to render to each one according to his works. The word “coming” is the Greek επιφανειαν (epiphaneian), whence our word “epiphany.” The same word was used earlier in the letter wherein St Paul began gearing up for the charge he is now giving: I give thanks to God, whom I serve from my forefathers, with a pure conscience, that without ceasing I have a remembrance of thee in my prayers, night and day. Desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy: Calling to mind that faith which is in thee unfeigned, which also dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and in thy mother Eunice, and I am certain that in thee also. For which cause I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power and of love and of sobriety. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but labour with the gospel, according to the power of God. Who hath delivered us and called us by his holy calling, not according to our own works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the times of the world: But is now made manifest by the illumination (επιφανειας = epiphaneius) of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath destroyed death and hath brought to light life and incorruption by the gospel. Wherein I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause, I also suffer these things: but I am not ashamed. For I know whom I have believed and I am certain that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him, against that day. Hold the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me: in faith and in the love which is in Christ Jesus. Keep the good thing committed to thy trust by the Holy Ghost who dwelleth in us (2 Tim 1:3-14). The preaching of the Gospel is rooted God’s eternal purpose, inaugurated as a result of Christ’s first coming, and oriented towards his second.

His kingdom, which the good will be invited to share. The word “coming” and “kingdom” are accusatives of adjuration in Greek and form part of the Apostle’s oath. I.e., he is not writing that the living and the dead will be judged by his coming and kingdom, a possible implication of the English translation if due account isn’t taken of the comma, rather, “I charge you…by his coming and his kingdom.” See the various translations which place a conjunctive “and” after the subordinate clause “who shall judge the living and the dead”) immediately before the words “by his appearing”.

2. Preach the word: be instant in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.

Preach the word: be instant (επιστηθι) in season and out of season. One could almost translate: “Preach the word: take your stand (επιστηθι) in season and out of season.” The admonition St Paul gives here is in marked contrast to that of first century pagan moralists who cautioned that the call for right action should be seasonable only (i.e., at the right time). On this point see Father Benjamin Fiore’s THE PASTORAL EPISTLES.  The fact that Christians know they are in the end times and do not know when Christ will return to judge is what motivates Paul’s insistence here and, also, the knowledge that there shall be a time when they (people) will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables (see below, verses 3-4). The Spirit had predicted that such people would come: Now the Spirit manifestly saith that in the last times some shall depart from (αποστησονται = “cease to stand upon”) the faith, giving heed to spirits of error and doctrines of devils (1 Tim 4:1). This is why Timothy is to be instant (επιστηθι = “take his stand”) in season and out of season.

The word, i.e., the Gospel message (Gal 6:6; Col 4:3). This Timothy is to proclaim incessantly, in order that all may hear it and have the opportunity to embrace its teachings. “Proclaim incessantly, in order that all may hear:” Father George T. Montague, in his Commentary on FIRST AND SECOND TIMOTHY, TITUS notes that the phrase “preach the word” might today give some people the impression that what St Paul has in mind are brief sermons preached occasionally in the assembly. The word “preach”, however, has very public overtones and implies a very public message meant to be announced from the rooftops (see Matt 10:27).  The idea that religion ought to be private is very foreign to the Scripture. A contrast is being drawn between the very public nature of the Gospel and the practices of the false teachers who “creep into houses” (2 Tim 3:6), “subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:11).

Preach…reprove…entreat…rebuke. What St Timothy is told to do here calls to mind what St Paul had said regarding the use of Scripture for the man of God: All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

In doctrine. Preaching without doctrine is of little value, since it lacks substance and leaves rebuke and exhortation without a reason and basis. The Greek word translated here as “doctrine” is διδαχή (didache). The word can denote both the act of instructing or the subject matter of the instruction.

3. For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine; but according to their own lusts they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears:

The reason is now given why Timothy must redouble his zeal; for during his own lifetime there will be persons who, following their own lusts and craving for novelties, will reject sound doctrine they will repudiate and turn away from the dogmas of the Church, and instead will seek out teachers whose doctrines appeal to the passions and lower appetites. In our own time this is precisely what is taking place. Multitudes are now ridiculing the very notion of dogfma as old-fashioned and out of date, and are running after those preachers who justify artificial birth-control, trial marriages, divorces, and similar disorders. In case you’re wondering, Father Callan wrote these words in 1922.

For there shall be a time (καιρος = kairos, an appointed, set, or proper time). As already indicated, this is what necessitates that St Timothy and all those commissioned to preach the Gospel take their stand in season (ευκαιρως = eukairos) and out of season (ακαιρως = akairos).

They will not endure ( have, hold, ανεξονται) sound ( healthy, υγιαινουσης) doctrine (instruction, learning, διδασκαλιας). The word translated here as “endure” could also be translated as “suffer”, suggesting a somewhat sarcastic statement: They will not suffer healthy learning. But the word ανεξονται appears only here in the pastorals, and St Paul uses a different word for suffering (see 2 Tim 3:11). The root of ανεξονται is ἔχω (“to have, hold or possess”).   This word is used several times in the Pastorals and its use in 2 Timothy is instructive inasmuch as it sometimes is applied to Gospel preachers and, sometimes to false teachers; thus establishing a contrast: Hold the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me: in faith and in the love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13). And their (i.e., false teachers’) talk takes hold like a canker (2 Tim 2:17). But the sure foundation of God standeth firm, having this seal: the Lord knoweth who are his; and let every one depart from iniquity who nameth the name of the Lord (2 Tim 2:19).  Having an appearance indeed of godliness but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid (2 Tim 3:5).

But according to their own lusts. Establishes the motivation for their not enduring sound, healthy doctrine. “Their own” indicates self-centered individualism and the whole phrase calls to mind those spoken of earlier: Know also this, that in the last days shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked, Without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness, Traitors, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasure more than of God: Having an appearance indeed of godliness but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid (2 Tim 3:1-5). Note that those who reject the Gospel for their own esires are to be avoided (1 Cor 5:9-11; Matt 18:15-18).

They will heap to themselves (επισωρευσουσιν) teachers. It is people who are laden with (“piled up with” σεσωρευμενα) sins, who are led away with divers desires who do this (see 2 Tim 3:6).

Having itching ears, i.e., they will be eager for all kinds of novelties.

4. And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.

They will turn away their hearing. Because of their “itching ears”. For “turning away” see 2 Tim 1:15; Titus 1:14.

Turned unto fable. For “turned unto” see 1 Tim 1:6; 5:15. In 1 Tim 6:20 St Paul warns St Timothy to avoid (literally, keep from turning to) novelties of words.

Fables. See on 1 Tim 1:4, 4:7. On 1 Tim 1:4 Father Callan wrote: “Fables were most probably Jewish legends (Titus 1:14), such as are frequently found in the Talmud; and genealogies were extravagant, legendary stories about the ancient patriarchs, such as we find in the Book of Jubilees. Speculation on these useless subjects would lead away from the great truths of faith and the practical realities of Christian life; and thus vast harm would be done to the Church and to souls”.

5. But be thou sober, labor in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry.

In the face of the difficulties just described, Timothy is to be prudent and well poised in all things, to endure hardship, to preach the Gospel, and faithfully to fulfill all his duties as a minister of Christ, entrusted with his master’s business.

Evangelists. Evangelist. See on Eph 4:11. In his notes on Eph 4:11 Father Callan wrote: Evangelists are not necessarily those only who wrote the Gospels, but missionaries and preachers of the word among strangers and infidels (John 21:15 ff.; Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 4:5; 1 Peter 2:25).

Ministry. See on 1 Tim 1:12. In his notes on 1 Tim 1:12 Father Callan wrote: “The Greek word for “ministry” here in the time of St. Paul meant the apostolate, whereas in the second century it had come to designate the order of deaconship. Hence we have in the use of the word here an argument for the early date of this letter. St. Paul would hardly be speaking of himself as having been called to the deaconship.” In Father Callan’s day some rationalist scholars were postulating a second century date for the Pastorals, a position now almost completely abandoned.

6. For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my departure is at hand.

The secret of the Apostle’s anxiety about Timothy’s preparedness, zeal, readiness to suffer, etc., is now revealed; the old champion of the Gospel is going to leave him very soon, he is looking into his open grave.

Ready to be sacrificed. Better, “being poured out In sacrifice,” i.e., he was about to shed his blood as a sacrifice to God, as the drink-offering of wine used to be poured out as a libation to God in certain of the old Jewish sacrifices (Num 15:1-10); the Apostle’s death is at hand. Calls to mind what he wrote in Philippians 2:17~Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (RSV).

My departure. Another image to signify the imminence of his death. In Philippians 1:23 St Paul spoke of his desire to depart and be with Christ.

7. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
8. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the
Lord the just judge will render to me in that day; and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.

The metaphors are here drawn from the arena and the racecourse. Like a strong athlete, the Apostle has fought the good fight in defence of the faith (1 Tim 6:12); like a faithful runner in the race, he has completed the course; he has fulfilled all his duties and preserved the deposit of faith entrusted to him. Now he is ready for the crown, the reward with which the Lord, his just Judge, will recompense him.

This reward is called “a crown of justice,” because it has been merited; it is something due the Apostle in justice. Here we have an explicit proof that the just, by means of good works performed in the state of grace, can merit eternal life de condigno. And yet it remains true that the joys of heaven are a gratuitous gift; for God from eternity has gratuitously predestined the just to life eternal, and in time He gratuitously confers on them the grace by which they work out their salvation and merit eternal rewards. Cf. Conc. Trid., sess. VI, can. 32.

In that day, i.e., on the day of the Last Judgment. Immediately after death the Apostle, as is the case with all the just, received his crown, but the crown of life will not shine in all its splendor till the final judgment is over, when the body will have its reward along with the soul.

7 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1-8”

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