“For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be.”
These verses are tightly connected to 3:1-5. Paul began by reminding Timothy that the last days (the time between Christ’s first and second coming) would be most difficult and dangerous times because of the people who occupy this time. The consensus of the rather long list in vv. 2-4 is that these people are devil-like in every conceivable manner. It would be bad enough to have these sorts of people roaming our streets (and we do), yet Paul states that these same people are roaming around our churches (v. 5a). At this revelation, Timothy is commanded to avoid them (v. 5b).
If it were not obvious enough already, these verses further explain why they must be avoided. After revealing who these devil-like insurgents are (vv. 1-5), Paul explains why it is necessary to avoid them by revealing three key components of how they operate.
Methods: They prey on the vulnerable (vv. 6-7)
“For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
The opening words “for among them” points back at these little devils that will come during these last days. Back in vv. 1-5 Paul was reminding Timothy that hedonistic devils have and will infiltrate the church under the guise of godliness. These verses speak to a subgroup of these little devils. The people in question are coming out of or from among the group thoroughly described in vv. 2-4.
Misleading & Malicious (v. 6a) – Jesus told His disciples that you will know false teachers by their fruit (Matt. 7:20). Words alone are enough to condemn a man, but even the right profession must be accompanied by godly living. This subgroup is known by what they do. Two actions are identified here; they (1) enter into households and (2) captivate weak women.
The idea behind entering into households is more descriptive than saying they walk in through the door. There is a heavy implication of craftiness and sneakiness. Some older translations say that they worm their way into homes. This is the same idea as found in Jude v. 4: “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” False teachers never knock on the front door and announce who they are and what their objective is. They first worm their way into homes so that they can execute their mission.
They are secondly known by the fact that they capture weak women. We’ll get to these weak women in a moment but note that this subgroup of hedonistic devils are on a kidnapping raid. They enter by deceit and/or stealth so that they might take prisoners. The term captivate/take captive (αἰχμαλωτίζω) is used of taking prisoners of war. Their deception has a purpose. They gain confidence and worm their way into the center of the home, a place of security, so that they can take captives.
Targeting Immature Marks (v. 6b-7) – Now let’s talk about these women. I can already see the filing of nails stop as glaring eyes come up in anticipation for some sort of patriarchal or misogynistic rant. Before we go any further, let’s make three observations.
- This is not a statement about women in general.
- These women are themselves a particular group.
- These women are not believers. They are weighed down by sins and thus have not the experience of forgiveness. Also, they are not able to come to a realization of the truth; i.e. the gospel (v. 7).
With that in mind, let’s just examine the text and submit to what the Lord has said here.
What the NASB translates as weak women is a single word in the Greek (γυναικάρια) and is more literally little women, and no, not those Little Women. Paul is using the term in a derogatory fashion to mean little/childish/immature. What makes them so childish or immature? Paul gives three descriptions of these women. As we examine them, I think you will see why these women are especially easy prey for these false teachers.
1) Emotional Baggage: They are weighed down with sins. The idea is that their sins continue to pile up upon their conscience. They know they have done wicked things and that they continue to do wicked things, yet there is no relief for them. There is no indication as to the nature of their sins, nor does it matter. These admittedly guilty and sinful women are easy prey for one who either promises some sort of relief or preaches a hedonistic indifference to their sin. History has seen both approaches.
The Mormons actually use both tactics at once. They deny that humanity is naturally wicked and at the same time preach a works-based method of self-improvement (we will not call it salvation, for their doctrine does not require salvation from sin, damnation, or judgment but only self-improvement). A woman would never have to deal with her wickedness, because LDS doctrine does not recognize inherent wickedness. Nor would she have to worry about pleasing God, because it is her husband who will call her (or not) to join him in paradise.
How can you sucker women (and men) into believing this malarky? Find people with guilty consciences and feed them lies of self-fulfillment without sacrifice.
2) Emotionally Driven: They are led by various impulses. The same word for impulses was used in 2:22, there translated as lusts. Ἐπιθυμία describes strong urges or longings. Paul clearly does not have any single urge/longing/desire in mind because he calls them various. The object of what is longed for is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that they are driven by their emotions. So long as they enjoy what they hear and experience, they’re all in. The hedonism from v. 4 (lovers of pleasure) has come back around.
People who are led by emotion are naturally easier to manipulate. It’s an objective fact and not a misogynist opinion that women are typically more emotional than men and are therefore typically easier to manipulate. But again, this is not a general teaching against women but a look at the type of vulnerable mark targeted by these false teachers. Women that come with emotional baggage and are emotionally driven is a good place to start. Yet how many men are also led by their own desires? To reiterate: the point is that these wolves prey on the vulnerable. There are implications for both men and women.
3) Emotionally Trapped: These sorts of women love to learn. They devote themselves to their teachers. The word learn (μανθάνω) is the same root for the word disciple (μαθητής). They are always disciples, always learners. They will sit for hours at the feet of their favorite false teacher. Yet for all their learning they are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
There are a few things going on in that statement that we have to understand. First, the phrase “not able” could be translated “they are not powerful.” The same Greek root (δύναμαι) has been used repeatedly (1:7, 8, 12; 3:5) throughout this letter, yet this is the first time it is used to describe human ability/power. Second, the phrase “the truth” is indicative of the gospel. They are not able to realize/comprehend the gospel.
This is a sad picture indeed. These women are in desperate need of forgiveness, yet they have sought out false teachers. They are led by their flesh and so they indulge their flesh. They love the things that they hear and become willing students, yet they have never come into contact with the truth that will set them free. If false doctrine is all they hear, they are unable to realize the truth.
The people who slip into homes and capture these women are devils indeed. They are evil and dangerous. No wonder Paul commands Timothy to avoid them. What would motivate these people to target these vulnerable and unprotected women?
Motives: They are anti-gospel (v. 8)
“And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith.”
While the names Jannes and Jambres appear only here in the Bible, it is widely accepted that these are two of Pharaoh’s magicians who attempted to replicate Yhwh’s plagues against Egypt. They were brought in for a single purpose: to oppose the Yhwh’s messenger. Timothy’s opponents are of the same bent; they oppose the preacher of God’s gospel.
To oppose the messenger is to oppose the One who sent him. Jannes and Jambres did not only oppose Moses, but Yhwh. Likewise, Timothy’s opponents are not simply opposing Timothy, they are opposing the truth, the message of salvation, and the One who offers it.
They are described as having a mind that is depraved (καταφθείρω) or destroyed, ruined, corrupted. We know that the gospel is not just an intellectual message but that it targets, engages, and transforms the heart. But the pathway to the heart is through the mind. If the mind is broken, destroyed, and ruined, then the heart is inaccessible. What makes this even scarier is that this verbal root is in the passive voice, meaning that a third party has ruined, destroyed, corrupted their minds. Remember that these are servants of the devil, help captive by him to do his bidding (2:26). Should it surprise us that their objective is to stand in opposition to the truth?
The final phrase in this verse is very interesting to me. They are rejected in regard to the faith. This is the polar opposite of what Timothy was commanded to continue to pursue back in 2:15. He was to present himself approved (δόκιμος) to God; one who has been tried, tested, and found to be genuine. These people are rejected (ἀδόκιμοι); those who have been tested and found to be worthless. By what standard were they tested? By the faith.
Earlier I said that words are enough to condemn a man, and that is exactly what we see here. People love to defend their beloved false teachers with the same drivel: “How dare you say such nasty things about my beloved prophet! You can’t know their hearts!” This is true, but from out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:33-37). We judge a teacher by the content of their teaching, and we need no other test. In reference to the faith (the sum total of Christian theology, doctrine, and practice as defined by the Word of God) they have been weighed, tried, and found wanting.
These are dastardly and dangerous individuals. They are already loose and in full operation. This can be a very discouraging thought. But their time will come.
Momentum: It will run out (v. 9)
“But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be.”
Paul concludes this specific discussion with an encouraging word: they will not progress. In other words, their false narrative will not win the day. The final clause reveals the reason that these false teachers will ultimately fail: their folly will be obvious to all.
Commentators are split as to what this actually means. Some take all to mean all Christians; that the believers will at some point awaken from their stupor and realize that these men are charlatans, repent, and return to sound teaching. Others take the term all at face value and understand this statement that the whole world will eventually see through the charade and dispatch these clowns.
To understand this final statement, we need to keep a few things in mind. 1) These verses are within the same context as vv. 1-5. 2) We take the text at face value and do not read our understandings from other texts into it unless the author expressly points us to those other texts. 3) Paul again brings the comparison back to Jannes and Jambres.
Moses’ first showdown with these two occurred immediately in his first audience with Pharaoh. Yhwh gave Moses the sign of Aaron’s staff turning into a snake. The magicians readily replicated this sign (Ex. 7:11-12) even though their staves were swallowed up by Aaron’s staff. Next comes the turning of the Nile river into blood, which the magicians were able to mimic (Ex. 7:22). After this, Yhwh smote the land with frogs at the command of Moses and by the hand of Aaron, yet the magicians did the same by their secret arts (Ex. 8:7). After the frogs came a plague of gnats, yet this time the magicians were unable to replicate the wonders of Yhwh (Ex. 8:18). The magicians fall out of the battle for a while, but by the time Yhwh strikes Egypt with boils, the magicians are not only unable to mimic Yhwh’s power, they are so heavily affected by the boils that they were unable to even stand before Moses (Ex. 9:11). Yet this did nothing to soften Pharaoh’s heart nor expedite Israel’s deliverance. Yhwh was going to redeem His people in His own timing and in His own way.
There is nothing here that promises these false teachers will cease to deceive. The text simply says that they will not progress and that they will be revealed as deceivers. But how will they be revealed? By the judgment of Yhwh.
Remember that this is in the context of the last days (3:1), the days in which we currently live, and will only end at the second coming of Jesus Christ. It was God’s judgment that revealed Jannes and Jambres to be charlatans and it will be God’s final judgment that reveals the false teachers of our own day. But fear not, they will not progress.
There are some implications from this text that I cannot help but mention. Why are these women so vulnerable (other than the fact that they are unregenerate)? Because they have no one to protect them. The most loving thing a man can do is to teach his wife and daughters the truth of Scripture. Men, the sorry state of the church today lies squarely on our shoulders and we WILL give an account for that.
On a personal note, it is very easy to become discouraged as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There seems to be so very few who preach an unfiltered, un-nuanced, and unapologetic gospel, yet so many who twist the Word of God in order to deceive. To shout warnings against false teachers who desire only to oppose the truth of God is to immediately make enemies of their disciples. It matters not how many times their mask slips, their followers are unable to come to an understanding of the truth. Yet, they will be revealed. It is not my mission to unmask them, but to warn the sheep and to care for them until The Head Shepherd returns for those who are His. Soli Deo Gloria!