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In 2 Timothy 2:16-18 (ESV) Paul writes:

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

What does he mean exactly by "the resurrection has already happened?" First of all, all commentators see this as some of teaching about the resurrection of the dead. How can we be sure the teaching was not about Jesus' resurrection?

The consensus of commentators seems to be that Paul means something along the lines of "there is no resurrection of the dead," perhaps because "the resurrection" is purely a spiritual thing, according to this teaching, that happens upon baptism/conversion. If this is correct, then why the odd phrasing? What not write something like "saying that there is no resurrection of the dead" or, even more direct, "saying there is no afterlife"? One suggestion is that these false teachers were saying you only got one chance at forgiveness (at baptism or whatever) which "resurrects" the soul, and thus subsequent sin kills it again, but this seems to be a stretch to me.

Could there instead be an allusion to the dead who came out of their tombs on Jesus' death (Matthew 27:52-3) in this teaching? That is, something like "the only resurrection of the dead that will happen already did."

Some other (speculative) options occur to me: Maybe, Hymenaeus and Philetus were mockingly saying "the dead came back to life," knowing they did not, as a way to doubt the legitimacy of the teaching? Or perhaps even they were teaching reincarnation?

What teaching, then, is Paul referring to?

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What "Paul" is trying to impress on Timothy is that the message that H&P were spreading around was not only incorrect but also subversive:

ESV 2Ti 2:14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 2Ti 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2Ti 2:16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 2Ti 2:17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 2Ti 2:18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

The author implies that the teaching of H&P saps the Message of its moral imperative to holy living. He draws analogies to professions that require great patience and diligence for success:

2Ti 2:5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 2Ti 2:6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 2Ti 2:7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

He urges Tim to consider the fact that Jesus, even though he was God's anointed and the rightful heir of David's throne obtained that throne through obedience to God all the way to death:

2Ti 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,

And he points to himself as an example of suffering in order to obtain a goal:

2Ti 2:9a for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. 2Ti 2:9b But the word of God is not bound! 2Ti 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, [in order] that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

He then draws out a universal principle in a catchy saying applicable to all, ala "No cross, no crown":

2Ti 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 2Ti 2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 2Ti 2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

It is in this context that he vilifies the message of H&P which stands in stark contrast. Given the juxtaposition of Paul's message against H&P's one can infer that H&P taught that the salvation of the believer was a "fait accompli", a "done deal" and was not bought with one's own blood, sweat and tears. This is, of course the message of much of modern Evangelicalism and in particular, Calvinism. A parallel to the current polemic is found here:

1Co 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1Co 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 1Co 9:25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1Co 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 1Co 9:27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Php 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, Php 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: Php 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; Php 3:11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Php 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Php 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, Php 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Php 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

In light of the context and the versatility of γεγονεναι I would recommend translating like this:

2Ti 2:18 οιτινες περι την αληθειαν ηστοχησαν λεγοντες την αναστασιν ηδη γεγονεναι και ανατρεπουσιν την τινων πιστιν

"...who have avoided the truth by saying that resurrection has already been obtained, subverting some other people's faith as well..."

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  • This is an interesting take that I had not considered. Tying it back to v11-13 make some sense, but if we are going to connect v14-19 with the preceding thoughts, why not go back further. The start of the thought (in v8) says remember Jesus has risen, so why not say H&P were teaching that Jesus himself was not "risen from the dead". – ThaddeusB Oct 25 '15 at 15:41
  • @ThaddeusB Thanks, but I don't think ηδη γεγονεναι will bend that far or at least in that direction. – user10231 Oct 25 '15 at 15:56
  • @WoundedEgo I liked this answer above the other answers as you attribute a 'motive' to their false teaching; vs just responding to the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead, of which there were legitimately differences of opinion as to the time and place(not the Doctrine itself). They seemed to be following the way of the Gnostics, of which the Nicolaitans were notorious(turning the grace of God into lasciviousness..); by saying the 'resurrection is already past', they deny the Lord who will redeem their mortal bodies with it's carnal appetites in a future resurrection. – Tau Oct 26 '15 at 1:15
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In the rest of the New Testament, ἡ ἀνάστασις seems to always refer to the general resurrection of all unless Christ is specifically mentioned or implied (e.g. His resurrection). Examples of the former:

Matthew 22:28

Therefore in the resurrection [ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει] whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.

Luke 14:14

And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just [ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τῶν δικαίων].

Revelation 20:12

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection [αὕτη ἡ ἀνάστασις ἡ πρώτη].

Examples of the latter:

Acts 2:31

He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ [τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ Χριστοῦ], that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.*

Philippians 3:10

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection [τὴν δύναμιν τῆς ἀναστάσεως], and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death

1 Peter 1:3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ [ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ] from the dead

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Pauls warning about H&P ‘ s “resurrection from the dead”fa false doctrine, has nothing to do with any of your previous ideas. He is talking about the infusion of the new nature as an actual reality, not a philosophical idea., to preach that it had already occurred at ‘the prayer etc’ meant that new believers, had no need to fight(boxer/athlete) for the prise, and farmers would not recieve harvest, because they wouldn’t have toiled, because H&P were teaching it all happened at salvation. That’s why it was effecting the faith of some. This one false teaching, has led the whole church int apostasy, because we loved the flesh life, dying to self is the only way that we are able too walk in obedience to the leading of the Spirit, which enables the Spirit to infuse the new nature into us, so that the old has gone and the New has come, the gospel message is that Christ takes our bias to sin out of us, now placed back in garden we are neutral again able to choose according to the Spirit, working with the new nature. That is why He can not deny Himself , when we are unfaithful, He is faithful. The Devil thru this false teaching, has 99% of the church sitting in the outer court, which is the lukewarm laeodacian church. The sealing of the saints which is soon to occur, will be this very fact. The new nature infused to them that believe, for the whole world is held prisoner to sin, untill true faith rises, faith without works is dead. This infusion is the ‘Rest that still stands’ in Hebrews, we must combine faith with belief, otherwise we will never enter His rest!! Blessings( I have lived this for 10 years now)

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    This is very difficult to read. Could you please use separate paragraphs for different points and could you please put referenced quotations into the usual highlighted form. See other answers for the accepted format. Thanks. – – Nigel J Jun 26 '18 at 12:51
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The resurrection in this context was the pre-tribulational rapture. That is, the fear was that Jesus had come and raptured his church (living and dead believers), and therefore anyone who remained on earth was not among the "saved" and thus destined to endure the great and terrible Day of the Lord.

Before Paul wrote the second epistle to Timothy, he had written two epistles to the believers in Thessalonica. That is, the same rumor had surfaced in Thessalonica as well.

2 Thess 2:1-2 (NASB)
1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Thessalonica was not in Palestine but on mainland Greece, and these particular Christians were non-Jews (1 Thess 1:9). The significance of the Day of the Lord would include mainland Greece for them, because the eschatological Jewish Day of the Lord as described in the Hebrew Bible (and the gospels) included the judgment of the Gentile nations. These non-Jews living in mainland Greece had been under the mistaken impression that perchance the Day of the Lord had already begun.

In like manner, Timothy appears to have been in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) when Paul wrote his two epistles to him there, and condemning those who taught that "the resurrection" had already taken place. In other words, on at least two occasions in the New Testament, believers who were far removed from Palestine (Thessalonica and Asia Minor, respectively) were disturbed that the Day of the Lord and/or "the resurrection" had taken place. These two references appear then to have the pre-tribulational rapture in view.

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  • It is clear enough why you say "the day of the Lord has come" means "a pre-tribulational rapture," but it is not clear to me why you connect that (false) teaching to the false teaching on 2 Tim. Is it because of geography? If so, then I think you need to make the argument that 2 Tim is headed to/referring to that region of the world. If not, then what is the basis of saying these two different phrases refer to the same teaching. – ThaddeusB Oct 26 '15 at 21:13
  • @ThaddeusB - The most popular reference for the rapture is 1 Th 4:13-18. Next, the pre-tribulational rapture again appears in 2 Th 2:1-2 (based on the reference to the Day of the Lord). If we assume that the last epistle preserved from Paul was 2 Tim, then we can infer that the "resurrection" was in reference to the rapture because the fear would stem from being left on earth during the Day of the Lord. The references to Gentile believers living in Greece & Asia Minor would imply this expectation of "resurrection" and judgment was not limited to Palestine and later events in Jerusalem in AD 70 – Joseph Oct 27 '15 at 1:59
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Paul himself did believe in a future, spiritual resurrection. In his epistles to the Corinthians Paul spoke of a spiritual resurrection of the dead, saying that, by his resurrection, Jesus was the first fruit, the forerunner of the general resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:20: But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

In 1 Corinthians 15:52, Paul makes it clear that he believes that the resurrection of the dead will be a future event:

1 Corinthians 15:52: In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

However, the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians says:

Ephesians 2:5-6: Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

Bart D. Ehrman says, in Forged, page 111, this epistle says that believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection and are enjoying a heavenly existence in the here and now. Nevertheless, we do not have to accept Ehrman's exegesis to at least see that Ephesians can readily be read in this way. This is precisely the view that Paul argued against in his letters to the Corinthians. It also the view that the author of 2 Timothy attributes to Hymenaeus and Philetus. On this issue, 2 Timothy, considered by most modern critical scholars to have been written early in the second century, is following the earlier teaching of Paul, as we have seen in 1 Corinthians 15:20, that the general resurrection is yet to come, while Hymenaeus and Philetus are following what they probably believe Paul to have taught, based on the pseudepigraphical Epistle to the Ephesians.

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  • You kind of just state that Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching a "spiritual resurrection" and resulting Earthly benefit, whereas my question is more how can we know (i.e guess) what they were teaching. A "spiritual resurrection" is indeed one of the ideas how they could be teaching that there is no (physical) resurrection because "the resurrection has already happened", but I'm looking for analysis on how we can pick that (or another) hypothesis as the correct one. – ThaddeusB Oct 24 '15 at 17:53
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    @ThaddeusB I can only say what the author of 2 Tim attributes to Hymenaeus and Philetus. Since this is effectively a hapax and since H & P left no writings of their own, I can not say what they really taught. In fact, I can not even say whether they were real people, or just names created so that the author of 2 Tim had a target when criticising the view with which he (correctly) disagrees. You ask if I can help in "(i.e guess) what they were teaching," but I would rather avoid such speculation. :) – Dick Harfield Oct 24 '15 at 20:20
  • What I mean is you simply state that 2 Tim is saying as such and I am looking for an argument that 2 Tim means that. To me "the resurrection has already happened" is an unclear phrase. So, why do you think the phrase means "believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection and are enjoying a heavenly existence in the here and now" as opposed to the other options I outlined. – ThaddeusB Oct 24 '15 at 20:36
  • @ThaddeusB One of the options you gave was that the teaching was about Jesus' resurrection: that is not possible because no one doubted Jesus' resurrection and therefore no one could argue for or against this. You cite commentators who believe 2 Tim means "there is no resurrection of the dead," but 2:16-8 clearly expects a future resurrection arguing against the view it has already happened. I believe that making the general resurrection the same as baptisms requires too much eisegesis, as you say, too much of a stretch. – Dick Harfield Oct 24 '15 at 21:02
  • @ThaddeusB An allusion to the dead who came out of their tombs would be a denial of the general resurrection, and 2 Tim does not accuse H & P of this, only of getting the chronology wrong. The final options are, as you say, speculative. Incidentally, 2 Tim portrays H & P as followers who who "have swerved from the truth" which is rather different from what we usually mean by "false teachers" - those whose general theology is unacceptable. – Dick Harfield Oct 24 '15 at 21:06

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