2 Timothy 3:1-9 (ESV)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

  • What does the "its" in "its power" refer to in verse 5?
  • What kind of power is Paul referring to?
  • How is this power being denied?
  • Why is it wrong to deny this power?

6 Answers 6


HAVING A FORM OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING THE POWER THEREOF: This is the nineteenth characteristic Paul listed that would be prevalent in the last days. The people Paul mentioned are very religious, but their religion is only a “form.” The Greek word for “form” here is “MORPHOSIS,” and it means a semblance, an outward shape, appearance, or silhouette. There is no reality to their religion.

The word “power” was translated from the Greek word “DUNAMIS.” Here, it refers to the “power which those who only have an outward semblance of piety toward God and not the inward reality, refuse to allow access to their lives that they might be saved” (Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, Volume 2, p. 145). This is the same word that Jesus used in referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8. Therefore, this includes, but is not limited to, those who refuse the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

From such hypocrites Timothy was told to turn away. This raises a very common and hard-to-answer question: Do believers separate themselves from those who deny the true power of the Gospel? Millions of true Christians are staying in powerless churches in an effort to change them. How does this fit with Paul’s instruction here?

In Acts 19:8-9, there is a personal example from the life of Paul where he separated the disciples from those who denied the power of the Gospel. This was in Ephesus. When Paul first arrived there, he went into the Jewish synagogue and preached boldly for three months. But when some of the Jews hardened their hearts and began to speak evil of Paul’s way, he separated those who believed and moved into the school of Tyrannus, ministering there for two years.

There were a number of times Paul told his followers to withdraw from ungodly people: Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, and 1 Timothy 6:5. The Apostle John also did the same thing in 2 John 10.

As long as those in the synagogue were open, Paul stayed and shared the Gospel, but when they opposed what he was saying, Paul left and took all the disciples with him.

The synagogues of Paul’s day allowed visitors and members of the congregation to minister, as portrayed in Acts 13:5. Most churches today don’t give anyone but the pastor and invited ministers this authority.


What is the "power" that uncoverted "Christians" deny in 2 Tim 3:5? The simplest answer is also from Paul who boldly states in Rom 1:16, 17 -

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek. For the gospel reveals the righteousness of God that comes by faith from start to finish,d just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

In commenting on 2 Tim 3:5, Ellicott observes:

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. —Keeping up a show of observing the outward forms of religion, but renouncing its power and its influence over the heart and the life; shewing openly that they neither acknowledged its guidance or wished to do so. These, by claiming the title of Christians, wearing before men the uniform of Christ, but by their lives dishonouring His name, did the gravest injury to the holy Christian cause. Another dreary catalogue of vices St. Paul gives in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:29, and following verses); but in that passage he paints the sins of Paganism. Here he describes the characteristics of a new Paganism, which went under the name of Christianity.

Paul also talks about the power of the gospel (via the Holy Spirit) and the purpose and plan of salvation is to restore the image of God in mankind:

  • Christians have “the mind of Christ”, 1 Cor 2:16
  • Converted Christian are to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, Rom 12:2
  • Christians are to be like God and “follow God’s example”, Eph 5:1, by being loving, V2.
  • By beholding the Messiah, Jesus Christ, 2 Cor 3:18. We are “transformed into His image”
  • Jesus’ final instruction to the disciples was to go and make more disciples, Matt 28:19
  • Followers of Jesus are called, “Christians”, = “like Christ”, Acts 11:26
  • When Jesus returns, we will “be like Him”, 1 John 3:2
  • The highest attainment of a follower of Christ is to “know the Lord”, Heb 8:11.

The denying of the converting, transforming power of the Gospel is one of the matters in the Judgement and whether people have been kind to others as described in the extended parable of the sheep and goats in Matt 25:31-46.

For the righteous the King will say:

34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, 36 I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

To the wicked, the King will say:

41 Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

It is these people who have denied the transforming power of the grace of God to make fallen sinners into kind and generous people that Paul discusses in 2 Tim 3:5.


What does the "its" in "its power" refer to in verse 5?

The referent of the genitive-feminine-singular αὐτῆς ("of it") is the genitive-feminine-singular εὐσεβείας ("of godliness")


What kind of power is Paul referring to?

Dave has already provided a discussion of the word translated "power"; I'll offer some thoughts on what power?

The Greek εὐσέβεια is the same word Peter uses to describe how he made a lame man walk, in Acts 3:12. Peter is quite explicit that it was not his own power and ability, but that it was through the power of the Son of God that this miracle was performed, and that:

through faith in his [Jesus'] name hath made this man [the previously lame man] strong (Acts 3:16)

The ability of God (or His invested representatives) to speak and it is so is manifested at the very beginning of the Biblical text:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light (Genesis 1:3)

This is the power of God, the power by which the lame man was healed, the power that Paul warns many will deny.


How is this power being denied?

Though denial of God's power is not unique to a single era, Paul warned about its prevalence in the last days. Denial of God's power is plainly evident in the "God is dead" movement, as well as in the somewhat less ostentatious "God is silent" movement--it is the idea that either a) there is no God or b) if there is, He cannot now do the kinds of things described in the Bible.

As a 19th-century minister (his name has been lost to history, but his words have not) declared:

there was no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, (source).

This prejudice against the present was present (no pun intended) in Jesus' day, and He emphatically denounced it:

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14).

The religious leaders of the day were content to accept what God had revealed in the past, but had little interest in anything God was revealing in the present, especially if it came through the politically-incorrect John the Baptist (Matt 14:4), the uncomfortably-bold Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 15:12), the economically-diminutive Peter (Acts 3:6), or the prison-frequenting Paul.

Had they been more open to their scriptures they may have realized God was less likely to give them new information through the rich and powerful and more likely to employ the humble. They were expecting an Eli and they got a Samuel. Forasmuch as they mocked Jesus' modest origins, they seemed to forget that His ancestor David also came from humble beginnings (see 1 Sam 16:7-11).


Why is it wrong to deny this power?

CS Lewis masterfully illustrated the difference between those who want a comfortable god, and those who want the real God, when discussing Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia:

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver...."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good." (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe pp. 75-76)

Some wish for a tame God whose words can be twisted to mean anything they like, a God who will not contradict them, or ask them to do anything they don't want to do. This is not the God of the bible:

he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap (Malachi 3:2)

He wants to make us clean & pure, but the finished product we can become will never happen if we reject His power in our lives.

  • 1
    Good points all and the link to Dave's post is excellent! By resorting to human power as in wealth, physical intimidation, political influence, personal influence in the church, or even hiding in formalism are we denying the power of God? What about prudence and preparation? What about the power of trust and the power of prayer? These are hard questions. For example, James makes the point that simply giving someone in need one's verbal blessing is not enough.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 26 at 15:38

So, I believe in the absolute power of God. Of the preachers today I'm not so sure. Yes I believe our prayers hold power. But what I see in the churches today is power hunger. I left my church because they like to refer to themselves as gods. Some today go so far as to say " I am almighty God or I Am". Yet I do not see the power in action, only word. They claim to heal, but they are false healing etc. Acts 11:26 "like Christ", I have observed by many to mean they are equal to Christ, are you saying that denying this is wrong ?

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    You have given us a heartfelt view of what can happen in churches. The question is not about personal experiences but about Paul's teaching in the Bible so an answer needs to focus on what Paul said. Could you find references to edit in which would be in line with your thoughts?
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    Commented May 1 at 11:05
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    – agarza
    Commented May 1 at 13:40

The power as mentioned represents the holy spirit. The one unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the holy spirit or power as these men must have known it intimately. The other verse I am reminded of is Mathew 7:21-23. Those who use his name but do not do the father's will or be obedient to his holy spirit aka, his power broker in us.

2nd Corinthians 12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Regarding Paul's thorn, his statement is about God's power resting on him.

John 7:38: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water”​.

Once again we see clear reference to feeling God's power upon the flesh.if the holy spirit is a force as we know from being touched as Christians then if the spirit makes itself known to men and they ignore it purposefully... Well, enough said.

That being said though we have few teaching about this power in modern days.i suspect first century Christianity was a powerhouse of testimony.

  • 1
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    Commented May 3 at 11:25

As soon as people believe the power is from themselves or they are on equal footing with God, they have been deceived and are deceiving themselves. Pride has taken hold and they are operating under a demonic influence. I think this is different than denying the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture references false teachers and prophets. 1 John 4:1; Matt 24:24; 1John 4:1-6;Matt 24:11;2 Corinthians 11:13-15. So many verses that speak clearly to your experience.

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    Commented May 26 at 22:09

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