We now come to chapter 4 of Paul’s first epistle to Timothy. And, as so often is the case in the study of God’s holy Word, so also here a little thought and prayerful reflection, comparing Scripture with Scripture, nets a great gain of a better understanding of the meaning of the Spirit.
It is not our intention to entirely bypass the verses 15, 16 of chapter 3 in our exposition. The careful reader will have observed that in our consideration of Paul’s instruction concerning the offices in the church of the living God, we incidentally did call attention to these verses which speak of “the pillar and ground of the truth,” to wit, that “great is the mystery of godliness; God is revealed in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the entire world (cosmos) and was received up in glory.”
We shall again have opportunity to call: attention to the “pillar of the truth” in connection with the concept “faith” as employed by Paul when he says that “some shall fall away from the faith,” and that, too, in the “latter times.” For only when we see that “God is revealed in the flesh,” do we have the solid and indestructible basis for the teaching that “every creature is good” and that the creature is “sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” It takes sound “theology” to have good ethics and Christian liberty without license!
And it ought to be observed at the outset that only when and where this “faith,” this “mystery of godliness is revealed,” is there a possibility for Satan and all his demon hosts to contradict the truth, using men who are seared in their conscience with a branding-iron!
The text reads verbatim as follows: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be receded with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused; if it be retched with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” I Tim. 4:1-5.
This passage contains various elements which call for some careful interpretation. This passage warns against the dualistic heathenish conception of Paul’s day as well as the Anabaptism of today, which too is based on a dualism between spirit and matter, as well as against assigning the proper use to “unbelievers” of what is only intended for the proper use of those who believe and know (acknowledge) the truth; as is done by humanism which makes man the measure of things; which is also done by the Common Grace theorists.
It should be observed that Paul speaks of the Spirit’s saying expressly that “some shall fall away.” We would note that it is only “some.” It shall never be all. And these “some” that fall away shall thus rise in the bosom of the church and not those outside of the church. That this occurs should not too greatly disconcert the faithful; it does not belong to the unexpected.
What does it mean to “fall away.” It means that they shall become apostates, that is, those who leave the established truth and doctrine and Christian ethics which are implicit in the gospel. An apostate is not one who is seeking the truth, and, therefore, approximates it. He is not moving toward the truth of the Gospel, seeking the way of salvation. He has definitely turned his back to the truth and despised the truth. Thus inRomans 1:18 ff. the wrath of God is not upon the innocent seekers of truth, but upon those who knew what was manifested concerning the invisible things of God, both his eternal power and godhead; and upon them is the wrath revealed so that they proceed from bad to worse, being given over to all uncleanness with greediness. Thus it is also here. Those, who are apostates, know the content of the “faith,” that God is revealed in the flesh, and that all things are subjected unto Christ in glory; that all things are of us, we of Christ and that Christ is God’s! I Cor. 3:23.
For the term “faith” here in the text definitely refers to doctrine, to what is necessary for a Christian to believe, and does not refer to the subjective believing. We base our interpretation upon the following considerations in the text. In the first place, because the notion “falling away from” really has implicit in it: leaving an established position, that is, the status quo, which is ours in Christ. And, in this instance, it definitely refers to leaving the teaching that “God is revealed in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the entire cosmos, and taken up in glory.” Such “faith” is definitely the “mystery of godliness” that is great. This very “godliness” is denied by these apostates! In the second place, as we hope to point out a little more in detail presently, the fact that we now live in the “latter times” (en huterois kairois) points in the direction of the time when in the “dispensation of the fullness of times God would reunite all things” under one head in Christ. Ephesians 1:10. Lastly, because the interpretation which makes “faith” simply subjective faith cannot escape teaching a falling away of saints, as do the Arminians. Some believers would then “fall away.” This is against the exegetical rule of the regula fidei the general teaching of Scripture: the rule of faith.
As we suggested in the foregoing paragraph, we will now also consider the meaning of the phrase “latter times.” We might ask the question: just why would the Spirit expressly say that this apostasy from the faith will occur among “some” in the “latter times”?
To answer this question we call attention to the following. In the first place, we should notice the implication of the term “times.” In the Greek the term iskairois. Now kairois is a term which refers not simply to time in general as does the Greek term chronos. (Compare our English term chronology.) Chronos is time simply from the viewpoint of time in general, the mode of existence of the creature in distinction from, the Creator. But kairos is a term referring to an appropriate season. There are certain times and seasons as appointed and determined by God. The Old Testament dispensation was the time (kairos) of the types and shadows of Him who was to come. The New Testament dispensation is the time (kairos) when Christ is come, has suffered and died, was seen of angels, and was preached in the Gentile world, and was believed on in all the kosmos (men and angels) and was taken up in heaven as the Lord of glory! It is the dispensation which makes all the times run their course and fills them up till there be no more times left in history.
Such is the “times” here in the text.
It is for this reason that these “times” are called the “latter” times. The term is “latter” (huterois). According to the Old Testament Scriptures the latter times are those which begin with the birth of Christ. See Numbers 24:14, 24:20; Deut. 4:30 as well as Gen. 49:1. From the viewpoint of the O.T. prophets and seers, who saw things from afar, the New Testament is the latter times. Thus in I John 2:18 these latter times are called the “last hour.”
We do well to remember this in our interpretation.
For latter times is not as restricted in sense as is the “last time” of I Peter 1:5, where Peter definitely restricts the sense to the very last moment of time, when Christ will be revealed in all His glory in the inheritance in the saints. Here the term is not that restricted. In the first place this appears from the use of the plural: times. There are various times within the New Dispensation of God in Christ. And, secondly, the apostle here does not employ the adjective “last” (eschatos) but he uses the term “latter” (huteros). He, is not referring to the last times within these latter times, but refers to the latter times in general, that is, to the entire New Testament dispensation.
The question is: why does the Spirit expressly state that the phenomenon of apostasy from the faith will occur within the New Testament dispensation? Why is this a New Testament phenomenon?
Paul says “now the Spirit expressly says.” We should notice the transition from the last two verses of chapter 3, the verses 15 and 16, to what Paul states concerning the “expressed” revelation by the Holy Spirit. What the Spirit “expressly” says is only possible against the background of the “great mystery of godliness.” That ought to be obvious. The particle dein Greek, translated in the King James Version by “now,” certainly means in the light of the great mystery of godliness, revealed in Christ’s incarnation, and exaltation through death and the resurrection, the Spirit expressly says. It can almost be translated as well by “but.”
Just how we are to conceive of the Spirit’s speaking expressly, is not here stated by Paul. The adverb “expressly” (Heetoos) means: to express in words. It only occurs here in this text in the N.T. If it means: expressed in words, the question is: what words? Evidently words spoken to Paul. We have an indication of this in John 16:13 where we read: “Now when he shall come, the Spirit of truth, he shall lead you into all the truth, and whatsoever he heareth he speaketh and shall declare unto you all things.” Or compare Acts 16:6: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”
Now we ought to observe that even though we do not wholly understand just how the Spirit spoke to Paul, the fact is nonetheless established for us as Bible-believers!
And, if the Holy Spirit expressly states that such apostasy is the peculiar phenomenon in the New Testament dispensation we do well to inquire into the reason for this.
In general the answer is twofold.
On the one hand it is because now angels and men and Satan and all his hosts see the unfolding of the mystery of God. God comes to stand forth very clearly in all the world. Especially does the mystery of God come to stand forth in the church of the living God. Here we see, by faith, the pillar and ground of the truth displayed.
On the other hand there is the constant raging of Satan in history. He has raged against God from the very moment of his fall in the beginning of the world’s history. He is the liar from the beginning and the father of the lie. John 8. The more he sees of the revelation of God the more he rages against God and His Christ. Since Christ, the Man-child was taken up to heaven (Rev. 12) he now persecutes the woman, the church. Always he would rob her of her song, in which she sings: “Now is come the salvation, and the power; and kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night . . .” Rev. 12:10.
For the truth is that “the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.” Rev. 12:12b.