Select Page

Introduction

This is the fourth article in a ten part series about why the UMC split over the issue of homosexual practice is a Bible engagement crisis. 

In the first article, I defined Bible engagement, and the steps in a process to determine if a situation is a Bible engagement crisis.  In the second article, I explained why the Bible mandates that a Christian practice Bible engagement that satisfies the biblical standard.  In the third article, I discussed 2 Timothy 2:15 to develop a foundation to articulate the biblical standard for Bible engagement.

The literary context of verse 2 Timothy 2:15, i.e., verses 14-26, shed light on the biblical standard for Bible engagement.  Verses 14-26 identify six actions that are in contrast to “one approved” who is “rightly handling the word of truth” per 2 Timothy 2:15.   These six contrasts reveal actions that fall outside the scope of the biblical standard for Bible engagement.   Therefore, these contrasts help define the biblical standard for Bible engagement.

The First Contrast

The first contrast to biblical Bible engagement is “to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (v. 14, ESV).   This contrast comprises one action (i.e., quarreling) pertaining to one thing (i.e.,
words) that produces two results; namely, (1) does no good and (2) ruins the hearers.  A look at word meanings and grammar helps define this first contrast.

The ESV translates the Greek verb logomacheō [Strong’s 2692] as “to quarrel about words.”  Logomacheō is a compound of logos [Strong’s 3056} and machomai [Strong’s 3164].  Logos has the sense of “a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a conception or idea. … what someone has said.”   See Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.  Machomai has the following meaning:

máchomai, máchē, ámachos. This group is used for physical combat, especially of a military kind. The military use predominates in the LXX. In the NT, however, only Acts 7:26 relates for certain to physical conflict. Strife of words is the point in Jn. 6:52. Physical threats are perhaps involved in 2 Cor. 7:5, and Jms. 4:1–2 is debatable. Strife is wrong for Christians (2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9: legal disputes). … Where there is strife, it is due to passions.

Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (p. 573). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

According to Louw et al., logomacheō means:

33.454 λογομαχέω; λογομαχία, ας f: to argue or quarrel about the meaning or use of words—‘to quarrel about words, arguing about words.’

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 439). New York: United Bible Societies.

Logomacheō is in the present tense so that Paul’s warning referenced continual disputing over the meaning or use of words.  The nature of the dispute is akin to military combat.   

Paul taught that the result of logomacheō, or a combative conflict over words, did two things.  First, it “does no good.”  The ESV translates chrēsimos as “which does … good.”  It means “pertaining to having a valid use or function—‘useful, use.’”  See  Louw, et al. at 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 623.  Here, the use of oudeis, which the ESV translates as “no”, functions to make chrēsimos negative.  The result of combative conflict over words did not serve a valid use or function.

The second result of logomacheō was the “ruin” of the faith of those impacted by the argument.  The ESV translates katastrophē [Strong’s 2692] as “ruin” and it means “to do serious harm to, with the implication of misleading.”  See Louw et al. at 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 229).  It can have the meaning of “’to turn over, turn under,’ as the soil with a plow.”  See Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: for the English reader (Vol. 8, p. 134). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

One commentator writes about this first contrast:

These teachers argued about words and built enormous theological systems upon them. They fought over small points of interpretation. Not only did they devote themselves to words and esoteric ramblings; they were contentious in their manner. Paul’s judgment of such petty obsessions: it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Not only the teachers but also those who listened to their foolishness were brought to spiritual ruin. Their debates pulled others into their pointless discussions. People were deluded, thinking it was true spirituality. In fact, their word games came from pride.

Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 286). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

According to the first contrast, biblical Bible engagement does not arrive at an interpretation that develops a combative conflict over words resulting in overturned lives for those who follow such a useless interpretation.

The Second Contrast

The second contrast is “irreverent babble” that will lead people into “more and more ungodliness” (v. 16).  The ESV translates the Greek adjective bebēlos [Strong’s 952] as “irreverent” and it means pointless or totally worthless or ungodly, i.e., profane.   Bebēlos comes from basis [Strong’s 939] and belos (threshold) wherein basis means “1 a stepping, walking. 2 that with which one steps, the foot.”  See Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.  It seems to have the sense of action that comprises stepping over a threshold into the profane.  .

The ESV translates the Greek noun kenophōniā as “babble” and it means “talk which lacks significant content—‘foolish talk, empty talk.”  See Louw et al. at 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 431).     

The Greek adjective bebēlos modifies kenophōniā so that the phrase bebēlos kenophōniā has the sense of meaningless profane talk or mere noise devoid of edifying content and which in no way honors God. 

The ESV translates the Greek verb prokoptō [Strong’s 4298] as the phrase “it will lead people.”  It has the meaning of “1 to beat forward. 1A to lengthen out by hammering (as a smith forges metals). 1B metaph. to promote, forward, further. 2 to go forward, advance, proceed. 2A of time: the night is far spent. 2B metaph. to increase, make progress.”  See Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.  This verb itself is neutral because it has the sense to advance or develop further for either better or worse.  See Logos 8, Exegetical Guide. 

The ESV translates the Greek noun asebeia [Strong’s 763] as “ungodliness” and it has the sense of
unrighteous by virtue of not giving proper respect to God.  Asebeia comes from asebes [Strong’s 765]
which means “1 destitute of reverential awe towards God, condemning God, impious.”  See Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.  Some non-biblical usage has the sense of
disrespect to a temple “of violating certain taboos concerning a temple— … is decreeing penalties against men who tried to burn a temple.”  See Moulton, J. H., & Milligan, G. (1930). The vocabulary of the Greek Testament (p. 83). London: Hodder and Stoughton.

In reference to verse 16, one commentator writes:

2:16. Paul again issued a warning: Avoid godless chatter. Paul was not referring to backyard chats or little conversation groups that met over tea. The phrase “godless chatter” describes the empty babbling of false teachers. Their doctrines may have been quite organized and intricate, but Paul labeled them “chatter” because they were without substance.  In addition, their teachings did not promote the life and practices which God approves. Paul declared that those who indulged in such chatter would become more and more ungodly. In vivid contrast to God’s truth, which results in godliness, the false teachings degenerate into greater ungodliness.

Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 286). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

A translator’s handbook provides an alternate translation that seems to present the thrust f the second contrast:

An alternative translation model for this verse is: Don’t listen to worthless (or, silly) discussions that show no reverence for God. Such talk causes people to go further away from God.

Arichea, D. C., & Hatton, H. (1995). A handbook on Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus (p. 208). New York: United Bible Societies.

According to the second contrast, biblical Bible engagement does not arrive at an interpretation that results in meaningless profane talk that causes people to move further into behavior that disrespects God. 

Please send me any comments to steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

NOTICE OF PERMISSIONS – I am mindful of and respect the rights other authors and publishers possess in their works.  I thus try my best not to violate any copyright rights other authors and publishers possess in their works.  The below copyright permission statement is the result of my best efforts to understand that limited usage or “fair use” is available and to secure direct permission for specific works.  Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 
Used by permission.  The brief
quotations from other resources are fair use.