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2 Timothy 3:8–9

“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (v. 8).

False teaching in the church should be distressing to us, but we are not to believe error will have the final say. Even though it may flourish for a while and “though the spirit of error may be let loose for a time, God has it on a chain” (Matthew Henry). Heresy will not last forever; it has an appointed end.

This is a promise Paul gives to us in 2 Timothy 3:8–9. The apostle likens the false teachers in his day to Jannes and Jambres, two men who opposed Moses. According to first-century Jewish traditions, Jannes and Jambres were two of Pharaoh’s magicians who were able to imitate some of the signs that God did through Moses as He liberated His people Israel from slavery (Ex. 7:1–12). The names Jannes and Jambres do not appear in the old Testament, but apparently the tradition was deemed accurate since Paul endorses the names when he uses them in today’s passage. In any case, the apostle makes reference to these men because just as Jannes and Jambres deceived the pharaoh with their sorcery to turn him against the one, true creator God, so too did the first-century heretics deceive people with their errors. It is possible that the false teachers in Paul’s day also engaged in magical practices, but of this we cannot be certain.

Ultimately, Jannes and Jambres did not get very far with their sorcery, as they were exposed as frauds when they found that there were some signs from God they could not feign (Ex. 8:17–18; 9:11). The same will be the case with false teaching in the church (2 Tim. 3:9). Despite the fact that error sometimes seems to prevail, our Father is sovereign even over the heretic, and his folly will eventually be exposed. John Calvin comments, “As the truth of God prevailed against the tricks of the magicians, so he promises that the doctrine of the gospel shall be victorious against [all] errors that may be invented.”

Two thousand years of church history demonstrate the truth of Paul’s words. Whether at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 when the Arian heresy was answered, or in the creeds and confessions of the Reformation that clarified the doctrines of salvation, the truth of God’s Word has always triumphed over error and unbelief.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

God in His providence has often used false teaching to move His church to state more clearly the truths taught in Scripture. This does not mean heresy is good, only that even in others’ deceptions God is working all things together for the church’s good (Rom. 8:28). A good book on church history will encourage you as you see the truth of God’s Word triumph again and again. Try to find time to read one that you might be encouraged in your faith.

For Further Study
  • Exodus 12:29–32
  • Acts 1:15–35

Sin and Knowledge of Truth

Difficult Last Days

Keep Reading The Already and the Not Yet

From the December 2009 Issue
Dec 2009 Issue