Jannes and Jambres

And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth. Men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith (2 Timothy 3:8).

As we investigate the Scriptures, there are times when we pass over certain details without much notice. There are times when we see certain details, find them interesting or perplexing, and move on anyway. There are times when we note certain details and are spurred on to learn more about them. And there are details for which we go through all three processes at different times.

The mention of Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8 could be one such detail. Paul talks about them in terms of Moses, so we know that they refer in some way to some story somewhere in Exodus through Deuteronomy. They are in opposition to Moses; Moses had a lot of people opposed to him, so that is not too surprising. We broadly understand the basis of the reference: just as they opposed Moses, so there will be some in the “last days” who will oppose the truth, ungodly people, corrupted in mind, reckoned as reprobate in the faith (2 Timothy 3:1-8). Ultimately, these sinful people will be exposed for who they are, just as Jannes and Jambres were (2 Timothy 3:9).

But if we perhaps dwell a moment on the detail, we might get perplexed a bit. Those names do not sound familiar. If we do some research and investigation, we discover that the only references to Jannes and Jambres is right here in 2 Timothy 3:8! Who are Jannes and Jambres, anyway? Where can we learn about them? Or is Paul just making stuff up?

Among the “pseudepigraphal” texts, religious yet uninspired books generally written just before, during, and after the life of Christ, there are references and stories regarding Jannes and Jambres. We learn about them from references in texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls along with “Jannes and Jambres,” a text of which a few fragments have been preserved. All of these texts and traditions consider Jannes and Jambres to be the two Egyptian magicians who stand in opposition to Moses in Exodus 7:1-8:19.

In Exodus they are considered as unnamed “magicians,” able to turn their staffs into serpents, turn the Nile to blood and to bring frogs upon the land. Nevertheless, they were not able to match the plague of the gnats, nor of any of the later plagues which God brought upon the Egyptians through Moses. They confessed that the plague of the gnats demonstrated “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The magicians would later no longer be able to stand before Pharaoh when the plague of boils came upon them (Exodus 9:11).

These other texts, particularly “Jannes and Jambres,” suggest that the magicians were two brothers, and they stood up in opposition to Moses even though they knew that through Moses came the power of God. The story suggests that Jannes dies soon after because of his opposition, and after their mother died, Jambres, through necromancy, conjured the spirit of his brother who confessed the just nature of his death as a penalty for opposing the power of God and warned his brother to turn from his behavior. The fragmentary nature of the texts we possess means it is difficult to say much more about the story.

What we see in these texts and traditions does seem to reconcile well with Paul’s statements in 2 Timothy 3:8-9. Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses; their folly was made evident to all men.

Does this mean that “Jannes and Jambres” is inspired? No; we have no reason to think that. What we do see is that there is this tradition regarding the names of at least two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses as Jannes and Jambres. As with all sorts of Biblical characters, additional stories were told about them, and more than likely those stories do not bear much relation with anything that really happened to the actual Biblical characters. But they do exist; Paul is not making up stuff.

Jannes and Jambres, therefore, provide an illustration and a warning. There always will be people who oppose the truth, thinking they act in the service of a cause they do not know is lost. They may be able to “work their magic” and deceive for a time, but a moment will come when their foolishness will be evident to all. God will obtain the victory; truth will be victorious, and error will be exposed for what it is. Opposition to God can only go so far.

Jannes and Jambres is a small detail easily overlooked when studying in 2 Timothy. It requires some investigation to understand Paul’s referent and why he makes it, but the effort is worthwhile in the end. As in the days of Moses, so it is in our own day: God’s truth stands firm, opposed to error, and will have the victory. That which is false cannot hide in the shadows forever, and it will be exposed for the fraud it is. Let us be wise and not foolish; let us stand firm in the truth of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Itching Ears

For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

As Paul encourages Timothy to continue on with the work of an evangelist (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5), he presents a rather bleak picture for the future. Believers, influenced by their worldly, carnal desires, will no longer endure proper, healthy instruction in the message of Jesus; instead, they will have “itching ears,” seeking to hear what they want to hear, turning away from the truth, and toward fables, or myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This warning is consistent with the message of the previous chapter: Paul spent much time in 2 Timothy 3:1-17 describing how many would conduct themselves in immoral ways despite professing belief in God. Such a distressing picture!

While the picture is distressing, it should not be surprising. We should not imagine that these difficulties are relegated only to these “last days” during which Paul is writing and in which we continue to live or the “time to come” after Paul’s writing. The people of God before Paul found it difficult to endure sound teaching, and often wandered off into myths. While Moses was on Mount Sinai, receiving the Law from God, the Israelites made a golden calf and served it (cf. Exodus 32:1-35). After the Israelites entered the land of Canaan they soon began serving the gods of the neighbors (cf. Judges 2:11-23). They also imagined that they could serve YHWH by bowing down before an image, a myth of their own making, and certainly not what God intended in Exodus 20:4; it would be the cause of ruin and exile for both Israel and Judah (2 Kings 17:7-23). Jesus attests to the fact that the ancestors of the Israelites mistreated the true prophets but honored the false ones (Luke 6:22, 26). Jesus Himself endured persecution by the hands of people who wandered off into myths, those waiting for the Messiah of their own imagination while crucifying the Messiah God sent them (cf. Matthew 23:29-36, Acts 7:51-53). This was not a new problem.

But why? All people have a built-in desire to hear the things that make them feel better. Likewise, all people have built-in defense mechanisms against anything that makes them uncomfortable or exposes difficulties in their thoughts and actions. Hence Paul’s description of “itching ears”: these people have decided to hear only what satisfies their lust. They are looking for relief in ways inconsistent with God’s purposes and at times when they may need exhortation. At such times, it is easier to believe the myth than it is to accept the truth.

The city of Jerusalem presents a great illustration of this principle. In the days before the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, prophets like Jeremiah declared YHWH’s judgment on Judah for its transgressions at the hands of the Babylonians. Other prophets like Hananiah declared that YHWH would break the yoke of Babylon and would maintain the sanctity of His Temple (cf. Jeremiah 28:1-17). In the days of Jesus, many Jewish people expected YHWH to preserve the Temple and Jerusalem and to destroy the infidel Roman power. Yet Jesus pronounced condemnation upon the Temple and Jerusalem because of their rejection of their Lord (cf. Matthew 24:1-36, Luke 19:41-44). And, lo and behold, most of the people followed after the views of Hananiah and the standard Jewish expectation regarding the Messiah. Few were those who trusted in the word of God as delivered through Jeremiah and Jesus. And when the events took place as the true prophets spoke, being right proved to be cold comfort to those who trusted in God’s word.

Therefore, to what, in particular, is Paul referring in 2 Timothy 4:3-4? The very question will get us into trouble! We can make all sorts of applications of what Paul has said, and that proves the challenge that exists.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 is often quoted and then directly applied to whatever issue exists at a given time. For some it will be modern cultural issues; for others, doctrinal disputations. Those applications are most often apt: we can find plenty of examples of people going astray from the true teachings of God and follow after myths that are more culturally acceptable.

The challenge comes, however, when we ossify the passage and believe it refers only to a given set of issues. The slope is very slippery: warnings are issued about deviations regarding a particular set of issues. There then is preaching and teaching on that set of issues. People who reject the truth on that set of issues are said to be the ones regarding whom Paul warns Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. And yet, ironically, people can then become guilty of the very thing which they are trying to avoid. They can easily start heaping up for themselves teachers talking only about that set of issues to the exclusion of all else, and that placates their itching ears. Meanwhile, they have neglected other challenging topics, may even resent hearing messages regarding those challenging topics, and lo and behold: they have now wandered off into myths!

Paul’s warning must be taken very seriously in a circumspect way. We must be constantly vigilant to hold firm to healthy, true teachings of God, and not to wander off into myths. We must never develop those itching ears but must seek after God’s healing message of truth. There are always going to be teachings that are difficult, controversial, and contrary to cultural norms. Yet there will also always be teachings that will challenge people’s assumptions and “sacred cows” in uncomfortable and unpleasant ways. Such is why Paul warned Timothy to be ready in season and out of season to exhort, reprove, and rebuke (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The medicine of truth might hurt, but it will always work out for the best. Let us not wander off into any myths, but instead seek after the truth of God in Christ Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Remember Jesus Christ

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8).

How often has the call gone out to “remember” something or someone?

In American history, “Remember the Alamo!” was the cry of the American soldiers during the war with Mexico that led to the liberation of Texas. In more recent times, many people have exhorted us to remember 9/11 and the tragic events that took place on that day.

These exhortations to “remember” exist not because there is much of a concern that the events will be entirely forgotten– history books are filled with pages chronicling such things– as much as it is an exhortation to keep the person or event in mind. “Remember the Alamo” means to remember the sacrifice of those who died there and to maintain their cause. Such are exhortations to persevere in conduct on account of the person or event of the past.

This is no less true in Christianity, and this is why Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8). We should not imagine that Paul was worried that Timothy would somehow forget that Jesus existed or forgot about who He was. Paul is reminding Timothy to keep Jesus in mind, since who He is, what He has done, and what He represents gives meaning to the entire creation!

Jesus is the “Christ,” of the seed of David (2 Timothy 2:8). Whereas many today might think “Christ” was Jesus’ last name, it really is a title– the Christ (or Messiah, from the Hebrew) is the Anointed One, the expected King of the Jews, the Branch of Jesse and David (cf. Psalm 2, 110, Isaiah 7, 9, 11, etc.). Paul is reminding Timothy that Jesus is the fulfillment of the expectations of Israel and the rightful King over all (Matthew 5:17-18, 28:18-20).

Furthermore, Jesus is risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8). He abolished death through His resurrection, providing life, immortality, and light to all those who serve Him faithfully (2 Timothy 1:9). Jesus’ resurrection is a reminder that the current world has been corrupted by sin and death but that believers can have confidence in the ultimate victory over such difficulties in the resurrection (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15). These truths are all part of the Gospel Paul preached, the means by which God will save those who follow Him (2 Timothy 2:8, Romans 1:16).

What is good for Timothy, in this case, is good for us. While we may not forget what Jesus has accomplished, it is easy for it to not always come to our minds. It should not be this way. As we go through our lives, enduring times of difficulty, enjoying times of prosperity, and everything in between, we must remember what our lives are to be all about. We must remember what ought to be motivating us to serve God and the light of our ultimate hope in this often dark and distressing world.

When people do not keep their goal in mind, they easily wander off the path toward that goal. When soldiers do not remember why they are fighting, it is easy for them to lose heart. The same is true for Christians who do not keep Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, constantly before them in their minds. If we remember who Jesus is, what He has done, and our hope in Him, it will be easy to endure and persevere all trial. We will be better motivated to “fight the good fight of faith” if we remember our Lord and Savior (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Jesus the Crucified and Risen Christ is Lord of all and the Source of life, peace, and hope. Let us keep Him constantly in mind so that we can endure the trials of life and be able to stand on the last day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

It Is Written…

And Jesus answered unto him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’…”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “It is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’…”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “It is said, ‘Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God'” (Luke 4:4, 8, 12).

As Jesus submits to the temptations of the Devil in the wilderness, it is interesting to note the way that Jesus responds to each temptation. With each temptation, He responds with “it is written,” quoting Old Testament Scripture.

As the Incarnate Word (John 1:1, 14), Jesus has no such obligation to do so. He has the authority to say “no” to the Evil One on His own merit (cf. Matthew 7:29). Nevertheless, He responds by appealing to a standard beyond Himself– the revealed Word.

This is not the only time that Jesus makes reference to the Scriptures. In fact, He constantly appeals to the Scriptures when defending Himself against His critics (cf. Matthew 12:1-8, Matthew 19:3-6, Matthew 21:12-13, etc.). By appealing to the revealed Word, Jesus legitimates it and provides an example for us.

Almost twenty centuries have passed since Jesus, the Incarnate Word, walked the earth. The only place that we can find testimony regarding Jesus the Incarnate Word is within the written revealed Word, since all witnesses and apostles have now passed on (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, John 21:23). Therefore, the written revealed Word– the Scriptures as found in the Bible– are quite important for us! We learn about the life, death, resurrection, and lordship of the Incarnate Word within the Scriptures. We learn how to serve the risen Lord and live like the Incarnate Word through the message of Scripture (1 John 2:1-6). The Scriptures, as the written revealed Word, point to and help us understand the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, so that we may believe in Him and have life in His name (John 20:31).

The Scriptures are said to equip the man of God for every good work, appropriate for encouragement, exhortation, rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is evident, therefore, that we must know what the Scriptures teach if we are going to be able to believe in Jesus and to do His will (2 Timothy 2:15)!

Therefore, just as Jesus was prepared with an answer from Scripture for every temptation of the Devil, so must we prepare answers from Scripture for every argument and temptation that comes against us (2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Peter 3:15). We must understand that just as Satan attempted to quote Scripture to Jesus and distort its purpose, many times people will also quote Scripture and distort its purpose. And, just as Jesus did, we must demonstrate with Scripture what is true, understanding all things within the sum of God’s truth (Psalm 119:160).

Jesus understood what was written in Scripture and was not afraid to quote it or live it. Let us be the same!

Ethan R. Longhenry