Hold the Pattern, Guard the Good Deposit

by Jason P. Kees, M.Div. 

Paul wrote 2 Timothy while imprisoned in Rome (1:8, 17; 2:9). Although 1–2 Timothy and Titus form what is commonly known as the “Pastoral Epistles,” 2 Timothy is considerably different in its purpose and exhortation.[1] Paul wrote the letter to his child Timothy in a personal manner, believing that death was imminent. His heart is clearly revealed throughout the letter, for he desires that Timothy remembers the essentials of the Christian faith before his passing.

A transition occurs in 2 Tim 1:13–18; however, a brief discussion on the preceding verses is necessary. In 1:6–12 Paul reminded Timothy of four things: 1) God has given a spirit not of cowardice but of power, love, and self-control (v. 7), 2) do not be ashamed of the Gospel nor of Paul’s imprisonment, instead share in the sufferings of the Gospel (v.8), 3) salvation is granted by God through Jesus Christ (vv. 9–11), and 4) God will guard the Gospel he entrusted to Paul (v. 12).

Paul sought to accomplish two things in 2 Tim 1:13–18. The first is his exhortation of Timothy to hold to the pattern of sound teaching and guard the good deposit, which has been entrusted to him. The second is not to imitate Phygelus and Hermogenes, who abandoned Paul in Asia, but rather to imitate Onesiphorus, whom Paul described to be par excellence of Christian kindness. If Timothy was successful in following Paul’s instruction and advice, he would prove himself to be a follower of Christ who, like Paul, would bear the chains of imprisonment as a badge of honor.

Theological Exhortations

As noted, the preceding verses emphasized Paul’s refusal to be ashamed of his chains and his encouragement that Timothy do likewise.[2] Verses 13–14 are linked to Paul’s instructions to Timothy in vv. 6-12. This point is reiterated in the beginning of v. 13 and will be addressed a second time in v. 14. Philip H. Towner understands these two verbs of command as establishing an outline of Timothy’s task in faithfulness to Paul’s gospel, Christian behavior, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. [3]

Paul began the first of two charges to Timothy by using the present imperative ἔχε, in stressing the ongoing nature of his command.[4] The accusative form of the word ὑποτύπωσις carries the sense of a “model” or “pattern” of something.[5] Paul used the same word in 1 Tim 1:16 in describing himself as the perfect model (ὑποτύπωσιν) for the display of Jesus Christ’s perfect patience. Though the context differs between the two verses, the meaning is the same.[6]

However, a question arises on the translation of the phrase ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων. Is ὑποτύπωσιν used predicatively or as the object of the verb? Since ὑποτύπωσιν is anarthrous, “the” should be left out of the English translation. Then, “hold a pattern of sound words” would be a correct translation of the passage. But what is the correct understanding of “a pattern?” In writing his last letter Paul calls upon Timothy to be his successor in the Gospel ministry. This appears to be the overarching thought controlling vv. 12–14 with Paul’s appeal to “that day.” It also seems a specific pattern is in mind, for Timothy is dealing with heretics in the church (2:16–18; 3:1–9). The pattern Timothy is to hold is the pattern that Paul taught him. Therefore, to render ὑποτύπωσιν as “the pattern” would be permissible in order to clear confusion.[7]

Timothy is to hold the pattern by means of sound words. ὑγιαινόντων is a participle of means and is typically rendered “sound” in many English translations.[8] It is modified by the attributed genitive, λόγων. This entire phrase is modified by ὧν παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἤκουσας. The word that Timothy is to hold what he received from Paul.

Context seems to suggest two possibilities for the understanding of λόγων.  Some commentators, such as Mounce and Kenneth S. Wuest, understand λόγων as the Gospel. There are numerous examples where Paul uses λόγος to equate it with the Gospel.[9] However, Paul’s involvement with Timothy after his conversion makes this choice unlikely. Earlier in 1:5, Paul commends Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother respectively, for their faith. In Acts 16:1, Luke mentions that Timothy, a disciple, was the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer. Since Timothy was already a disciple when they met in Lystra, Paul did not play a role in his conversion. If λόγων does refer to the Gospel, it clearly cannot be in the salvific sense. The best option seems to be a mixture of instruction concerning the Gospel and conduct within the church.[10]

Paul ends his first charge to Timothy by outlining the manner of how he is to keep this standard, “by faith and love.”[11] ἐν πίστει and τῇ ἀγάπῃ stand in apposition to one another, since both are datives and governed by the preposition ἐν. The way Timothy conducts himself and holds to the teachings of the Gospel is vital. He is not only to hold the pattern, but he is also to keep it in the way he conducts his life. These necessities are only found ἐν
Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.[12]

Paul introduces his second charge with a slight variation from the first. Although it is proper English to translate the verb first, a literal reading of the Greek text τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον reads, “the good deposit entrusted to you, guard it.” τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην is placed at the beginning in order to emphasize Paul’s point. That which Timothy is to hold he must now “guard,” especially from false teachers.[13]

Only Paul uses the term παραθήκην. This term appears only in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:12, 14) and is a reference to the gospel in context. The term literally means “deposit,” but it also carries the sense of something entrusted to someone.[14] This language reflects back to v. 12 where Paul acknowledged that God entrusted him with the gospel. Just as God guarded what Paul deposited with God, Timothy is to do likewise with what has been deposited unto him. Paul further qualifies it by using the adjective καλὴν. It parallels ὑγιαινόντων λόγων and separates it from the opponent’s teachings.[15]

Left alone, Timothy would fail. However, he is to accomplish this task διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου “through the Holy Spirit.” This prepositional phrase is to be understood as agency, for it is the Holy Spirit that acts as the agent in this command. He is said to τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν, “dwell/live in us.”[16] This participial phrase has already been used in v. 5 to describe the faith that dwells in Timothy’s mother and grandmother. In the other instances where Paul uses this phrase (Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 6:16; Col 3:16; 2 Tim 1:5), only Rom 8:11 has any connection with or application to the Spirit dwelling in the believer.

Since Paul identifies himself with Timothy in vv.6–12, it is no surprise that he employs the plural ἐν ἡμῖν. This serves as another reminder to Timothy of Christian unity. The Holy Spirit, who indwells Paul, indwells Timothy and other Christians as well.[17] Since Paul’s was persecuted and God guarded what was deposited to him, Paul is confident of the spirit’s work and writes as one who fully understands it (cf. 1 Thess 1:5).

In vv. 13–14, Paul charged Timothy to hold the pattern of sound words and guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him. It is only by faith and love in Christ Jesus that Paul was able to hold the pattern of sound words. Further, it was only by the Holy Spirit who lives in Timothy that will enable him to guard the good deposit. From here Paul followed a similar thought of those who are ashamed of Paul’s chains and the one who is not.

Pauline Associates

Paul connected this section with the previous one by providing a positive and negative model of his admonition to Timothy. After previously concluding with those of whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell, Paul provided two groups of people as an example of those ashamed and those not. First, Paul will briefly discuss two men, Pygelus and Hermognes, who abandoned him while he was in Asia, providing the negative example. Second, Paul will discuss a man named Onesiphorus and his diligent search to find Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome, thus providing the positive example that Timothy should imitate.

A pattern follows with the thought of being ashamed. In v. 8 Paul urged Timothy not to be ashamed of Paul’s chains. Paul continued this thought in v. 12 by writing he is not ashamed of his sufferings which is to be understood as his imprisonment. Paul again addressed the issue here by providing examples of those who are ashamed.

Pygelus and Hermogenes

Paul’s usage of oἶδας τοῦτο is intentional. It related an incident that Timothy already knew. Apparently, all in Asia deserted him.[18] This phrase, πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ, cannot mean every single person for Onesiphorus (vv. 16–18) and Timothy did desert him. It should be understood that Paul simply used hyperbolic language. This could also be understood as a depressed statement since Paul is imprisoned, and it appears to be worse than his previous imprisonment in Acts 28:23–31.

The meaning of the word ἀπεστράφησάν can mean “to apostasize,” which is understood to mean one has deserted the gospel (cf. 4:4 and Titus 1:14). However, it does not seem to be used in this manner, for the word for gospel is not used. Rather, the first singular με receives the action. It can be concluded that those in Asia left Paul either because of doctrinal issues, his imprisonment, or for the love of the world (cf. 4:10).

Of those who have deserted Paul, Phygelus and Hermogenes are named.[19] These two men are mentioned only here in the New Testament.[20]  In extra-biblical records, Hermogenes is mentioned in the writings of The Aprocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. This should be dismissed solely on the basis that the writings are apocryphal and therefore likely false. Their recognition might be due to their influence of a larger movement or their separation was severely painful to Paul. It seems unlikely he would mention them otherwise. The text does not say they abandoned the faith; rather, they simply abandoned Paul in Asia.

In summary, Paul, speaking out of deep sorrow and using hyperbolic language, reminded Timothy that all deserted him in Asia. From the numerous people who left, he cited only Phygelus and Hermogenes, possible co-laborers with Paul. Though little is known about these men, their recognition is significant. It shows they obtained prominent voices in the Asian community to persuade others to leave with them. These, Paul stated, were the ashamed ones. Timothy is not to imitate them.

Onesiphorus

In direct contrast to Phygelus and Hermogenes, Onesiphorus is the epitome of Christian kindness.[21] Verses 16–18 form one sentence in the Greek text, and includes a prayer for the entire house of Onesiphorus and praise for Onesiphorus himself. Paul commended Onesiphorus for three things: refreshing him while he was imprisoned, diligent searching for Paul in Rome, and other things Onesiphorous rendered him in Ephesus.

Paul issued a prayer for his household that began with the aorist, voluntative optative δῴη. Wallace notes that there are less than seventy optatives in the New Testament. It can “be said that the optative is the mood used when a speaker wishes to portray an action as possible.” [22]  Towner and Marshall understand this form as an Old Testament idiom when δῴη is in the optative in the LXX.[23]

Paul’s prayer for the household of Onesiphorus is contingent on the dualistic causal phrase ὅτι πολλάκις με ἀνέψυξεν καὶ τὴν ἅλυσίν μου οὐκ ἐπαισχύνθη, “because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” Here the καὶ is understood to be a connective conjunction that joins with the ὅτι, which forms the dualistic causal phrase. Here arises Paul’s first commendation. Befriending a prisoner during this time was dangerous, for they could be viewed as an accomplice by the authorities and possibly be imprisoned or punished. However, here was someone willing to regularly (πολλάκις) visit a criminal of the state condemned soon to die.[24]

The New Testament hapax ἀνέψυξεν is used to “revive” or “refresh” someone. It is also used in the LXX and possesses the same sense. Both physical ministry in prison, such as meeting the prisoner’s needs and providing spiritual encouragement, is the thought here.[25] Towner’s conclusion on this verse seems to be sufficient.

Paul wore the chains on his hands, a mark of shame in society, as a badge of honor (Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) earned by his solidarity with Jesus Christ and refusal to “be ashamed” of the cross. Onesiphorus’s wholehearted solidarity with Paul in his circumstances demonstrated the same refusal to categorize imprisonment for the cause of Christ as a social stigma.[26]

Second, Paul commended Onesiphorus for his diligent search in Rome. γενόμενος ἐν Ῥώμῃ seems to mean that Onesiphorus traveled to Rome for the sole intention of finding Paul. σπουδαίως ἐζήτησέν με defines the difficulty and effort on the part of Onesiphorus to find Paul, for σπουδαίως suggests that Paul’s imprisonment was worse than Onesiphorus expected.[27] Again, Onesiphorus is not ashamed of Paul’s chains. He serves as example par excellence for Timothy to neither be ashamed of Paul’s chains nor the Gospel message.

Paul’s third commendation addressed the things that Onesiphorus served to him in Ephesus, though little is known thereof. They were apparent to Timothy and possibly might have been known to others as well. He first began this verse in a similar manner as v.16, but with slight variation. However, whether Onesiphorus is alive or dead must first be discussed, for it plays a key interpretation into v. 18.

It is interesting that Paul included οἴκῳ/ of Onesiphorus in v. 16 rather than Onesiphorus himself. There are two possible explanations. First, Onesiphorus is now dead and his description is to be read as an obituary. Second, Onesiphorus heard of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, left home to visit Paul, and was in the process of returning home.[28] Whether he is alive or not is ambiguous, for there is insufficient evidence to support either.

In a similar way that Onesiphorus found Paul, Paul now prays, δῴη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος εὑρεῖν ἔλεος παρὰ κυρίου ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, “may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord in that day.” The voluntative optative aorist is used again, but this time it is used in reference to Onesiphorus himself. εὑρεῖν ἔλεος, when used in the LXX, is another possible allusion Paul drew from here (cf. Judg 6:17; Dan 3:38). He used the word κύριος twice in this phrase. Most agree the articular ὁ κύριος refers to Jesus Christ, and the anarthrous κύριος is God the Father that follows the LXX style.[29] Paul’s prayer was that the Lord Jesus Christ would grant Onesiphorus to find mercy from the Lord (יהוה) in that day. This phrase has caused some controversial issues concerning prayers for the dead.

In v. 18 a time change has occurred, shifting from the present day to the Day of Judgment, ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ. Understanding that Onesiphorus died, the Catholic Church interprets this verse to advocate prayers on behalf of the dead who lie in purgatory. George T. Montague, a Marianist priest, comments.

Then, in a beautiful play on words, the apostle prays that he who found Paul will find mercy before the Lord on that day. Was Paul already aware of the teaching of Jesus that found its way into Matt 25:31–46, where entrance into the kingdom is given to those who hear the words, “I was…in prison and you visited me” (25:35–36). If Onesiphorus is dead (see also on 2 Tim 4:19), this prayer of Paul’s would be New Testament evidence of prayer for the deceased (as in 2 Macc 12:42–46).[30]

Though the mention of ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ lends the possibility that Onesiphorus was dead, it could suggest that he was apart from his family or that Paul wished to express sincere gratitude for the aid he received. Here, Paul used a wish that had no theological grounding, for Paul was certain of Onesiphorus’s standing before God. To build a doctrine on a text that does not flesh out specifics is unwise and should be avoided at all costs. Scripture is clear that what one does in this lifetime is what determines his afterlife, not prayers after death.[31]

In Paul’s concluding commendation of Onesiphorus, he wrote καὶ ὅσα ἐν Ἐφέσῳ διηκόνησεν, βέλτιον σὺ γινώσκεις. Here, the καὶ is emphatic and could be translated “and indeed.” Marshall believes Onesiphorus was a native of Ephesus and was active in the church.[32] However this cannot be fully ascertained. Furthermore, it is unclear how Onesiphorus “served” Paul. In all likelihood it was through his duties in the church, since Paul uses the aorist form of diakonevw. Paul concluded this section in the same way he began. Just as Timothy knew of Phygelus and Hermogene’s abandonment of Paul, so Timothy knew of Onesiphorus’s service to Paul in Ephesus. The personal exhortation traveled full circle.

Conclusion

If ever a time not to be ashamed of the gospel occurred in Timothy’s life it was then. There can be encouragement gained from the text for application in the present day Christian’s life. Although Timothy was Paul’s confidant and is often hoisted on a pedestal, Timothy was a sinner. It seemed to Paul that Timothy’s confidence in the gospel message waned. He became embarrassed when Paul’s chains were mentioned. Conceivably Paul sensed this and wrote, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1, ESV).

Paul sought to accomplish two things in 2 Tim 1:13–18. He encouraged Timothy to hold the pattern of sound teaching and to guard the good deposit that was entrusted to him. The second was not to imitate Phygelus and Hermogenes who abandoned Paul in Asia; but rather, he was to imitate Onesiphorus, the epitome of Christian kindness. This could only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit who dwelled within Timothy (1:14) and by remembering what Timothy was to hold and guard, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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