A question about 2 Timothy 1:16-18

Here is a question from the “Ask a question” section asked by Anonymous:

Dear JDisciple,

Can you please explain the issue in 2 tim 1:16-18

“May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 17On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. 18May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.”

The apostle seems he is NOT SURE of the salavation of a TRUE believer (regardless of his fruits proving he is a real one)!!! And he is praying so that he will find mercy as though the real believer didn’t find mercy yet. Aren’t these verses a foundation for praying for the departed loved ones?

Thank you, Anonymous, for this interesting question.

Let’s clarify some important points here:

1. It is a biblical truth that no human can judge whether someone is saved or not. All the judgment is the work of God, and no human can know the hearts so as to know who is saved and who is not.

2. The biblical truth of assurance of Salvation does not mean that I can know who among other people is saved, but it means that I know for sure that I have eternal life because Christ died for me and rose again and He lives forever to intercede for me, as He also has given me the Holy Spirit of promise. I can also say with certainty that all who truly received the Grace of God are surely saved, and yet I don’t surely know who really did that.

3. You are not sure that Onesiphorus was a “TRUE believer”, as you call him. Paul is witnessing for his good works, but this doesn’t mean that he knows for sure that he is a true believer. Onesiphorus may later prove to be a false one by loving the world, just as Demas did. Let’s read about Demas:

a. Demas is a fellow-worker of Paul, and he is working in the field of the Lord! So anyone would say his fruits show that he is a true believer:

“Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workmen.” (Philemon 24)

b. Sadly, Demas later proved to be a lover of the world:

“Use diligence to come to me quickly;for Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age, and is gone to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.Luke alone is with me. Take Mark, and bring [him] with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:9-11)

And you know that “If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15)

4. The fruits of a person do not prove that he is a true believer. Good works are the natural and non-optional result of true Salvation by living faith, but this doesn’t mean that all those who do good works, even in the Name of Jesus, are really saved. As I said above, we can’t know the hearts. The Lord said in Matthew 7:22-23 that many will say that they did amazing good works in His Name, but He will say that He never knew them, as they worked lawlessness. Here, let me quickly clarify that many people misunderstand the Lord when He says that we will know false prophets by their fruits. It is worthy to be noted that He didn’t say that we will know who is saved by their good works; He said we will know who is a false prophet by his fruits. The fruits here are not only the works that this false prophet does, but also his teachings. False prophets teach lies that disagree with the Word of God, and thus lead to lawless life. Many today say that they are saved by faith in Christ, and yet their fruits are lawlessness, as they teach things against the Law or they teach legalism. These people may help the poor, appear with true Christians, preach the Gospel everywhere in the world, on TV, on satellite, and yet they practice lawlessness, as the Lord says.

So, in brief for point 4, good works must surely result from a true Salvation, but not all good works are the result of Salvation. Even an unsaved person may do good works, but these good works neither save him nor prove that he is saved.

5. All true believers have received mercy from the Lord, as they are all justified by His Grace, without any merit in themselves. But Justification is not all what we have in Christ; Justification is not all what Salvation is, although all is in what we receive when justified. Each day, every believer receives mercy from the Lord, as he continues in the battle against sin and receives from the Lord victory after victory; and this is what the Bible calls Sanctification. The summit of all this will be the glorification, when we see the Lord face to face. When we receive that glorification, it will also be a mercy from the Lord, as we don’t deserve it, and we only receive it as a gift from the Lord by His mercy. If before the Throne of the Lord any believer will be declared as righteous, that is because of God’s mercy and Grace in Christ Jesus, and not because of anything good in that believer.

Therefore, the Apostle is praying here that Onesiphorus will finally prove to be a true disciple of the Lord, and will receive the mercy of glorification before His Throne. This is indeed the truth of the perseverance of the saints. All true believers will persevere until the end. And, taken in the context, the Apostle is also praying that Onesiphorus will receive from the Lord all the reward for what he did to him (to Paul) on that day.

6. It is not on our understanding of one short passage of the Bible that we build a whole doctrine like the one about praying for the dead. As the Bible clearly says everywhere that TODAY is the time of Salvation and that there is no hope for Salvation after death as there is no faith after death but there is sight, so we will not contradict the Bible because of a partial understanding of a certain passage. If I misunderstand a certain passage, this doesn’t mean that God suddenly changes His mind and decides to open the option of praying for the dead. Once someone is dead, he goes to stand before the Lord in the same nature in which he died: he is either in the Lord and thus saved, or not in the Lord but in the flesh, and thus he can never please God and deserves eternal Hell. The Word of God is clear that in the same nature in which you are dead you will be forever: “whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” (Ecclesiastes 11:3)

So let us always persevere in the faith, abounding in good works, knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord, and not in ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Questions, Religious Movements, Truth. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A question about 2 Timothy 1:16-18

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks brother for the well-rounded biblical explanation.

    I will add my impression: since it is weird to say for a believer let him find mercy on that day, it is implied that this believer (Onesiphorus) was a backslider from the truth. (he could have returned from the error of course, but since Paul’s implied last hope/wish is on that day, it seems that Onesiphoros has died. And Paul is making a prayerful wish hoping that that believer had made a come back, since lately he lacked information on him. Of course he is not sure of that since he doesn’t know the state of the heart and/or the circumstances in which Onesiphorus could have passed away.

    The context supports this explanation:
    2 Tim 1:13-2:2

    “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
    You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

    The context is one of abandoning sound teaching,exhortation to cling to it, 2 servants’ names who deserted Paul (erred from the truth) and prayerful wish about Onesiphorus.

    Note:Paul is not perplexed by the case of Phygelus and Hermogenes , but he is in front of Onesiphorus case. He could have expected the deserting of the formers, but the latter was too sincere for that (having in view his good works which are mentioned).

    Since in 2 tim 4:19 only the household of Onesiphorus is mentioned (his death implied), therefore we can understand why Paul is wishing mercy (comfort of the Holy Spirit) for the household, who have been annoyed/perturbated by Onesiphorus late backslidden state.

    So Paul can only wish that Onesiphorus would have been repented and came back (in his heart to the sound teaching) in his late period so that Paul will hear the mercy of the Lord proclaimed on this beloved one on that day.

  2. Indeed, Anonymous, you shared with us the interpretation of the Roman Catholics for this passage. With this interpretation, they try to justify their prayers for the dead. But as you saw in my post, I didn’t give any personal interpretation, but I gave you the interpretation of the Bible to itself. The false interpretation of the Roman Catholics has no proof anywhere in the Bible, and it is wholly based on imagination, and the worse is that it contradicts other parts of the Scripture as we have seen in my post, and as we will see in more details in my reply to you here.

    In fact, when I replied to your question, I was not giving you an optional answer. That is the answer of the Bible. Roman Catholics like to make it seem as if there are many ways to interpret that passage, as that helps them make their false interpretation one of those optional interpretations. But as Peter said:

    “knowing this first, that [the scope of] no prophecy of scripture is had from its own particular interpretation, for prophecy was not ever uttered by [the] will of man, but holy men of God spake under the power of [the] Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

    So any passage you read in the Bible has not an optional interpretation that could be accepted whether or not it contradicts the rest of Scripture.

    Now, in the interpretation that you gave, all is based on a dream or a supposition which says that Onesiphorus is dead and that he was a backslider. Show me any passage in the Bible where it is said that Onesiphorus is dead, brother. That’s serious, and it’s not a light matter. Roman Catholics are basing a whole demonic teaching upon a supposition that has no single proof in the Bible and that is contradicted by the rest of Scripture. If they think otherwise, then let them show me the proof that Onesiphorus is dead. And contrary to what you said, the context does not support that false interpretation, while it strongly supports the biblical interpretation. You will see this as I examine each of the points that you raised.

    Let’s begin. You said:

    I will add my impression: since it is weird to say for a believer let him find mercy on that day, it is implied that this believer (Onesiphorus) was a backslider from the truth.

    Indeed, that was your personal impression. But on what did you base it? You based it on the false idea that wishing mercy for a believer is weird. But we have seen in my original post that the Bible is clear concerning the mercy of God: That it is not something we receive once and never receive it again. We received mercy in Justification; we are receiving mercy each day in Sanctification; and we will receive mercy in glorification, when we will receive the adoption, that is the redemption of our bodies. Here again, a false teacher says: “But we are already children of God, so we are adopted by God!! Then how do you say that we will receive adoption?” Well, that’s not what I say, but it is what the Bible says:

    “And not only [that], but even we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also ourselves groan in ourselves, awaiting adoption, [that is] the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23)

    But you see that the Holy Spirit does not leave us without clarification. He clarified that this adoption is the redemption of our body. That is a mercy that we didn’t receive yet, and that’s part of the Salvation that we have in Justification! But, we don’t have it yet! If we didn’t have it for sure, we wouldn’t be able to wait for it patiently! You don’t wait for something that is not yours. That is a promise for you, and you are waiting for it as a believer. A non-believer cannot wait for that, as he doesn’t expect that. And that’s what the Apostle says:

    “For we have been saved in hope; but hope seen is not hope; for what any one sees, why does he also hope? But if what we see not we hope, we expect in patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

    Notice, please, that I am not saying poetry here, nor am I speculating. I am explaining clear passages in the Bible. These are not optional things. This is the truth. There is no way to make the future mercy for a believer “weird” as you said.

    Now you based on that false idea of this truth being “weird” the idea that Onesiphorus was a backslider from the truth. But that strongly contradicts the context. What is the context talking about? The context is that Paul is encouraging Timothy to be faithful to the end, and not to be ashamed of his chains. Isn’t that the context, Anonymous? Let’s read it together:

    “For which cause I put thee in mind to rekindle the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
    For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion.
    Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but suffer evil along with the glad tidings, according to the power of God;
    who has saved us, and has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to [his] own purpose and grace, which [was] given to us in Christ Jesus before [the] ages of time,
    but has been made manifest now by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility by the glad tidings;
    to which I have been appointed a herald and apostle and teacher of [the] nations.
    For which cause also I suffer these things; but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep for that day the deposit I have entrusted to him.
    Have an outline of sound words, which [words] thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which [are] in Christ Jesus.
    Keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit entrusted.”
    (2 Timothy 1:6-14)

    What is the Apostle doing here? He’s exhorting Timothy to keep rekindling the gift that he has, not to be a coward, but to have power and love and wise discretion, not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of the chains of the Apostle or of the fact that he is in prison because of the testimony, to be ready to suffer for the Gospel, to have sound words and not to be a false prophet.

    Now, suddenly, while the Apostle is speaking about these things, he begins to talk about Phygellus and Hermogenes and Onesiphorus!! The Roman Catholic who lives on a land of dreams and is not grounded on the Word of God, thinks that the Apostle is telling us a poetry here, and that he suddenly remembered Phygellus and Hermogenes and Onesiphorus, and wanted to share that with Timothy… Well, that’s not what the Apostle was doing. He was just continuing his exhortation to Timothy concerning faithfulness and unashamed love for the testimony of the Lord, and telling him to avoid the example of Phygellus and Hermogenes, and to identify with Onesiphorus. That’s very simply the context. He says that Onesiphorus often refreshed him, and has not been ashamed of his chain. And that’s in fact what the Apostle is exhorting Timothy to do! So he’s encouraging Timothy to avoid the bad example, and to follow the example of Onesiphorus.

    Now, you come to say that Onesiphorus was a backslider from the truth and was dead in the time when Paul wrote this Epistle. Well, besides the fact that this is based on a false supposition, it also strongly contradicts the context, as we have seen. Imagine Paul exhorting Timothy to imitate a backslider! On the contrary, Paul is putting Onesiphorus on the exact opposite side of Phygellus and Hermogenes, and exhorting Timothy to follow the example of the former.

    So your assumption is against the context.

    he could have returned from the error of course, but since Paul’s implied last hope/wish is on that day, it seems that Onesiphoros has died.

    We have seen that a prayer for that day has nothing to do with death. You wish for a living person and more importantly to a person whom you believe is a true believer that he may receive mercy on that day! You don’t wish that for a dead person who cannot repent anymore, and most importantly, you don’t wish that for a backslider. The Bible is clear that TODAY is the day of Salvation. No way to be justified after death. And if you are not justified, and if I don’t believe you’re justified, I can’t wish for mercy for you after you are dead. We have seen that this future mercy to the believer is a SURE fact, and not a wishful hope, as the world understands hope. For us, our hope is a certain thing; it’s not something like chance to which we cling after we have no other choice! Our hope is sure, and we don’t believe in chance.

    And just as the Apostle believed that Onesiphorus was a true believer, he also believed that Timothy was a true believer. Look what he tells Timothy while exhorting him:

    “calling to mind the unfeigned faith which [has been] in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

    Timothy was passing through a hard period in his ministry. All the exhortations of the Apostle show this. He was tempted from all sides, and he needed exhortation. The Apostle first tells him: “I trust you, my son! I am persuaded that you’re a true believer just like your mother and grandmother! So stay firm in this faith, and never take the bad example of backsliders, but look to good examples like the one of Onesiphorus.”

    So the wish of mercy for the day of the Lord has nothing to do with the idea of Onesiphorus being dead. I am sure you read that in the writings of some human commentators, but that doesn’t mean they are right. Let the Bible interpret itself. The Bible always gives us such wishes and prayers concerning LIVING saints. An example of that is found in the Epistle of Jude. Let’s read it together:

    “But to him that is able to keep you without stumbling, and to set [you] with exultation blameless before his glory,
    to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, [be] glory, majesty, might, and authority, from before the whole age, and now, and to all the ages. Amen.”
    (Jude 24-25)

    Jude is praying that the Lord will keep these Christians without stumbling and set them blameless before His glory on that day when He will come to judge the living and the dead.

    And we are living saints. Our hope is a future Salvation, i.e. the adoption or redemption of our body and glorification:

    “For we, by [the] Spirit, on the principle of faith, await the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5)

    And although we, the living, already have eternal life, but we are still waiting for the promise of eternal life:

    “This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)

    “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

    And in the same context of 2 Timothy where the wish is made for Onesiphorus, the Apostle does the same wish (which is a SURE hope, as I said) concerning his own Salvation!! The Apostle is more than sure that he’s saved and that he will meet the Lord and be with Him as soon as he dies (see for example Philippians 1:23). But he has that in hope, and he waits for the future mercy ON THAT DAY:

    “For which cause also I suffer these things; but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep for that day the deposit I have entrusted to him.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

    So the wish for that day does not mean that Onesiphorus is a backslider or is dead, but on the contrary, all biblical references show that such prayers are done for the living saints who have a good witness of walking in the truth.

    And Paul is making a prayerful wish hoping that that believer had made a come back, since lately he lacked information on him.

    Please, show me where it is said that Onesiphorus was a backslider so that Paul would wish that he had made a come back. And also show me where it is said that Paul lately lacked information on him.

    The context supports this explanation:
    2 Tim 1:13-2:2

    “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.
    You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

    As we have seen, the context supports the interpretation of the Bible that says that Onesiphorus was a good example to follow, and that the Apostle is persuaded that he was a true believer just like Timothy. Show me how you think this context supports any other interpretation. You just quoted it without showing us where it supports that interpretation that you gave.

    The context is one of abandoning sound teaching,exhortation to cling to it, 2 servants’ names who deserted Paul (erred from the truth) and prayerful wish about Onesiphorus.

    See? That’s where you make the error. If it’s only a prayerful wish for a backslider, then why did Paul suddenly mention Phygellus and Hermogenes and Onesiphorus? What’s the use of these examples? Very simply, Paul is exhorting Timothy to follow the example of Onesiphorus in faithfulness and to avoid the example of the two others.

    Note:Paul is not perplexed by the case of Phygelus and Hermogenes , but he is in front of Onesiphorus case. He could have expected the deserting of the formers, but the latter was too sincere for that (having in view his good works which are mentioned).

    Who said that Paul is not perplexed by the case of Phygellus and Hermogenes and that he is perplexed in front of the case of Onesiphorus. You have zero evidence for that, and the context contradicts you. Paul is very glad with the example of Onesiphorus, and he’s encouraging Timothy to follow his example. While he’s sad for the example of Phygellus and Hermogenes, just as he was sad for the case of Demas about whom I wrote in my post (see 2 Timothy 4:10). If he doesn’t add anything about them and about Demas, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have something to say about them. For such backsliders, you wish that they repent, just as Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who were crucifying Him. And that’s what Paul did concerning the backsliders:

    “At my first defence no man stood with me, but all deserted me. May it not be imputed to them.” (2 Timothy 4:16)

    So this backs up more the truth that Onesiphorus was a good example, or else Paul would mention him among those who deserted him and would not wish for future mercy concerning him!

    It is to be noted that for someone to desert the Apostle, he must have worked with him before. And Phygellus and Hermogenes were such co-workers of the Apostle. So they had done some good works while working with him. But the Apostle does not wish for future mercy concerning them, as he’s not persuaded that they are true believers. Instead of that, he prays that God will forgive them and they will turn from their sin.

    Since in 2 tim 4:19 only the household of Onesiphorus is mentioned (his death implied), therefore we can understand why Paul is wishing mercy (comfort of the Holy Spirit) for the household, who have been annoyed/perturbated by Onesiphorus late backslidden state.

    Your assumptions are:

    1. That wishing mercy for someone means wishing the comfort of the Holy Spirit for the dead of a beloved. This is not supported by the Scripture. As we have seen, this wish is for believers concerning sanctification and the future adoption.

    2. That Onesiphorus was dead. This also is not supported by the Scripture.

    3. That Onesiphorus was a backslider, which also is not supported by the Scripture, but is strongly contradicted by it.

    4. That mentioning “only” the household of Onesiphorus means he is dead. This also has no ground in the Scripture, as the house of Onesiphorus means the whole house, including Onesiphorus. For it is clear that Onesiphorus didn’t serve the Apostle only individually, but also with his household, and most probably his house was one of the house churches of that time. Besides this, Onesiphorus seems to be the head of that house, so the house is called by his name. Thus, whether you mention Onesiphorus or the house of Onesiphorus, you are talking about the whole house. Moreover, you’re wrong when you say that the Apostle is not mentioning Onesiphorus as living. It is true that in 2 Timothy 4:19 the Apostle mentions the house of Onesiphorus, and which includes Onesiphorus, but that may mean that Onesiphorus was not in Ephesus where Timothy was, and so he couldn’t greet him personally and could only greet his household, or that he was in Ephesus but the Apostle is simply mentioning him with his household, without mentioning his name individually in the greeting. And don’t forget that, in the passage that you quoted in your original question, Onesiphorus is clearly mentioned individually. Let’s read it again:

    “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he has often refreshed me, and has not been ashamed of my chain;
    but being in Rome sought me out very diligently, and found [me] —
    the Lord grant to him to find mercy from [the] Lord in that day — and how much service he rendered in Ephesus thou knowest best.”
    (2 Timothy 1:16-18)

    It is a Jewish or Hebraic way of speaking to first say something, then say it in the next line in another way but with the same idea. Paul began his idea when he said “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus”, then he opened a parenthesis to explain what Onesiphorus did, and then he continued the same idea that he began, but in another way: “the Lord grant to him to find mercy from [the] Lord in that day”. And then again he continued what he was saying in the parenthesis. So the mercy that is wished for the house of Onesiphorus is the same mercy that is wished to Onesiphorus on that day. And thus we see that Onesiphorus is clearly mentioned individually. By the way, you don’t wish for mercy for the household of someone on the basis of the good works of one of its members! It is clear that this is a whole faithful household, and that Onesiphorus is its head.

    So Paul can only wish that Onesiphorus would have been repented and came back (in his heart to the sound teaching) in his late period so that Paul will hear the mercy of the Lord proclaimed on this beloved one on that day.

    As we saw:

    1. You don’t wish for mercy on that day for someone who didn’t receive the mercy of Justification today. You need to be persuaded that he’s a true believer in order to have good hope concerning his future redemption.

    2. Onesiphorus was not a backslider, but in contrast to the bad example of Phygellus and Hermogenes, he was a good example of faithfulness with which Timothy was exhorted to identify himself.

    Grace be with you!
    Disciple of Jesus Christ

Comments are closed.