What does 2 Timothy 2:17 mean?
ESV: and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
NIV: Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
NASB: and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
CSB: and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them.
NLT: This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus.
KJV: And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
NKJV: And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort,
Verse Commentary:
Giving undue attention to distracting arguments is like introducing a disease into the body of Christ. The disease mentioned here is literally gangrene, a term used by secular writers in the first century regarding a sore that eats at the flesh. Left untreated, it continues to infect more and more parts of the body, spreading further and further. In a similar way, the talk of false teachers spreads throughout a congregation or body of believers, causing much pain. If Luke was involved in writing this letter (2 Timothy 4:11), his use of this precise term would have been intentional.

Paul specifically mentions "Hymenaeus and Philetus" as false teachers. Hymenaeus was certainly the same person mentioned by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:20: "among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." Philetus is mentioned only here in the New Testament and may have joined Hymenaeus later as a partner or disciple in his false teachings. Their false teachings are mention in the next verse.
Verse Context:
Second Timothy 2:14–26 contains Paul's instructions to Timothy about leading other believers. Two important themes here are avoiding pointless bickering and holding to sound biblical teachings. Arguments over non-essential issues quickly turn into feuds, poisoning the body of Christ just as gangrene attacks the physical body. Paul names specific false teachers, but brings a note of compassion. Here, he reminds Timothy that gentleness and patience are key. After all, those who do not believe are not our enemies: they are those we are trying to rescue from the control of the Devil!
Chapter Summary:
Paul gives Timothy a clear mandate to defend the truth. This includes both upholding the gospel accurately, and presenting that defense in a gentle and loving way. While truth is important, Paul also notes that there are some issues which are only distractions. He considers these "babble," and arguments over them a form of spiritual disease. Like gangrene, this bickering only spreads and spreads until it becomes catastrophic. The ultimate goal of our evangelism is not to "win" an argument, but to rescue lost people.
Chapter Context:
In chapter 1, Paul gave Timothy encouragement by reminding him of his heritage and spiritual power. Here, in chapter 2, Paul expands on these commands. Rather than giving minute details, Paul presents a series of examples and tells Timothy to consider them carefully. Paul's instructions here set the stage for the warnings coming up in the next chapter. Timothy—and all believers—need to be prepared and right-minded, because the world is going to become spiritually darker and darker.
Book Summary:
Second Timothy is the last New Testament letter written by Paul. Paul writes these words while awaiting execution by Rome. At this time, around AD 67, Timothy was leading the church in Ephesus. Paul writes to Timothy in order to encourage him. Paul is facing the worst of all hardships: his own impending death. So, he encourages Timothy to stand strong in his faith, with a reliance on the written Word of God. This letter echoes many of the themes Paul uses in his other letters.
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