What does 2 Timothy 3:5 mean?
ESV: having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
NIV: having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
NASB: holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.
CSB: holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.
NLT: They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
KJV: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
NKJV: having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Verse Commentary:
This verse is the last of nineteen total attributes Paul has condemned in this passage. These behaviors are indicative of a person who is rejecting the will and wisdom of God. This commentary by Paul began in verse 2 and runs as a single descriptive sentence through here, in verse 5.

Here, Paul states that evil people are known for putting on the "window dressing" of faith in God, but rejecting the actual power of the Holy Spirit. This echoes Paul's condemnation of evil in Titus 1:16. In other words, these wicked ones want to be seen as good people, or as spiritual people, or as teachers, but were not truly following God (1 Timothy 1:3–7). They had religion, but they did not have a legitimate relationship with God built upon truth (2 Timothy 3:16–17). This would also include those who overtly pick and choose when to obey God, and when to dismiss His message.

After a lengthy description of evil people, Paul gives a blunt application: "Avoid such people." Two important observations can be made here. First, this advice is in a personal letter to Timothy, so the wicked ones Paul is referring to existed when this letter was written. Paul had specific people in mind whom Timothy was to avoid. These people could tempt him to sin or turn him from true teaching.

Second, however, avoiding false teachers is somewhat different than dealing with other people. Paul clearly taught elsewhere that avoiding absolutely all contact with sinful persons is impossible (1 Corinthians 5:9–10). While keeping away from immorality is important in general, Timothy is to specifically steer clear of those who claimed to follow God yet denied it through their false actions and teachings. It's particularly important for Christians to demonstrate a clear separation from those who claim to be Christians but whose actions say otherwise.
Verse Context:
Second Timothy 3:1–9 is Paul's extensive list of godless traits, which will characterize false teachers and unbelievers. In verses 2 through 5, Paul will list nineteen separate qualities which are to be condemned. Among these are selfishness, arrogance, slander, hedonism, and denial of the truth of God. According to Paul, despite the apparent success of these false teachers, they will eventually be seen for what they are, and punished. Timothy, like other believers, should steer clear of such people.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 3 presents two sections with very different themes. In the first, Paul describes in detail the sins associated with apostasy: the abandonment of truth. Echoing the themes of prior chapters, Paul instructs Timothy to avoid not only these sins, but the people who participate in them. In the second section, Paul draws a contrast between these false teachers and his own example, as well as the faithful conduct of Timothy. Paul's capstone advice against false teaching and apostasy is the written word of God: the most powerful resource for any Christian leader.
Chapter Context:
In prior chapters, Paul has encouraged Timothy through an appeal to his lifelong spiritual heritage. He has also instructed Timothy to remain focused on the work of God, rather than pointless bickering. Here, Paul will present more warnings about the attitude of false teachers and those who reject God in favor of their own preferences. Just as he taught previously, Paul warns Timothy in no uncertain terms to avoid these behaviors and those who participate in them. This chapter is the high point of Paul's letter, leading to his final instructions to Timothy found in chapter 4.
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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