Apostasy of the Latter Times.
A treatise on I Timothy 4: 1-3.
Which I conceive may be thus translated:
Howbeit the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall revolt from the Faith, attending to erroneous Spirits, and Doctrines of Demons; Through the hypocrisy of liars having seared conscience; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, &c.
The dependence of the text upon the last verse in the foregoing chapter. Why, in the description of the mystery of godliness, the words (assumed into glory) are set last. A view of the several parts of the text, containing the method and order of the ensuing discourse. The Authors three reasons for rendering the text differently from the common translation.
The words I have read are a prophecy of a revolt of Christians from the great mystery of Christian worship, described in the last verse
of the former chapter, which, according to the division of the ancients, should be the first of this. For that last verse, together with the first six verses of this, and half the seventh verse, make the seventh title or main section of this epistle, expressed in the edition of Robert Stephen; and so are supposed, from the grounds of that division, to belong all to one argument. The words, therefore, of my text depend upon the last of the former chapter, as the second part of a discrete proposition; that howsoever the mystery of the Christian religion, which is, God manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, and received up into glory, was a great one, and at that time preached and believed on in the world; nevertheless, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times there shall be a revolt or departing from this faith, though not in all parts of it, yet from a main and fundamental part thereof namely, the assumption of this God and man to the throne of glory and incommunicable majesty in heaven, whereby He hath a name given him above every name, and whereof no creature in heaven or in earth can be capable. This connexion is the reason why the apostle putteth this assumption into glory in the last part of his description; which should else in the true order have followed the words, justified in the spirit, and come before the words, preached unto the Gentiles, and believed on in the world. [This is plain; for the order of events was this: God was: 1. Manifest in the
flesh 2. Justified in the spirit 3. Received up into glory 4. Seen of angels 5. Preached unto the Gentiles 6. Believed on in the world.] But it is the method of Scripture sometimes to transpose the natural order, and to mention that in the last place, whereunto it has to join, and whence it is to infer, the next words that follow after. And unless this reason be allowed here, there will scarce be found any other for this misplacing. But more of this shall both be spoken and made better to appear hereafter.
I come now more near to my text, which I divide into two parts: First. A description of this solemn apostasy in the first verse: Secondly. The manner or means whereby it should come to pass, in the following verses, to wit through the hypocrisy of liars who had seared conscience, forbad to marry, and bade to abstain from meats.
For the description of the apostasy itself, we shall find it first, expressed generally in the words they shall apostatize,* or revolt; and in the next, they shall attend to erroneous doctrines or doctrines of error. Then, particularly 1. What these erroneous doctrines should be, as to the kind or quality; namely, new doctrines of demons, or a new idolatry. 2. The persons who should thus apostatize; not all, but SOME. 3. The time when it should be; in the latter times. 4. The proof or warrant of this prophecy; it is that which the Spirit hath elsewhere long
ago foretold in written word expressly,* or in express words.
For the second part, viz., the means. Consider, 1. The manner or method used to bring it in to wit, lying hypocrisy, or hypocritical lying. 2. The quality and description of these authors and furtherers of the apostasy; they would be such as had their consciences seared, who forbad marriage and meats.
Where, before I go any farther, I must state why I thus translate these latter words, which I make the second part; because they are commonly translated otherwise, or intransitively, as referring the words of the two latter verses to the persons mentioned in the first; the some who would apostatize and give heed to doctrines of devils, as they usually translate it. So that the words of the second and third verses would be merely an explanation of what the giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, mentioned in the first verse, was; would be, in fact, an expression, by particulars, of that which was before generally comprised under seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, which should consist partly in forbidding lawful marriage, and partly in commanding abstinence from meats.
But this interpretation seems very unlikely. For, first, since St. Paul intendeth here to describe that great apostasy of the visible Christian Church, as is evident by the pointing out of the time, in the latter times; who can believe that he would instance only in the smaller and
almost circumstantial errors, omitting the main and fundamental, which the Scripture elsewhere tells us would be idolatry or spiritual fornication? Secondly, errors about marriage and meats were not peculiar to the last times, but were found, more or less, in the apostles own times, as may be gathered from their epistles. Why, then, should our Apostle, here speaking of the apostasy of the latter times, instance only in such things as the first times were, in some measure, never free from? Lastly (which I take to be alone sufficient), the syntax of the words will not bear to have them so translated.* But to translate the passage as I do, as it keepeth the syntax true, so I hope to make it appear hereafter to be the very meaning, whereunto the event is most answerable. You shall have it proved out of history that the apostasy of the visible Church came in by lying wonders and all deceivableness of unrighteousness, managed by those who either professed or doted upon monastical
hypocrisy; the affectation and errors whereof at length surprising the body of the Church, is that which St. Paul (II Thessalonians 2: 10) calls, not the apostasy itself, but a not-love of the truth, for which God gave them over to strong delusions, that they might believe a lie.
But this is out of its place; only I have anticipated thus much, lest you should be too long in suspense concerning the grounds of this novelty in translating. And yet this difficulty concerning the syntax hath stumbled many of our later interpreters, as among others Beza, who solves it only by saying that the Apostle more regarded the matter than the construction; which, for my part, I cannot believe.