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Can you imagine sitting under the teaching of Hymenaeus and reading Paul’s letters to Timothy?
“And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;” – 2 Timothy 2:17
If someone teaches doctrinal error, is it acceptable to name them?
If the Bible is our pattern then it is not only acceptable, but something that needs to happen more often.
The Danger of Letting Error Remain
Why would Paul name a minister of the Lord in such negative manner? Did not Paul know that Hymenaeus and Philetus were also ministering Christ, there were not many Christians in the world, and they needed to support one another?
Paul explains why he called the ministry of Hymenaeus and Philetus a canker in the next verse:
“Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” – 2 Timothy 2:18
It was not because of personal prejudice, a mean spirit, or unkindness that Paul named them. They had erred from the truth. They were teaching a wrong doctrine, one that had serious consequences.
If a minister departs from the truth, it is no longer the Lord’s ministry (1 Tim 2:4).
Philetus could have been a wonderfully warm and caring man who ministered to many people helping them with many problems, but concerning the important Christian doctrine of the resurrection he taught error. Paul knew the danger of allowing this error to persist.
Perhaps those in the ministry of Hymenaeus and Philetus thought that their teacher simply had an unique perspective. Perhaps they considered the non-literal nature of the resurrection more spiritual and applicable to their lives.
Paul called his teaching Satanic and dangerous in 1 Timothy 1:20.
Paul knew that this wrong doctrine would result in damage to the body of Christ, as it had already overthrown the faith of some. Paul’s response was to point out the error and the teacher so that the problem could be excised.
Doctrinal error leads to ungodliness, and is dangerous if left to fester.
Responding to Teachers of Error
The proper response is not to ignore the error, whitewash it, or compromise with it. The proper response is to fix it. God gave us a tool to deal with errors: the scripture.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” – 2 Timothy 3:16
Correction, reproof, and teaching right doctrine all require pointing out error. When pointing out error it is important to point out who teaches it, so that the brethren know from where it is taught.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” – Romans 16:17
The most dangerous errors are those taught by teachers who are most likeminded. It is from these teachers that sincere brethren do not suspect to be introduced to doctrinal poison.
Notice that Paul did not name the pagan leaders of the day. He named Hymenaeus, a fellow teacher of Christ, because he was introducing error among Christians who were listening to him thinking they were learning some new truth from the Lord.
Shouldn’t Paul go to these men behind closed doors in private and discuss the matter?
When teaching error creates a public problem, it can only be corrected publicly. When personal errors cause private problems they should be dealt with privately. Hymenaeus had a very public ministry.
“Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” – 1 Timothy 5:20
Paul’s Pattern in Naming Names
In our postmodern (nobody’s-right-nobody’s-wrong) evangelical (cant-we-all-get-along) Christian culture, pointing out doctrinal error is taboo. Naming specifically who teaches the error in order to warn the weaker brothers goes beyond the pale.
Paul was neither a postmodern nor an evangelical.
He named Demas, Philetus, Alexander, and Hymenaeus directly for their errors. He constantly warned, corrected, rebuked, and pointed out error in every epistle.
He identified “enemies of the cross” and heretics, called men “dogs” and “evil workers”, and issued more than one curse toward people continuing in error.
Our Lord in his earthly ministry called men vipers, hypocrites, and blind children of the devil. These names were not thrown at the Richard Dawkins of the first century, they were applied to the religious teachers and leaders in Israel!
The goal was to destroy the ministry of error, and return to the pure ministry of the truth.
The Purpose of Calling Out Error
The purpose of naming someone’s error is to correct the doctrinal problem introduced; warn and protect the weaker brothers; mark and avoid those who spread the error; and to maintain the pure doctrine within the church, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Naming those who teach contrary doctrine also allows public debate over important doctrines which need to remain strong.
When naming teachers of error becomes a greater offense than actually teaching the error, then the priorities of the church are backward.
When the church would rather protect the reputation of men rather than the truth, then the priorities of the church are backward.
The purpose of the church is not to support men in their ministries; it is to support the truth and its ministry. When error is introduced it should be named, corrected, or kicked out.
Paul did not give room for the error of Hymenaeus no matter how esteemed or popular he was. Paul wrote his name in inspired scripture for generations thereafter to see and read in black and white that he had taught error.
Why did Paul name Hymenaeus and destroy his ministry? Paul loved the pillar and ground of the truth more than popularity, protection, or the praise of men.