Hymenaeus and Philetus Heresy (2 Timothy 2:17-18)

According to the popular view today the Day of the Lord is when time ends and the fabric of creation is burnt to a crisp, right to the atomic level.  That does not leave much, does it?  And yet, according to 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 2 Timothy 2:18, there were those who were teaching that the Day of the Lord – with the attendant destruction of the elements – had already come!

If this is the correct view of the Day of the Lord, how could anyone convince you that it had already happened, let’s say, last week?  Could you possibly believe such a message?  How utterly foolish to suggest that the earth had been destroyed, and yet life on earth continued unchanged!  Wouldn’t you notice something if the universe had perished out from under your feet?

There is a growing awareness and acknowledgment among Bible students today that Biblical eschatology really is not about the end of time and creation.  It is about the end of one order, the Old Heaven and Earth of animal sacrifice since the time of the sacrifice in the garden for Adam and Eve, and the establishment of a new order Heaven and Earth through the physical blood of Christ shed upon the cross, the everlasting Kingdom.  In other words, Biblical eschatology is not about Historical Eschatology, i.e. the end of history, but Fulfilled Eschatology, the end of Old Covenant history and beginning of the New Covenant history.

With this correct concept of believing the Fulfilled Eschatology Day of the Lord, as opposed to the error of believing the Historical Eschatology Day of the Lord, then when those in the 1st century saw civil wars, (cf. Matthew 24:5f), famine, (Acts 12), earthquake, (Acts 12; Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius), and other natural disasters it would be understandable how some seeing these signs could believe the false teaching of Hymenaeus saying that the Lord’s coming and the resurrection may have happened.

So with understanding of OT judgment and Day of the Lord, we can look into how Hymenaeus and Philetus could have mistaken that this had already happened. 

At least two events had happened in Jerusalem that might have been used by the false teachers to convince the Thessalonians that the Day of the Lord had already come. 

  • Josephus relates that under the Procurator Cumanus, circa AD 48-52, there was a riot in the Temple area of Jerusalem.  Over 30,000 people were trampled to death in one day.
  • Earlier, between AD 39-41, occurred the infamous incident in which Caligula commanded that his statue be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem.  This incident brought the nation to the brink of war. 

These events could have been the basis of the claims of the false teachers.  The incident involving Caligula’s statue could have been seen as fulfillment of Paul’s teaching about the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:5).  The catastrophe involving all the deaths could have been misunderstood as Christ’s wrath on the Temple.


Another issue that has seemingly escaped the attention of those who attempt to use 2 Timothy 2 against Fufilled Eschatology is verse 19.  Paul continues his discussion of the Hymenaean controversy by giving encouragement to those in Ephesus, “Nevertheless, the foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'”

In 2 Timothy 2:19 Paul is quoting from Numbers 16 and the rebellion of Korah.  The issue in Numbers was one of authority, a question of identity (Numbers 16:3-5).  Was Moses to be the sole leader, or would others share in that authority?  The issue in Timothy was, “Nevertheless,… The Lord knows who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).  It is a question of identity.

We need to look a little closer at Hymenaeus to see the significance of Paul’s assurances in 2 Timothy 2:19.


I, as many others believe, that Hymenaeus and Philetus were Judaizers.  However, upon study I think it can be understood that they were not just the standard form of Judaizers, but ones who brought in their Grecian mindset of conglomerating and synthesizing many various views into one.  The standard Judaizers accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  They accepted the church as the kingdom.  However, they also clung tenaciously to the Torah, Old Jerusalem, and the old cultus.  They, therefore, believed that the promised Messiah and His new world was inclusive of the old.

The Judaizers, e.g. Hymenaeus, insisted that Old Covenant Israel’s things continued valid, that the old world identified the true people, with the addition of Jesus as Messiah.  The Judaizers believed that Israel remained the chosen seed, and that Gentiles had to be incorporated into that old world.  They believed that Gentiles could only find their identity as children of God by inclusion into Old Covenant Israel’s world.  Therefore, they demanded that the Gentile converts, “keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised to be saved” (Acts 15:2).

Paul, however, knew, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Romans 9:6-8), that circumcision is that of the heart and not the flesh (Romans 2:28-29).  The question had to be settled as to whether the old world remained as the chosen, or if YHWY was in the process of creating a new people with a new name (Isaiah 65:13-19).  Who was the True Seed (Galatians 4:22-30)?

The old world could not deliver from the law of sin and death and the subsequent second death (spiritual/eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire).  The Law was the strength of sin (Romans 7:7-11), and the ministration of death (2 Corinthians 3:6-7).  The Law was weak through the flesh, and could never deliver from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-4).  While it was perfect for the purposes intended, the Law was imperfect to save (Romans 5:21; Galatians 3:20-21; Hebrews 8).  For the Judaizers, therefore, to insist that Christ’s new world was inclusive of the Old Law was destructive to the salvation by grace that Paul taught.  The full consummation of the New Covenant Kingdom could not be complete while the old world remained (Hebrews 9:6-10).    

For Hymenaeus to suggest that the new world was perfected, inclusive of the old world, therefore, was to say that the resurrection was past and overthrow the faith of some by insisting on the continued observance of the Old Law.  It was to continue in Law and not go on to Grace, and they could never be perfected by the Law (Gal. 3:1-5)


In the rebellion of Korah, YHWY told Moses to inform the people, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men!  Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their tents” (Numbers 16:26).  The Lord was to give a sign that would settle the issue of His chosen.  Moses said, “If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me.  But, if the Lord creates a new thing, and the earth opens its’ mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the Lord” (Numbers 16:29-35).   

As Moses said, “The Lord will show who is His, and who is holy” (Numbers 16:5).  The Lord would settle the question about the identity of His chosen by bringing judgment on the rebellious!  (It is interesting that God calls the judgment of Israel in AD 70 an “unusual act,” meaning it would be something they did not expect, Isaiah 28:21.)

Paul’s use of Numbers contains the implicit, but clear warning of impending judgment on the “false children.”  Just as God gave Israel a sign, the destruction of Korah and his followers, that identified the true Sons of God, In 2 Timothy 4:1 Paul claims his authority as the true apostle/leader when he tells them “I charge you,” and then clearly states how YHWY was about to judge at the Parousia with the imminent appearing of the Kingdom which would be another sign which would validate his message and authority and confirm the identity of the True Israel.  He would destroy the old world, thus removing any argument of the Judaizers.  Hymenaeus (as well as the Jews), who maintained that the old world remained the focus of God’s attention would be falsified.  The Judaizer’s argument that God had completed His work, that the resurrection had been perfected and included the old world, would be definitively shown to be false.


The Body was Involved in Both Resurrection and Rapture:

We need to explore further the question of if Paul would have condemned Hymenaeus this harshly (1 Tim. 1:19-20 and 2 Tim. 2:16-18) if his only problem was the timing of the resurrection/rapture event?  The Corinthian “brothers” were labeled as “foolish” for buying into the Greek view of the “immortality of the soul” and the disembodied afterlife without any need for a resurrection, but they were not condemned as heretics for it.  Paul corrected their foolishness and told them to be steadfast and unmovable in the faith, since they had a resurrection hope.  The Thessalonians were confused on the timing of the “day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:1-2), but were not condemned for it.  If all Hymenaeus was guilty of was confusion over the timing of the resurrection, Paul would certainly have corrected him, like he did the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15) and the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2), but he would not have condemned him this sharply.  It seems therefore that Hymenaeus was guilty of something far more serious, more in the relation to the nature of the resurrection and rapture, not just the timing of it.

Some have suggested that Hymenaeus most likely would have been aware of the “many saints” who were physically “raised” at the time of Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:52), and that maybe Hymenaeus thought that was the resurrection which was already past.  Since this idea has historical and Biblical substance, it would seem improper for Paul to have reacted so strongly against it as he does here.  He would have merely corrected the temporal misapplication of the resurrection without condemning him for subverting the faith.  Something more serious seems to be involved here.

There are more possible concepts of the nature of the resurrection besides the traditional view and the Preterist view.  We need to be aware that the Sadducees, Pharisees, Greeks, Gnostics, Jews and Christians all had differing concepts of the resurrection.  And there were combinations of these views to attempt a synthesis.  The Greeks and Gnostics were always trying to harmonize many views into one.  It seems probable that the Ephesians (where Hymenaeus was) were heavily influenced by Greek or Gnostic thought like the Corinthians.  That their concept of the resurrection was merely some Greek metaphysical or Gnostic mystical concept, such as the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul, or a Gnostic distortion of Paul’s “raised up and seated with Christ” language.

Augustine understood Hymenaeus’ error to have been a distortion of Paul’s “raised up with Christ” metaphors in Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 2-3, and Romans 6.  The thing that made it so repugnant to Paul was that they were twisting Paul’s own words to teach their Greek views.  Augustine says, “Some, indeed, studying the words so frequently used by the apostle, about our being dead with Christ and raised together with Him, and misunderstanding the sense in which they are used, have thought that the resurrection is already past, and that no other is to be hoped for …. “

I believe a fundamental error that Paul condemned was Hymenaeus’ concept/nature of resurrection and how he was using it to subvert the faith of many there at Ephesus – not just the timing of the resurrection.  My sense of this passage is that he was both Greek and early Gnostic in his concept of the afterlife and was twisting Paul’s “raised up with Him” statements into a past “spiritual-only resurrection at the time of conversion.” 

With this type of teaching Hymenaeus would have been guilty of a far worse error than simply the timing of the resurrection event, or the denial of a literal rapture.  He would be denying a bodily afterlife by saying that the only resurrection we get is a spiritual one at conversion, and by saying that for all Christians that resurrection (at conversion and/or baptism) was already past.

Let’s conclude with summarizing a few points about the resurrection for all of us who are now post-AD 70.  Saints now who die after AD 70 do not need a resurrection out of Hades (the waiting place of the dead until the resurrection), since they no longer go to Hades at death (2 Cor. 5:6, 8; Phil. 1:21, 23).  All the dead were raised out of Hades in the unseen realm by AD 70, and Hades itself was thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14).  Saints now receive their new immortal bodies and go directly to heaven immediately at physical death (2 Cor. 5:1-2).  The terms “raised” or “resurrection” in the Bible almost always refers to being raised out of Hades, so these would not be correct terms to use in reference to saints today after AD 70.  Technically speaking, when a saint dies today, he is not “raised” out of Hades (because he never goes there).  He goes directly to heaven where he receives his new immortal body.


For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series”:

Study Series 14 Lesson 6 Resurrection: 2 Thessalonians 1…How Can This have happened…Answering Objections