Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The "non imputation of sin" in 2 Tim 4:16

I came across an interesting passage that I haven't spent much time with but I'd like to share and comment on:
2 Tim 4: 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged [imputed] against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.
To begin, Paul is speaking of a time late in his life when he was put on trial (Chrysostom thinks Paul stood before Nero), yet all of Paul's friends abandoned him rather than stick around and support him. So while his friends sinned, at least apparently, Paul didn't get upset, and rather had God by his side to help defend him (cf Mt 10:18-20). We often hear the term "apologetics" coming from 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter says "always be ready to give a defense," but the Greek term "apologia" is also used here by Paul. (It's often used in the Bible especially when referring to Christians being put on trial before a persecuting government). From this instance, we see apologetics is more than just a friendly debate, it's about openly confessing God before a hostile crowd (cf Rom 10:9-10, which I wrote about HERE).
That said, the real focus of this post is upon Paul's statement about his friends: "may it [the sin of forsaking Paul] not be charged [imputed] against them". There are two ways to interpret this phrase, neither of which supports the erroneous Protestant idea that to "not impute sin" to us must mean that our sin was imputed/transferred to an innocent substitute (e.g. to Jesus, in your place). Here's why.

First, I have written many times (e.g. HERE) how "not imputing sin" in Romans 4:8 (Ps 32:1-2) and 2 Corinthians 5:19 is a Hebrew idiom for 'forgiving sin'. The same special Greek word Logizomai is used here, and in the negative, as it is with the other texts just mentioned. As you can see, there is nothing in this text to suggest their sins must necessarily be imputed to Jesus, and it would be quite random for Paul to be imply such a thing in this context. Rather, as most English translations render it, something along the lines of pardon/forgiveness is the intended meaning.

Second, while most standard Protestant commentaries see it as simple forgiveness, a few point out that the Greek term here for "them" (the friends) is emphatic in the Greek, meaning Paul is actually emphasizing that they aren't really to blame, but rather others are to blame. In other words, Paul is saying that they abandoned him not out of malicious intent, but rather out of fear, and so even though it was wrong to abandon Paul, it doesn't carry actual guilt. (Even Catholic moral theology recognizes that something evil done out of serious fear loses much/all the guilt.) Rather, the actual guilt is on the persecutors for causing the brothers to abandon Paul, and thus it is these persecutors who are actually the ones that sin should be reckoned to. In this case, this is more disastrous for the Protestant view, since here we see guilt is expressly not being transferred from one guilty party to another, since the friends who do not actually bear any guilt are thus rightly not reckoned as being sinners. Meanwhile, Paul is suggesting that those persecutors should truly be reckoned as the sinners, precisely because they actually are guilty. This thus undermines the Protestant dogma that Jesus was legitimately "reckoned" as a sinner (because we see here that sin can only be reckoned to an actual sinner)! 
So, which of the two readings above is the correct one? While I like the second reading more, it seems that the first reading is the more likely option, since Jesus and the Apostles often warn against denying Jesus during times of persecution. Even in that same Letter, Paul tells Timothy: "If we deny Him, He will deny us." (2 Tim 2:12) It seems that if fear of persecution was a legitimate "excuse" to deny Jesus, then the Bible shouldn't have needed to (repeatedly) warn against it. (Technically speaking, only if someone is literally paralyzed by fear such that they lose control of their ability to think/act, does guilt cease to be, which is not in view for these Biblical warnings.) 

Finally, one other gem to point out about this verse is that Paul speaks of being "deserted," which is the same Greek term that Jesus used for "forsaken". This "forsaken" while on the Cross is the Protestant's favorite "proof text" that Jesus was damned to hellfire by the Father (see HERE). But the Greek term is used consistently to simply mean "leave alone," and thus nothing about the term suggests a positive punishment such as God's wrath being poured out. When Jesus quotes Psalm 22 about the Father "forsaking," this means "leaving alone" in a time of persecution, to suffer in the hands of sinners rather than being rescued (as I've argued HERE and HERE). Paul is experiencing something similar to Jesus, when the Apostles also abandoned Jesus in His hour of need, while God did in fact stay by their side. And Paul concludes by saying "I was rescued from the lion's mouth," which might sound like nothing special, but in fact this line comes directly from Psalm 22:21! So Paul was clearly alluding to Psalm 22 here, which is a Psalm that ends in God vindicating the righteous (22:24). 

In conclusion, it looks like the gem of 2 Timothy 4:16-17 actually refutes, or at least undermines, two common Protestant errors!

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