Hymenaeus, Philetus, Alexander et al: "They were not of our sort..."

"They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us."
(1 John 2:19)
Hymenaeus, Philetus, Alexander - these names may not be immediately familiar to us, but I like to imagine that the truth resides with these rejected fellows, these waifs and strays of the New Testament who are spoken of in rather abusive terms by the likes of Paul and John.

We have no real idea of the full extent of the wrongs perpetrated by these men, yet somehow we are quick to judge them negatively because we instinctively come down on the side of the Bible writer. However, in reaching a conclusion based on accusations made in several letters, we are only really hearing one side of the argument.

What seems to be undisputed is that towards the latter half of the first century there were those who were departing from the Church. Paul himself alludes to this exodus when he writes to Timothy:
"You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes."
2 Timothy 1:15
No doubt there are various theories as to why members were deserting the Church, but I like to think that by the mid-60s, thirty-odd years after the supposed event, rumours of what Jesus really said were beginning to filter through, and subsequently men were coming to their own conclusions rather than be taught a message by the hand of someone who had never actually witnessed Jesus, ie. Paul.

By the end of his third missionary tour even Paul was quoting "the Lord Jesus himself", saying to the older men of Miletus and Ephesus, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35) As it turns out, Paul is left with egg on his face on account of this particular quote ended up on the cutting room floor when the official versions of the biography of Jesus surfaced. Luke manages to slot it into The Acts of Apostles a little bit like a movie out-take saved for a DVD extra.

It is highly dubious to roll out, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," even when talking about helping the poor - more so when you are talking about yourself helping the poor - as it calls in to question the motives of the giver. One wonders whether Paul ever used this quote when attempting to rustle up financial aid.

When word about the mysterious man behind the proclamations of Messiahship began to surface, it was rather alarming to find that this Jesus was probably more of a you-received-free-give-free* kinda guy than a worker-deserves-his-wages** advocate.

Financial remuneration wasn't the only thing Paul promoted. Paul was all about suffering now and being rewarded later. He closes his first letter to Timothy with the exhortation to, "Fight the fine fight of the faith," in order to safely treasure up a "fine foundation for the future," which God would bring "in his own due time." The holy spirit was a "token" of what was to come - a down-payment, a guarantee. Paul turned everything in to persecution and suffering.

In contrast, word was coming through that this Jesus was all about living a stress-free life right now. Throwing off the dead weight of life's burdens; casting off - letting go. Becoming dead to what was and rising to life right now. "Your sins are forgiven," was doing the rounds. Not a future forgiveness, or a forgiveness that had to be earned, but a forgiveness that existed in perpetuity. Take it, it's yours.

Advance word was also hinting at this Jesus living a "leave them be" life. "He that is not against us is for us," was his philosophy. Paul on the other hand had already demonstrated himself to be an old sulk when Mark had abandoned him at Perga on his first missionary journey, even displaying a sharp outburst of anger when Barnabas later suggests taking Mark along for his second missionary tour. Paul was having none of it, and they went their separate ways. Singling out individuals for upbraiding was not alien to Paul.

John complained about Diotrephes wanting the first place among men and not receiving the disciples with respect, but Paul had demonstrated a similar propensity for this sort of behaviour. On the one hand he had declared, "To the Jew I became as a Jew", and yet he tore Peter off a strip when Peter attempted to follow this same idea. How respectful was Paul being when he publicly chastised Peter? He boldly relates this tale in his letter to the Galatians, a letter in which he had already referred to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem somewhat archly as ones who "seemed to be pillars."

Among those mentioned by Paul in his letters addressed to Timothy are Hymenaeus and Philetus. The need to become dead and be reborn might be what these ones had attached significance to, much to Paul's chagrin:
"Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some."
(2 Timothy 2:16-18)
It could be that they were talking to others about a spiritual resurrection, and that you didn't need to wait for this to take place, that it could happen right now. They didn't think they had wandered away from the truth. Only a marked conviction could induce them to persevere with a course of action which would merit them being censured by Paul.

Another one singled out by Paul was Demas.
"Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things..."
(2 Timothy 4:10)
Perhaps it could be that Demas had caught wind of the saying, "Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties," and had come to the conclusion that we don't rightly know what the future holds, that we are better off being fully aware of our life right now. Demas could well have been an early adopter of Eckhart Tolle's The Power Of Now.

Hymenaeus had already been targeted by Paul, along with a certain Alexander. They stood accused as men who have "thrust aside faith and a good conscience," and have experienced "shipwreck concerning their faith." Paul had handed them over to Satan, "that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20) It is very likely that these men did not consider themselves as having thrust aside their faith at all. That rather than having experienced ship-wreck concerning their faith, they had never felt more sure of themselves.

Alexander is mentioned again later:
"Alexander the coppersmith did me many injuries - the Lord will repay him according to his deeds - and you too be on guard against him, for he resisted our words to an excessive degree."
(2 Timothy 4:14)
Is this what Paul considered to be injuries, "resisting his word to an excessive degree"? Perhaps Alexander had stood up to Paul, or had vehemently disagreed with him on certain points.

It seems disingenuous for Paul to accuse others of experiencing ship-wreck concerning their faith when it was Paul who seemed to be the one whose faith was all at sea. For a while it appears that he was convinced that something more was due to happen as regards the Messiah. His letters to the congregation in Corinth indicate quite clearly that he expected an end of sorts to be near. However, the passing of time proved this to be a fallacy. In his early insistence, though, Paul was skirting very close to being a false prophet, and by the sixth decade he had already fallen foul of the fruits of a false prophet by reverting to the methods employed by the Pharisees: warning against sects; forbidding the questioning of things; shunning. (Titus 3:9, 10)

There is still disagreement as to whether or not Paul was the author of the letters to Timothy - but even if they are an amalgam of later Christian teachings and excerpts from Paul's own hand, they seem to reveal a disconcerting level of narcissistic thinking. He claims to be entrusted with the glorious good news by God; the Lord assigned him a ministry; he was appointed a preacher and apostle, by none other than the Lord himself. Much of what Paul had been teaching had come from his own interpretations. He talks to Timothy about "the pattern of healthful words that you heard from me." In 2 Timothy 3:10 and 11 he talks about "my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings - what kind of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, the persecutions I endured." Yet here he is doling out a form of persecution to others, with his name-calling and labeling.

However, there is something slightly more disturbing even than these already concerning traits. It is possible that the expression used to describe Alexander's actions - that he did Paul "many injuries" - was the same word used for an informant. It suggests that Alexander sold Paul out to the authorities. This is convenient as it puts Alexander in the position of a betrayer, much like Judas. By claiming that "all those in Asia have deserted me" Paul subtly hints at a "strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter" fulfilment which suspiciously cloaks Paul in the guise of a Messiah figure himself. The trouble with this is that it makes Paul stand out as part of the sign: "False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect," wrote Mark in chapter 13, verse 22. Perhaps this is what men were beginning to turn away from.

It could be that by the mid-60s some men were simply fed up with Paul's inconsistency, his insistence on doing things exclusively his way, and his discomfiting Messianic aspirations. Rather than being used as examples of a dismal lack of faith, perhaps it's about time that these men were celebrated for their courage. Perhaps they felt that this Christianity business was a lost cause, and they were becoming more drawn to the interesting notion that "the kingdom of God is within you." As a result, 'they went out from among them, for they were not of their sort,' and for this they ought not to be sneered at.

* Matthew 10:8
** 1 Timothy 5:18