Jannes and Jambres of 2 Timothy 3:8 – who were they?

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In a letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul mentioned certain wicked men, and likened them to “Jannes and Jambres”.

2 Timothy 3:8 And as Jannes and Jambres went against Moses, so do these go against what is true: men of evil minds, who, tested by faith, are seen to be false. (BBE)

“Jannes and Jambres” are traditional names for Egyptian “magicians” and tricksters who opposed Moses. The story regarding them is found in the book of Exodus, chapters 7, 8 and 9. The Lord had sent Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but the pharaoh’s “magicians” tried to stop that.

Here is an excerpt from the entry on 2 Timothy 3:8 in the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary (1871):

[…] Jannes…Jambres—traditional names of the Egyptian magicians who resisted Moses (Exodus 7.11, 22), derived from “the unwritten teaching of the Jews” [theodoret]. In a point so immaterial as the names, where Scripture had not recorded them, Paul takes the names which general opinion had assigned the magicians. eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, quotes from numenius, “Jannes and Jambres were sacred scribes (a lower order of priests in Egypt) skilled in magic.” hiller interprets “Jannes” from the Abyssinian language a trickster, and “Jambres” a juggler […]

The context of 2 Timothy 3:8 shows that the men whom Paul likened to Jannes and Jambres, were, among other things, “lovers of money”, “laden with sins”, “led by various lusts”. They “managed to get into houses and becharm gullible women” (verse 6). They were always “learning” but were never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (verse 7). Paul further noted that those men opposed the truth and had evil minds and were false (verse 8). In short: He was talking about some men who apparently were just as wicked as the “Jannes and Jambres” of ancient Egypt had been.

The meaning of the phrase ‘last days’ in 2 Timothy 3:1.

In the chapter which mentions “Jannes and Jambres”, the first verse talks about “last days”. “But be certain of this, that in the last days times of trouble will come.” Some have wondered what time that passage refers to. The context actually makes the timing clear, but let us read Hebrews 1:2 where the Greek text contains the same expression:

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (NKJV, highlighting added)

“Has in these last days spoken”. In other words: When the apostle wrote that letter, that “speaking” had already taken place. This helps us to understand how that phrase is used in 2 Timothy 3:1 (the timing part).

In Hebrews 1:2, what the above-quoted NKJV has as “in these last days”, is in the Greek text ep eschatôn tôn hêmerôn. In 2 Timothy 3:1 the Greek text has en eschatais hêmerais. See also the use of similar expressions in James 5:3, 1 Peter 1:20, 1 John 2:18 et cetera. – The point here is that in both cases, Hebrews 1 and 2 Timothy 3, the apostle was talking about things and persons of his own day. Even other details in 2 Timothy 3 make it clear that that chapter refers to things and persons in the first century.

So, 2 Timothy 3 does not refer to what we today view as “end time”.

Of course, there are even in our day religious deceivers who through trickery and deception use people. But, the persons whom Paul likened to Jannes and Jambres were contemporary with Paul himself.

(Those who wonder why Paul, Peter, John and James used such expressions as “last days” and “last hour”, regarding things that took place in the first century, can read the article nga040.htm.)

The context tells us more about the men whom Paul likened to Jannes and Jambres.

The below-quoted passage in Paul’s letter to Timothy records how he described those men. He did not have anything good to say about them.

2 Timothy 3:1 But be certain of this, that in the last days [a] times of trouble will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, uplifted in pride, given to bitter words, going against the authority of their fathers, never giving praise, having no religion, 3 Without natural love, bitter haters, saying evil of others, violent and uncontrolled, hating all good, 4 False to their friends, acting without thought, lifted up in mind, loving pleasure more than God; 5 Having a form of religion, but turning their backs on the power of it: go not with these. 6 For these are they who go secretly into houses, making prisoners of foolish women, weighted down with sin, [b] turned from the way by their evil desires, 7 Ever learning, and never coming to the knowledge of what is true. 8 And as Jannes and Jambres went against Moses, so do these go against what is true: men of evil minds, who, tested by faith, are seen to be false. 9 But they will go no farther: for their foolish behaviour will be clear to all men, as theirs was in the end. (BBE, note signs added)

a Verse 1: As was noted earlier, here the expression “last days” refers to Paul’s own day, in the first century.

b Verse 6: It is quite obvious that the expression “weighted down with sin” (some translations have “burdened with sins”) refers to those deceiving men, and not the women whom they deceived.

Again, it is clear that some men of bad nature caused problems for the disciples, in their fellowships. This was in Paul’s own day and age, in the first century.

Different translations in 2 Timothy 3:13 – ‘impostors’, ‘jugglers’, ‘phony preachers’, and so on.

Translators have interpreted a certain word in the Greek text of 2 Timothy 3:13 in different ways. Some have rendered it as “impostors” or “jugglers”, some as “pretenders”, “seducers”, “deceivers” or “phony preachers”.

Let us keep in mind that the first thing that Paul said about the men – obviously, religious deceivers – whom he likened to Jannes and Jambres, was that they were lovers of themselves and lovers of money (2 Timothy 3:2, in the Greek text philautos and philarguros). With this fact in memory, let us read more in Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul contrasted the ways of those deceivers, with how he himself had acted. We read:

2 Timothy 3:10 But you know all about my teachings, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You also know about the kind of persecutions and sufferings which happened to me in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I endured those persecutions, and the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Those who try to live a godly life because they believe in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil people and phony preachers [c] will go from bad to worse as they mislead people and are themselves misled. (GWV, note sign added)

So, the men whom Paul referred to (2 Timothy 3:2–9 and 13) were ego-centred deceivers who loved money. It appears that they tried to live at the cost of those whom they deceived. – Later in this article, there is more on Paul’s own way of life which verse 10 refers to.

c In verse 13 where the above-quoted GWV has “phony preachers”, the Greek text has goêtes, plural of goês which was used in such meanings as “enchanter”, “juggler”, “cheat”. Related words in old Greek: The noun goêteia which meant “jugglery”, “witchcraft”, and the verb goêteuô which meant “to bewitch”, “to beguile”, “to fascinate” (like a snake) and even, “to play the wizard”. In verse 13, a literal translation would be something like “but wicked men and tricksters shall become worse and worse, deceiving”, but the above-quoted paraphrase GWV makes the matter more clear by its wording “but evil people and phony preachers will go from bad to worse as they mislead people”. Indeed, it appears that that is precisely what Paul meant. And again, he was contrasting his own way of life, with those deceivers’ ways and manners.

What verse 10 refers to.

In verse 10, the above-quoted GWV has “but you know all about my teachings, my way of life” (GWV). Paul was reminding Timothy that he knew how he (Paul) had acted, in contrast to the deceivers whom he likened to “Jannes and Jambres”.

One of the many differences between Paul and those deceivers was that Paul did not proclaim the Good Tidings for money. (There is more on this, a bit later in this article.) Again, the very first thing Paul said about those wicked, deceiving men was that they were lovers of themselves and lovers of money (2 Timothy 3:2). Let us check even the preceding verses. There, we read how Paul gave certain instructions to Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (NASB95, highlighting added)

Verse 26 mentions “the snare of the devil”. A passage in another letter from Paul to Timothy shows that the love of money is such a snare:

1 Timothy 6:9 But they who desire to become rich, fall into temptations, and into snares, and into many lusts which are foolish and hurtful, and which drown men in destruction and perdition: 10 for the love of money is the root of all these evils. And there are some who, coveting it, have erred from the faith, and brought themselves into many sorrows. (MUR, highlighting added)

A note regarding the words “all these evils” in verse 10: The above-quoted Murdoch version is based on the Syriac (Aramaic) Peshitta, but it is in harmony with the Greek text’s wording pantôn tôn kakôn which means “all these evils”. As Adam Clarke noted in his commentary,

Money is the root of no evil, nor is it an evil of any kind; but the love of it is the root of all the evils mentioned here.

The preceding verses show what the evils in question were and consisted of.

1 Timothy 6: […] 5 perverse disputings of men of corrupt understanding, and destitute of the truth, using piety as a source of gain: [d] from such withdraw thyself. 6 But piety with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 So that, [having] sustenance and covering, let us be content with this. 9 For those that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (JB, note sign and comment added)

d Verse 5, “using piety as a source of gain”. The Mace version phrases that as “who consider religion only as it makes for their gain”. Compare this with 2 Timothy 3:2, Paul’s note regarding the “Jannes and Jambres” deceivers, that they were “lovers of themselves, lovers of money” (BBE). Also, compare 1 Timothy 6:10, “in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the Faith” (20CNT), with 2 Timothy 3:8, “as regards the Faith, they are utterly worthless” (20CNT). And again, in the latter verse the BBE has, “men of evil minds, who, tested by faith, are seen to be false”.

So, regarding 1 Timothy 6:9–10 – the desire to become rich and using religion as a tool for that, was one of the evils which Paul was warning about. (The article nma080.htm takes a closer look at that passage.)

More on Paul’s way of life, in contrast to that of the deceivers whom he likened to ‘Jannes and Jambres’.

2 Timothy 3:10 was quoted earlier. Paul wrote to Timothy, “you know all about my teachings, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance” (GWV).

Knowing what Paul’s example and way of life really was and what it meant on the practical level, is a key to understanding the “Jannes and Jambres” matter of 2 Timothy 3:1–13 in more depth.

The book of Acts records how Paul, when he was in a warning way speaking to a group of elders, reminded them that they knew what his manner of life had been. Please read all of this passage, and note especially verses 33–35 which show that Paul had supported himself through manual work.

Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time […] 28 So, take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians over, to tend the assembly of God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, burdensome wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own selves shall arise men who speak perverted things, in order to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore keep watch, remembering that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone, with tears, night and day. 32 And now I commit you, brothers, to God, and the word of his grace, who is able to edify you and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)

Again, Paul reminded those elders that they knew that he had always supported himself through manual work, verse 34. (He was a tentmaker, see Acts 18:3.) And, he had even provided aid and support for others, see verses 34 and 35 above. This was in sharp contrast to the money-loving “Jannes and Jambres” type of deceiving men whom Paul warned about in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3).

Acts 20: In that speech to those elders, Paul warned about deceivers whom he likened to “burdensome wolves … not sparing the flock”, verse 29 – that is, men who tried to live at the cost of Jesus’ flock. See even Matthew 7:15. Such deceivers (“wolves”) were in many ways similar to the wicked men whom Paul in his letter to Timothy likened to “Jannes and Jambres” (2 Timothy 3).

Once again, let us consider what Paul said to the elders from Ephesus, regarding his own manner of life:

Acts 20:33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)

He told the elders whom he was addressing, to follow his example.

Please note that Paul was on the giving side. That is in sharp contrast to the “Jannes and Jambres” type of men whom Paul described as “lovers of self, lovers of money, uplifted in pride”, and so on.

That is what Paul referred to when he compared his own way of life (2 Timothy 3:10), with that of the tricksters and deceivers of 2 Timothy 3:2–9 and 13.

The article nma020.htm has more on Acts 20 (and 2 Corinthians 9:7). The article nma030.htm has some notes on Paul’s example in general. The article nma010.htm sorts out the “tithe question”.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm

A study on the phrases “the snare of the Devil” and “the love of money is the root of all evil”. How those who were to proclaim the Good Tidings, could become spiritually unfruitful. → nma080.htm

Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm

On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → nma030.htm

What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → nma010.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → nga020.htm

Jesus warned about false prophets, deceivers and deception. He said that many would be deceived. → noa090.htm

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