The Snare Of The Devil
1 Timothy 3: 6 -7: “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into
the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report
of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare
of the devil”.
This is used to suggest that the devil is a person constantly hunting souls.
1. The word “soul” does not occur here.
2. Because the Word can overcome the devil (our evil desires) as we see from Jesus’ wilderness temptations, we must have it in our hearts (Ps. 119:11); it is when one is inexperienced in the Word that they fall to the devil - in this verse, pride, the “devil” or the evil desires of the human mind taking over.
3. The idea of the devil consciously trying to catch people in v. 7 has to be read into this verse. By contrast it is stressed that he (the bishop, vs. 1 & 2) may “fall” into the snare of the devil.
4. The “snare of the devil” is defined in 1 Timothy 6: 9: “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare...into many foolish and hurtful lusts”. Thus the snare of the devil is the temptation that comes from our lusts, which is exactly what James 1:13-15 says.
1. “The condemnation of the devil” is that brought about by the devil. At the judgment it would be unfair for us to be condemned personally for how the devil, in the sense of an external being, had used us. But we will be condemned on account of letting the devil - our evil desires - go unchecked, e.g. “by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). The Lord taught that He is a Saviour, and He came more to save than condemn. And yet some will sadly be condemned. Why? By whom? They will have condemned themselves by their own sinful behaviour. They will have been condemned by “the devil”.
2. We have commented earlier how the Word is the power by which we overcome the devil: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). The Hebrew word for “hid” means to lay a snare for, as if the evil thoughts enter our consciousness, but are snared by the Word. Thus the language of the devil’s victory over men is also used of man’s spiritual victory over the devil. Other examples include the following:
- Men “fall away” because of losing their hold on the Word (Lk. 8:13). The devil “departed” - same word translated “fall away’ - from Christ because He held on to the word in His mind (Lk. 4:13). We are captured either in the devil’s victory procession (2 Tim. 2:26) or Christ’s (Eph. 4: 8 N.I.V.).
- 2 Timothy 2:26 A.V. margin says that men are taken alive by the devil at his will, but men are caught alive by the Word of the Gospel (Lk. 5:10). Thus the exhortation comes home again of the great profit of Bible study and that through it we can conquer the devil and become “wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16).
- We have seen in “The tempter came to him” in our consideration of the wilderness temptations that our evil desires are described as coming to us. Yet this same language of physical movement is used about the Word of God coming to the prophets, and Christ coming to us through the preaching of the Word (Eph. 2: 17).
3. “Reproach and the snare of the devil” may refer to the Jewish satan/devil being quick to pick up any shadow that hung over a Christian leader to discredit Christianity - they would bring reproach on Christianity if the bishop had a bad “report of them which are without”. Examples of the Jews and Judaizers using these tactics are in 1 Peter 2:12; 3:16; 2 Peter 2:10 (the “dignities” may be similar to the “bishops” of 1 Tim. 3); 1 Timothy 5:14; 2 Corinthians 10:10; Acts 21: 28-29.
A novice might “fall into the condemnation of the (Jewish) devil” by not being mature enough to resist the inroads of the Judaizers as they tried to “subvert whole houses” (Titus 1:11) - i.e. house churches - probably by subverting the bishops or leaders of the churches first.
2 Timothy 2:26: “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will”.
This is thought to mean that the devil is actively capturing people to make them sinful “at his will” - whenever he desires.
1. If the devil literally captures anyone he desires, then there is nothing we can do to stop him. The Word of God is not powerful enough to stop him in this case.
2. “Recover” really means “awake”. It is through Christians being spiritually sleepy that they are captured by the devil; thus ultimately it is their fault.
3. “Taken captive” means to catch alive, as fish are caught (it is translated “catch” in Lk. 5:10). The devil catches people by his snare. We have defined this “snare of the devil” in the notes on 1 Timothy 3: 7, Comment No. 5, as the evil desires of man.
4. Knowing the Truth (i.e. the Word of God - Jn. 17:17) and receiving teaching and instruction (which ultimately only comes from the Word) are the means of awaking out of the snare of the devil here (2 Tim. 2:24-26). The Word of God overcomes our evil desires (Ps. 119:11; cp. Jesus in the wilderness); here, the Word of God overcomes the snare of the devil, which is, therefore, our evil desires. It is therefore implied that through lack of attention to the Word, these people had been ensnared by the devil. Thus being ensnared is not due to an evil being just deciding to make someone sin, but of that person’s lack of attention to the Word.
5. The word “will” means the “desires”. Most times when it is not used about the will of God and of Jesus, it is used about the evil “will” or desires within man:
- Peter defines “the will of the Gentiles” as walking in “lusts” and fleshly behaviour (1 Pet. 4: 3). In the previous verse he contrasts the will of God and the lust of men, implying that the lusts of men are the will of men;
- See, too, 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 7: 37; Luke 23:25.
The will of the devil here in 2 Timothy 2:26 therefore refers to the evil lusts within our nature, which will ensnare us if we neglect the Word of God.
1. Apart from the devil referring to our evil desires here, it may also apply to the Jewish devil taking people alive (v. 26 A.V. margin) in the sense of subverting them to remain within the church in order to undermine Christianity. The “snare of the devil” of 1 Timothy 3: 7 is interpreted that way in the “Suggested Explanations” under that heading.
2. The context in 2 Timothy 2 seems to be about the Judaizers within the ecclesia, which would support what is suggested in 1 above.
3. “Profane and vain babblings...foolish and unlearned questions...that...gender strifes” (vs. 16 & 23) - these sound like the Jewish fables and genealogies which minister questions of which Paul had previously warned Timothy (1 Tim. 1: 4; Titus 1:14).
4. “Repentance...that they may recover themselves” (vs.25 & 26) implies that the people referred to had once believed the Truth.
5. These people are described as “vessels...to dishonour” in v. 20. This very same expression is used in Romans 9: 21-25 concerning the Jews after they had rejected the Truth as it is in Christ.
6. “Concerning the truth (they) have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already” (v. 18). This de-emphasizing of the future Kingdom on the earth is very necessary in Judaist theology. To them their reward is to live acceptably before God in this life.
7. They “overthrow the faith of some” (v. 18). “Overthrow” is the same word translated “subvert”. Nearly every other time it occurs it is in the context of the Judaizers subverting the Christians - Titus 1:11; 3:9-11 (an equivalent word); Acts 15:24 (the Judaizers “subvert your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law”).
8. Note that we are to catch men in our preaching of the Gospel. Yet Paul uses the same figure here to describe what the devil does. Men are caught by one thing or the other- the devil, or our preaching of Christ.