In II Timothy 4:14-15, Paul writes:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

Paul wants God to repay Alexander the metalworker. In other words Paul wants him to be punished. Why Paul wants a man he hates to suffer? Paul very well knows what a "Christian Love" is, and What Jesus did to those who treated him enemies.

Is there any specific reason why he did so?

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    -1 There are far too many assumptions in this question. 1) Paul wants God to repay him, 2) Paul hates him. 3) Punishment = suffering and is never for good, 4) Jesus kindness to His enemies (He spoke the harshest of words to them)...
    – Narnian
    Aug 7 '12 at 13:30
  • Actually, different translations give a different sense to Paul's words. I don't know koine Greek, but looking at some of those renderings -- especially Young's Literal & the KJV, among others -- it seems like some translators might have agreed with the OP. Aug 7 '12 at 21:38
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    @JBunyan: Young's & KJV were both written at a time with the use of the verb "may" was used in ways that it is no longer commonly used. Scripture translation has a fixed source but a moving target. Languages change. When reading any translation one must also understand the language and culture it is targeting. If that is old English, one must know the colloquialisms of the day. Notably, every commentator I've checked (9 of them so far) has agreed that there is no indication of Paul's personal feelings here in favor of his pronouncement of God's position and reminder that it is in His hands.
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 22:08
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    @Caleb: Software makes it easy to check a dozen or so commentaries in just minutes, doesn't it? I've found the same in the commentaries I've checked -- several specifically indicate an absence of wrath in Paul's tone. The Greek ἀποδίδωμι, rendered "reward" or "repay," etc., is Strong's G591; it might be interesting to see what they have to say over at Hermeneutics.SE. Aug 7 '12 at 22:23

The sensus plenior would simply indicate that Paul was human. Ministry leaders have feelings, too! Paul is 100% committed, and when he gets crossed, I would assume he gets cross. Throughout the New Testament, all of the writers are forever on guard against false teachers. They talk about how much damage they do in the church. As one who loves his flock, I too take it personally when someone harms my church. Of course I am going to wish that someone would "dash their infants' heads on the rocks."

Furthermore, there seems to be this idea that somehow everyone mentioned in Scripture is somehow super human and super holy. If you add up the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis 5, for example, you find that Methuselah died in the same year as the flood. There was this legend that grew up that said he died a week before the flood in order to preserve his supposed holiness but I have to ask, what evidence is there that Methusaleh was holy? Doesn't it make more sense that he died in the flood and that he was just as wicked as everyone else on the planet (save Noah)? Even with Noah, what's the first thing he does when he gets off the ark? He gets totally drunk!

My point is that just because people are in the Bible doesn't mean they are somehow super holy. To me, Paul sounds angry. Furthermore, as one who does what he did, I suspect he had good cause.

  • Not to forget that Alexander had probably tried to kill Paul. (2 Corinthians 11:25) I'd say that when you get stoned to within inches of death, a little bitterness is justified. (nay, it's justice Deuteronomy 32:35) Aug 7 '12 at 13:54
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    Really? Your hermeneutical key to this passage is that he sounds angry to you and you know no leaders are perfect therefore he must be having a lapse in judgement in the pages of what we take as divinely inspired advice to Timothy & a church? This might be a valuable side-note to keep in mind for all our Bible reading but it hardly seems like the main factor at work in this text.
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 16:44
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    @MonikaMichael: I've had people try to get me killed too. Literally. Bitterness isn't what I feel toward them nor would it be justified. However, I would warn my congregation about them if occasion arose so that they stay out of harms way if possible, while also advising anyone dealing with them NOT to take their anger out on them directly but that "God will punish them appropriately."
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 16:47
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    @MonikaMichael: I don't think we're speaking the same language yet. I'm not arguing that there isn't righteous anger. In fact I argue for that all the time! However, I am trying to say that your comment of "a little bitterness is justified" towards somebody who tried to harm you on account of Christ is not at all the same thing as righteous anger against an enemy of God. The OP's question talks about "hating a man and wanting him to suffer". That's not at all the kind of thing we see defined in Deuteronomy 32:35.
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 16:59
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    @AffableGeek: Do you have any references for ancient Patristic scholars? See comments on the question and my answer, but every commentator we've found so far has explicitly said the opposite. I agree with this as a general concept to help us understand the characters of Scripture, but I think you are misapplying it to a scenario that shows evidence of the contrary. This is dangerous in that it will tickle the fancy of a modern reader and allow them to miss an important bit of teaching. It may be a harder reading in general but in this context it's an easy way to excuse away our own problems.
    – Caleb
    Aug 8 '12 at 10:05

In asking this question, you have added a layer of interpretation onto the text that I do not see there. You introduce the word "want" which does not exist in the text.

In fact I don't see any indication in the text that Paul has a desire for personal vengeance or that he wants Alaxander to get what's coming to him. In fact is is quite likely based on what we know of Paul's responses to other people and his consistent teachings on related subjects that he would actually want the opposite for him.

However Paul is under a charge and has a responsibility here.

  1. He must warn the congregation about a real danger to its health. We are sent out as lambs among wolves, but we are also told to be wise as serpents. That includes identifying the wolves. By name if need be. As a shepherd Paul had to guard the congregation against somebody who would damage it.

  2. He must also warn Alexander that the consequences of his actions are eternal. People must be informed that while they may not experience punishment in this live, that does not excuse their actions and they stand under God's judgement. In phrasing his warning this way, he also makes it clear that it is not he (Paul) who will seek or meter out justice while still making it clear that justice will be served.

This seems consistent with everything else we know from Scripture -- that vengeance is God's and that those who oppose his work on this earth will find themselves opposed by God. Paul can at once long for ultimate justice to be done and God's people set free from their persecutions and even rejoice in the knowledge that the wrong will be set right -- while not having a personal desire to see somebody punished and not raising a finger against them.

Protecting the church and warning those in the world that they will be judged by God is not the same thing as what you imply. There is nothing here to indicate that Paul "hates a man" or "wants him to suffer" and his response is not outside the bounds of Christian Love.

Particularly in the West, we often compromise truth in the name of something we call "love", yet it is no love that does not proclaim the truth including making clear the severity of God's anger against those who oppose him.

  • Yes, the word "want" doesn't exist, But "The Lord will repay him for what he has done" explains his desire. Or Isn't it his desire? Then what else could it be? Also, I didn't ask "Why did Paul want to repay Alexander" - Paul certainly didn't have personal vengeance. But something which he couldn't tolerate must have happened.
    – Benny
    Aug 7 '12 at 14:57
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    @Benny: I already tried in my answer to explain what else it could be. I don't see any reason to assume as you have done that the remark is any indication of desire on Paul's part. We all agree something happened which Paul did not tolerate, but standing firm against opposition does not imply "hating a man and wanting them to suffer". You're bringing a boatload of misguided assumptions from humanist culture to your reading of the text.
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 15:21
  • @Caleb: What translation are you working from? Please see my comment on the OP's question with a link to a parallel Bible. What are your thoughts re the translators that rendered Paul in a decidedly more antagonistic tone than what is found in the ESV, NIV, etc.? Aug 7 '12 at 21:46
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    @JBunyan: I usually read ESV but usually reference several before commenting on anything. I looked at all the translations there as well as a few others, and don't see any "decidedly more antagonistic" tone. A couple translations use the construct "may the Lord", but this would pose no conflict to a reading that has Paul pronouncing that the issue is turned over to the Lord rather than showing personal hate himself. Notably, every commentary on that site and two more that I checked locally agree on this.
    – Caleb
    Aug 7 '12 at 22:01

A better wording would be "Did Paul want God to repay Alexander the metalworker".

For all we know, Paul is merely stating a fact that God will repay ("vengeance is mine, I will repay says The Lord") Alexander - but that repayment may or may not be "bad" ... it could just as easily be that Paul is leaving it up to God, and God may choose to save him.

Reading a 'desire' on the part of Paul into this statement seems dangerous and an example of

  • not putting the best construction on the words
  • failing to exegete, instead it is an eisegesis
  • missing the larger context of the letter which, while recorded and applicable to all the Saints, was distinctly written to Timothy in a personal, pastoral form
  • doesn't look at the very next verse (16):

    At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.

    • which seems to indicate that others ran away from or railed on Paul, and Alexander is just one of them
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    "it could just as easily be that Paul is leaving it up to God" Great answer. I think this statement and the next verse sums it up. Aug 7 '12 at 17:18
  • wonder what the downvote is for?
    – warren
    Apr 25 '13 at 20:08

Perhaps Paul is saying that "God will repay him" meaning.....let God handle it. He warns them that he strongly opposed the message so they could not be harmed. Maybe one of the disciples was saying "let me at him" and Paul is saying "God will handle it.....don't try to handle it because of what he did to me." I remember once a girl stole my money at school and I told my Mom I wanted to put peanut butter in her gym shoes. Mom said "God will handle it..." Just saying?


Reading the different translations and a few different commentaries I believe it is impotant to note that Paul has preached this before. That men are turned over to their own desires and reprobate minds. Alexander is portrayed as a blasphemer in other texts. He speaks falsely regarding the gospel. He is probably a member of the church ( Ephesus or Rome) and a jew. He contradicted Paul's teaching and probably had a lot to do with getting Paul stoned nearly to death.

This being said it seems clear Paul is warning Timothy away from any dealings with the man. He is telling Timothy that Alexander is dangerous and powerful and reminding him that God will judge the man for his actions.

In no way does this text imply that Paul is asking God to take vengeance on a man for pains inflicted on his person. Or that Paul is looking forward to seeing this enemy punished.

  • 1
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