The closing description of the heresy also sheds some additional light. Because of the dangers involved in the heresy, aptly illustrated in the lives of some prominent Christians who destroyed their faith (1:20; 2 Tim 2:17), Timothy must avoid it. Turn away, however, does not mean refrain from confrontation. Rather, this action represents the conscious decision not to become involved in or even contemplate the false doctrine.
Paul denounces it as godless chatter. Not only does it have nothing to do with God or godliness, but it is also foolish nonsense (1:6; 4:7). It may have been systematic, but in comparison with the "standard" gospel, and given the results it brought—argument, speculation, inconsistent behavior and so on—it was no more than profane nonsense.
But Paul's description reveals another clue to its nature. Falsely called knowledge is a reference to one of the errorists' catchwords, gnosis. This was indeed a misnomer, for its message contradicted the gospel. One specific point of contradiction presents itself in their belief concerning the resurrection of believers (2 Tim 2:18). Their choice of the word knowledge to describe their doctrine is no sure connection to later Gnosticism. It does reveal, however, that what one "knew" rather than what one did determined one's spiritual status. From this came their negative view of the physical world (4:3) and other perversions of behavior. In correction Paul used another form of the word knowledge, epignosis, in reference to "the" knowledge of God that affects all dimensions of human life (2:4; 4:3; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7; Tit 1:1).
Finally, the false doctrine was also destructive. Paul alludes to some (1:20; 5:15) in the community who professed the new teaching and wandered from the faith. Paul's concern was not only for the church's mission but also for the salvation of individuals. Cults have always had various ways to attract new members. Those cults that make any use of the Bible inevitably twist its message, and Christians who are not well grounded in the faith can be taken in by an atmosphere of camaraderie or promises to give meaning to life. Whatever the trap, the victim is set to wandering off course, farther and farther into uncharted waters. This is a warning to all of God's servants, and for Christian leaders it is a motivation to more urgent service.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.