Spencer D Gear
Maheno shipwreck (photo 2007), Fraser Island,
off the Queensland coast (about 3 hours north of Brisbane)
The New Zealand hospital ship Maheno (before the wreck)
In the controversy between Calvinism and Arminianism it is not unusual to read or hear a back and forth about the ability or inability to lose eternal salvation through Christ. Since Calvinists believe that a person, once genuinely saved, cannot lose salvation, it is common to hear language like this:
‘It is my opinion, and I stress opinion, that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation’ (CARM).
’56 Bible Verses about Losing Your Salvation’ (OpenBible.info)
One set of verses often raised about losing salvation is, First Timothy 1:18-20, which states,
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (ESV).
In commenting on these verses, one Calvinist wrote, ‘Did Paul say that they lost their salvation?’
My response was:
So what does ‘shipwreck of their faith mean’? The Maheno ship wreck on the shores of Fraser Island (about 3 hours north of Brisbane on the Pacific Ocean coast) is useless, wrecked as a viable ship.
Is a shipwrecked faith viable or not to enter the sea of eternal life? Or is shipwrecked faith as useless as the Maheno as a ship in the Pacific Ocean?
The reply from this person was:
‘This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme’ (1 Timothy 1:18-20 NASB).
It would appear that Paul has I’m (sic) mind correction for these two. Not because they lost their salvation, but because they are not acting in the right manner. Paul is hoping that they will be corrected (taught).
Paul has a motivation to deal with ‘keeping faith and a good conscience’ or ‘holding faith and a good conscience’ (ESV). In context this is faith in the prophecies (apostolic teaching?) he had received.
What had Hymenaeus and Alexander done to ‘shipwreck’ their faith? Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning of this word from apwthew as ‘reject, repudiate’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:102). Therefore Lenski’s commentary, based on the Greek, concludes that
they got so far away from the apostolic prophecies that they did even what is here stated regarding their conscience and their faith. Paul himself had dealt with two of them, and when he held up to them the prophecies, i. e., the apostolic gospel teaching, and thereby tried to reach their conscience he found that they had actually thrust all good conscience away and had thereby lost their faith altogether. The true gospel teaching no longer made an impression on them, it had been smothered by their myths, etc (Lenski 1937:532-533).
The consequence for Hymenaeus and Alexander was that Paul has them ‘handed over to Satan’. What this means exactly has been the cause of much debate. However, it seems evident that these two men no longer have a good conscience and faith, so it seems that Paul means that these two are, according to exegete, Gordon Fee, ‘”put back into Satan’s sphere,” outside the church and the fellowship of God’s people…. Paul expects by such an “excommunication” they will “be caught not to blaspheme”‘ (Fee 1988:59).
What ‘blaspheme’ means here is not certain but there are hints in context. In 1:13 Paul says of his life before Christ, ‘formerly I was a blasphemer’ and in 6:4 he states that ‘slander’ (ESV) or ‘malicious talk’ (NIV) that come out of ‘a different doctrine’ (ESV) or ‘false doctrines’ (NIV). However the word is blasphemiai (i.e. blasphemies). This is from a list of what happens as a result of false teachers who had ‘an unhealthy craving for controversy’ (6:4 ESV).
Thus handing over to Satan seems to be an action of excommunication because they had rejected God’s grace for salvation and had pursued the arguments of the false teachers. It seems that Timothy was in Ephesus to deal with the false doctrine that was being perpetrated by false teachers and this was leading people away from the faith.
How would he respond? It was predictable for a Calvinist: ‘So you don’t think that they were apostate, right?’ To which I responded, ‘False! They had rejected, repudiated their faith. That’s what the Greek word means!’
An artists rendition of the 1857 shipwreck (the Central America).
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
What had Hymenaeus and Alexander done to ‘shipwreck’ their faith. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning of this word from apwthew as ‘reject, repudiate’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:102).
Therefore Lenski’s commentary, based on the Greek, concludes that
they got so far away from the apostolic prophecies that they did even what is here stated regarding their conscience and their faith. Paul himself had dealt with two of them, and when he held up to them the prophecies, i. e., the apostolic gospel teaching, and thereby tried to reach their conscience he found that they had actually thrust all good conscience away and had thereby lost their faith altogether. The true gospel teaching no longer made an impression on them, it had been smothered by their myths, etc. (Lenski 1937:532-533).
Faith that is shipwrecked is faith that has been repudiated, rejected. It couldn’t be clearer, based on the Greek etymology.
To shipwreck one’s faith is to abandon/repudiate the faith, reject the faith. This is similar to the message given in Hebrews 6:4-6,
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (ESV).
For my lengthy exegesis and exposition, see: ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? (an exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6)’.
I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).
This writer is convinced that it is possible to lose salvation if a person commits apostasy by repudiating the Christian faith. However, there are many fine Christians on both sides of this debate – Arminians and Calvinists.
Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).
Fee, G D 1988. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
Lenski, R C H 1937. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc.
 OzSpen #32, ibid.
 Hammster #34, ibid.
 This is my reply as OzSpen #39, ibid.
 Hammster #41, ibid.
 OzSpen #43, ibid.
 Hammster #37, ibid.
 OzSpen #42, ibid.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 March 2018.