“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Timothy 4:14-15, NASB).
Most modern readers of the New Testament are interested in heroic characters, or in the study of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church – in short we focus on positive things which lift us up. Yet we recognize that the Biblical writers also tell of less wholesome things and people, those whom we might call “villains.”
In our entertainment media today there seems to be an ever-increasing enjoyment of villainy. From the “undead” to rogue cops to glamorized criminals it has become more profitable apparently to create bad guys (or girls) than good. The devastation of villainy seems to be largely ignored.
Scripture does contain its share of bad guys. Some of the most notorious include Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-23), the Jewish authorities, often represented as “Pharisees and Scribes” (Matthew 15:1ff), the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas (John 18:13-14), Pontius Pilate (John 18:28ff), and, of course, Judas Iscariot (Mark 14:10-11, 43-46).
Less well known are those with whom Paul contended during the early years of Christianity. Those opponents who are mentioned by name include Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14-15) and the pair of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:16-18). The name Hymenaeus is also linked with Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20) in an earlier condemnation. Whether these are the same two men as mentioned in 2 Timothy we do not know.
Two things are interesting about these references. One is the severity of the language regarding them. Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy) were “handed over to Satan.” Alexander (2 Timothy) “did much harm” and Timothy is warned “to be on guard against him.” Hymenaeus’ and Philetus’ words “will spread like gangrene.” Almost two thousand years after their conflicts with Paul their names are still connected to danger towards Christians.
A second interesting link between these men is the nature of their wrongdoing. They were not murderers, sex fiends, pedophiles, or tyrants. Hymenaeus and Alexander were blasphemers; Alexander the Coppersmith “vigorously opposed our teaching;” Hymenaeus and Philetus “have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”
Each of these enemies of truth were simply false teachers. They denied fundamental elements of the Gospel and perverted the doctrine of Christ with their own ideas. The result was to deceive believers and weaken or destroy their faith. Yet, though their sins were bloodless, they are marked as enemies of God whose work was to destroy his Church.
Villainy is not always that which we believe it to be. It is not only murder and similar violent deeds. Villainy also describes sins of speech. Heretical teaching is not to be dismissed as simply “disagreements of interpretation.” God’s word is truth (John 17:17) and any denial or perversion of it is proclaimed in Scripture to be blasphemy. Let us continually be on guard against falsehood and “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).