Correcting the miscalling of Demas

It is time to rehabilitate Demas, the companion of the apostle Paul, from the slander than judges him a turncoat or even worse an apostate.

The King James Version translates 2Tim 4:10: ‘For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia’ 2Tim 4:10 and other versions tend to translate it similarly.

This is commonly interpreted in a bad light for Demas. Most current versions copy each other and say that Demas has deserted Paul, or abandoned him. Only Young’s Literal Translation, the Darby Bible Translation and the Weymouth New Testament point to the correct sense about this present world, although each of these still retain the concept of Demas deserting Paul.

A less tendentious translation is: ‘For Demas has left me, having chosen to love the present life, and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia’ 2Tim 4:10.

It does not say that Demas has left Christ nor the gospel, which is an example of eisegesis, but that he has left Paul. The Greek word egkataleipo ‘to leave behind’ is used in both a good and a bad sense. There is little excuse for repeating the negative sense when long ago John Gill has drawn attention to the alternative: ‘he might forsake the apostle, and yet not forsake Christ.’

Paul is in prison in Rome and facing death 2Tim 4:6 under emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians. Demas, Crescens and Titus have left him and only Luke is still with him. Although Paul is justified in feeling lonely and even abandoned, he is not justified in thinking that Demas should remain with him and risk his own life as a martyr. The Scottish martyr George Wishart would not let the young John Knox accompany him to his trial and execution. He advised him to save his own life, saying “One is enough for a sacrifice.” More to the point, Jesus’ advised His disciples: ‘when they persecute you in this city, flee into another’ Mat 10:23. Christians are to ‘live to fight another day’, to continue to witness and preach elsewhere. Augustine had to write against the opinion of those Christians who actively sought out martyrdom. Christians should not think it is cowardice to flee from persecution and many early Reformers fled from England to Continental Europe during the persecution under ‘bloody Mary’.

The slander against Demas is the suggestion that he had gone back to the sinful world, contrary to Christian teaching to ‘love not the world’ 1Jn 2:15. Paul in this text does not say that Demas did so.

1. rather, Demas went to Thessalonica and evidently Paul knew this. If he was abandoning Christianity, why would he tell Paul where he was going? Thessalonica had a Christian congregation, and Paul mentions in the same breathe that Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia, the very same verb poreuomai applying to all three.

2. the Greek words for ‘this present world’ mean ‘this current age’ or ‘this present life’. It is used of ‘this world’ in contrast to ‘the world to come’ Mat 12:32, in the sense of ‘this life’ or one’s ‘time in this world’ Mat 13:22. Instead of going into eternity as a martyr like the apostle Paul, Demas had chosen to remain in this life, which he was quite entitled and even commanded by Christ to do.

3. the Greek word for ‘having loved’ is not the complacent love of delighting in something but agapao, the love of goodwill, the benevolent love of choice.

The common exegesis that thinks that Demas was in love with this world in the sense of 1Jn 2:15 is an unwarranted slander of his Christian character. It is based on faulty exegesis because it is ‘this current age’ rather than ‘this wicked world’ for which he had a love. He had a benevolent Christian love to continue to preach the Gospel to this current age, rather than a complacent love for this wicked world. Rather than an unnecessary martyrdom, he chose to continue to preach the Gospel and left Paul to go to the church in Thessalonica.

So why has Paul applied this qualification to Demas and not to Crescens and Titus? We cannot be sure that he did. Paul is notorious for his shorthand phraseology. It is possible that Paul meant it to apply to all three. He explains that the reason for their leaving him is their desire to serve Christ further in this life rather than suffer an unnecessary martyrdom. Paul was ‘ready to be offered’ 2Tim 4:6 and while it is possible that he expected too much from others, more than Christ had commanded Mat 10:23, yet this is not certain and such a suggestion is a reflection upon Paul as well as a reflection upon Demas.

Paul may be disappointed that they, or at least Demas, did not remain with him as Luke did, but as he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus, and was still actively engaged in organising where different preachers were working, this appears to be a better explanation for Demas going to Thessalonica. Such an explanation exonerates Paul of peevishness or selfishness, of expecting too much from Demas, and of this too common interpretive demeaning of Demas. Paul may have felt lonely, but Luke was still with him. He exhorts Timothy to visit him quickly and to bring Mark with him, as well as his cloak, books and parchments. Paul was stil in ‘organising mode’.

Let those Christians who are ready to condemn Demas ask themselves what they would do in similar circumstances, and why.

Jesus opened the way of escape for His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. ‘Jesus answered, I have told you that I am He: if therefore you seek Me, let these go their way’ Jn 18:8. Peter didn’t make use of the opportunity given to him and fell into Satan’s sieve and denied His Master three times, as he tried to make good his bold assertion that ‘Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee’ Mat 26:35, contradicting both the Saviour’s prediction Mat 26:34 and failing to avail himself of the Saviour’s route of escape. He would have been wiser heeding his Master’s advice, and so should we.

8 thoughts on “Correcting the miscalling of Demas

  1. Colin Mansfield

    St Paul is a tough act to follow, an evangelist easy to fall out with, and erudite in his understanding of Jesus the Messiah. Always going that extra mile again & again, other apostles must have burn out in his company. He didn’t know that he was writing Scripture at the time through his Letters. Even today some clergy unfairly label him as an heretic, whilst others denounce his “Points of Order & Teachings.” But, if left out, the Early Christian Church would have become a rabble and much of what we treasure today in the New Testament would be lost. In some way he became the lynch-pin that held the Judaeo-Christian Faith together, and the masses of Jews & Gentiles newcomers.


  2. Colin Mansfield

    Hi Donald,
    we cannot bring Demas back into the Christian fold, sorry.
    But Demas went astray, according to Paul, together with Phygellus & Hermogenes. Demas loved the present world and in Salonika was a “priest of the idols” he was one of whom St John wrote “they came from us, but were not one of us”. {This information comes from Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre, who himself became a martyr in the reign of emperors Licinius & Constantine}.
    As for Phygellus (bishop of Ephesus) he later converted to Simon the Sorcerer’s teachings, there were lots of money to be made in the early Christian Church and Ephesus was richer than Rome at this time. No doubt “miracle cures” could be bought from unscrupulous clergy.
    Then Hermogenes: a bishop of Thracian Megara, who also deviated.
    I’ve visited Ephesus 4 times in 7 years, been in & out of the remains of its early churches, visited the museum, and up to the “Hill of the Nightingales” where the Virgin Mary remained safely in her declining years (her little house/chapel thereon is a pilgrimage site) and listened to the archaeologists & historians leading the tour groups around this city. It was a hotbed of soothsayers, fortune tellers, mystics, pagan religions, curse enablers, etc. Only 2,000 of its inhabitants were actually Christians, the 25,000+ other citizens were more or less secular. St John in one of his letters states that him & his “brothers in Christ” were no longer welcome in the local churches towards his end years.
    Nearby, Artemis Temple worship was well renowned at Ephesus and once a year the stone idol was taken out on a flower laden byre and paraded to the city (rather like the RC church when they conduct periodical floats at Easter). On that date there would be a celebration, ox roasts, pageants, drunkeness, prostitution, lewd shows, etc. Any notorious prisoners were carted out from the local prison for unusual, and cruel tortures & executions. We may reflect on where the RC church got its Inquisition ideas of public human bonfires, its religious parades, and celebration from ~ on these sorts of days. It was from such ancient cities. This was the reason for reclusive Christians requesting permission from St Paul to “join in the fun” and eat meats sacrificed to these idols. So they wouldn’t be victimised afterwards. It was nothing to do with the occasional pork pie or sausage roll. As when the celebrations were over a cry would be heard “where are the Christians, why are they not here, just what are they up to with their invisible God” ~ such that an untimely sick or dying child, or a herd of cattle dying in the local fields would be associated with “Christians putting curses on the citizens” using magic, and prayers, etc. and an excuse for the mob to obliterate the homes of peaceful Christians who didn’t “join in the partying”.
    Demas initiated an early RC tradition of idols for sale, lucky charms, etc. and would have committed the “sin of Simony” with selling the Church’s Sacraments for a price ~ no he can’t come back into the fold. There were many other failed evangelists and bishops who wet astray {see my New Links magazine issue Sept/Oct 2017 for further info}
    by Colin Mansfield.


    1. Donald

      All very interesting Colin, but not a word of biblical exegesis.

      I prefer to stick to what Paul said by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than what Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre, said a few hundred years later.

      “Demas initiated an early RC tradition of idols for sale”. Demas was long dead before Roman Catholicism appeared on the scene when the bishop of Rome began to exalt himself in the church.

      Commentaries are meant to help us arrive at the meaning of Scripture, not to obscure it with additional accretions over the centuries.



  3. Colin Mansfield

    Hi Donald,
    One cannot look into the turnabout life of Demas without noting his pagan environment from which he came from, and the carnal temptations existing in those times, the persecution of the Early Church ~ there are slim notes on Demas in the New Covenant (the Holy Spirit renders few if any of physical details, a person’s age or facial features, only what a person does/does not do with their spiritual gifts and the spiritual fruit they bear afterwards. In Demas case, one could say he became a “rotten apple” :
    What Would Jesus Say about Demas?
    Jesus gives a series of parables during the fall of AD 28 from a boat in a cove of the Sea of Galilee. While speaking to the multitude that is seated in the natural amphitheatre to the west of Capernaum, He spots a farmer sowing seeds on the hillside. He says, “Let me tell you about the 4 different types of soil that the seed (the Word) is falling onto. The 1st soil was actually the road that runs along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here, the birds of the air ate the seeds. The 2nd soil was the stony ground. The seeds spouted for a short while until the heat of the sun scorched the plant and it withered away. The 3rd soil that the seeds fell on was the thorny ground. Here the thorns eventually choked the plants. The final soil that the seeds fell on was good soil and the plants produced 30, 60 and 100 fold” (Matt. 13:3-9). Later, when Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples, He said of the 2nd soil, that when tribulation and persecution came, the believer would stumble. Of the 3rd soil, He said that because of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, the word of God is choked in the life of the believer and he becomes unfruitful (Matt. 13:18-23). Demas “loving this present world” would fall in either the 2nd or 3rd soils. This was not the normal Christian life, but rather, the Carnal Christian Life. The 4th soil was the normal Christian life, producing fruit in the life of the believer.
    Back to the Future with: Anthony Hanson, his book: 1966 The Pastoral Letters. Cambridge University:
    Why Demas went to Thessalonica, and what he did there is not revealed in the Scriptures. Hanson gives a tantalising note in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. He said: “A copyist in a manuscript preserved in the Medici Library in Florence adds in the margin the information that Demas became a priest of a pagan temple at Thessalonica. On what authority he says this we do not know”. If this footnote is true, the allurement that Demas fell for was the material life.
    As for the Early Church in the Roman Empire:
    Though it wasn’t officially Roman Catholic by name at the time, Catholic tradition holds that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The New Covenant records Jesus’s activities and teaching, his appointment of the 12 Apostles, and his instructions to them to continue his work. The Catholic Church teaches that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, at Pentecost, signalled the beginning of the public ministry of the Church. We know Catholics hold that Saint Peter was Rome’s first bishop and followed by Linus as its next bishop, etc, etc. What the religious environment accreted to the infant Early Church was a rush to bring in their pagan idols, odd beliefs, syncretism if you like, & Gnosticism, ~ it was under this background or “spell” that Demas forsook Paul, whose lifestyle and ending was not conducive to Demas’ own preferences & destiny. CRM. {Demas, sorry, no he can’t come back in the fold}.


  4. Colin Mansfield

    Hi Donald
    In my KJV-Greek Interlinear Alfred Marshall), the word is “forsook” in 2Tim4:10:
    Paul sets apart Demas with the label “…having loved this present world…”
    None of the others: Crescens, Titus, get any such {bad} reference.
    look further on at vs 16 and the same Greek word for “forsook” occurs again “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”
    It is clear to me that Demas has abandoned Paul, whereas Dr. Luke didn’t, and he stayed with him.
    The fact that Demas gained a “bad reputation” from other Early Christian sources, when he could have exonerated himself or do so through others, is evidence of his desertion.
    It is well known today, that various vicars, ministers, and Archbishops have forsaken the Church they once loved and gone their own path, having grown weary of it all. Only to find themselves in the newspapers, fallen, their reputation crashed & burned.
    Biblical exegesis 5 principles:
    a. The Grammatical Principle. To ensure accuracy, I used my precise English-Greek translation (and if necessary) a Greek dictionary. I also look for parallels in the body text which helps further understanding.
    b. The Literal Principle. Words mean what words mean. I dispense with ambiguities.
    c. The Historical Principle. Which some people seem to neglect, one must read this epistle in its setting, because as time goes forward, culture changes, points of view change, & language changes. We must guard against interpreting scripture according to how today’s intellect views things; “we must always place scripture in its historical context.”
    In my own case as a previous theological student of York St John University, at York. I also consider the geography, the customs, the current events, and even the politics of the time when such passages are written. An understanding of ancient Jewish/Gentile culture aids my understanding of scripture. l use various Bibles, Jewish & Hebrew dictionaries, commentaries, and books on biblical archaeological records & ancient history.
    d. The Synthesis Principle. The best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself. One must examine a passage in relation to its immediate context (the verses surrounding it), its wider context (the book it’s found in), and its complete context (the Bible as a whole). The Bible does not contradict itself. Any theological statement in one verse can and should be harmonised with theological statements in other parts of scripture. Good Bible interpretation relates any one passage to the total content of scripture.
    e. The Practical Principle. Once one has properly examined the verse or passage to understand its meaning, we have the opportunity to apply it to our own lives. To reveal its truth and make it a life-changing event.
    Demas is still condemned, I rest my case.
    Crescens incidentally, went on to become bishop of Carchedon, in Gaul.
    What next, a recently discovered “The Gospel of Judas Iscariot” and an attempt to clear is name?
    Colin Mansfield.


  5. Donald

    Hello Colin,

    I am glad you have attempted some exegesis on the passage and have shown your appreciation of the basic principles of exegesis.

    You have ‘rested your case’, yet you have been selective in the words you have exegeted. I remind you that my blogpost dealt with the exegesis of ‘loved’ and ‘world’, which you have avoided and about which you have simply asserted “Demas loved the present world” and “…having loved this present world…” This is repetition, not exegesis.

    The most you have accomplished is an assertion: “It is clear to me that Demas has abandoned Paul”. You then develop your extra-biblical sources and strengthen this to “evidence of his desertion”. Finally, you draw upon academia to support your conclusions – so, just as the apostle Paul was forced into giving his credentials in rebuttal 2Cor 12:11, so I will simply state that I engage in Hebrew and Greek biblical exegesis on a daily basis.

    You conclude “Demas is still condemned” and join this with “What next, a recently discovered “The Gospel of Judas Iscariot” and an attempt to clear is name?” This is not exegesis but repetition and consequentialism. Indeed, there have been attempts to rehabilitate Judas Iscariot, and this fear seems to support your fear that Demas might be rehabilitated.

    The history of ecclesiastical condemnation is a long one, condemning people and false doctrine with little distinction between them. I am not aware of a gospel according to Demas that we need to avoid, and the passion to condemn him as a person for choosing to carry on his ministry is misplaced. Paul tells Timothy to beware of Alexander the coppersmith who did ‘much evil’ to Paul 2Tim 4:14, but he says only of Demas that he had left him.

    The apostle Paul would possibly disagree with the ‘keep my head down’ Christians in his day. However, being the generous Christian that he was, Paul would not hold it against those (plural, not just Demas) in his day who had left him while on trial in Nero’s Rome 2Tim 4:16 so why should we go further than Paul and condemn Demas unheard? Rather, we should be thankful for bold Christians like Paul who went beyond the call of duty to stand up publicly for Christ, encourage others to confess Christ and warn them of the danger of denying Him Mat 10:33 and, like Demas, we should continue to spread the Gospel. If Demas did go astray after this, it would be no thanks to those Christians who condemned him for doing what many others also did and continue to do.

    I notice that Anthony Hanson, whom you quoted at, says in his book The Pastoral Epistles, 1982, p. 157: “in love with this present world: Spicq, no doubt rightly, helds [sic] that this only meant that Demas grew discouraged and returned home, not that he turned apostate.” So he does not support your position at all.


    1. Colin Mansfield

      Hi Donald,
      let’s take a look at Thessalonika, where Demas is going to return. Its not a pleasant place, oh yes it has a young “church” Thes 1:1-10, but it is also a “suffering” church. So is Demas jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire? Could be, in which case he is not a lapsed Christian after all when faced with persecution. it was easy to fall out with St Paul: Peter, Mark, etc. Perhaps Demas was also ashamed at Paul’s situation: in prison and in chains ~ not very rewarding after all their travails.
      When Paul first went to Thessalonika it was his custom on arriving in a new city, Paul went straight to the Jewish synagogue. There, for 3 successive Sabbaths, he argued how the Scriptures spoke about the suffering and rising of Christ. He had limited success, but he certainly caused a commotion. He became the victim of a riot: the Jews assembled a crowd to bring him before the city authorities, putting him in great danger by charging him with trying to acclaim Christ as emperor. His opponents seized one called Jason who seems to have given Paul lodging. Obviously Paul had allies because they packed him off to the next town, but the Jews of Thessalonika pursued him and, though his new mission in Berea made progress, he soon moved on. Perhaps he remembered the instruction of Jesus to the Twelve to leave a town which did not welcome them. Demas may have thought likewise.
      Like all Greek cities of those days, idols proliferated, and the manufacture of them a source of wealth for pagans. And for the ungodly (and lapsed Christians), pagan temples probably offered an alternative, safer “fleshy, pseudo-spiritual” place than the early Christian church which was always subject to persecution by the Jews & Ruling Authorities.
      I wonder just where Demas would fit in? We only get “bad reports” coming from historical notes as to how he fitted into society therein?


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