Who was Demas?
February 4, 2007
I was asked elsewhere why I go under the nom de plume of “Demas” – and I’ve noticed a number of people getting here by searching for the Biblical “Demas”.
So what’s the deal?
Demas is mentioned only in passing in three small passages – Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24 where Paul mentions him as a fellow worker, and 2 Timothy 4:10, where Paul, alone in his prison cell, writes:
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.
Demas is someone I emphathise with for a number of reasons (some a bit too personal for the Internet).
In a world of harsh implacable sermons and self-righteous preachers, Demas, who suffered imprisonment with Paul for his faith and whose life was surely as full of loves and failures as the rest of us, exists soley as an Awful Warning To Others.
BibleGateway’s topical index has him under “COVETOUSNESS » INSTANCES OF” and “BACKSLIDERS » INSTANCES OF”.
Demas is that one thing that modern life cannot abide – has committed the unforgivable sin – he is a failure. And we see in him our own failures.
I did a search and grabbed some random Internet quotes – vox populi ex machina.
“The church is full of people just like Demas — we need fewer.”
“Apparently, Demas’ faith seemed real enough to mislead even the apostle Paul”
“Then, the third time Paul mentioned Demas was his remorseful announcement to Timothy that Demas had decided to defect, taking sides with the enemy. There is no neutral ground in the battle of righteousness versus evil. Either you’re for righteousness or you’re the enemy of righteousness. If you’re an enemy of righteousness, it simply means you’ve joined forces with the devil. ”
“Is it possible that Demas went to Thessalonica for other reasons than this awful place below the city? Maybe, but the fact that this underground system of brothels was mainly what that city was known for is a good reason it must figure prominently in our conclusions. We can say that it was a strong possibility this is what appealed to Demas.”
“Throughout Scripture we find examples of those who profess Christ, but later turn out not to be saved. One example is Demas. “
Who the hell am I, safe and secure in my Western first world bubble, to judge like this?
I don’t know why Demas was not able to stay the distance and left Paul in his prison.
Maybe fear of death, maybe disagreement with the path of matyrdom Paul was choosing, maybe for other, personal, reasons. We don’t know but we read our own fears and our own judgmentalism into it.
And people assume that because they believe that Paul was Inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus right about everything he did that it should have been equally clear to everyone around him at the time.
(Aside: like everything else in Biblical analysis there are undercurrents. Demas did not love the ‘world’, but ‘the current age’ – aeon/age – αιωνα – the same word translated elsewhere as ‘eternity’ as in ‘eternal destruction’ or ‘age’ as in ‘the age to come’. The phrase need not necessarily connote a simple material=bad spiritual=good conclusion and could possibly be tied up with the early Church’s emerging eschatology. Thessalonica had differences of opinion with Paul on eschatology as Paul’s two letters to them show – are those differences related to why Demas went from Paul to Thessalonica? I don’t know.
Also the final and oft quoted phrase is from a late epistle which most scholars wouldn’t include in the list of epistles we think were written by Paul himself, so the references to Demas may be references to a real person – or may contain a symbolic message that readers at the time would have understood).
(Second aside: Calling myself Demas as opposed to MightyChristfilledWarriorForChristJustLikePaulWas throws my enemies into confusion and alarums, which is fun).