A Man Called Demas

The apostle Paul was resigned to the fact of his impending death and martyrdom (II Tim. 4:6-8). During this time awaiting his death, Paul pens his final epistle and addresses it to his good friend and co-worker Timothy. In the final words of this epistle, the apostle Paul identifies several people by name (II Tim. 4:9ff). This was a common practice of his. It is instructive to examine the people Paul mentions, what he has to say about them and their lives. Let us focus our attention on one man, a man called Demas (4:10).

The name Demas means something like “popular” or “governor of the people.” It is believed by some to be a shortened form of “Demetrius” or “Demarchus.” Some commentators identify the Demetrius of III John 12 with Demas. Most commentators assume that his home is Thessalonica, because this is where he goes when he leaves Paul and because he is found with Aristarchus who, the scriptures reveal, was from Thessalonica (compare Col. 4:10-14, Philem. 24 and Acts 20:4). Demas is always mentioned in connection with Mark, Luke and Aristarchus, Paul’s fellowlabourers (Philem. 1:24).

Paul mentions Demas on a couple of other occasions. He is mentioned in the epistle to the Colossians along with seven other men, namely, Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Jesus called Justus, Epaphras and Luke (Col. 4:7-14). These men were with Paul in his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:16-31). In 60 or 61 A.D., then, Demas is a faithful companion to the apostle Paul along with these other men while he is imprisoned at Rome in his own hired house.

During his two years under house arrest, the apostle Paul also wrote the epistle to the church at Ephesus and the letter to Philemon. He also wrote the epistle to the Philippians a little later during this time. Demas is also mentioned in the letter to Philemon along with four other of the men with Paul in his imprisonment. Three of the men named above are not mentioned in this epistle, suggesting that they were unknown to Philemon. This also implies that Demas was known of the brethren in Collosae, which suggests that at some point he had labored there and was familiar with them.

In those two letters he is not singled out to be either praised or condemned, as is Luke, for example, who is called the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14) or Epaphras whom Paul says labored fervent in prayers and had great zeal (Col. 4:12,13). He sent his greetings to the brethren at Collosae (Col. 4:14) and, in the epistle to Philemon, he is referred to as one of Paul’s “fellowlabourers” (Philem. 24). He always closely attached to Luke and in a more distant way to Mark and Aristarchus.

It is Paul’s final reference to him for which he is most remembered. In this reference, seven or eight years later, we are told that he had “forsaken” Paul “having loved this present world” (II Tim. 4:10). Much has been written about what this means exactly. The most obvious and natural meaning is that Demas left the apostle and went back home to Thessalonica out of a love for this world and its pleasures. One tradition says that he became a priest in a heathen temple, which we certainly hope is not the case. It is mentioned in a marginal note and has nothing to commend it to be true.

On the other hand, in the second century, Polycarp alludes to Paul’s reference to Demas’ actions when he says that Paul and the apostles “loved not this present world” but rather suffered martyrdom (Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, 9:1,2). Perhaps, now that the threat of death was so palpable, as Paul faced certain death, Demas lost his courage and fled. He loved this present world more than that to come. There is a contrast to be made between his loving this present world and Paul’s statement that a crown of life awaits those that love His appearing (II Tim. 4:8; cf v. 10).

But those who argue that Demas left the faith might be adding more than the Text allows. All that the Text says is that Demas abruptly forsook Paul, but it doesn’t say he forsook Christ, made shipwreck of the faith or taught false doctrine, etc. His departure may have been more like that of John Mark who departed from Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem and “went not with them to the work” (Acts 13:13; 15:38). Perhaps Demas was worried, weary and weak and left just as did John Mark. As Gill observes, “he might forsake the apostle, and yet not forsake Christ and his interest, or make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience: his faith might be right, though low, and his love sincere, though not fervent.”

Demas is always held up as one who departed from the faith or was lost into the world again. This is the plain reading of the Text. But maybe he temporarily lost his way and could no longer continue. If they are right who say Demetrius of III John 12 is to be identified with Demas, then, like John Mark, Demas regained his footing and again became profitable in the work of the Lord (II Tim. 4:11).

Eric L. Padgett