In his personal correspondence with Timothy Paul continually warns him about people in the Ephesian church who “teach false doctrines” (1 Tim. 1:3). Timothy has to deal with such people and command them to cease. He urges Timothy not to be timid in this regard, even though the opposition might be quite fierce and determined. Paul’s description of such people in 1 Tim. 4:1-2 is quite forceful — “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” On a positive note Paul urges Timothy to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14).
Yet it seems that Paul does not want Timothy to turn his back upon such opponents, despite their “foolish and stupid arguments” (2 Tim. 2:23). Nor is Timothy to be quarrelsome, but rather “kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24). With firm control over his anger and irritation Timothy is to “gently instruct those who oppose (tous antidiatithemenous)” (2 TIm. 2:25), in the hope that they “will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil” (2 Tim. 2:26).
The term that Paul uses to describe the contrarians, “those who oppose (tous antidiatithemenous),” only occurs here in the New Testament. It does occur a few times in earlier Greek sources. Liddell and Scott indicate that the active form of this verb means “to retaliate,” but the middle form signifies “to offer resistance.” However, they only cite two references to support each of these meanings. The form of the substantive participle in 2 Tim. 2:25 is middle voice, which Liddell and Scott gloss as “opponents.” The related compound verb diatithēmi occurs much more frequently and in the middle voice means “to dispose, arrange (an agreement)” (consider its usage in Acts 3:25 “This is the covenant which God arranged with your fathers”).
According to the searchable database of all Greek literature (TLG) we find no middle forms of antidiatithēmi appearing before 2 Tim. 2:25. However, given the wide usage of the active and middle forms of the cognate verb diatithēmi, we should presume that Paul has not coined this verb or its form for the specific context of 2 Tim. 2:25. We do find one occurrence in a 1st century A.D. writing “On the Sublime” (falsely attributed to Longinus). In this work the author is discussing matters of rhetoric and he urges careful use of figures of speech when speaking before one who has authority, lest that person misunderstand and take it literally. It makes him look foolish and he gets angry. “And even if he masters his rage, he becomes utterly impervious (antidiatithetai) to the persuasive quality of the speech” (transl. by T.S. Dorsch).
Philo uses the active form of this verb twice. In De specialibus legibus 3.85 Philo is discussing the sacrilege of murder. He comments about the inability of the victim to seek redress, for “his victim,being removed from the scene, can neither retaliate (antidiatheinai) nor feel the pleasure which retaliation gives” (transl. by F. Colson). The second occurrence is in De specialibus legibus 4.103. In this context he is defending the stipulations from Moses restricting the diet of the Israelites and preventing them eating the flesh of carnivorous animals. Moses’ instruction illustrates the principle that “though it is fitting enough to suffer for what one has done, it is not fitting conduct for the sufferers to retaliate it (antidiatithenai) on the wrongdoers, least the savage passion of anger should turn them unawares into beasts” (transl. F. Colson). There are three other citations listed, but in each case these are located in fragments of material quoted by much later writers and we cannot know for sure whether these quotations are accurate.
Although the active voice of this verb seems to convey the sense of retaliation, the context in which the middle form occurs (2 Timothy 2:25), does not seem to support this sense. C. Spicq (Theological Lexicon, vol. 1, 128) argues that “it is synonymous with antilegontes in Titus 1:9, literally the contra-speakers, the protesters, those who “hold out against others” (Luke 10:27, probable reading),…” Quinn and Wacker (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, 699) propose the translation “the unmanageable.” In the context of 2 Tim. 2:25 the writer advises Timothy that “the slave of the Lord should not quarrel” (v. 24), nor does he engage in activities “that generate quarrels” (v.23). When Timothy encounters such quarrelsome people, he is to respond with self-control as he instructs them, in the hope that God will grant them repentance.
I would suggest that the choice of the participle tous antidiatithemenous in 2:25 projects a sense of insubordination on the part of those who are disposing themselves against the Gospel and thus Timothy’s leadership. Perhaps then the rendering “the insubordinate ones” might capture how the writer in this context is characterizing these people within the Ephesian congregation.