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Who Is Demas?

by Tim O'Hearn

On the old Lone Ranger radio show, and the television show that developed from it, the hero wore a mask. He was a Texas Ranger who had been left for dead in an ambush, and did not want anybody to know he had survived. He clearly learned from surviving the ambush, because he went around saving people (usually damsels) in distress. He would come in and save the day, taking out the bad guys. At the end of most of the shows he would start to ride off into the sunset, and the person he had saved would ask the question. “Who was that masked man?” Then the announcer would say it was “The Lone Ranger,” and he would ride off on his white horse with a “Hiyo, Silver, away.” There are some people in the Bible that we might ask, “Who was that masked man?” One of those is a man named Demas.

Demas is only mentioned three, or maybe four, times in the Bible. That doesn’t give us much information about him. Nevertheless, just the fact that he was named means that he bore some significance.

Two of the times he is mentioned it is only in the context of Paul’s sending greetings from people that might be known to the recipients of his letters. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” (Col 4:14) “There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.” (Phm 23-24) In both of these letters, Demas is paired with Luke. It is probable, then, that they may have known each other outside of their association with Paul.

The letters in which these greetings occur were both written to the same location. Philemon was from Colossae. (Mention is made of someone named Archippus—presumed to be Philemon’s son—in both the letters to Philemon and Colossae.) Demas was possibly from that city, or was at least well-known to the citizens there. Although Luke is presumed to be from Antioch, he was apparently quite familiar to the Colossians, unlike Paul, who had never been there.

Whether Demas knew Luke from his time in the city or just because they were companions of Paul, they probably hung together. They would have had some shared locations and probably some shared acquaintances to talk about.

The other reference to Demas is seemingly negative. It seems to be one of Paul’s strongest denunciations of a person.

For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. (2 Tim 4:10)

Most translators use the strong words “forsaken” or “deserted”, even though it could simply be interpreted as “left,” as in gone away. If the stronger word is used, then it would also apply to Crescens and Titus, even though Titus had been sent away by Paul himself. Either way, Demas apparently left Paul to return to other business. Paul had reacted negatively to John Mark doing so, and so he does not approve Demas. Considering that this was mentioned in the last letter we have from Paul, it is probably a divide that was never resolved.

One other possible mention of Demas, written much later, casts him again in a favorable light. The apostle John spent his last years in or near Ephesus, which is only 150 miles from Colossae. (At the time, that would be a considerable distance.) In his final letter he mentions a man named Demetrius. Demas is probably a contraction of that name, maybe even a nickname. John says:

Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. (3 Jn 12)

If that is the same man, and we have no reason to believe he is or is not, then Demas has changed his reputation. In the time from his leaving Paul to his acquaintance with John he has gone from a deserter to an honored man. Would that we could all say that.