Hymenaus is mentioned along with another man named Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:18–20. Hymenaeus and Philetus are mentioned together in only one passage: 2 Timothy 2:15–18. Although we cannot be sure, it seems likely that the Hymenaeus is the same person in both passages.
In 1 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy to hold on to the doctrine that he knows to be true and to beware of those who abandon it in favor of other teaching contrary to the gospel, even if it was Christian in name. Paul’s admonition to Timothy is to “fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:18–20).
In 1 Timothy 1:3–7 Paul warns Timothy about a certain kind of false teacher: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
While there will always teachers of other religions who may try to win Christians over, most of Paul’s warnings were about false teachers who would arise from within the church. They would pervert sound doctrine and might even offer their teaching as a corrective to Paul’s “inadequate” or “incomplete” teaching. In other words, they would claim to be Christian teachers with a better understanding of the Word and will of God.
In 1 Timothy 1:18–19, Paul charges Timothy to maintain faith and a good conscience and then in verse 20 goes on to say the Hymanaeus and Alexander have abandoned these things. In context, these things refers to sound doctrine, which Hymanaeus has abandoned. Paul says he is also guilty of blasphemy.
In 2 Timothy, Hymaneaus is mentioned again. If it is the same man, he has a new partner, Philetus. “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16–18). In 1 Timothy, Hymanaeus is associated with “vain discussions,” which are similar to the “irreverent babble” in 2 Timothy. In 1 Timothy, Hymaneaus is guilty of blasphemy, which might also be called irreverent babble.
“Swerving” from the truth would seem to be the same as abandoning the faith in 1 Timothy 1. Hymanaeus and Philetus are upsetting the faith of the Christians in Ephesus by “correcting” or “supplementing” the sound doctrine they had already received. Paul compares the teaching of Hymanaeus and Philetus to gangrene (2 Timothy 2:17). Their false teaching was deadly, not just a disagreement over a minor point of doctrine. They were teaching that the resurrection had already happened.
Probably, Hymanaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection of the Christian was not literal, but merely a spiritual or symbolic resurrection that had already happened. The Christian had no resurrection body to look forward to in a restored new heavens and new earth. This teaching may have also implied that, since the Christian was already living the resurrection life, nothing was sinful for him. (There may have been a similar problem in Corinth, and Paul corrects that in 1 Corinthians 15.)
Regardless of the specifics of the teaching of Hymanaeus and Philetus, Timothy is to take notice of these two and anyone like them and avoid their errors.