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The Adequacy of Scripture

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Paul has no “woe is me” attitude when it comes to his abilities to minister for the Lord, but he is nonetheless keenly aware (cf. Romans 12:3 and “sober judgment”), as he indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:10, that the work of God is not carried out by people who are in themselves adequate for such a calling. It was not he “but the grace of God with him” that caused him to work so diligently and wisely (cf. also 1 Cor 3:10). He also says in 2 Corinthians 1:10 that he had felt the sentence of death as it were (perhaps from fighting wild beasts [see 1 Cor 15:32]; or receiving the 40 lashes minus one five times [2 Cor 11:24], or any number of other things) so that he might not rely on himself, but on God who raises the dead. So Paul knew that in himself he did not have what it took to be a competent apostle and spokesperson for God (see also 2 Cor 1:21; Phil 3:3ff).

Now 2 Timothy is a letter written by Paul to his dear friend in order to warn, motivate, and direct Timothy in his ministry in Ephesus (see 1 Tim 1:3; 3:14-15). It was not an easy ministry because Timothy was probably somewhat young and timid (cf. 2 Tim 1:7) and yet he had to face a fair amount of opposition from other men (cf. 2 Tim 2:25; 3:8)—“deceivers” as Paul refers to them—who wanted to draw off people after themselves (2 Tim 4:3-4) and pervert the gospel of Christ, both its doctrinal and ethical aspects (see 1 Tim 1:3-11, 19-20; 4:1-5; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 2:16-19; 3:1-9, 13). From where did Timothy’s competency for ministry come and how was he to recognize the dangers in ministry and avoid them? Well, there are several things that the apostle tells him to be mindful of. First, he needed to remember the gift of God that was given him (2 Tim 1:7) and the purpose for which God had saved him (1:9, 2:10). Then, he was to be conscious of all that pastoral ministry entails (2:1-6) and to remember and reflect on the gospel (2:8). Further, he also had the example of the apostle Paul himself (as well as his mother and grandmother; 2 Tim 1:5) to draw on for help and encouragement (3:10, 11). In short, Timothy had the Spirit of God, the people of God, and he also had the Word of God. It is the Word of God that Paul emphasizes in 3:16-17 (Judging by Paul’s use of the OT in his writings, they had been a significant encouragement to him) and it is to this that we now turn our attention. The Word of God gives us strength to minister and live for the Lord.

All of us at one time or another (some of us continually) are called on by the Lord to minister in difficult circumstances in which we feel very dependent on the Lord. Sometimes these situations do not last a long time, but in many cases they last years or even a lifetime. It could be at our workplace, or on the mission field, in a far away land, so to speak, or even in our home. Like Timothy we too can draw on the Spirit of God and the people of God for encouragement and strength. We can also turn to the Word of God. Because Paul knows that the Spirit of God used his word to strengthen and direct believers he encourages Timothy with a comment about the nature and purpose of Scriptural revelation.

In considering 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it is difficult not to think that Paul had almost certainly told Timothy about the importance of Scripture before, perhaps on several occasions. Why is he emphasizing it now once again? The reason may be that often times, when we get into the heat of battle, as Timothy is, we tend to forget what is central and, therefore, move away from the most important things. Paul has already reminded Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God (which is probably his gift of leadership and administration) and so he now turns to remind him of a truth central to Christianity and indeed Timothy’s ministry. These verses may come as a reminder to you too, but do not let that keep you from entering even further into the solemnity of the truth they espouse. Do you see the importance of the Word of God for your life and ministry? How do you express that conviction?

We start out in our meditation then, noting that the first word is “all”: All Scripture is inspired…. Now there may have been some false teachers (maybe connected to an incipient form of gnosticism) in Timothy’s midst that denied certain aspects of Scripture as being not from God or authoritative. Perhaps they viewed certain portions of God’s word as unimportant or unnecessary for spiritual growth and development. They would rather substitute their own teaching for those of Scripture. Paul says that that idea is patently false. He says that the whole thing is from God…yes, including the genealogies! There are even some of us who, as Christians claiming to love the Lord, are not really committed to the truth Paul is affirming here. We show our defection when we read only those portions we like and give no attention to the other books or letters. For example, I have often heard people say that they just can’t get into Leviticus; it doesn’t do anything for them. Or, some refuse to listen to verses that do not fit their preconceived theological biases. This is dangerous ground, indeed, that may someday open and swallow its tenants whole. In sum then, we must carefully evaluate what we are subscribing to when we readily confess that all Scripture is inspired by God.

Paul refers to the Bible as “holy Scriptures” (῞Ιερὰ γράμματα) in 3:15, but  “Scripture” (γραφή) in 3:16. Some have argued that there is a difference here wherein the former refers only to the OT writings while the latter refers to the OT writings plus written apostolic instruction which we now call the New Testament. This distinction is probably not correct for while there is some idea of a canonical process in the first century (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18, Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7) it is probably anachronistic to see as much in 2 Tim 3:16 as this thesis requires. It is perhaps better to see both as referring to the Old Testament and the reference to “holy” then is to be understood as a polemic against those in Timothy’s midst who would deny otherwise. Further, the different Greek terms for “Scripture” are to be regarded as synonymous. By analogy though, as those who now possess the NT, we may apply this passage to all of sacred Scripture, including the New Testament.

Paul says that all Scripture, the entire OT (and by implication the New Testament as well), is “inspired by God.” The expression “inspired by God” is a translation of one Greek term, the adjective qeopneustos (θεόπνευστος). What Paul is telling Timothy is that he ought not be ashamed of the Scripture or hold a low opinion of it (as did the false teachers) because it was produced by the very breath of God, the Spirit of God. The Scriptures were spoken forth by God as he guided human instruments to accomplish the writing of His Book. In 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter says that men were carried along, much as a wind fills the sails of a ship and moves it forward, by the Holy Spirit. The personality of the authors can be seen in their works, but ultimately it is a book supremely correct in what it affirms and without error because God is the superintending author. It is the very revelation of God himself.

The fact that the Scriptures are useful simply follows from the fact that they are divinely inspired. According to Paul the Scriptures are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. The Scriptures teach us who God is and who we are. They teach us what the problem is as well as the divine solution. They teach us how to live a life pleasing to God and what we are to believe. They taught Timothy how to live uprightly and avoid the errors of his opponents, and they will do the same for us. But, as sinners, we often fail in living according to God’s revealed will in the Bible. It is at this point that the Scriptures are able to rebuke us and show us where we’ve gotten off the path. Once we realize where we’ve gone wrong, the Scriptures are able to correct us and show us the way to repentance and how to get back on the right track. Finally, all of this teaching, rebuking, and correcting can be summarized as “training in righteousness.” Thus the Scriptures are able to train us in righteousness, the ultimate goal of which is to be fully equipped for every good work. God is training us through his word so that we might be suitable vessels for his work. It is this very thing that Paul had just finished telling Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:20-21.

As we meditate on these verses, let us think seriously about our commitment to the Word of God. Do we understand the nature of divine Scripture? Have we therefore committed ourselves to God in his Word? Do we act on what it affirms? Paul told Timothy that he must cling to the Scriptures and we should do no less, for the Scripture is still inspired and useful and the times in which we live are not altogether unlike those of that young pastor in Ephesus.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)

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