“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
This passage is a continuation of what Paul has been teaching about apostasy. The entire passage is connected by conjunctions: “for” (2 Ti. 3:2, 6), “but” (2 Ti. 3:9, 10, 14), “and” (2 Ti. 3:15). In the context of the description of apostasy, Paul emphasizes the infallible inspiration of Scripture. Paul exalts the Scripture. Paul wants Timothy to be entirely confident in Scripture. The Bible is the infallible Word of God, and love of the Bible as the infallible Word of God is the chief victory throughout the church age, in every place and time, in every situation, even in the midst of the deepest apostasy. Every believer must be a Bible believer and every church a Bible church.
This is the fundamental passage about the divine inspiration of Scripture. Here Paul gives the doctrine of inspiration in a nutshell.
Scripture is trustworthy (2 Ti. 3:14).
- Paul instructs Timothy to continue in the things that he has learned, referring to the Scripture truth that he learned from Paul, because it is utterly dependable. He uses the terms “assured” and “knowing.” Scripture is the most dependable thing on earth. Timothy could live his life, conduct his ministry, and endure hardness because of the confidence that Scripture is true. The child of God can stand fast in the midst of apostasy by his faith in holy Scripture. Every teaching, every prophecy, every promise is true.
- In both epistles to Timothy, the preacher is instructed to “continue” (1 Ti. 4:16; 2 Ti. 3:14). It is an essential part of Christian life and ministry. Just keep going. Don’t faint (Gal. 6:9). Don’t turn aside (Heb. 12:13). Persist.
Scripture was given by holy men (2 Ti. 3:14).
- Paul uses himself as the reason why Timothy can continue in the things that he has learned. This refers back to verse 10. Timothy knew Paul’s manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience.
- Paul was one of the “holy men” who were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pe. 1:21). The men who wrote the Scriptures were not religious fanatics; they were men of sound mind and godly lives, men who suffered for the things they believed. Rarely, if ever, did they get any material gain from their beliefs; rather they often suffered loss. Consider Paul. Humanly speaking, he had nothing to gain and everything to lose by professing Jesus as Christ. He lost his high position as rabbi and became the target of persecution to the end of his life.
Scripture is for children (“And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures,” 2 Ti. 3:15).
- It is God’s will that children be taught the Scripture from the youngest age. The Greek word for “child” is brephos, meaning “an infant literally or figuratively” (Strong). It is translated “babe” five times (Lu. 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16; 1 Pe. 2:2), “infant” (Lu. 18:15), and “young children” (Ac. 7:19). It is even used for John the Baptist when he was still in Elizabeth’s womb (Lu. 1:41, 44). Israel was to teach Scripture to the children (De. 6:6-7). Jesus wants children to come unto Him (Mt. 19:13-14). Fathers are to teach Scripture to their children (Eph. 6:4). Scripture is for lambs and for sheep (Joh. 21:15-16); it has both milk and meat (1 Co. 3:2; Heb. 5:12).
- Timothy was apparently taught the Scripture by his mother and grandmother (2 Ti. 1:5). Timothy’s father was a Greek and apparently was not a believer, so we see that even women who have unbelieving husbands can take hope that God will bless their children if they do all that they can to live for Christ before the children and to raise them in a godly manner as Timothy’s mother did for him. We see that grandmothers can be very influential in the lives of children if they are godly and teach the Scriptures. My maternal grandmother had a great influence on my life. Grandmothers should not waste their time chasing vanities and trying to hold on to their youth, but should submit to the will of God and spend their old age in godly ministry. Compare Tit. 2:3-5.
- Teaching the Scripture to children makes them wise unto salvation. It prepares them with the fundamental truths that are necessary to understand the gospel (e.g., knowledge of God, knowledge of sin, knowledge of death, knowledge of the Messiah, knowledge of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection). Knowledge of the Scripture is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to bring conviction of sin and repentance and faith. It is never a waste of time to teach the Bible to children. Even if the child is not saved in childhood, the Scripture will be an advantage to him later in life. Compare Pr. 22:6. My wife taught our children the Word of God. She taught our oldest daughter to memorize 100 Bible verses at age seven, and they had to be said 10 at a time, word perfect. I was taught the Scripture some as a child, but I didn’t get saved until I was 23. At that point I had gone far away from the Bible, but God used the instruction I had received as a child to help me understand the things that the soul winner was saying to me. Also, after I was saved, the Holy Spirit brought that early Bible instruction back to my mind and heart and I was able to make more rapid progress in learning the Scriptures than those who have no Bible background.
- Children must be taught the Scripture on their own level in a way that they can understand it and apply it to their own lives. Children do not think like adults. See(1 Co. 13:11. It is important for mothers and other teachers of children to learn how to do this important work most effectively. Every church should provide this training.
Scripture is able to save (“which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” 2 Ti. 3:15).
- This is a main purpose of the Bible. This is a chief theme. Every preacher and teacher must keep this in mind and not neglect the doctrine of salvation and the calling of men to salvation.
- Salvation comes through knowledge (“thou hast known ... make thee wise unto salvation”). Compare Ro. 6:17, which says that salvation comes by obeying a “form of doctrine.” Salvation comes by understanding the gospel (1 Co. 15:1-4). It is impossible to be saved until the sinner becomes wise in what it means that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” What are the Scriptures? Who is Christ? What is sin? What does it mean that Christ died for our sins? What does it mean that Christ rose from the dead? How do we know that He rose? To preach the gospel is to teach and explain these things until sinners come to saving wisdom. Salvation does not come through witnessing miracles or by strange mystical experiences or by dreams or visions or angelic visitations.
- Salvation is “in Christ Jesus.” There is no other Saviour, no other way of salvation, no other path to God. Compare Joh. 14:6; Ac. 4:12. The main thing the sinner needs to know is who is Christ Jesus. Salvation is not a religion; it does not come through catechisms or religious rituals; it is a personal and living relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ.
- Salvation is “through faith.” Knowledge of the gospel is not enough; knowledge must be mixed with personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare Heb. 4:2. Christ died to make it possible for all men to be saved and God wants all men to be saved (Joh. 3:16; 1 Ti. 2:3-5; 2 Pe. 3:9; 1 Jo. 2:2), but men are saved only when they individually receive Christ by faith. This faith is saving faith. It is not a mere mental ascent to the historical facts of the gospel. It is a repentant faith (Lu. 13:3, 5; Ac. 17:30; 20:21), a trusting, resting faith (Heb. 4:10), a confident faith (Heb. 3:14), a faith that comes to Christ (Mt. 11:28), a faith that confesses Christ (Ro. 10:9), a faith that calls on Christ (Ro. 10:13), a faith that is sure (Joh. 6:69), a faith that does not draw back (Heb. 10:39).
- Salvation must be emphasized in the home (“And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures”). Timothy had been taught the Scripture since childhood by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Ti. 1:5). Teaching the Scripture with the objective of leading the children to saving faith in Christ must be a major business of every Christian home. It is something that requires a lot of time and attention. The verb “hast known” is present tense, indicating continual action. Parents need to fill up the home with the Word of God. They must not be hasty in dealing with the children about salvation. They must be patient with the children and watch for good understanding and conviction and true repentance and saving faith. God taught Israel how this is to be done. See De. 6:6-7. The Word of God is to be taught (“teach them”), which is education, and the Word of God is also to be talked (“talk of them”), referring to conversation, discussion, entertaining and answering questions. It is the church which is to train the homes in these things. The Lord’s instruction about the godly home is given to the churches, that the churches might teach the families (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18-21; Tit. 2:3-5). The home and the church are to work in harmony in raising a godly seed for Christ’s glory (Mal. 2:15), each having its own sphere of business for the Lord.
Scripture is holy (2 Ti. 3:15).
- This means set apart, different. It means that the Bible is different from all other religious books because God is the Author. There is no other book like the Bible. No other book is the infallible Word of God. No other book has a perfect revelation of God, inerrant in doctrine, an infallible account of history, and unfailing prophecies of the future.
Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Ti. 3:16).
- The Greek for “given by inspiration of God” is theopneustos--from theos (God) and pneo (to breathe). It is a metaphor describing Scripture as literally breathed out by God. This is the strongest possible concept of divine inspiration. Scripture is a direct product of God. This is described in 2 Pe. 1:21, “... holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” and in 1 Pe. 1:11, “the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify,” and in Mr. 12:36, “David himself said by the Holy Ghost,” and in Ac. 1:16, “the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake,” and in Ac. 28:25, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet,” and in 2 Sa. 23:2, “the Spirit of the Lord spake by me.” Scripture is God’s words; it is the revelation of God’s will and character. L. Gaussen, in Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (1850), says of 2 Timothy 3:16: “This statement admits of no exception and of no restriction ... All Scripture is in such wise a work of God, that it is represented to us as uttered by the divine breathing, just as human speech is uttered by the breathing of a man’s mouth. The prophet is the mouth of the Lord.”
- “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The Greek for “Scripture” in 2 Ti. 3:16 is graphe, which means book or writing. This is known as “plenary” or full or whole inspiration. The Bible is a divinely-inspired, divinely-planned Book. It was settled in heaven before it was delivered to holy men on earth (Ps. 119:89). The Old Testament is Scripture. In the context, Paul was referring to the Old Testament (2 Ti. 3:15). Each portion of the Old Testament is called Scripture: The Pentateuch is divinely inspired (Genesis -- Ro. 4:3; Gal. 4:30; Exodus -- Mt. 22:29-32; Ro. 9:17; Leviticus -- Jas. 2:8); the Historical books are divinely inspired (Ro. 11:2-3); the Poetical books are divinely inspired (Mt. 21:42; Joh. 10:34-35; 13:18; 19:24, 36; Ro. 15:3-4); the Prophetic books are divinely inspired (Isaiah -- Mr. 14:27; Lu. 4:17-21; Ac. 8:32-33; Ro. 10:11; 1 Pe. 2:6, Zechariah -- Joh. 19:37). The Gospels are Scripture. See 1 Ti. 5:18, which quotes Lu. 10:7 as scripture. The writings of the apostles are Scripture. See Ro. 16:25-26; 1 Co. 2:7-13; 14:37; 2 Pe. 3:1-2, 15-16. The book of Revelation is Scripture. It is called the Word of God (Re. 1:2), and it concludes with a solemn warning and seal (Re. 22:18-19).
- Every word and detail of Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The Greek word for Scripture in 2 Ti. 3:15 is gramma, which means letter. This is known as “verbal inspiration.” Compare 1 Co. 2:13, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” The letters of Scripture are the most important letters on earth. For more than 200 years, Americans learned their letters from the Bible, and it produced a great nation. The first colleges in America were established to teach the Bible. The most popular educational material was Bible-based, such as Noah Webster’s Blue-back Speller and the American Dictionary of the English Language. Even in this time of apostasy, many families still wisely educate their children in the letters of God’s Word by means of home schooling and Christian schools.
- We are not told how the Scriptures were given by inspiration, only that they were. The mechanics of inspiration is a mystery known only to God. When discussing its own inspiration, the Scripture does not focus on the mechanics but on the product. God spoke in many diverse ways: By the angel of the Lord (Ge. 22:15-18; 31:11-13), by dreams (Ge. 28:12-15; 37:5-10; Da. 7:1-2), by visions (Eze. 1:1; 8:3; 40:2), by stone carvings (Ex. 24:12), by Urim and Thummim (Nu. 27:21), by the voice spoken from above the mercy seat (Nu. 7:89), by the mouth of a donkey (Nu. 22:28-30), by a voice from heaven (De. 4:36), by direct inspiration by writing (1 Ch. 28:19), by a voice from the whirlwind (Job 38:1), by a scribe writing the prophet’s words (Je. 36:4), by handwriting on a wall (Da. 5), by angels (Da. 9:21-23; Heb. 2:2), by a voice from heaven (Mt. 3:17), by a voice out of the cloud (Mt. 17:5). But the result in all cases was that the words were God-breathed. Thus it is vain to debate about the mechanism or process of inspiration.
- The high view of Scripture inspiration taught by Paul and the other apostles refutes multitudes of heresies, including the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch (it was written by multiple authors over a period of hundreds of years), the redaction theory of the Gospels (the writers pieced together the Gospels from other material), and Neo-orthodoxy (the Bible contains the Word of God). Any theology that allows for error in Scripture is gross heresy and leads to spiritual shipwreck. What audacity it is for men today to claim that they know more about the nature of Scripture than the Lord’s own apostles!
Scripture is profitable (2 Ti. 3:16).
- The Bible is profitable. Yea, it is the most profitable book on earth! It is profitable for eternal salvation, for knowing God and His will, for answering all of life’s big questions, for understanding the past and knowing the future, for wise living, for spiritual protection.
- The Bible is a practical book that gets down to where people live their everyday lives. It is not mere philosophy. It is profitable for instruction in marriage, child training, friendship, employment, the use of money, knowing God’s will, evangelism, every aspect of church and ministry.
- All Scripture is profitable, even those parts which seem to be less important. There is no “non-essential” part of Scripture.
- Scripture is profitable for “doctrine.” Doctrine is the first thing mentioned. This is a high view of the importance of doctrine, and it is in great contrast with the interdenominational and ecumenical principle that downplays doctrine for the sake of unity or evangelism. The first thing that the churches and individual believers need is sound doctrine. We must know the doctrine of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, man, sin, salvation, death, heaven, hell, creation, angels, Israel, the church, prophecy, etc. Through doctrine, believers are grounded in the faith. Our doctrine must come only from the Scripture and not from any extra-biblical source. Preachers must be trained thoroughly in Bible doctrine. Every believer must set out to learn Bible doctrine. Parents must teach Bible doctrine in the home. Every church must aim to teach Bible doctrine to every member.
- Scripture is profitable for “reproof.” This is the Greek elegchos, which means “proof, conviction” (Strong). It is translated “evidence” (Heb. 11:1). It is to refute sin and error, to show that a certain action or teaching is wrong. Reproof is a necessary part of the ministry of God’s Word. It is the second thing that Paul mentions in regard to the purpose of Scripture. It is not enough to teach doctrine in a “positive” manner. Sin and error must be dealt with in a direct and plain manner. Note that it is Scripture itself that is the reproof, the evidence. Human reasoning and extra-biblical evidence has its place, but it is only the Scripture which is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If we are refuting the error of evolution, for example, we can use scientific evidence as well as human arguments about the impossibility of life having evolved, but these will not bring spiritual conviction, repentance, and conversion. Only the testimony of the Scriptures will bring these effects.
- Scripture is profitable for “correction.” This means “to straighten up again” (Strong), “a restoration to an upright or right state” (Vine). Scripture is the absolute and perfect standard for truth and righteousness, and everything is to be measured and calibrated by it. It is the perfect measure. In Sevres, France, the International Prototype Kilogram is kept in an environmentally controlled chamber at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. The platinum-iridium alloy ball, constructed in 1884, is as perfect as technology can make it. It is the standard for the measure of the kilogram worldwide, but it is not absolute and unchanging. It is removed from its vault every 50 years for retesting, and in the 1980s it had lost 50 micrograms (roughly the weight of a grain of sand). Scientists are working on a more perfect and unchanging standard. The Bible, in contrast, has not lost its perfection with the passing of time. It has the same ability to produce the “perfect” man of God today as it did 2,000 years ago. “I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Ps. 119:96). We see that God’s people need correction. It is a necessary part of the ministry. It is a necessary part of preaching and teaching: “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28). There are a vast number of enemies arrayed against the truth in this present world, and individual believers and churches tend to go astray. It is like an airplane or a ship, which must be kept on course by making continual navigational readjustments. Even a small degree of error can eventually take the craft far off course. Likewise, preachers must be on guard against every error. We see the ministry of correction in the New Testament epistles, as Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude sought to correct sin and error among the churches and thus to keep them on the right course. There is never a time when preachers and church leaders can relax their guard against sin and error. Paul warned the elders at Ephesus that they must be on guard continually (Ac. 20:28-31). Correction is a continual process. Spiritual revival is not something that should happen once in a while. It is God’s will that believers and churches be reformed continually by the Spirit-led preaching of the Scripture. Every time Scripture is preached and taught, there should be spiritual renewal as we see and confess or sins and as our lives are brought more into conformity with God’s perfect will.
- Scripture is profitable for “instruction in righteousness.” This refers to practical instruction in Christian living. The word “instruction” is the Greek paideia, which refers to child training, tutoring, nurturing. It is translated “chasten” (Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11) and “nurture” (Eph. 6:4). Every child of God must put himself under and submit himself to God’s instruction program. This is a chief purpose of the New Testament church (“warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom,” Col. 1:28). To teach Bible doctrine correctly is to give instruction in righteousness. Doctrine should be practical and usable. Teaching the Bible is not like teaching science; it is not merely learning facts; it is learning how to live and serve the Lord. We are to teach them to “observe” all things (Mt. 28:20), which refers to obedience, not just to know all things. Teaching Ephesians 5:11, for example, requires not only teaching what the verse means by defining the words and examining its context, but also giving the practical applications. What are unfruitful works of darkness in our society today? How can we “have no fellowship with” them? How can we reprove them? What does this mean for my daily life? for my home? for my church? The application of the Bible to everyday Christian living is not to be left only to the believers themselves. Preachers and teachers must instruct in righteousness. Some preachers have the philosophy that their task is merely to teach the Bible in a general sense, and the believers are to apply Scripture to their everyday lives. In truth, it is the responsibility both of the preacher and of the individual believer to apply Scripture. The preacher is to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Ti. 4:2) and that is more than teaching general doctrine.
Scripture is sufficient (2 Ti. 3:17)
- God’s goal for every believer is that he be perfect in all the will of God. Every believer is to pursue this objective and not be content with anything less. Every church is to pursue this objective for all of its members.
- The means of perfecting is Scripture. It is living and powerful (Heb. 4:12) and able to build up (Ac. 20:30).
- The word “perfect” is defined in the verse. It does not refer to sinless perfection but to being “throughly furnished unto all good works.” The Greek for “perfect” is artios, which means “fitted, complete” (Vine). As a noun, the Greek apartismos is translated “finish” in Lu. 14:28, referring to the building of a tower. This is an example of how that the Bible is a self-interpreting book and defines its own words.
- We see that it is possible to be perfect in the sense of being thoroughly furnished unto all good works. God has provided everything that is needed. He has provided full reconciliation through the blood of Christ. The sinner can be washed, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, justified, adopted. That is the new standing that the born again sinner has in Christ. He can then walk in God’s perfect will by the light of Scripture. He can know that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Ro. 12:1-2).
- Note that it is “the man of God” who can be perfect. This term is used of Moses (De. 33:1), Samuel (1 Sa. 9:6), Elijah (1 Ki. 17:24), Elisha (2 Ki. 5:8), and David (2 Ch. 8:14). Faithful Timothy is called a “man of God” (1 Ti. 6:11). The halfhearted, the lukewarm, the double-minded will never attain the perfect will of God. Perfection requires “giving all diligence” (2 Pe. 1:5-9).
- Note that all Scripture is necessary to make the man of God perfect. This means that the individual believer who wants to be perfect before God must set out to learn the whole Bible. He must become skillful in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13). This means that every church should be a serious Bible training institution that has the objective to make every member a skillful Bible student. Learning all Scripture toward perfection requires reading the Bible (1 Ti. 4:13; Re. 1:3), studying the Bible (2 Ti. 2:15), memorizing the Bible (Ps. 119:11), meditating in the Bible (Ps. 1:2), and testing everything by the Bible (Pr. 14:12; Ac. 17:11; 2 Co. 10:5; 1 Th. 5:21; Heb. 5:14).
- The Bible is the sole rule for faith and practice. Since the Bible is able to make the man of God perfect in all of the will of God, nothing else is needed, not extra-biblical visions or prophecies, not “church fathers,” not extra-biblical traditions or councils, not extra-biblical science, not human philosophies, not miracles and mystical experiences. See also Jude 3, where we see that the Christian faith was “once delivered unto the saints.”
- The Bible has absolutely everything God’s people need. The book of Acts is a divinely-inspired missionary course. The New Testament Epistles are a divinely-inspired church manual. The Pastoral Epistles are the divinely-inspired preacher’s course. Genesis is the divinely-inspired book of origins. Old Testament history is the divinely-inspired world history course. The Bible contains everything we need to know about God, God’s eternal plan, creation, man, sin, salvation, sanctification, discipleship, service, angels, demons, heaven, hell, prayer, evangelism, the future. In regard to spiritual truth, if it is not in the Bible, we don’t need to know it. “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (De. 29:29).
- Making the Bible the Book of your life will transform you. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 changed the entire course of my life in 1973 when I understood that the Bible alone is the infallible revelation that God has given to men and I submitted to the Bible as the complete Word of God and the divine rule for my life. Prior to then, I was guided by a hodgepodge of philosophy and religion, a little Mao Tse Tung, a little Paramahansa Yogananda, a little Ayn Rand, a little Hermann Hesse, a little of the Sunday School lessons from my childhood, and a lot of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the Who and the Rolling Stones, combined with a heaping dose of my own self-willed opinions. In one wonderful evening in the summer of 1973 I turned my back on all of that to receive the God of the Bible as my God, the Jesus Christ of the Bible as my Lord and Saviour, and the Bible as my rule for life, and I have never regretted it, not for a moment. I found satisfaction and rest for my soul.
Scripture is understandable (2 Ti. 3:15-17)
- A book that is for children, that is profitable, and that is for instruction in righteousness is a book that is designed to be understood. This is called perspicuity, meaning clarity, lucidity, plainness, transparency. It is the opposite of obscure. The Bible is a revelation, not a puzzle. It contains “things hard to be understood” (2 Pe. 3:16), but even those things can be understood with patient study.
- This means that the Bible employs normal human language. It employs the normal rules of grammar and interpretation. The right method of Bible interpretation is called “the normal-literal” method. David Cooper observed, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.” The Bible contains figures of speech, but as in normal speech, the Bible makes it clear that these are figures of speech and provides the interpretation either by the context itself or by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials