3 Lessons about Scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16–17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture Is Inspired
Paul affirmed with elegant finality that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” You can hear the meaning of the transliteration of the Greek word Theopneustos (“God-breathed”—Theo means “God” and “pneustos” means breath). More literally, “All Scripture is breathed into by God.” When you speak, your word is “you-breathed”—your breath, conditioned by your mind, pours forth in speech. You breathe out your words. This belief that Scripture was “breathed into by God” perfectly expresses the view of the first-century Jews about the Old Testament writings.1
The early church believed exactly the same thing. As Peter declared, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). The Old Testament Scriptures were God’s breath, God’s words.
Beautifully, we see that this is also how the early church regarded the Gospels and the Epistles. In 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul uses the same word for Scripture (graphe) that he uses here in 3:16 to refer to quotations from both the Old Testament and New Testament: “For Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain’ (Deut. 25:4) and ‘The laborer deserves his wages’ (Luke 10:7).”
Similarly, the Apostle Peter includes Paul’s writings in the category of Scripture (graphe): “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). It is clear that Peter regarded Paul’s writing to be Scripture!
Scripture Is Useful
The apostle uses two pairs of words to flesh out Scripture’s usefulness – “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (v. 16b). The first pair—teaching and reproof—have to do with doctrine. Positively, all Scripture is “profitable for teaching.” That is why the whole of both Testaments must be studied—not just Romans, not just the Old Testament, not just the Gospels. All the didactic, poetic, narrative, apocalyptic, proverbial, and epical sections together are to make up the tapestry of our teaching. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching.”
And of course when this is done, there will also be reproof. Those true to the Scriptures cannot escape this duty. Together the teaching and the reproof produce the boon of sound doctrine. It is for want of both that the church has so often fallen into error.
Together the teaching and the reproof produce the boon of sound doctrine.
The second pair—correction and training in righteousness—have to do with conduct. “Correction” comes from the Greek word for “straight,” which the New Living Translation helpfully renders, “It straightens us out.” God’s Word is useful in a practical way. Those who accept its reproof will begin to find their lives straightening out. Then they will be ready for the Word’s positive effect of “training in righteousness.” The righteousness that has come to the believer by faith is actualized by the training of God’s Word. In sum, the God-breathed Word is “profitable” for all of life, all doctrine and all duty, all creed and all conduct—everything!
Paul ends this section on the sufficiency of Scripture by saying, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (v. 17). Paul here uses two forms of the Greek word for equip (an adjective [“complete”] and a participle [“equipped”]) to make his point. The man of God is super-equipped by the Word of God. The man of God is before all else a man of the Bible.
The testimony of God’s Holy Word is that it is his breath and that it is everything to believers. The book of Deuteronomy records that when Moses had finished writing the words of the law and had given it to the Levites to place beside the ark and had sung his song, the song of Moses, he said, “Take heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life” (Deuteronomy 32:46, 47; cf. 31:9–13; 21:1–43).
This set the standard for the proper regard for the Scriptures of the old covenant. This is why the psalmist devoted the 176 verses of Psalm 119 to the celebration of the Scripture, using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet as a structure. In effect, he said God’s Word is everything from A to Z. The Scriptures are life!
1–2 Timothy and Titus
R. Kent Hughes, Bryan Chapell
Offering timely instruction to the local church, Hughes and Chapell teach through three of Paul’s pastoral letters.
When Jesus began his ministry and was tempted by Satan, his encyclopedic knowledge of the Word enabled him to defeat the tempter with three deft quotations from Deuteronomy (see Luke 4:1–13; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13, 16). Jesus Christ, God incarnate, leaned on the sufficiency of Scripture in his hour of need. Indeed, his summary response to the tempter was like a bookend to Moses’ declaration that the Scriptures are “your life,” for Jesus insisted that they are the soul’s essential food–”It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Scriptures were life to Moses and food to Jesus. They cannot and must not be anything less to us. They are the very breath of God.
This article was adapted from 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus by R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell. This volume is from the Preaching the Word commentary series.
1. J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1963), p. 203.