“All Scripture” and the Significance of the Preached Word

2 Timothy 3:16-17 in Context

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

10 But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

[Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 14:2]

Summary

The statement by Paul that “all Scripture is inspired by God” has been a significant pillar in popular evangelical doctrine to emphasise the importance of the canon – the bible as we know it.  However what was meant by the word “Scripture” in Paul’s time and what mainline evangelical Christianity means by it now are very different.  Not even the OT was the same – as the references to Jannes & Jambre in 3:8 make clear.

This lack of certainty about what exactly is meant by “all Scriptures” is not limited to the fact that Paul and Timothy’s versions were so significantly different from what we recognise as the canon today.  There are significant differences in translations of the canon and even the underlying Greek texts.  It is also clear that there are many schisms in Evangelical Christianity that have arisen because of different interpretations of the texts that most people agree are in the canon (e.g. the Baptism in the Spirit to name just one obvious example).

The conclusion that this study comes to is that God never intended the canon or whatever we interpret by the words “All Scriptures” to be used as the ultimate basis for our faith.  That basis is Jesus Christ in us and a living relationship with Him.  However once that is clearly understood the canon does have a significant role to play.  It is the main source of the anointed words that Paul so encourages Timothy to preach.

Therefore preaching is very significant, perhaps more than we realise.  It is the preached word that creates faith in the person hearing and that is the main means God uses to save people (Romans 10:4-18, 1 Cor. 1:21-25).  We need to pay more attention….

Step 1: What did it mean to the original readers?

Context Summary

2 Timothy is written from Paul to his “dear son” Timothy towards the end of Paul’s life.  Despite his innocence Paul is in prison chained like a criminal.  He has many enemies and many of his disciples have left him, most not for good reasons.  Despite this he is encouraged and looking forward to the reward that he now feels sure is awaiting him.  He writes to Timothy to encourage him with the encouragement that he feels and to remind him of the principles of how to stay encouraged in the face of similar adversities.  Things are not going to get any easier but there are things Timothy can do:

  • Keep focused on Jesus, strengthen himself in Him, remember Him
  • Remember the gospel
  • Remind himself of how Paul lived
  • Stay preaching the word

In other words: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures..” (3:14-15).

Who is Timothy?

Timothy was a “son in the faith” to Paul, his true disciple and someone with oversight over churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3).  He was Paul’s disciple and, along with Titus and possibly others, was Paul’s next generation, his legacy, of preachers and apostles.

What Scripture is and what to do with it

In this context Paul reminds Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (v. 16,17).

Since this is the nature of Scripture, Timothy is then strongly encouraged to preach the Word i.e. use the Scriptures in the way they were meant to be used, for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  All of this is summed up by Paul in his exhortation and command to Timothy to preach the Word (see also 1 Timothy 4:13).  It seems Timothy had a gift which, given the context of 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, was probably preaching.  The time will come, Paul warns Timothy, when men will not put up with sound doctrine.

The definition of Scripture

But what did the term “All Scripture” mean to Timothy?  And what does Paul mean by “sound doctrine”?  As Paul says to Timothy he had known these holy Scriptures since his infancy, i.e. before any of the New Testament was written.  So all Scripture in this context is probably the Old Testament as the Jews of Timothy’s time knew it.  That that was not the same as the OT that we have in our canon is indicated by Paul’s references to two characters that are not mentioned by name in our OT i.e. Jannes and Jambres (3:8).

But there is also something related to the term “All Scripture” in Paul’s emphasis upon his own teachings.  He says to Timothy to include what he had heard from Paul – sound teaching (1:13) and his reference to sound doctrine in 4:3.  That would have meant that Timothy would have been as likely to give Paul’s utterances and writings as much importance as the Scriptures he had read.  See also verses 2:2, 7, 15; 3:10, 14.

In 1 Timothy the emphasis on sound doctrine as taught by Paul is even stronger.  If Timothy had also heard Peter’s opinion of Paul’s writings (as he expressed in 2 Peter 3:15) then he would have understood the relative importance of Paul’s teachings vis-à-vis the Scriptures he had been brought up on, i.e. that both were Scripture and both were therefore as useful as each other in the way described in 3:15.

This was towards the end of Paul’s life, i.e. about 67 AD[1] and some of the other NT books and letters had been written by this time.  Perhaps Timothy could recognise which of these were inspired, i.e. canon, and which were not but this is speculation.

Step 2: What are the differences between the original readers and us?

Not many of us personally know people that are significant leaders in the church and that are in prison for their faith.  But otherwise much of the same situations apply.  If it was the last days in Paul’s time (the writer to the Hebrews also thought so – see Hebrews 1:2 and so did John in 1 John 2:18 ) then it certainly is for us.

The particular role of Paul as a writer of one of significant components of the canon  is not one that we have a counterpart to today.

We also know the NT canon, a lot of which was not written when Timothy got this letter.  So we have a bit more certainty perhaps than Timothy about the importance of the letters he got from Paul or which he had read himself.  But that is very much a “perhaps” – Timothy had a “gift of God” probably similar to what we have.  The Holy Spirit is well able to teach him and us and guide us all into all truth once we have received that same gift.

Step 3: What are the theological principles in the text?

  1. All Scripture is inspired by God
  2. As a result, all Scripture is useful for
    1. teaching
    2. rebuking
    3. correcting
    4. training in righteousness
  3. The result of using Scripture in this way is make a man of God thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Step 4: How do these principles fit in with the rest of the bible?

These principles are backed up by Peter in 2 Peter 3:15.  The word of truth and the Scriptures themselves are nothing but a set of statements that can be used in many ways if the person reading them is not filled with the Spirit and taught by God.  Ultimately Jesus is the Truth and the Word of God and unless you are being taught by His Holy Spirit in a real experiential way you will eventually be confused and unsure of what to believe.  No amount of reading of the bible or study will bring you to God, only faith in the preached word does that (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Step 5:  How should we live out these theological principles?

Most Christians have not been exhorted by a godly Apostle to preach the word or use the Scriptures in the way Timothy was though there are those who have received that gift from Jesus.

But the biggest applications for my personal walk that I get from these verses is as follows:

  1.  Listen to godly, gifted preachers, who are preaching the Word of God in the way God intended.  Be prepared to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained by this preached Word.
  2. The Scriptures are not the same thing as the Word of God.  It takes the action of the Holy Spirit working His gift through a godly man to make Scriptures useful.
  3. Both Paul and Timothy’s versions of the Scriptures were different from ours as has been the case for many Christians even after the canon was decided.  Different translations and underlying texts can make significant differences even today.  We should not get too tied up by the fact that Scripture cannot be precisely pinned down to the last Greek letter. The Holy Spirit does not want us to make a fetish out of the words on the page. As Paul says elsewhere:  “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

[1] Zondervan NIV Study Bible

A cure for the love of money!

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 13-3

I Timothy 6:10a

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (NIV)

Grasping the Text in their town

Roman slave mosaicIf we take the verse in context the original readers would have seen this verse as a follow on to the earlier verses about being content with food and clothing (vv. 6-8).  These verses themselves relate to earlier verses (vv. 1-2) about slaves showing respect and serving their masters well despite the fact that they are slaves.  Far from a cry for slaves to pursue their freedom, Paul says that they should be content.  He also says in vv. 3-5 that anyone teaching otherwise is motivated by thinking that godliness is a means to financial gain.  This is the link verse to the remainder of what the chapter teaches about the love of money.  It is probable that the idea had got out that if you can be free you can make money and that money will bring about happiness.  Paul wants to knock that idea on the head.

The differences between their situation and ours

Slavery, per se, has been outlawed in nearly every country though variations of it exist all over the world.  Otherwise things aren’t much different as far as this passage is concerned.

The theological principles in the passage

love of moneyBut godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:6-10

Probably the main principle, for me anyway, is elaborated in verse 7:  “We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.”  This makes the following three verses clear – being eager for money, loving it, can cause you to wander from the faith (v. 10).  The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil that stem from a wrong perspective on life, giving importance to those things that are not important since we won’t be bringing any of it with us.

Does this fit in with the teachings of the rest of the bible?

This principle is central to many of Jesus’ teaching and to the whole ethic of the NT.  Jesus attitude to money during His earthly ministry might at times be considered cavalier by those who give money more importance than He ever did.  In Matt. 6:19 – 34 Jesus teaches us to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.  He also says that no one can serve both God and money.  He also says not to worry about tomorrow or indeed anything to do with what we eat, drink or wear (the same things that Paul says we ought to be content with having – we shouldn’t be looking for more than these).  In Matthew 17:24-27 it is obvious that He and His disciples are penniless and cannot pay the temple tax.  However, Jesus isn’t bothered, He doesn’t even go looking for the money Himself but sends Peter to get it from a fish!  In Matt. 19: 16 – 26 Jesus warns that it is very hard for someone who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And so it goes on.

How should we apply this principle today?

Even though there aren’t many slaves that we know of today in Ireland anyway, many people feel like slaves either because they are in demanding low paid employment or because they are in debt.  The natural inclination of most people is not to be content in these situations, to want to find a way out.  But if it was true that those who were slaves in Paul’s time ought to be content with food and clothing (v.8) then it is also true for us now.

One of the biggest issues that I, and probably others, have is that we are not content with just food and clothing.  We feel we have a need for a whole plethora of other things:

  • Education9598540-cartoon-home-appliance-icon
  • Health care
  • Justice & security
  • Elaborate dwelling places with all sorts of facilities such as:
    • Hot showers
    • Electric ovens
    • Central heating
    • Flushable toilets
    • Comfortable furniture and beds
    • TV
    • Computers
    • etc.
  • Motor vehicles
  • Mobile phones
  • Holidays
  • Recreational trips
  • Eating out
  • etc.

But according to the bible we don’t actually need any of these things, just food and clothing (which presumably includes shelter) and with those we should be content.

Some chance!

september-9-11-attacks-anniversary-ground-zero-world-trade-center-pentagon-flight-93-second-airplane-wtc_39997_600x450But the reality is that all these things are very precarious.  The world economic system is continuously on a knife edge.  Economic disaster is never far away from any of us.  Wars can break out in the most unlikely places in unimaginable ways (9/11), there is no lasting security on this earth.  I, and perhaps you, live in the illusion that we will always have more than we need, I take it for granted and can’t imagine what it would be like not to have these “basics”.  But there is nothing basic about this list of things nor is there any certainty that any of us will have them.  The only thing we can be certain about is that our heavenly Father will give us what we truly need:  food & shelter.

The answer then is to start being truly thankful for everything else for as long as we have it all.

Which mightn’t be for long.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

1 Timothy 6:17

Be ThankfulThank you Jesus!

Different View Points

The role of the Holy Spirit

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 12-1

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16 (NIV)

A learned intellectual interprets John 3:16

A man with 2 Ph.Ds specialising in NT studies who has not believed and encountered God in the Spirit would have a cognitive understanding of the passage.  He might discuss it in this way:

“The passage says that “God” loved the world so much that he gave his “son” for it.  According to this passage by John the mechanism for living for eternity is to believe in “the son”, i.e. the man Jesus.  I would say that it is true that anyone who has the Christian faith can be deluded into thinking they will live forever and that that is not a bad thing.  For most people, having the hope that they will live forever should keep them happy through difficult times.  It is noticeable that the Christian gospel has a great effect in poor countries where the consolations of this life are far less and the hope for an eternal life of happiness most required.

Jesus was a man, an extraordinary man, but simply believing in him could not make someone live forever and, obviously, doesn’t since all people die.  Though I can see how people who do believe in him must be consoled in difficulty, I cannot see how doing so could possibly make people live forever.

Anyway the idea that God, if he exists in the form described in the NT, would have a son is foolishness and the whole idea expressed in this passage is also foolishness if interpreted in a literal sense.  But the message in this passage is one of the best means there is for pacifying and comforting people in trouble with no other hope, as so many are in this world,.”

A mature believer interprets John 3:16

This is how a mature believer (like me) might interpret it:

“When I met God on the back of a bus travelling from Mullingar to Galway on May 7th 1980, one of the first things He did was convict me of the truth of all the Scriptures including this one.  I believe that God is and that He is good.  I believe He has a Son, Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, whom He sent to earth, who came of His own volition and who died a horrible death so that my sins might be taken out of the way and so I can have eternal life.

The life to come is not an extension of the time frame of this present body I am in but a new life in a new eternal body which is maintained by the Spirit of God Himself.

I continue to believe and act accordingly since I have the Spirit of God in me leading me into all truth.

I continually remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and continue to believe and receive eternal life, the deposit of which starts in this life with the Holy Spirit within me.  I don’t just have a cognitive understanding of this passage but a fully engaged, continuing life experience with the author of it.”

A 9 year old child interprets John 3:16 having just given her life to Jesus

“Daddy, Jesus died for me!”

Word Study – “Sick”

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-5

1Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. 

James 5:13-16a

The Greek word for sick – ασθενει – in this context is transliterated: Astheneo

Strong’s number: 770

It is used 33 times in the NT:

  • Sick (19 times): Matthew 10:8, 25:36, 39; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 4:46, 5:3, 7, 11:1-3, 6; Acts 9:37, 19:12, 20:35; Phil. 2:26-27; 2 Timothy 4:20; James 5:14
  • Weak (14 times): Romans 4:19, 8:3, 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:21, 29, 12:10, 13:3-4,9;

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word could as easily be translated “weak” as “sick”.  In English these two words are quite related but our understanding of the microbes that cause sickness make us more inclined to separate the meanings than would have been the case for people in James’ time.  If we use “weak” instead of “sick” in James 5:14 we have:

“Is anyone among you weak? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”

When we take the overall context of James 5:13 -16 we can see there is a connection between being weak, or sick, and sin.  The effect of the elders anointing is not just to make the person well physically but also spiritually – his sins will be forgiven.  In verse 16 the key to healing is that you confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.

In verse 15 the word translated “sick” is actually a very different word (κάμνοντα) which is only used one other time, in Hebrews 12:3, and there it is translated “weary”.  So if you feel weary confess your sins to each other and pray for each other and you will be healed.

Nowadays we are inclined to view disease and sickness differently from James.  For us there is only a tenuous connection, if any, between our personal actions and sin.  Sickness is caused often by viruses or bacteria which seem separated from our moral actions.  As a Christian in the 21st Century the connection between sin and sickness is less personal, more related to the general fallen condition of the world than anything that we personally may have done.  But if you think in terms of sickness being weakness and put yourself in the context of a 1st Century Christian who knows nothing about viruses and bacteria then you might see the connection between personal sin and weakness or sickness more easily.  This also explains Paul’s warning about taking communion in an unworthy fashion (see Thoughts on Communion: Healing and The consequences of communion).

Things can come around though.  The bible’s wisdom does not seem so archaic in this regard if you are into holistic medicine.  Lifestyle and a tendency to sickness go together.  If your lifestyle is one of abusing the body through excessive alcohol or smoking or immorality then it is easy to see how those sins can affect your health also.  Other sins such as worry and anger also have physical effects causing illness or weakness or both.

In this passage though the emphasis is not on the sin causing the illness.  The Lord is gracious and he heals first and, then, forgives your sins also.  He doesn’t place the emphasis on the sin but rather on the healing of the sickness or weakness.

Which is just like Him, isn’t it?

The Practice of Slavery in New Testament Times

“Half the population of Rome, and a large proportion of the Empire, were slaves. Christians did not oppose slavery but taught slaves to work well for their masters, believing or unbelieving. Slavery eventually became eradicated by masters and slaves becoming brothers in Christ. The Roman army often took the brightest and best young men and women as slaves.” (Halley’s Bible Handbook Page 616)

“The punishment for runaway slaves could be death. Slaves were not generally ill-treated but they were considered the property of their masters. They could be seized and sent back by anyone if they were trying to escape.” (John Drane, 1998)

“As many as one third of those living in Mediterranean cities may have been slaves, with others having slave origins. In Rome and Italy the figures were higher, perhaps as many as 80 – 90% of the population. By the first century the main supply came from children born to slaves. Slavery was not thought of as immoral or as necessarily degrading. A slave was simply the bottom rank of the economic ladder, doing the jobs equivalent to those which, typically in the 19th and 20th centuries were undertaken by immigrant labour.” (Bowker, The Complete Bible Handbook, 1998, Page 440)

When I think of slaves I think of the worst excesses of exploitation of labour such as took place on Roman galleys or in the gladiatorial arenas. However the reality for most slaves was quite different. Slaves in the Roman Empire were often treated well, especially in the case of those whose masters were Christians. In our case we are redeemed and slaves of Christ – a wonderful master so we don’t have to have negative connotations when Paul says that we should offer ourselves as slaves to righteousness in Romans 6. As Bowker says: “The gospel brought freedom from one slavery, but human beings could only realize their full potential as God’s creatures in the relation of absolute dependence on God, which the image of slavery so powerfully expressed.” (ibid. page 441)

“…slaves are directly addressed in Paul’s letters as members of the churches written to. Paul clearly regarded them as full members of these churches.” (ibid. page 441)

The Safeguards of the Christian Faith

Faith is a gift – or so the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8 – and faith is substance and assurance (Hebrews 11:1). So those with faith might not require much else. They believe in Jesus having, like me, that assurance in their hearts where they can hear and feel the Holy Spirit. The other side of that though is that they can be deceived. So God has put in place two other things to help, the Scripture and the Church. So we have three things which keep us on the straight and narrow so to speak.

Here is a check for the church or group you are in:

Do they honour the personal in dwelling Spirit of God in you (1 John 4:2) and do they honour the Scripture ?

Some big groups do not: churches with a clergy say you cannot know God safely unless you are guided by clergy.  Some would rather you did not read the Scripture at all but let it be read and interpreted to you through the same clergy.

Sound familiar? So they remove two safeguards and leave you with only one. And what if that turns out to be corrupt?