2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in justice.

Many trying to figure out just what Scripture is understandably plant their feet here. But a bit strangely, they then turn to formal definitions of the qualities of Scripture: as inerrant, infallible, perspicuous, etc. For instance, the “Chicago Statement” states, “the Bible expresses God’s truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute,” (VI) and, “the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed” (VII). This seems awfully far from the full context in which Paul is writing. Paul is imprisoned in Rome, and, as he appears to understand, is about to be martyred. To Timothy he writes:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, 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, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in justice, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Paul is about to die and writes with great heart and urgency to one of his closest workers. Paul attempts to persuade Timothy to remain loyal to their common cause of the gospel in the middle of suffering and to “continue in what he has learned” from “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation.” But right here, Paul inserts an important clause: “because you know those from whom you learned it.” The Scriptures are always given to the Church, to “all God’s people,” making wise and being useful for those who continue in witnessing to the gospel together. This is no individual mission. We always receive the Scriptures’ true teaching in the company of those called likewise to a faithful witness to the gospel with the whole of our lives.

Finally, there is the question of what exactly “God-breathed” means. For all the finagling over definitions, the resonances with creation should have been obvious: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The Scriptures are about something far more serious than truth and error, especially in any narrow sense—they’re about life and death. But they’re only about life and death because they point always with outstretched finger to the crucified God in whom alone is the breath of being carried up into resurrection even beyond the cruelty of death, particularly death on a cross. So:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

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