The Valuable Bible – 2 Timothy 3:16
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011
2 Timothy 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness
This is one of the Bible verses people commonly memorize and quote. It’s simple, straight forward, easy to learn, and not hard to understand. Yet it summarizes one of the great and most basic truths of the Christian Faith. It tells how the Bible came to be, and how useful it is.
It begins with a profound fact: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”
The original Greek word for “Scripture” is graphae (γραφη). In the verse just before this (3:15) Paul is talking about the same writings, but there he calls them “The Sacred Writings”, ta hiera grammata (τα ιερα γραμματα).
He doesn’t mean just any writings. He used expressions common in his day to refer to the books of the Old Testament. These were the writings that were known by Timothy growing up as a Jewish child. These terms were consistently used by the Rabbis then to refer to the whole Canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. Those words were used the same way we use the word “Bible” today.
The Bible didn’t come from some church council or a group of editors. It was given to us from God himself by the act called “inspiration“.
The word “inspiration” translates the Greek word theopneustos (θεοπνευστος) which literally means “God-Breathed”. More exactly the word means “to expire” or “to breathe out” since the sounds of speech are made by the expiration of air through the larynx. In English the word “expire” also describes something that is outdated. An expiration date tells when something has gone past its effective date like an expired driver’s license. Since God’s word never becomes ineffective with time, “expiration” would not have been a helpful translation. The amazing fact is that Scripture originated as if it was breathed out of the mouth of God himself. It is his word spoken to us who read it.
Some who refuse to accept everything in the Bible as being true have tried to change this verse to make it say something different. They translate it as, “Every scripture which is God inspired …” as if there are some parts of the Bible that are human words and are not “God-inspired”. Technically the difference in translation depends on how you understand the adjective. It may be taken as a predicate adjective or an attributive adjective. Both are grammatically possible. But it doesn’t change the meaning of the verse either way it’s translated. It’s always the context that shows how an adjective is to be understood. Clearly Paul was using well established terms referred to the books of the Old Testament. These are the books Timothy had studied from his youth, and that are profitable for all the things the Apostle lists here. It’s not consistent to assume that Paul was saying that some Scripture was not inspired and profitable. The debate over the two grammatical possibilities is overrated at best.
Since the Bible is God’s own word to us, it is fully authoritative and reliable. Scripture is said to be, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”
The Bible is “profitable” [ophelimos (ωφελιμος)]. Literally this means that God’s word is helpful and gives an advantage. Then it lists the things that follow from this important fact:
The Bible teaches [didaskaliean (διδασκαλιεαν)] us what is right and true. We call teachings about what we believe “doctrine”. What the Bible teaches is absolutely true and reliable always. What the Bible doesn’t address is just theory. What contradicts the Bible is absolutely false and misleading.
The Bible “exposes” and condemns [elegmon (ελεγμον)] false beliefs and bad behaviors. The idea here is to give evidence that shows what is true and good so that by contrast it reveals what is not true and good.
The Bible “corrects” [epanorthosin (επανορθωσιν)] deviations from God’s path. It makes the crooked path straight again.
The Bible tells the “way of righteousness” [paideian taen en diaiosunae (παιδειαν την εν δικαιοσυνη)]. That’s how we know what pleases God. It points out what ways are good for us to follow. If we don’t learn the right ways, we are bound to go in the wrong ones.
This verse is God’s own word about his word. It’s very unwise, even dangerous, to neglect this good advice. God’s people must be a people of the Book. It is our connection with God’s truth that tethers us to the immovable rock. How sad when Christians neglect such an important tool and gift.
For more information about the inspiration of the Bible see Unit One of our Syllabus.
(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)