One would be remiss to write on the important matters of the faith while failing to mention the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture in the Christian life. In all the ways God has spoken through the ages, the written Word has been the farthest reaching and most used method. Even in Scripture, we see positive affirmation of this. We see it in the way Paul praised the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to verify the words they had heard preached (Acts 17:11). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul even refers to Scripture not as the word of men but as the Word of God. And this is barely scratching the surface!
One would think, with such clear descriptions and characteristics being used to define the written Word of God, it would be at the pinnacle of our faith and defended to the death. Yet, throughout the ages, there has been an assault on God’s written Word. No, not only from those who openly mock Christianity but also from those who claim to be a part of Christ’s flock. Some are vehemently opposed to such ideas as the inerrancy of Scripture while others are subtler in their tactics.
Over the years, I’ve heard challenges to accepted authorship, date origins, translations, and inerrancy. While all of these are common and can be easily noticed, some attacks are more difficult to identify. For instance, I hold to the position that the Roman Catholic Church, while accepting the inerrancy of Scripture, denies the sufficiency in the way they hold sacred tradition to be on equal ground.
Consequently, it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore, both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.Vatican II, Chapter 2, Para.9
Simply put, if any form of divine revelation or tradition, in addition to Scripture, is said to be required to have certainty of the object of our faith, of necessity, it denies the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures. It declares a need for something more in order to fully understand that which God has already revealed in His completed Word.
For those who have debated with Mormons, you know that they will openly embrace multiple “sacred” works to include the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants. Once again, we see an assault on the sufficiency of Scripture. However, if you were to accuse a Latter-Day Saint (LDS) of such a charge, he or she would openly deny it. Technically, they’d be right. The reason why they can say they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture is because all the above works are included in “their” Scriptures. While Protestants adhere to the Bible as the sole Scriptural text, the LDS add to their foundation via claims of additionally inspired text. Never will they claim to replace the Bible with these added texts, yet never will they claim to place the Bible over them. In fact, they also stand behind the claim, as found in their eighth article of faith, that the Bible is, “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” while also admitting to the continuation of divine revelation through the office of the prophet. Therefore, it’s vitally important for us to be able to distinguish both the subtle and the obvious and know how to defend the truth.
While we could go on for days touching on the multitude of ways we might encounter contrary claims to the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture, it would be of little use if we didn’t also turn to the Scriptures to see what God has to say on this matter. As you’ve seen, some oppose the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture while adhering to their sufficiency (an oxymoron) while others adhere to their inerrancy while opposing their sole sufficiency. My hope is that, if you don’t already hold the position, by the end of this article, you’ll see the importance of adhering to both, while recognizing that the Bible alone is the sole source of holy writ.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)
The rest of this article will revolve around the great theological and practical truths embodied within these two verses of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In them, we see the source of Scripture, four clear and distinct benefits (though not an all-inclusive list) of said Scripture, and the powerful outcome.
The man who lives in such a way as to encompass all four uses in his daily life is said to be adequate and equipped for every good work. The word ἄρτιος (artios) gives reference to the idea of being specially and thoroughly equipped for the four preceding special uses. The NASB translates the above word as “adequate” while the KJV translates it as perfect, which Paul reinforces by describing such a man as equipped and furnished for every good work. There’s nothing left regarding matters of faith and practice in the life of the Christian that isn’t perfected through his use and daily application of the Scriptures.
The reason for this, while maintaining a certain amount of eternal mystery, has been made known to us. It’s because Scripture is inspired. Some have argued that this verse only refers to the Old Testament, but I’m convinced that, while he may not have fully understood the reach (i.e. a final 66 book canon in the drawer of every hotel nightstand), Paul was aware his letters were to be considered as Scripture. For those who may not yet be convinced, let’s go back to a verse we already alluded to at the beginning of this article.
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB)
Paul readily acknowledges the words they previously taught to be the word of God and not merely the word of men. Many have argued that he was merely referencing the oral teachings of the Old Testament and was not including his own letters. However, this won’t stand to scrutiny.
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NASB)
In case there was any confusion left, Paul sorts it out in his second letter to the church of Thessalonica when he states that the words of God pertain not only to the word of mouth but also to the words in his letters. Paul further emphasizes this point in 1 Corinthians 14:37 when he explicitly states that his own writings are the Lord’s commandments. Therefore, when Paul speaks of “all Scripture” being inspired, he’s referring to both the Old and New Testaments, which would include all remaining letters that God had yet to write through godly men.
The word translated as “inspired” paints a far more beautiful picture in the Greek. The word is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) which literally means “breathed out by God” and carefully points to God as the true author through godly men moved by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t to say God controlled them robotically as they wrote, nor is it to say God merely gave them good ideas which they decided to write down. In infinite wisdom and power, God saw to it that each author retained his own personality and style of writing while also dictating each word to be jotted down and ensuring the promise that His Word would endure and none would pass away (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). It’s the last part, along with many other affirmations found in Scripture, that guarantees we can know Scripture to be not only divinely inspired but also inerrant.
With this profound promise in mind, what are some of the ways in which we can, and should, apply this to our own lives?
The first point of Paul’s is that Scripture is profitable for teaching. Sound doctrine is of the utmost importance in the life of the believer and the state of the Church. Without sound doctrine, one can never know Christ as He is. Instead, He becomes a product of men’s own imaginations and carries the traits that best suit their own fancies. As I’ve grown in my marriage throughout the years, I’ve sought to continually know my wife better. Similarly, to grow in one’s relationship with Christ, one needs to know Him better. While prayer is critical in the life of the believer, we can’t forget that God has already revealed Himself to us in the written Word.
It’s only through the study of Scripture that we can be properly equipped to know our Savior, combat heresy, evangelize to the lost, and grow in sanctification. This has far reaching implications, not only in our own lives, but also in the world. While the purpose of the Church isn’t to change cultures or society, there will undoubtedly be some impact within the community whether it be through prosperity and revival or through persecution and mocking. We need to stand is united in truth, standing for the proclamation of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ. We evangelize the lost unashamedly and trust that God will call those He intends to save. This only comes from knowing the truth. After all, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses also evangelize. In fact, some may say they put Protestants to shame on that front. With such heresies as false gods, counterfeit Christs, and works-based salvation, we can’t afford to stand on the sidelines singing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” It’s high time we study Scripture seriously, then take to the streets. After all, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).
However, teaching isn’t only for our own personal growth or to be used in evangelism. While one will only ever come to salvation by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:14), Scripture is primarily for those in the Church with the ultimate purpose being worship and glorification of God. It should be the pinnacle of the worship service with the culmination being the Lord’s Supper. If done correctly, all singing should point to the sermon, while the sermon points to the Supper, with the focus being Christ’s sacrifice. Unless a church is built upon and relies on the accurate interpretation and exposition of Scripture, it will surely become a congregation of sinners in the hands of an angry God rather than a communion of saints.
Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured.John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy
Only with this in mind can we begin to move into the other three remaining benefits.
In a “judge not” world, how can we possibly think of reproving another? After all, it seems that any time someone is corrected or admonished, countless “Christians” come out of hiding to admonish the original admonisher. The only wrong that can be committed is in telling another they have committed a wrong. So, who should be the subject of reproof and how does one do it biblically?
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a good debate. One of the challenges I face in discussing or debating with unbelievers is that I need to remember I have no ground or reason to rebuke them for their lack of belief in the Word of God. It’s to be expected that unbelievers are going to live their lives contrary to biblical standards. This isn’t to say all unbelieving households are the epitome of immorality as much as it is to say that every unbelieving household will lack a reverence for God. While there is a place for rebuking unbelievers when it comes to matters of faith, this isn’t what Paul had in mind.
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. (1 Corinthians 4:14, NASB)
The case that Paul is making in 2 Timothy 3:16 is for those within the church. This is the consistent theme of good order and discipline within the church. The world may love to take Matthew 7:1 out of context and declare that Christians should never judge. But that simply isn’t the case. Matthew 18 lays out a format for church discipline, which may lead to expulsion from the church. 1 Corinthians 5:12 tells us not to worry about judging those outside of the church as that judgment belongs to God. Yet, simultaneously, we are commanded to judge those within the church. John 7:24 makes the case that, when we do judge, we’re to judge righteously. Again, none of this should be for the purpose of making others feel small or unloved. Nor should it be for the purpose of shaming someone into submission. In all acts of judgment, it’s for the purpose of promoting good order and discipline within the church body. It’s to ensure righteous living and doctrinal truth. In extreme cases, it’s to purge the body of unrepentant sin. Even in such cases, the person being disciplined is typically given three prior chances (Matthew 18) to repent of their sin and heed the rebuke of the church. Without Scripture, there is no ground to rebuke anyone and the church falls into calamity.
So, if reproof is meant to correct error in the life of an unbeliever, does that mean correction is for the unbeliever? While it would be easy to come to jump to such a conclusion, we’d be better suited to go to the Greek for clarification. The original word is ἐπανόρθωσις (epanorthōsis) which describes restoring something to an upright state. When we think of correction, we tend to think of admonishment. However, when we relate it to the depths of parenting, the proper purpose becomes clear. When our child misbehaves, he or she receives our discipline. Yet, the end goal is never discipline alone, but rather correction. It’s with the hope of correcting some deficiency so that the child will learn to obey. It’s in this sense that Paul is using the word. While reproof is the way in which the believer is chastised or disciplined, correction is the believer’s restoration to righteous living before God. In this way, Scripture is quite powerful. It not only points out our wrongs and convicts us of them, but it also builds us back up and tells us how to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 128:1).
As we enter the last point made regarding the profitability of Scripture, you may have noticed how they build upon one another. First, there was doctrine or sound teaching. Next, we saw reproof and conviction. Thirdly, we see correction and restoration to an upright position. Lastly, we see Paul speaking of “instruction in righteousness.” The Greek word used here carries with it a sense of virtue, morals, and overall instruction. The root of the word would be used when speaking of training children in the way they should grow up. It refers to the whole of a man or woman.
So, how does one know what he ought to do unless someone teaches him? Paul rounds out his very short (not all-inclusive) list with an unfathomable concept. From our infancy, we’re constantly learning and being taught. As we stand today, we are each the culmination of our experience and learning. Hence why there’s such an emphasis placed on instruction. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by declaring that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is backed by Scriptures such as Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 60:21, 1 Corinthians 6:20, and many others. It’s a theme that resounds throughout the Bible. Thus, we must ask ourselves the question of how do we learn Godly living? If such a lifestyle is expected of us, where do we turn for answers. The answer is obvious: Holy Scripture! God hasn’t left us alone in the world to wonder what He expects of us. As outlined in the beginning of this article, He spoke through men and preserved His words for us.
When it comes to righteous living, the only infallible source of authority is sacred Scripture. While we may learn from many resources, including family, books, articles, and blogs, all of these must fall in line with Scripture and, even then, they’re secondary to the Bible. While your pastor has been given the serious charge of tending to the flock and feeding his sheep, he also has the fearsome responsibility of accurately dividing the Word and expositing the Scriptures from the pulpit for the purpose of providing the nourishment of sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).
While reproof may have carried with it a harsher or more negative connotation, instruction brings about the gentler side of things. The Greek refers to teaching a child the ways of education, morality, and care of their body. It’s the fundamental teaching for children. That said, it also leaves room for chastisement when the child fails to obey their teaching. In the context of this passage we can see how Paul comes full circle. Scripture is profitable for teaching sound doctrine to include the depths of God. When the believer fails to adhere to this teaching, it calls for reproof. After being reproved, the corrected believer is restored. At all times, there is a continued instruction in righteousness as he walks the path of sanctification. Once restored, and instruction is given, he should desire to return to a deeper study of sound doctrine for the purpose of Godly obedience and devotion.
Many children in this world are sadly neglected. Be it in a lack of discipline, a missing parent, or parents who don’t care, there’s no shortage of ones in this tragic state. For those seeking to do something about their misfortune, it’s become increasingly common to see self-help books on the shelves of most retailers, some of which may even label themselves as Christian. It’s unfortunate that people in despair tend to turn everywhere other than the very tool given to us by God. Scripture is more than mere words in a book. It’s more than a history lesson. It’s more than an antiquated lesson on morality. It’s the very breath of God in written form and is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). It contains spiritual guidance and points us to our only hope: Jesus Christ. If we submit to the Scriptures through prayer, the Spirit will reveal to us, through our reading and meditation, how to properly uphold God’s righteous statutes and, when we fail, how to rest in His comfort, joyfully accept reproof or correction, and dive even further into sound doctrine.
All the above has its culmination in our daily living. If we fully submit to the Scriptures, we have the promise that we’ll be equipped for every good work. While this may sound cliché, it’s important to understand what that words “adequate” and “good” really mean. To break it down, I’d like us to look at them in the reverse order.
What does it mean to be capable of doing good? One of the first uses of the term that comes to mind is in Genesis during the Creation account. Everything God made was good in His eyes. This only makes sense since God alone is good. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus says only God is good. So how does this account for man being equipped for good? For that answer, we can look to the very Scripture we say makes us capable.
All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” (Romans 3:12, NASB)
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3, NASB)
According to the Scriptural account, mankind is incapable of doing good. By God’s own standard, there’s not a single person who does good, not even one. This is because, in his natural state, man rejects the things of the Spirit of God. He doesn’t understand them, nor is he capable of understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has chosen to call His elect out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, NASB)
It’s through this act of regeneration that we’re given a new nature. Instead of being broken and sinful creatures, we’re now justified saints of God who are capable of doing that which is good because we’re so empowered by the Spirit of God. Yes, we still sin but it no longer defines us. We are defined by Christ alone. We’re now equipped to do every good work in the name of Christ and for the sake of His glorious gospel.
Not only are we capable of doing good, but we’re adequately equipped to do so. Don’t be fooled by a cursory reading of this. When we hear the term ‘adequate’, we tend to think of just barely meeting the mark. However, Paul’s use of the word conveys so much more. In Greek, it means to be perfect and complete. It means to be thoroughly furnished and completely competent. Quite simply, Paul taught that such a person requires nothing more in life in order to be equipped for sound teaching, reproof of wrongs, correction and rebuilding, and training in fully righteous living. All of this is found in Scripture and equips the believer to do every good work unto God. While certain self-help books may have their place, nothing will ever supersede Scripture, nor is it be capable of equipping you with anything you can’t already receive within its pages. Christian books should always be used in conjunction with Scripture, and should be checked by it, but they should never take its place. The same goes for the article you’re currently reading. If you’ve found yourself learning more from this writing than Scripture itself, I urge you to close this one out and come back to it later after you’ve had time to meditate upon the Word in prayer. However, if this article is helping clarify points of confusion and has kindled a desire to study Scripture, it’s fulfilling its purpose.
The Reformers had it right when they said, “Sola Scriptura.” Scripture alone equips and fulfills. Embrace this fact and give thanks to the Lord for revealing within its pages all we need to know this side of Heaven.
~ Travis W. Rogers