Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Avoiding Burger King Religion: Scripture Alone

INTRODUCTION (Read 2 Timothy 3)

After Paul’s release from prison in Rome in 62-63 A.D. and after his fourth missionary journey, during which he wrote 1st Timothy and Titus, he was again imprisoned in Rome under the maniacal Emperor Nero in about 66-67 A.D. As he was fading away in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal, he knew that his work was done and that he was going to die soon. And so, the lonely Paul, sat down and wrote his “last will and testament” to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:6-8). In this second letter to Timothy Paul tells us that he had been deserted by many of his missionary companions (4:10, 16), yet the Lord stood with him and comforted him while he awaited his arrival into God’s heavenly Kingdom (vv. 17-18).

Paul was lonely, but more than that, as part of his “last will and testament” he wanted to encourage the young, and timid Timothy to be strong in the Lord Jesus (2:1) so that he could pass on the precious apostolic doctrine he had learned from Paul to other faithful believers (v. 2); believers who would then go on to teach healthy doctrine as a countermeasure against the wickedness that would become prevalent in the last days of the Old Covenant age (2 Tim. 3:1ff). Paul then exhorts Timothy to continue in the doctrine and teaching Paul gave him, noting that suffering and persecution is part and parcel of having a faithful gospel ministry in world that is full of hostile gospel impostors and deceivers (3:10-14). He finishes his exhortation for doctrinal perseverance with these words about the all sufficient nature of Scripture to equip Timothy for his demanding life and task as a Christian and church planter,

NAU 2 Timothy 3:14-17 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

And so we’ll look at Paul’s exhortation to Timothy about the nature of Scripture under three primary headings:

  1. The God-Breathed Origin of Scripture.
  2. The Fourfold Sufficiency of Scripture.
  3. The Effect of Scripture.


Just as Paul didn’t tell Timothy to grab onto the latest newfangled religious fad, so we too at Shepherd's Fellowship are committed to the five “solas” that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. The five solas are a quick way of summarizing the essentials of the Christian faith and have enjoyed much stature within historical Protestantism. And to that we now turn our attention to a brief description of the first of the five solas, Sola Scriptura.

SOLA SCRIPTURA (Scripture Alone)

Our church affirms with historical Protestantism that the inerrant, infallible Scriptures consisting of the 66 books of the OT and NT are to be considered the only source of written divine revelation that can bind the conscience. In other words, the Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the supreme objective standard by which all Christian behavior and doctrine must be measured and assessed. Therefore, we deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be an infallible source of divine revelation in this present age. This brings us to point number one, a discussion of the God-Breathed nature of holy Scripture.

I. The God-Breathed Origin of Scripture (“All Scripture is God-breathed”)

Paul said in verse 16 that All Scripture is God-breathed . . .” (NIV). The traditional translation of this first phrase found in the KJV, NKJV, NASB is “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” But two popular translations render it differently:

NIV 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed . . .

ESV 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God . . .

While the traditional translation of the single Greek word theopneustos is rendered “inspired” notice how the NIV and the ESV change it to “God-breathed” and “breathed out by God” respectively. This major difference in translation reflects the validity of a study done long ago by B.B. Warfield, the great Reformed theologian and scholar of Princeton University.[1] Warfield’s summarized his research on this single Greek word in this way:

From all points of approach alike we appear to be conducted to the conclusion that [theopneustos] is primarily expressive of the origination of Scripture, not of its nature and much less of its effects. What is theopneustos is “God-breathed,” produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. And Scripture is called theopneustos in order to designate it as “God-breathed”, the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead. The traditional translation of the word by the Latin inspiratus a Deo is no doubt also discredited, if we are to take it at the foot of the letter. It does not express a breathing into the Scriptures by God . . . What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.[2]

It is pretty hard to overemphasize what was said by Warfield in that quote: The term that Paul used to teach about the origin of Scripture combined with other things that are said about it throughout the rest of the Bible provides the basis for all sound theology, apologetics, philosophy, and Christian living. In other words, the Scriptures themselves are not primarily human as to their origin, but are first and foremost divine in origin. Because the Scriptures have God as their ultimate author, then all non-Christian systems, must by definition, seek to overthrow the plain teaching of the Holy Spirit through the pen of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 in order to maintain their unbiblical teachings and philosophies. In light of the nature of Scripture, let’s now move on to a discussion of the fourfold sufficiency of Scripture.

II. The Fourfold Sufficiency of Scripture.

The first pair of words in verse 16 (“teaching/reproof”) deal with correcting a man’s creed and the second pair (“correction/training”) deals with correcting his conduct.

First, Scripture is useful “for teaching” - Given the fact that Scripture testifies to itself that it has its origination in God and is divine in nature, Paul says that Scripture is “profitable (ophelimos, i.e., “valuable”, “useful”, “beneficial”) for teaching” (didaskalia = “doctrine”). Both terms are very significant. Some people will say that just because Scripture is profitable that doesn’t necessarily make it sufficient for settling all Christian doctrine and living; as if Paul’s point here is to say that Scripture is like “an assistant” to one who teaches, kind of like what a dry-erase board is to a teacher using dry-erase markers. But this is not Paul’s intention; Timothy didn’t need teaching aids, but encouragement about what was able to give him the wisdom that leads to salvation and what was absolutely essential for his continued success in ministry after Paul went home to be with the Lord.

Notice also that the emphasis is on “all” of scripture. This would include both the Old Testament and the apostolic New Covenant revelation given to the 12 apostles (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Because “All Scripture” is God-breathed, it is that alone which Timothy was to base his doctrine, preaching, and ministry on. Paul makes no reference to some other equally profitable sources for Timothy to derive his doctrine, but his focus is that Timothy base his entire ministry on the entire revelation found in the Scriptures that were available to him at that time.

That Scripture is useful for “teaching” means that both the OT “writings” (graphe) and NT revelation were to be the content of instruction. Paul says of the OT Scriptures in Romans 15:4, . . . whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Paul says in that verse that whatever was written in the OT was written to provide general (thought not explicit) truths for New Covenant believers. Given the numerous quotations of the OT in the NT, it is clear that Paul wants the content of Timothy’s instruction to come from the sacred graphe (“writings”), or 37 books of the OT, especially as they are understood and applied in the New Covenant era through the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.

Secondly, Scripture is useful “. . . for reproof - The word rendered “reproof” (elegmon) is used in the sense of rebuking, reprimanding, chiding, or admonishing against bad doctrine that eventually produces bad behavior. This is also one of the duties listed in 4:2 for Timothy’s ministry (“preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort”) and is a duty of any Christian leader today. Paul also uses a similar word for “reproving/refuting” when he tells the Ephesian church to avoid participating “. . . in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;”

Thirdly, Scripture is useful “ . . . for correction – This word (epanorthosiv) is used in the sense of correcting or “setting straight” a person’s crooked and immoral conduct (cf. Titus 1:5 epidiorthoo). There are many instances in Paul’s letters where he sets believers straight who are engaging in loose, hypocritical living (1 Tim. 6:1-10).

Fourth, Scripture is useful “ . . . for training in righteousness – (padeian ten en diakaiosune) The type of “training” in mind here is that of training and instructing someone with the goal of producing conduct whereby “righteousness” is brought about in that person’s life. The “righteousness spoken of here is that of “right conduct” and the “training” that brings it about is a consistent application of the teachings of Holy Scripture. Paul said the same thing to Titus, For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age . .” Because we are not accustomed to this type of living when we first become Christians, we must be instructed in righteousness from the God-breathed Scriptures. This is why Paul says Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart . . .” (2 Tim. 2:22) and “. . . flee from these things . . . and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called . . .” (1 Tim. 6:11-12). So, Paul makes no room for false living and false activities in the life of the believer. He wants heart-devotion wrought through consistent heart-training in the Scriptures that leads to righteous living. Sound doctrine and sound living go hand in hand. There is no separating the two concepts, as James made so clear (Jas. 2:14-26). There is a logical order here, for Dr. James R. White notes,

. . . the man of God that brings the Word of God to bear on the congregation will do so in the venue of “sound doctrine” and, as a result, will see that powerful and active Word bringing reproof into the lives of God’s people. But it will not stop there: The Word brings correction, restoration, and healing as the Spirit works repentance and a godly commitment to honor Christ. Training in righteousness follows for those who are learning to lay aside the old ways of the flesh and walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Hence, the entirety of the Christian ministry and life finds its origin, its foundation, its lifeblood, in that which is God-breathed.[3]

The teaching from verse 16 regarding the origin and fourfold profitability of the Scriptures provides the basis for discussing our next point, the completely equipped man of God in 3:17.

III. The Effect of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:17)

The Holy Scriptures are profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for instructing in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The words “so that” (hina purpose clause) indicates that the purpose of Scripture’s four-fold work is to enable and equip any person of God (ho tou theou anthroupou) to meet all the demands that God sovereignly places upon them (2 Tim. 4:2 – with reference to Timothy in particular). The word translated “adequate” (NASB), “perfect” (KJV), and “complete” (NKJV) is the Greek word artios, which carries with it the sense of being “fully qualified”, “proficient”, “fully ready”, and “capable”. The idea with Paul’s use of this word is to show that God has given Timothy, and by extension, every Christian that is well-trained in the God-breathed Scriptures everything they need for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training themselves and others for the purpose of producing healthy doctrine and righteous living.

Paul goes on to add a second description, “equipped” (NASB) and “thoroughly equipped” (NKJV). This Greek word (exartizo) means that the Christian will be completely equipped for any good work in the Christian life. He will not need to look around for anything other than the word of God to completely prepare and equip him for Christian living and ministry. And so, each generation of the church is promised that if they obey and rely upon that which He has provided in His word, they will be equipped for every good work.[4]


When Paul says that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (theopneustos) and uniquely profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training for righteousness, and then further asserts that a Christian is completely equipped for every good work as it pertains to Christian life and doctrine by thorough training in the Scriptures, he is stating unequivocally that holy Scripture is sufficient for that which God has decreed it to do and nothing else is needed. Almost every sub-Christian and non-Christian theory of what constitutes our ultimate authority or ultimate reference point for determining how we should live and who we should ultimately obey, is answered and summarily dismissed by a thorough consideration of Paul’s teaching to Timothy in the text of 3:16-17.

If there was to be some other source of ultimate authority in the form of additional Scriptures beyond the apostolic deposit or external ecclesiastical structures in the form of the papacy or the Kingdom Hall, or a “new and improved” group of prophets, or any other extrascriptural organization or foundation, the apostle would’ve surely made mention of it by saying “Follow Peter’s successors to Rome!” or “Wait for another message from other prophets that God will send!” But no, Paul says nothing like that. Instead, he commends the readers of 2nd Timothy to the entirety of the written word of God. O’ that we’d heed this admonition today!

[1] B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), 245-296

[2] Ibid., 296.

[3] James R. White, Scripture Alone, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004), 54.

[4] For an refutation of the leading attempts at destroying the testimony of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 with reference to Roman Catholic apologists, see David King and William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, 1:71-92.