Truth in the Pastoral Epistles (7): Its Inspiration (1)

(Through an error on my part, the publication of this series was interrupted. The last related article is in the February, 2018 issue – Editor)

Inspiration of Truth

In previous articles in this series we have thought about the way in which the pastoral epistles present the wonder of Divine revelation. We have considered the revelation of a Divine Person in 1 Timothy, of a Divine Promise in Titus, and of a Divine Purpose in 2 Timothy. As we have seen, each of these passages presents tremendous truth about the ways in which God has made Himself known. Each is an ample prompt to wonder and to worship. But it is possible these passages might also move us to wistfulness. After all, we were not present when Christ was seen of angels. We did not hear the promise of God articulated in the preaching of the apostle, nor listen with growing excitement as the searchlight of revelation brought life and immortality to blazing, vivid light. God has spoken – of that there is no doubt. But has He spoken to us, or must we make do with the echoes: second-hand accounts, hand-me-down narratives, rather than the immediate reality of Divine revelation?

Paul addresses this question in 2 Timothy. In this, his final epistle, the apostle is occupied with the theme of succession; with the preservation of truth and the maintenance of testimony in the next generation, and the one after that, and in all the generations that would follow throughout the Church age. The successful accomplishment of this succession would be neither automatic nor easy, for, as the epistle makes very clear, an alarming range of opposition would be arrayed against the truth and those who hold it. But the man of God does not face this opposition without a weapon, and in chapter 3, Paul reminds Timothy of the great resources he had personally enjoyed – and which are still available to men and women of God to the present day.

Paul begins 3:14 with one of the strong adversatives that are such a significant feature of the pastoral epistles. Here, as elsewhere, the emphatic “but … thou” calls Timothy to stand in total contrast to the “evil men and seducers” whose deceit and deception will continue in a downward spiral of darkness. In doing so, Timothy is to be guided by two things. First of all, he is to continue “in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” These “things” are the teachings of the apostle, received from Paul himself, validated by the character of his life and the reality of his sufferings, and fully known by Timothy (v10). In teaching Timothy, Paul was continuing what others had started, for “from a child [he had] known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The term hiera grammata, “holy writings” is a technical designation for all or part of the OT Scriptures. Paul is reminding Timothy of his time at Lois and Eunice’s knee, when his childish fingers first traced the letters of the sacred Scriptures.

Paul then does a most striking thing. With one hand, he takes the holy writings, the revered Jewish Scriptures, God’s Word to his ancient people; with the other he takes the apostolic teachings that Timothy had received. Then he brings them together under a single – and singular heading – graphe, “Scripture.” This word was often used in the NT to describe the OT Scriptures in part or in whole. Peter used it to describe the epistles of Paul (2Peter 3:16), and in 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul applied it to a quotation from Luke’s gospel. Here, Paul is using it in a sense that subsumes these usages – as a term to describe the whole Bible – Old Testament and New. The truth of God communicated by the apostles is placed on an equal footing with OT revelation (just as it is in 2Peter 3:2). The crucial point is clear: whether Old or New, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (literally “God-breathed,” an expression we will think about in a following article, Lord willing). And precisely because all Scripture is God-breathed, it is profitable for the man of God.

This is a crucial statement for our understanding of this passage, of the pastoral epistles, and for how we read our Bibles. Because of its importance, it is worth taking a while to look at this verse in a little detail.

It is important to notice the force of the “all.” There has been considerable debate among translators and commentators as to whether this “all” should be best understood as meaning “all” or “every.” The differences between the two renderings are not major, but the choice does nuance our understanding of the passage. Whether Paul is saying that every Scripture is inspired or that all Scripture is inspired does not alter the fact that this is a clear statement of the inspiration of Scripture. But is he speaking about Scripture as a whole (“all Scripture”) or the texts which make up Scripture (“every Scripture”)? Given that his purpose here is to emphasize the inspiration and usefulness of both Old and New Testament Scripture, it seems likely that “all Scripture” is the best rendering.

A further point of disagreement in the passage is the way in which the adjective “God breathed” connects to the “all Scripture.” Is it attributive (“all inspired Scripture is also profitable …”) or predicate (“all Scripture is inspired and profitable”)? The grammatical arguments involved are not for the faint of heart, but the evidence overwhelmingly supports the latter reading.[1] This conclusion is supported by the wider argument of the passage. Paul is not saying that the bits of Scripture that are inspired are profitable. That would give no certainty to Timothy, no confidence to the man of God. Rather, he is saying that all of Scripture, Old and New, is God-breathed and, by virtue of its Divine origin, is profitable for every need of the man of God.

This verse, then, is clearly teaching the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Word of God. Or, to say the same thing without the theological terminology, it tells us that the Bible is the Word of God in the words of God. So, although we never joined the large crowds or the small groups who listened to the Lord Jesus as He spoke, and although the apostles’ voices have long since fallen silent, we need not feel as though we have missed out. The Bible that we hold in our hands is warm with the breath of God. Its words are His words, and its truth, His truth.

That this passage has enormous implications for our understanding of Scripture is patent. But it has implications also for our understanding of the pastoral epistles. As we saw at the beginning of this series, the pastorals use a variety of expressions when speaking of Divine truth: terms like “the word,” “doctrine,” “the faith,” “the truth,” “the gospel,” “that which was committed,” “preaching,” “testimony,” “mystery,” “the form of sound words,” “that good thing,” and “the things that thou hast heard of me.” These expressions emphasize different aspects of the truth, but they refer to the same thing. Some of these expressions refer primarily to what is spoken, rather than written. But it is artificial and unhelpful to make too firm a division between the truth spoken and the truth written. Indeed, one of the central points of this passage is that the written truth of Scripture is continuous and congruent with the truth taught by the apostles and received by the saints.

God has revealed His truth. More than that, He has given us a permanent, living, and effective record of that truth. The Scriptures are not just a record of truth. Rather, through the wonder of inspiration, they are truth itself. Armed with this, we can stand against the armies of deception, distortion, and darkness that loom so large and cluster so close in these last days.

[1] See, for an exhaustive account of the grammatical argument, Daniel B. Wallace, “The Relation of θεόπνευστος to γραφή in 2 Timothy 3:16” available at