Truth in the Pastoral Epistles (8): Its Inspiration (2)

In the previous article, we saw how Paul directed Timothy to the resources which would allow him to stand for truth in the face of encroaching and increasing error: the “holy writings” of Old Testament Scripture and the apostolic teaching Timothy received directly from Paul. They are two parts of one whole: “all Scripture … God-breathed and profitable.” Notice the adjectives applied to Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16: “God-breathed” and “profitable.” These reveal something of the power, profit, and purpose uniquely characteristic of the Word of God.

It is worthwhile to begin by stating the obvious. These adjectives are not isolated; there is a close relationship between them. Scripture is profitable because it comes from God. The power that it has because it is God-breathed is the power that makes it profitable. It is the “living and effective” Word of God (Heb 4:12, HSCB). Moreover, the power and profit of Scripture are directed to a specific purpose: the equipping of the man of God to every good work.

“God-breathed” (theopneustos) occurs only this once in the Bible, and appears to have been a word coined by the apostle. It comes with a rich resonance of Old Testament imagery. We can hardly read it without thinking of the scene in Genesis 2, when “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (v7, KJV). There may be echoes, as well, of John 20:22, where the Lord Jesus “breathed on [the disciples], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (KJV), and the breath summoned by the Word of God to reanimate the dried bones of Ezekiel 37. Implicit in this term are the ideas of Divine origin and the concomitant concept of Divine power. The breath of God is life-giving, soul-forming, and power-imparting. Because Scripture is God-breathed it is possessed of the same power. The Bible is no mere collation of dead documents. It is a living organism, warm with the breath of God.

Paul says little here about the mechanics of inspiration. It is left to Peter to tell us that “holy men of God spake as they were moved [carried along, NET] by the Holy Ghost” (2Peter 1:21, KJV). It is also Peter who tells us these prophets did not fully understand “what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1Peter 1:11, KJV). Those whom God used in the giving of Scripture did not fully understand the import of the message they communicated.

Yet, for all this, they were not simply automatons or amanuenses – inspiration is not simply Divine dictation. One of the great joys of Scripture is the diversity in its unity. Paul does not write like John, nor Matthew like Mark. One could never mistake Haggai for Zechariah, or confuse Ezekiel with Daniel. The works of each writer bear the stamp of his personality, education, and experience. Inspiration did not overpower or eliminate the personality of the individual, but God moved by the Holy Spirit in a way we can neither fully understand nor explain, to give, through fallible human instruments, the infallible Word of God. What a wonder it is to hold in our hands the Holy Scriptures possessing Divine power.

Because it has this power, the Scripture is also profitable. In verse 15, Paul reminds Timothy the “holy writings” of the Old Testament “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (KJV). Notice that “are able” (like the verb dunamai which the expression translates) is in the present tense. Paul is not just saying that Timothy read the OT as a child, and found it able to point him to salvation then. This “making wise unto salvation” is an ongoing process. Paul is making it clear the OT has not been reduced to irrelevance. Timothy did not have to make do with it until something better came along. The OT continues to have the ability to make Timothy wise, and it has the same power for us, not only to lead us to salvation in the initial sense, but to continuously make us “wise for salvation” (NET).

In verse 16, Paul expands on the profit of Scripture. Possessed of Divine power, it is “profitable [useful, salutary, beneficial] for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (KJV). There is something wonderful about the profitability of Scripture. We could sit down with a newspaper or a tablet and pass the time to no profit. Reading Scripture is different. We never put down our Bible and find ourselves thinking, “That was wasted time.” It is profitable in many ways. Scripture has a strikingly comprehensive competence. It is priestly and prophetic – possessing value, on the one hand, for doctrine and instruction, and, on the other, for reproof and correction. It deals with doctrine and practice, addressing every condition and circumstance of our lives as believers, equipped with Divine power to meet our needs in all their variety, and to equip us “unto all good works” (v17).

Scripture is profitable, but it is profitable for a purpose. “The person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (NET). The adjective “capable” (artios) and the verb “equipped” (exartizo) (“perfect” and “fully furnished” in the KJV) are closely related to each other, and the wordplay stresses the ability of Scripture to equip the man of God to “every good work.” Scripture, and only Scripture, can do this. There is no other resource that can equip us as believers. No secular education or training, no instruction in psychology or sociology can equip the Christian the way the Bible does, or furnish him fully to every good work.

The NET rendering quoted above is useful, for it stresses that Scripture is valuable and vital for all who seek to live for God. The word translated “man” is the word for human being, and we should not imagine that Scripture is useful only for men, or useful only for those who publicly teach it. It must be acknowledged, however, that OT usage of the term “man of God” is applied exclusively to Moses and the prophets. While we cannot limit the good works referred to here to public teaching, it is certainly included in the term. It was, after all, a central part of Timothy’s responsibilities. The importance of Scripture is highlighted in the next chapter. There, Timothy is exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2Tim 4:2, KJV). “Preach the Word” is the headline command, and is unpacked in the expressions that follow. It is striking  how closely the four aspects of preaching the Word parallel the fourfold profit of Scripture, for how, apart from Scripture could Timothy hope to “preach the Word.”

The inspiration of Scripture is a wonderful thing, but it should not be just an abstract theological truth to be dryly dissected, or wondered at. It should lead us to appreciate the power of God’s Word, its profit in every area of our lives, and our purpose it alone reveals. None of this will happen unless, like Timothy, we receive it and know it; unless we open our Bibles and prayerfully and carefully read the living Word of God.