All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17
This is a crucial question for the validity of the Christian faith and for witnessing to orthodox Jews. In order to answer this question, we must take a variety of things into consideration. Firstly, we must conclude from the context of this passage and the context of the New Testament (NT), that when Paul refers to “Scripture” (γραφη), he is always referring to the Old Testament (OT). Paul was specifically referring to the OT as Scripture when writing to Timothy. It was the OT that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him from childhood (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). The Greek word for “Scripture” is used 51 times in the NT and every single occurrence refers to the OT. Nothing in this passage indicates that Paul is referring to any other writings that were circulating around the early church at that time.
Now that we are clear that Paul is referring to the OT in this passage, it is crucial that we understand what he meant by the word “all.” The Greek word for “all” can be just as easily and correctly translated as “every” in this passage. So, Paul is saying, “Timothy, every single portion of Scripture is from God and it is for your good!” It is not just a portion of the OT that Paul commends to Timothy. It isn’t just those epic stories or the monumental figures and events that serve as types of the Christ who was to come that Paul commends to young Timothy. No, Paul says that it is all Scripture, the entire OT, that is breathed out by God and profitable.
This is so crucial for us today. We can be so guilty of minimizing the importance of the OT. Because of cultural differences between the original authors and us, we often simply ignore the reading and study of many OT texts. The OT is not just a collection of cool stories to entertain our children in Sunday school or provoke us to speculate how tall Goliath really was or just how big the fish was that Jonah was swallowed by. The OT is authoritative and God-breathed Scripture that we will see should hold a place of supremacy in our lives.
All of the OT is God-breathed and profitable. So, all of the genealogies. All of the gruesome battle descriptions. All of the names that are so difficult to pronounce. All of the Law. All of the imagery of the prophets. All of the poetry of the psalmists. All of the suffering of Job. All real. All inspired. All authoritative. Scripture does not glean its authority from our capacity to understand it and it is not waiting for our finite and sin-ridden approval. Scripture gleans its authority from the One whom spoke it. Paul is essentially saying to Timothy, “Timothy, every single OT text is supreme and sufficient for your salvation, sanctification, and ministry because it is breathed out by God. You need it in order to face false teachers and suffering!”
All Scripture: New Testament
What about the New Testament? It is important to understand what Paul wrote to Timothy about Scripture in its historical context. As we have seen, both the historical and literary context demands that we understand “all Scripture” as referring to the OT. The question then quickly becomes, if Paul meant only the OT writings when he spoke of “all Scripture,” (and I think he did) then how can this verse apply to the NT writings? Or better yet, does this verse even teach that the NT is God-breathed as well? In short, I believe that this verse, though directly meaning that the entirety of the OT is God-breathed and profitable, carries with it some important implications that allow for the inclusion of the NT within the scope of the phrase “all Scripture.”
Is the New Testament included in “all Scripture?”
We must understand that the NT writers used the Greek word for “Scripture” in a very unique way. When they use it, they are not just referring to everyday writings. They are talking about holy writings that come from God himself. In other words, “Scripture” is a special and holy category that exclusively includes written revelation from God. Everything included in the category “Scripture” is God-breathed. At the time that Paul writes this letter to Timothy, only the OT was strictly considered “Scripture.” Only the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings were included in the category they called “Scripture” (γραφη). So, when the NT writings were added into this special and holy category called “Scripture,” it can be said of them that they are God-breathed. He simply writes to Timothy that “Scripture” is God-breathed and necessary for his sanctification and satisfaction. Though in context he was speaking of the OT, the implications of this meaning can include the NT if the NT is Scripture.
Can the New Testament be Considered “Scripture?”
This leads us to another question. Can the NT be considered in this holy and special category (Scripture)? There are five good reasons that we can consider the NT as “Scripture.”
Reason 1: In two places in the NT, we see the NT writings themselves being called “scripture” (2 Peter 3:16; 1 Tim. 5:18).
Reason 2: Jesus viewed his own teaching as having the authority of God. In John 14:10 he says, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
Reason 3: Paul also considered Jesus’ teaching as having unique authority (1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-26).
Reason 4: Jesus prepared his apostles to speak with divine authority (John 16:13).
Reason 5: The apostles claimed to be inspired by God (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:12, 40; 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:3).
It is clear, then, that when Paul wrote that “all Scripture” is God-breathed, he is referring to the Old Testament directly, and by implication, the New Testament. Therefore, it is worthy of your trust. Worthy of your devotion. Worthy of your obedience.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.