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. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:4 ESV
The Baptist Faith and Message begins by saying:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
We believe that the Bible is the very Word of God, and we uphold the value that the Scriptures alone are sufficient for teaching us who God is and how to obey Him. Within this section, I aim to explain what we mean by Scripture, why the Bible is so important, how we can apply it to our daily lives, and how the church makes disciples through the Word.
INSPIRED: ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD-BREATHED
Paul wrote the letter of 2 Timothy to his disciple, Timothy, near the end of his life, and it is widely believed to be Paul’s final letter within the New Testament canon. Since these words might have been Paul’s last ones to Timothy, he fills the letter with necessary, godly wisdom and exhortations across a variety of subjects. Our present verses deal with the subject of the Scriptures, and it is no exaggeration to say that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is considered by many theologians to be the definitive verses within the Bible about the Bible. Thus, as we discuss Scripture within this section, we will do so through the lens of Paul’s words to Timothy.
What Is Scripture?
Before we address what Paul means by Scripture being breathed out by God, we must first identify what we mean by the word Scripture. At its simplest, the word scripture means a piece of writing, some form of a written document. The Apostle Paul is using it as a title for what many of us today call the Bible (which means book). The Word of God is also an appropriate title, and the Old Testament is fond of calling it the Law. So the Bible, Scripture, Word of God, and the Law are all titles for the same collection of ancient literature that we Christians value so highly.
You may also note that Paul refers to the Bible as Scripture (singular), but they are also called the Scriptures (plural) just as often. In fact, Jesus Himself tended to use the singular and plural pretty interchangeably. I think this is because the Bible is simultaneously both a collection of books and one single book.
With sixty-six books, the Bible is a library, divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Containing thirty-nine books, the Old Testament is significantly larger than the New, and many consider it to be much more difficult to read. However, the Old Testament’s story can be easily read in the following books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Those eleven books form the overall narrative, from creation to the restoration of Jerusalem. Beyond that, the Old Testament can be divided into three categories: the Torah (which is Hebrew for Law), the Writings, and the Prophets. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, authored by Moses. Psalms, Proverbs, and the other poetic books compose the Writings. The oracles of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Jonah, and others fill the largest section, the Prophets.
There is then a four-hundred-year gap between the Old and New Testament. The New Testament opens with the four Gospels. These are each accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The presence of four books that tell the same story should point to the importance and centrality of their message. Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible. The Old Testament looked forward to Him, the Gospels proclaim Him, and the rest of the New Testament is a reflection upon what He did and will do.
But why do we need four Gospels?
We can think of the Gospels as being different portraits of Jesus. They all tell the same narrative but from a slightly different angle. Matthew paints Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, coming to establish the eternal kingdom of heaven on earth. Mark depicts Jesus as the suffering servant, coming in authority to lay down His life for others. Luke pictures Jesus as the Son of Man, who reaches out to the poor, sick, and outcast with healing, grace, and mercy. John portrays Jesus as the Son of God, the divine Word of God who eternally existed with God, as God, and has now come into humanity on a mission to redeem us from sin.
Acts is the only other narrative work in the New Testament. It describes the growth of the church and how they, through the Holy Spirit, continue the ministry of Jesus as His body. Romans through Philemon are letters written by the apostle Paul to churches or individuals. Hebrews is letter/sermon of unknown authorship that explains the Old Testament’s completion in Christ. James through Jude are letters named after their respective authors. Finally, Revelation is a book of prophesy concerning the end of everything. It contains many allusions to Genesis, as it is the completion of all the Scriptures.
And that, in a nutshell, is the Bible.
What Is Inspiration?
The most recent books of the Bible were written nearly two thousand years ago, while many Old Testament books were even written thousands of years before those. But even though the Scriptures were written by various authors over thousands of years in a plethora of genres, there is unifying thread that weaves them all into one book: their Source.
While men like Moses, Ezra, Paul, or John are considered biblical authors, Peter tells us that no “Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Notice the phrase carried along by the Holy Spirit. Moses may have physically written Genesis, but the Holy Spirit guided him to write what was needed.
This process of the Holy Spirit carrying along the biblical authors is called the inspiration of the Bible. The Scriptures were written by men but inspired by God, or as Paul says to Timothy, they are breathed out by God. A literal translation would be that all Scripture is God-breathed. The LORD breathed the Scriptures into existence, using the human authors as instruments.
This does not mean, however, that God overrode the authors’ individual writing styles. Paul writes different than Moses, Peter, or John. But it certainly does mean that there is unity to the whole because ultimately each book is written by God, which makes each book of the Bible feel similar to one another. Exodus and Romans could not be more different, and yet they have a similar gravitas, a paralleling significance. If we consider Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, the familiarity becomes more identifiable.
Clement was a pastor in Rome, who was born in 35 AD, placing him in the generation below the apostles. Living in the time of Jesus’ disciples, Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that may have been finished before the book of Revelation. Thus, you would expect this letter to have much the same feel as the New Testament letters, and yet though Clement’s letter is beneficial and worth reading, one can feel that the Old Testament books are more similar to the New Testament letters than Clement’s letter is. This is because for all of its value, Clement’s letter is not Scripture. God did not breathe it out, and it noticeably does not contain the same weight as the books of Scripture do.
The Bible is, therefore, ultimately God’s book, His Word breathed out to humanity about Himself. The Scriptures reveal His will, character, and commands for us, and they teach us who He is. They are for our benefit. This means that it is very much the actual Word of God; thus, as we read the Bible, we are hearing God speak to us.
Our value for the Scriptures is unspeakably enormous; however, we should note that they do not themselves grant eternal life. Instead, the Bible reveals to us the God who holds eternal life. The Bible’s infinite value comes because it is our means of knowing God. Jesus says this very thought in John 5:39-40.
Before concluding this section, we need to pause and consider one last thing.
If Paul truly does mean that ALL Scripture is inspired by God, then we have the duty to submit ourselves to them regardless of whether we like what they say or not. By believing that every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, we can no longer ignore unpleasant parts of God’s Word. We must face all of it, together as a whole, letting God speak to us. If we do not give the Scriptures the right to contradict and correct us, we will never know the God that authored them. You simply cannot know God without all of Scripture. I urge you, therefore, to trust the words of the One who spoke galaxies into existence. Give His Word permission to alter your thinking. You will never regret it.
PROFITABLE: FOR TEACHING, REPROOF, CORRECTION, & TRAINING
After informing us that all Scripture is inspired by God, Paul lists the second truth about Scripture: it is profitable. When it comes to owning a business, profit is great. Making profit is the only means of sustaining a business. When Paul speaks of Scripture being profitable, we could also use synonyms like helpful, valuable, or advantageous. In essence, we need Scripture, and we should want it. It is beneficial to us.
But why is Scripture profitable to us?
Paul gives us four answers to that question.
First, all Scripture is profitable for teaching. This is the same root word from which we get the word doctrine, which are the teachings of Scripture. As noted previously because the Scriptures are the revealed Word of God, they primarily teach us about God. We come to the Scriptures in order that we may know God. After all, if He is the one who breathed them out, He did so that we may know Him.
It is, therefore, pretentiousness of the highest order to claim to know God without reading His Word. We cannot be a people who know God if we never hear what He has to say about Himself. If we speak of God without the teaching of Scripture to guide us, we either put words in God’s mouth or we create for ourselves a false god within our own imagination. All Scripture is profitable for teaching us what God is like.
Second, all Scripture is profitable for reproof. This is not a fun one at all. Reproof literally means to convict us of sin or to show us our faults. To be honest, reproof not my default request to God.
“Lord would you reprove me through Your Word this morning? God, please speak to me here and show me the areas of my life where I am wrong.”
My natural inclination is not to pray things like that. Yet Paul is listing reproof as one of the chief benefits of Scripture.
In the book of Hebrews, we find reproof to be part of the God’s discipline process: “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him’” (Hebrews 12:5). In fact, God sees this discipline as so necessary that He establishes it as one of the primary responsibilities of church pastors: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). God as our Father rebukes and convicts of sin, and He places church leaders in place as instruments to do so as well.
Many of us have false views that have come about through human tradition. Angels are a great example. While statues of angels as chubby babies are quite popular, the biblical truth is that angels are terrifying. Nearly every time someone in the Bible meets an angel, they need to immediately be told not to fear. Angels are not cute and cuddly. They are glorious and frightening. It is, therefore, important that we allow Scripture to combat our false thinking. If we do not allow Scripture to reprove us, we will never reap the benefits of the next point.
Third, all Scripture is profitable for correction. You cannot be corrected of something until you first become aware that you need correcting. Reproof and correction, thus, go hand-in-hand. Correction literally means to be straighten up. Imagine a picture frame that has fallen over and needs to be set up again. That is the notion of correction. In many areas, we are wrong, and we need to be corrected.
If we truly value the Scriptures as God’s Word, we will humbly approach them, asking the LORD to show us our errors and how to correct them. The LORD will never leave us with the conviction of sin alone. He will always provide in His Word the means of correction.
Fourth, all Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness. Hebrews 12 translates this word as discipline. God lovingly disciplines us toward righteousness because we are His sons and daughters. Likewise, Paul uses this word in Ephesians 6:4, where he charges fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD. Anyone with any degree of serious commitment to sports knows the value of training. Without the repetitive conditioning of the body throughout the week, no one would be able to play their best in an actual game. Training is not always pleasant, but it is necessary.
The goal of the Christian is to be holy as God is holy. We desire to live a righteous life in the likeness of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist’s prayer must be the prayer of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Every day we should long to be conformed ever more into the image of Christ. Scripture is the vehicle for this process. As we daily read, submit to, and obey God’s Word, it trains us toward being more and more like Christ.
SUFFICIENT: COMPLETE & EQUIPPED
Though Paul does not use the word, sufficient well describes the message of verse 17. Once we know that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for us, we are now ready to learn that it is sufficient for bringing us to completion and equipping us for every good work. Let us, therefore, examine these two effects of Scripture more closely.
First, all Scripture is sufficient for completing the man of God. What might Paul mean by becoming complete? His letter to the Philippians might offer us a clue: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Since “day of Jesus Christ” is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, Paul encouraged the Philippians that God who first saved them would complete their salvation on the last day. This verse contains allusions to the entirety of the salvation, which occurs on three fronts: past, present, and future. First, our salvation occurs in the past through what is called justification. When justified, God imputes the righteousness of Christ onto us, legally declaring us to be righteous. Our salvation is also occurring in the present through the process of sanctification. Being sanctified means continually growing conformity to the image of Christ, everyday walking closer to Him. Our future salvation is called glorification. Upon Christ’s return, God will give to us a glorified body that is no longer corrupted by sin. Justification destroys the legal power of sin over us, sanctification is our present and continued battle against sin, and glorification is how God grants us final victory over sin. Bringing God’s first work to completion means that God will be faithful to carry us from justification to glorification. And God uses Scripture to do so. It is through God’s Word that the man of God becomes complete, not apart from it. We need His inspired Scriptures to continue forming us into His image.
Second, all Scripture is sufficient for equipping the man of God for every good work. Though good works do not save us, God still desires for us to be a people of them. The beauty of the gospel ought to produce within us the hunger for good works. For example, elsewhere Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). He also claims that God created us “for good works” and ordained for us to walk in them (Ephesian 2:10). Of course, James also famously stated that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). The point is that good works are still important for God’s people, and the Scriptures are meant to equip us for them.
Paul writes a similar thought about God’s giving of leaders to the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The work of ministry ultimately belongs to every Christian, and God gives each congregation leaders to equip the saints for their task. Since we know that we have each received the call to make disciples, we also realize that God provides church elders to equip the church by instructing them in the Scriptures. The Word is sufficient for equipping us to make disciples.
APPLIED: PREACH THE WORD
I’m not always a big fan of chapter divisions in the Bible. Yes, they are helpful for finding passages quickly, but they can sometimes hinder our proper understanding of the Word by causing us to subconsciously separate connected thoughts. The first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter four is one of those cases. Paul did not originally write this letter to Timothy with chapter divisions or verse numbers. He just wrote a letter, and if we read it like a letter, we will quickly realize that he is applying the truths that he stated in verses sixteen and seventeen of the last chapter.
Because all Scripture is inspired, profitable, and sufficient, Paul commands Timothy to preach the Word, but the command is not alone. The apostle prefaces his charge to his disciple by declaring that it is being made in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. He does this to emphasize the divine element of the command. It is not Paul’s idea for Timothy to preach the Word; it is God’s. Paul is simply the messenger.
Because God is driving the command to preach, we must not take preaching lightly. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort should immediately call to mind the profitability of Scripture. Though we can (and should) allow the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us individually, the primarily vehicle for profiting from Scripture is through hearing it preached.
The regular, faithful preaching of the Scriptures should be a key focus of all followers of Christ. Since through preaching we are taught the sufficient, profitable, and inspired Bible, we are able to rightly call preaching the Word a means of communal discipleship. By hearing the Word preached, we learn more about the God who authored it, and we learn how to better follow Christ. Preaching makes disciples, and disciples of Christ should love to hear the Word preached.
Unfortunately, many people prefer to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” turning away from the truth and chasing after myths. There are many false teachers who improperly use the Bible to tell people what they want to hear, and in many ways, they are judgment of God. We must be careful not to assign the blame entirely to false teachers. They only exist because people want to follow after lies. False teachers give the people what they want, and if we are not wary, we can become our own false teacher. Many claim the name of Christ, but never attend church because they believe that they can read the Bible and know God themselves. Though avoiding community does not guarantee false doctrine, it almost always leads to it. We are not meant to follow Christ alone, and we are not meant to interpret the Bible alone. When we read the Bible entirely apart from other believers, we risk avoiding what we do not want to hear. We, in essence, become our own false teacher. We need to hear the faithful, expository preaching of the Word. We need to be in a congregation with other believers, where we have elders who hold firm to the trustworthy Word, instructing sound doctrine and rebuking false doctrine (Titus 1:9).
But the work of interpretation is not entirely upon the preacher, the congregation of believers must also hold him accountable to sound doctrine. In Acts, Luke writes this about the Bereans in this way: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Notice that Luke was not annoyed or offended that the Bereans fact-checked everything that him and Paul preached to them; instead, he commended them for doing so! A pastor whose heart is to see the congregation grow in their love of God and His Word will likewise rejoice to find the church daily searching the Scriptures to make sure that his preaching is correct.
Because we value the Scriptures as God’s Word and value making disciples as Jesus command to every believer, followers of Jesus Christ should desire to sit often under the proclamation of His Word.
HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, before concluding this section, I will provide some advice on how to read the Bible.
First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.
Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively. With such complexity, resources such as the ESV Study Bible are invaluable.
Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is exclusively dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in them. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts. You will find more in-depth thoughts on these teachings of Psalm 119 in the appendices.
Tips for Reading the Bible
Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Let me give some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.
First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.
Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.
Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Having just discussed 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture is also a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?
Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.
Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.