2Timothy 3:15-17 Context

Dear Reader,

The proper understanding of the Scriptures demands that we pay attention to the context. As the old ditty goes: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” Without examining the context in which a given portion of Scripture is found, one can easily misappropriate, misuse, misapply or misrepresent a text to support a position that it in fact does not support. Please take note of the following sentence as a simple example: “I read the Bible.” Without a context you don’t know if “I read (past tense) the Bible a year ago” – past tense, completed action in the past. Or if “I read (present tense) the Bible daily” – present tense, habitual action in this case.

Note first of all the overall tenor of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:
2Tm 1:13 Hold fast the form of sound words
2Tm 1:14 That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost
2Tm 2:2   The things that thou hast heard, the same commit thou to faithful men
2Tm 2:14  Of these thing put them in remembrance
2Tm 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved, rightly dividing the word of truth
2Tm 3:1    In the last days perilous times shall come
2Tm 3:7    Ever learning, never able to come to the knowledge of the truth
2Tm 3:13  Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse
2Tm 3:14  Continue in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of
2Tm 3:15  From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures
2Tm 3:16  All Scripture is profitable for doctrine
2Tm 4:2    Preach the word
2Tm 4:3    Time will come…not endure sound doctrine, heap to themselves
2Tm 4:4    Teachers who shall turn away their ears from the truth

In brief, Timothy, be careful of skeptics, purveyors of doubt, false teachers and a generation of selfish egotistical maniacs who aren’t interested in truth, but rather getting their own way. Timothy, stick to that which you have learned from your childhood and that which I’m teaching you—the Scriptures, the written word of God—the very voice of God in written form. You have possessed it, known it since childhood and it speaks to you yet today. Stick with the word of God, preach it, believe it and pass on this doctrine to faithful men.

With this in mind let us now look at the context of the major proof text for the inspiration of the Scriptures:

2Tm 3:15-17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

As we’ve seen in our OP and previous posts, the reference to the Scriptures in this context is a reference to the anthology of Canonical books recognized by a consensus of Spirit filled believers as the very word of God in written form true in all its parts—it is perfect, pure, infallible, etc. and the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Timothy had no reason to fear the skeptics, false teachers and egotists of his day because he had the very words of God in the form that God wanted him to have.

A few very important questions arise in this principle passage:
1) What is the object of inspiration?
2) Was inspiration a completed action in the past?
2a) Are only the autographs given by inspiration of God?
2b) Are only the original languages given by inspiration of God?

1) Take note that the object of inspiration in this context is Scripture—the entire body of canonical Jewish or Christian writings which are and have been properly regarded by believers as holy and authoritative. Written words are the object of inspiration and not men.

2) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God in this context is a reference to the extant Scriptures that Timothy possessed from his youth and not particularly to the autographs or the original languages. We can safely assume that the Scriptures have the character or quality of being given by inspiration of God regardless of generation or language they are found in.

There has been some question as to the meaning of this passage in Greek. I don’t know Greek, but I am fluent in three languages, having experience in dealing with foreign languages I can generally tell when somebody is trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

Please note a few things:
1) We are told by the scholars on this board that the Greek word in question is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) supposedly, according to them, an adjective. Ok, interesting, but how does that help an English reader?

2) Scholars are all over the board on the meaning of this word, but breaking down the Greek word literally into two words, we are told that we have God-Breathed. Whether that is the meaning I’ll let the reader decide. I do take note that a single word seemingly made up of two distinct words doesn’t always give the meaning of that single word separated into two words. For example the Polish word, Wielkanoc; if the reader is astute or acquainted with the Polish language he will note that this singular Polish word is made of two literal words, Wielka Noc (Great Night). However, the singular Polish word, Wielkanoc today means Easter and not “Great-Night”. In the past Wielkanoc had the meaning of Passover, where “Great-Night” might of had some implications.

3) We are also told by genuine scholars that the text in question, in Greek, is either passive voice, which would be indicated in English as “is given (participle) by” or a present tense copular, which would be indicated in English by “All Scripture (noun) is (linking verb) given by inspiration of God (adjectival phrase)”.

A review of English grammar for those who have been away from grammar school for any period of time:

The verb be as a present tense copula (linking verb):
The car is painted by the hand of Barry.
Subject – The car
Present tense copula – is
Adjectival phrase starting with the particle painted – painted by the hand of Barry

Meaning: We don’t know exactly when the car was painted, but we do know that at this very moment (now) it is painted (it’s condition) and that Barry was the one that painted it.

The verb be as a past tense copula (linking verb):
The car was painted by inspiration of Barry.
Subject – The car
Past tense copula – was
Adjectival phrase beginning with the participle painted – painted by the hand of Barry
Meaning: We don’t know exactly when the car was painted, but we do know that at some time in the past it was painted. We have no idea whether the car is still painted now, nor the condition or state of the car in the present.

The verb “be” used in present simple passive:
The car is painted by the hand of Barry.
Subject – The car
Simple present passive (is/are + past participle) – is painted
“By” used to introduce the agent – by the hand of Barry

Meaning: The focus is on the action (is painted) and not the person or thing (the hand of Barry) which performed the action. The active would be present simple:

The hand of Barry paints the car.

We use simple present passive like the simple present active, for things that are always true(!), and things that happen all the time, repeatedly, often, sometimes or never, etc.

The verb “be” used in simple past passive:
The car was painted by the hand of Barry.
Subject – The car
Simple past passive (was/were + past participle) – was painted
“By” used to introduce the agentby the hand of Barry

Meaning: The focus is on the action (was painted) and not the person or thing (the hand of Barry) which performed the action. The active would be past simple:

The hand of Barry painted the car.

We use the simple past passive like the simple past active, for complete finished actions and events.

With this information as a background we should note that genuine Greek scholars seem to be divided as to the meaning of this passage. Note:

Professor Young taking up arguments for the passive:
“The word which for our purpose is of supreme importance is the word theopneustos, translated in the English Bible, ‘inspired of God.’ It is a compound, consisting of the elements theo (God) and pneustos (breathed). Now, it is well to note that the word ends in the three letter -tos. In the Greek language, words which 1) end in -tos and 2) are compound with theo (God) are generally passive in meaning…The true meaning is passive, ‘that which is breathed out by God’ and it is this strange designation that the Apostle here applies to the Old Testament.” Thy Word is Truth, Professor J. Young of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, pg. 20-21.

The reader doesn’t need to worry too much about these things, but in many languages the endings of words denote such things as singular, plural, masculine, feminine, neuter, case (nominative, accusative. genitive, instrumental, dative, locative, vocative, etc.), tense (past, present, future), voice (passive, active), etc. Hence, the scholars spend countless hours trying to figure out the implication and meaning of the endings. We note that the Greek adjective θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) was highlighted by Professor Young as an indication that our passage should be in the passive voice.

Then there is Dr. Roberson & Professor Vincent taking up the copular argument:
“There is no copula (estin) in the Greek and so one has to insert it either before the kai or after it. If before, as is more natural, then the meaning is: “All scripture (or every scripture) is inspired of God and profitable.” In this form there is a definite assertion of inspiration. That can be true also of the second way, making “inspired of God” descriptive of “every scripture,” and putting estin (is) after kai: “All scripture (or every scripture), inspired of God, is also profitable.” Dr. Roberson, Online Bible Commentary.

“From θεὸς God and πνεῖν to breathe. God-breathed. The word tells us nothing of the peculiar character or limits of inspiration beyond the fact that it proceeds from God. In construction omit is, and rend. as attributive of γραφὴ every divinely-inspired Scripture. Vincent’s Word Studies, Online Bible Commentary.

These two distinguished gentleman bring up the argument about adjectives being (1) an attribute (the faithful servant – adj. modifies the noun) or (2) as a predicate (the servant is faithful – adj. modifies the subject).

Frankly, it’s all a very tedious argument, but just shows that “the Greek” can be just as murky as the English, if not more! I note here that there are those on this board who profess to know Greek, but have refused to take a position on this point. I’m not sure if that is a sign of wisdom or fear. Either way, the fact is our English versions read:

Geneva For the whole Scripture is giuen by inspiration of God
Bishops All scripture is geuen by inspiration of God
AV        All scripture is given by inspiration of God,
NKJV     All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
RSV      All scripture is inspired by God
NRSV    All scripture is inspired by God
NASB    All Scripture is inspired by God
NIV       All Scripture is God-breathed
ESV      All Scripture is breathed out by God

Notice that all the above versions have the present tense “is” in the verse, leaving the door open for present passive or a present tense copula. None of them have “was”, which would indicate a one time even in the past! Interesting indeed. Shall we let Dr. Wallace weigh in?


2) Grammatically: (a) The fact that v 16 is asyndetic (i.e., begins without a conjunction) cannot be due to new subject matter, but to the solemnity of the statement because the author had been discussing the holy writings in v 15. Thus seeing θεόπνευστος as predicate fits in better with the solemn tone established at the beginning of the verse. (b) Since the copula is lacking, it needs to be supplied in English. And the most natural place to supply the equative verb is between the subject and the first word that follows it. It is in fact significant that an author typically leaves out the copula when he assumes the audience knows where it naturally should go. (c) The fact that καί means “and” twelve times as often as it means “also,” as well as the fact that it is unnatural to translate it adverbially as “also” between two adjectives in the same case, argues for a predicate θεόπνευστος. (d) Since the article may be anaphoric when referring back to a synonym, and since the author has been discussing the scriptures with three different synonyms in this context (vv 15, 16, and 4:2), it seems likely that the article is anaphoric in 4:2 when he declares, “Preach the word!” (κήρυξον τὸν λόγον). If the writer had said that only inspired scripture was profitable in 3:16 and then tells his reader(s) to preach all scripture (= “the word”), it might be a misleading statement, for [Timothy] might inadvertently preach some scripture that was not inspired. But since the writer leaves λόγον unqualified apart from the fact that it referred back to γραφή of v 16, it is perhaps likely that he meant to make an assertion about all scripture in v 16, viz., that it is inspired. (e) Finally, what bears on the relation of adj. to noun most directly: In the NT, LXX, in classical and Koine Greek, the overwhelming semantic force of an adj.-noun-adj. construction in an equative clause is that the first adj. will be attributive and the second will be predicate.

No one argues for a simple past passive or a past tense copula. For that would give us:

All Scripture was given by inspiration of God.

Which would force the meaning to that which our scholarly friends on this board and others want it to mean: A one time event completed in the past. That, however, is exactly what the passage doesn’t say!

Timothy’s Scriptures, all Scripture, is given by inspiration of God. That has direct implications, because to imply that written words are inspired by God is to state in non-equivocal terms that those words are perfect, pure, inerrant, infallible, etc., having the authority of God as if God Himself were speaking to you.

This of course is exactly what many on this board don’t want. For then they would be found calling the words of God “an error”, “a boo-boo”, “a mistake”, “wrong”, and worse.

Let the reader take comfort in the fact that our extant Scripture is indeed given by inspiration of God. It is the very word of God in English, Spanish, Polish, Greek, or whatever language the Scriptures are found in. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.

The phrase “given by inspiration of God” is therefore not limited to the autograph, or the originals, but to all extant Scripture in any generation or language. You can read the extant Scriptures with the confidence that you are reading the very words of God in the form that God wants you to have.

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