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2 Timothy 3:16-17 and one of the purposes of Scripture

Posted by on May 3, 2010 in discipleship, scripture | 9 comments

If you look up blog posts and journal articles and books about 2 Timothy 3:16-17, you’ll find alot of discussion about inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. There are important discussion, but I don’t think Paul wrote that passage to Timothy in order to answer those questions.

First, look at the passage again:

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 competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Yes, Paul mentions “inspiration” (literally, “God-breathed”), but he uses it as an adjective to describe Scripture. He does not argue for inspiration.

So, why did Paul write this sentence to Timothy? To show one of the purposes of Scripture. What purpose?

Paul tells Timothy that Scripture can be useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness. But, teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness is the “end” or “goal” for Paul. These are means to the goal.

What is that goal? So that God’s children (“man” does not refer to “males” here, but to people in general) may be prepared for good works. Did you catch that? The goal of teaching is not to be educated. The goal of correcting is not to be correct. The goal of rebuking is not to be straightened out. The goal of training is not to be able.

The goal of all of these things is good works.

If we teach people Scripture so they can quote, and correct their understanding using Scripture, and rebuke them where they’re wrong using Scripture, and train them in what Scripture says… if we do all these things, we have not used Scripture in the way that Paul intended it in this passage. Instead, the goal of teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training is that God’s children would do good works.

So, one of the purposes of Scripture is good works.

Of course, this should not surprise us, since good works is also the purpose of our mutual encouragement. Remember this passage from Hebrews?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)

We shouldn’t be afraid of good works. No one is saved by their works, but that does not mean that good works are not important. They are extremely important. In fact, we all know that James says that faith without works is dead. This is usually contrasted with Paul’s teaching about salvation by grace through faith, but the contrast is not valid:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

Paul writes about grace and faith, but also good works.

So, if you as a child of God want to learn Scripture, see that it leads to good works. If you want to understand Scripture, see that the understanding leads to good works.

Why? Because one of the purposes of Scripture is to lead God’s children toward doing good works.


9 Comments

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  1. 5-5-2010

    Just wonderful insights. I’m reading “Unfashionable” by Tullian Tchividjian, and your point here resonates with his comments on Eph 4:31-32:

    “What would a world look like where there was no wrath, no slander, no malice, no self-centeredness, no bitterness? What would a community–a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, a city–look like where unkindness was non-existent? What would a world look like where self-sacrifice for others and not self-protection from others marked every relationship?

    Paul’s instruction is that the church is to serve the world by being that type of community, where people are kind, tender-hearted, and quick to forgive. These God-dependent, gospel-driven qualities can so radically differentiate us from the culture around us that our unfashionability in these areas can take on surprising power for the kingdom.” (pp 146-147)

  2. 5-5-2010

    Art,

    Thanks for the sharing that quote!

    -Alan

  3. 6-6-2010

    Alan, I appreciate the emphasis on the end or goal of good works in your article. What are your thoughts on how the Bible should be used to arrive at this end? Most of what I read about this passage focuses on how we should individually apply the scriptures to our lives (e.g. through a “quiet time”), but the focus of this passage seems to be the corporate or relational application of the scriptures to our lives within community.

  4. 12-22-2011

    A couple thoughts.

    The first may relate to John’s comment. I was taught to look at 2 Tim. 3:16-17 as a road map. Imagine a path (the path of good works). We use Scripture to teach us how to walk the path. We use Scripture to rebuke us to show us when we get off the path. We use Scripture to correct us to show how to get back on the path. We use Scripture to train us how to stay on the path. And we are equipped with Scripture to help others through the same process. So we may do good works.

    My second thought was the Great Commission, in which we are commanded to make disciples and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded, which includes doing good works, especially to the poor and needy, in whatever forms they are found.

  5. 12-22-2011

    It also raises the question, what are good works?

    I found 1 Timothy 5:10, talking about widows:

    “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.”

    I also thought of James’ definition of “true religion.”

  6. 3-5-2012

    But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

    Roman 7:6 NLT

  7. 3-5-2012

    Tony,

    I’m not sure if your comment is a disagreement with this post or not. Our freedom in Christ is not a license to ignore our responsibilities toward one another:

    For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13 ESV)

    The “good works” that Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 3:17 are not for the purpose of salvation, but as a result of our salvation and our new found freedom in Christ and life in the Holy Spirit.

    -Alan

  8. 3-6-2012

    Alan,
    Sorry for my incomplete post, I am in agreement with your post, beautiful insight actually. I like to play the odd side often, not to be argumentative but to inspire new thoughts. My post above, which gave no explanation, fell short.
    Where I am at these days, is asking the Holy Spirit to guide me as to which data to input (scripture) and to make me useful (fruitful) for Jesus and His kingdom. Then I watch as He brings to mind scripture to speak or follow under His direction. I love the opportunities He directs me in service to others, the are few greater joys than service under His direction.

  9. 3-6-2012

    Tony,

    Thanks for the explanation. “There are few greater joys that service under his direction.” I agree!

    -Alan

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