A surprising thing to say
All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV 1984)
Sometimes a very familiar Bible saying can turn out, on closer inspection, to be rather surprising.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is a line from the Bible which is familiar to many. Here the Apostle Paul writes to his colleague Timothy to say that all Scripture is God-breathed. In the first instance, he’s talking about what we call the Old Testament (though in 1 Timothy 5:18 he counts Luke’s gospel as scripture, too). He’s reminding Timothy that Israel has had the awesome privilege of hearing the words of the living God himself. In this, the Apostle echoes the teaching of the Lord Jesus, who himself regarded the Old Testament as God’s Word (see Matthew 19:4-5 for an example).
This is basic Christian theology. Readers of this blog may at some stage have copied down 2 Timothy 3:16 in a beginner’s talk about the Bible. Here is ‘theology 101’. This is why the verse is so familiar.
So what’s the surprise?
Surely this: that Timothy, of all people, had to hear this. For Timothy was a seasoned campaigner. He had probably been Paul’s colleague for twelve to fifteen years by the time the letter was written; he is even named as co-sender of five of Paul’s letters! So hasn’t he grasped ‘theology 101’ by now?
We have to face the possibility that Timothy, in what looks like an isolated and difficult experience of church leadership, was in danger of forgetting this truth. Was it because he was getting trouble for preaching faithfully? (2 Timothy 2:3) Or was the success of the new teachers down the road (4:3) tempting him to look for a new power in ministry, other than in the preaching of Scripture?
I remember standing once in the back corridor of a big church building on the UK’s south coast, looking at the framed photos of former ministers. A century ago this church had a reputation as a great centre of Bible preaching. By the time I saw these portraits this had been altogether lost. As I looked at these ministers, I wondered which of them had succumbed to Timothy’s temptation. It is an ever-present danger.
So this familiar verse (or pair of verses) is in its context an antidote to such danger. Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed. What a striking expression! These are the very words of God! Yes, written by humans but originating in the Lord himself. And they are words of present relevance to us: they are, as Paul puts it, useful.
Do we really believe that? If so, won’t we be longing to hear those words, understand them, and make them known? Certainly that’s the direction Paul takes Timothy. What he says next could hardly follow more naturally: Preach the Word (4:2).
This is why we do what we do by opening the Bible on Sundays. It is the living God we are hearing! Do you and I, like Timothy, need the reminder?
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