Today we come to what is easily one of the most important passages in 2 Timothy, and what is perhaps in the 10 most important passages in the Bible.
This is not the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to preach on this passage but it is the first time I’ve had the change to preach this passage in the middle of a series on 2 Timothy. And one of the real delights of working through a book like this is that you get to see how a passage takes on new life when you understand it in the context and flow of the whole book.
So before we dive into this crucial passage, let’s take a moment to remember where we are in 2 Timothy. Paul has written this letter to encourage Timothy to stay faithful in the face of mounting difficulty and opposition. And the last half of chapter 2 zoomed in on a specific obstacle to Timothy’s faithfulness, which was the false teachers and the people who were listening to them. These false teachers weren’t necessarily denying the gospel, but they were distracting from the gospel by getting all caught up in things that did not ultimately matter.
And so Paul exhorts Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth while avoiding foolish debates and running from sinful passions. And that chapter ended by telling Timothy to kindly teach and gently correct his opponents, because God might use Timothy’s words to turn some of them back to the truth.
Timothy, however, should not expect to have a golden touch in all of this. He shouldn’t expect to have his opponents piling up at his door just waiting to repent. God “may perhaps grant them repentance,” verse 25 says. But notice how chapter 3 opens up: with the word “But.” “God may perhaps grant them repentance… but understand this, that in the last days there will comes times of difficulty.” (2 Timothy 2:25-3:1). And the whole first half of chapter 3 prepares Timothy for the fact that, in these last days, “evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13).
This passage one of the reasons why I am not a revivalist. I do not deny that God has sent revival at certain times in history, and I’d love for that to happen again in my lifetime. But the fact is that the Bible simple does not teach us that our #1 priority is to seek revival. Paul does not say “Look at what’s happening in Ephesus and in these last days. Timothy, how we need revival! Pray for revival!” Instead, what does he say?
Verse 10: “You, however.” And then in verse 14: “But as for you.” Timothy cannot choose how people will respond to his ministry. But he can choose that he himself will be long-haul faithful in the face of whatever opposition comes his way. And that’s what last week’s passage was all about. Evil people will go from bad to worse, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Josh unpacked that passage for us last week, and I hope you notice how verse 15 ended there by talking about the Bible. Yes, those relationships mattered, but why they mattered is because those people had taught him “the sacred writings,” the Scriptures.
And today in verses 16 and 17 Paul continues this thought by driving home the absolute importance of Timothy building his life and his ministry around this holy book, these Scriptures. Staying faithful to the end means making the Bible the cornerstone of life and ministry.
And the way Paul helps Timothy see this is by reminding him of what the Bible actually is. That’s what verses 16 and 17 are all about: this is what the Scriptures are. And so, verse 16 begins, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
This is why Timothy needs to stay faithful to the Scriptures. This is why nothing else can or should distract. This is why his life and ministry need to stay built on Scripture. Because all Scripture is God-breathed.
What is Scripture?
Now before we go any further, we want to ask an important question. What is “Scripture”? When Paul writes that “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” what is he referring to?
The first part of the answer is that he is referring to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, which we sometimes refer to as the “Old Testament.” Already in the centuries before Jesus was born, the Jewish people had a solid understanding of the 39 books that together made up their Scriptures, their sacred book, their “Bible” if you will.
They believed that these 39 books, which told of God’s plan to bless and redeem his creation through His chosen people and their promised king, were not just human reflections. They were divine revelation.
And this word “Scripture” is used dozens of times in the New Testament and each time it refers to that collection of writings which the Jewish people received as authoritative, divine revelation.
What’s important for us today is to understand that, within the lifetime of Paul and the other apostles, as the New Covenant documents were being written—the books we call the New Testament—they were already being considered “Scripture” by the people of God.
For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes that “the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). So he says “the Scripture says” and then has two quotes. That first quote is from Deuteronomy, and the second quote, “the labourer deserves his wages,” is a direct quote from the gospel of Luke, Luke 10:7. And the most straightforward way of taking this is that Paul had access to Luke’s gospel and he understood Luke’s gospel to be Scripture on par with Genesis or Isaiah or Deuteronomy.
Another key quote comes from 2 Peter 3:15-16. Listen to what these two verses say: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16).
So right there we have it. Peter and his audience were already accepting the letters of Paul as Scripture, on par with the rest of their Bible.
Scholar Roland Deines has studied the gospel of Matthew and come to the conclusion that Matthew viewed his gospel as being Scripture, just like any other Old Testament book. And Deines goes further when he writes, “I am quite convinced that it would be possible to demonstrate for nearly all writings in the New Testament that they were intended to be Scripture-like.” [R. Deines, “Did Matthew Know He Was Writing Scripture? Part 2,” EJT 23.1 (2014): 3–12, quoted in Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018).]
And just like with the 39 Old Testament books, within the early centuries after death of Jesus we see the church recognizing and affirming the 27 books of the New Testament to be God-given Scripture. The church did not just pick what books would go in the Bible, but over time they simple recognized and affirmed those books which came with apostolic authority and divine witness.
All that to say, when Paul spoke about “all Scripture” he was referring to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, but not just that. The church had already begun to understand that the gospels and epistles were Scripture and so we can affirm that “all Scripture” refers to the 66 books which we hold in our hands today.
The Bible is God-Breathed
And what’s the main thing that Paul tells or reminds Timothy about this Scripture in verse 16? That it is “breathed out by God.” God-breathed, as the NIV translates it.
And in this case, the NIV is actually closer to the original language, because what Paul did here was put together the word for “God” and the word for “breathed” and push them together into a single word found here for the first time.
“God-breathed.” Or, unpacking that a little bit, “breathed out by God.”
All Scripture is breathed out by God. Think about what that is saying. This is saying that all Scripture proceeds from the mouth of God. In other words, that all Scripture is His word.
Think go how Psalm 33:6 holds up God’s word next to His “breath”: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). As God speaks words, we can imagine there is breath coming out of His mouth. And so, to say that all Scripture is God-breathed is to say that all Scripture has its source in God and that it comes from God and that it is therefore His word.
Now this understanding of “breath” is why some of the older translations use the word “inspiration” here. The KJV says “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” whereas the NASB says “all Scripture is inspired by God.” And that’s because, originally, the word “inspire” referred to breathing—taking a breath. That’s why we say the lungs are part of the “respiratory system.”
But over time, the meaning of “inspire” began to change. And so today the word “inspire” refers to a creative spark or a fresh idea or an urge to go do something special or creative. We might say things like “I just felt inspired” or “that song was really inspired.”
And the problem is that many people think that God’s word is “inspired” in the same way. Some people think that God influenced the people who wrote it by giving them a special creative spark. Or, as we read it, God makes it kind of sparkle in our lives. There’s something special about it.
But that’s not what this means. The word “inspired” means is that all Scripture proceeds from the mouth of God. This is God’s very word.
That does not mean that this book just fell out of the sky one day. This book was written by people, humans, who each had different styles and vocabularies and settings in the big unfolding plan of salvation. But when we say that all Scripture is God-breathed we are saying that those human authors wrote exactly what God wanted them to write.
2 Peter 1:21 affirms this when it says that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). It’s important to recognize that the word for “Spirit” and “breath” are the same word in the original language, so there is a connection here between the breath of God and the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, people wrote this book, but they spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. And so all Scripture is breathed out by God.
This was not a new idea. The Jewish people had recognized for some time that Scripture was God’s very words. Jesus affirmed this multiple times (John 10:35). In Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus quotes words from Genesis 2 which are just the narrator’s words, very likely Moses’ words, and attributes those words to God Himself.
The Apostles believed this when they quoted the Psalms and attributed those words, written by David, to the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16, 4:25, 13:34-35).
So we see this over and over. Paul did not invent this idea that Scripture is breathed out by God, but he is crystallizing it in a powerful way.
This book is itself God’s revelation, breathed out by Him. That is the big truth here. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.
And what we’re going to look at now is five implications of this truth. An implication is something that is true if something else is true. If it’s -40⁰ outside, an implication of that is that your face will feel cold when you step outside. It just follows.
So, seeing that all Scripture is breathed out by God, we want to consider four implications of that truth which are important for us to think about. The first three implications come from outside of this passage, and the last two implications come from inside this passage.
Implication #1: Scripture is Inerrant
The first implication here is that Scripture is inerrant. That is to say, it is without error. If Scripture is breathed out by God than it can be trusted and must not be suspected because God never lies, as Titus 1:2 says.
As the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy wrote in their short statement, “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”
And when we study the Bible carefully we see that this holds up. Someone recently sent me pages of supposed contradictions in the Bible and it’s been a good project to walk with them through that and actually understand what those passages are saying, and my confidence in the Bible grows the more I look at it under the microscope.
But more fundamentally, because this came from God, and because God is holy and truthful, this book is without error. Like Jesus said in John 17:17, “your word is truth.” This book is the standard of truth. It is truth itself. And that’s something Jordan is going to explore in the Sunday school module starting next week. Because the Bible is God-breathed, it is not just true but is the standard of truth itself.
Implication #2: Scripture is Authoritative
The second implication of Scripture being breathed out by God is that it is authoritative. God is the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise God. Therefore, when He speaks, He speaks with final authority. The Bible is not just one book among many. Not just one opinion to be considered. It is the authoritative last word on any matter to which it speaks.
Once again, the 1978 Chicago Statement puts it so well: “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”
Since this is God-breathed, everything it says it says with divine power and authority and we must receive it that way.
Implication #3: Scripture is Majestic
There’s a third implication here we want to understand which is that, since Scripture is God-breathed, it is majestic.
Just think about that. All Scripture is breathed out by God. By God. Do you know what happens when God talks? Do you know what else God breathes?
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (Psalm 29:3–9).
Or consider these verses from Psalm 33, which we’ve heard already: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6–7).
God speaks, and forests shake. God speaks, and galaxies appear. And that book you hold in your hands is God-breathed. It comes from the same mouth as the galaxy-speaker.
This is a book that should be approached with wonder and with trembling and with awe.
Implication #4: The Bible Points to Jesus
There’s a fourth implication we want to consider this morning, which is that the Bible points to Jesus. We saw this aspect of Scripture clearly spelled out in verse 15, which Josh touched on last week. Timothy was familiar with the sacred writings “which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The Scriptures he had as a child was the Hebrew Bible, Genesis to Malachi, and yet Paul asserts that these 30 books were able to make him wise for salvation through Christ. And that’s because, as we saw again and again in the “You Are Here” series a few years back, the Bible is one story, and Jesus Christ is the main character of that story from beginning to the end.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
This is important for us to recognize because there’s all kinds of people who are happy to admit that the Bible is God’s word and it’s inerrant and inspired, but they think that the Bible is ultimately about them. About us. Last week Josh talked about Joel Osteen and I actually went and watched some of his stuff again after a few years. And his message began with his whole church holding up their Bibles and saying, “This is my Bible. I am what is says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do.”
What’s the problem there? The problem there is that it’s all about you. You’re the main character. The Bible is a book about who you are and what you have and what you can do. And if you look at basically anything Joel Osteen says or writes that pattern is everywhere.
And I’m not just picking on him. This is a very common way that many people approach the Bible. And so I want to remind us again that this inspired, inerrant, authoritative Bible is not mainly about you—it’s about Jesus. You’re not the main character—He is. Jesus doesn’t fit into your story—you are a part of Jesus’ story. This book is not here to help you have a positive-feeling day. This book is here to make you wise for salvation through Jesus Christ. “Christ the story, his the glory” like we already sang this morning. The Bible is about Jesus.
Implication #5: The Bible Is Useful
The fifth and final implication here in verse 16 is that the Bible is useful. That’s just right there in the text. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable.” “Profitable” means useful or beneficial. It’s good for something. Because the Bible is God-breathed, it is useful. And what is it useful for? There are four answers right there in verse 16: teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
Now these four items aren’t just a random list. What we should notice here is that there’s two sets of words, one positive, and one negative. Teaching—that’s positive. Reproof—that’s negative. Correction—again, that’s negative. Training in righteousness—that’s positive.
And if we studied these words and phrases a little bit more we’d see that those first two words have to do with what we believe—our doctrine. The last two words or phrases have to do with how we act or live.
So here’s the idea here: when it comes to our doctrine, what we believe, Scripture is useful for teaching us what is true, and reproving or setting us straight when we believe things that are not true.
When it comes to our life, our actions, Scripture is useful for correcting us when we are behaving in the wrong way, and it is useful for training us to live in a righteous way.
That’s the idea here with these four words and phrases. Scripture teaches us what’s right and corrects us where we’re wrong in both our beliefs and our actions, our doctrine and our practice.
Now there’s a further implication of this idea that Scripture is useful for these things. And I could put it under another heading, but I’ll include it here. The implication here is that the Bible is understandable.
See, some people think the Bible is just a big confusing book and it can means whatever you want it to mean, and everybody has their own interpretation, and we can never be too sure of what it’s actually saying.
And yes, we need to acknowledge that some things in the Bible are hard to understand and some people twist those things, like the apostle Peter himself acknowledged (2 Peter 3:16).
But these words here about the Bible’s usefulness to teach us what to believe and how to live only make sense if the Bible actually says something specific and definite which is understandable by the people of God.
This book is not choose your own adventure. The Bible actually teaches a specific set of doctrines. The Bible actually teaches a specific righteous way of living that is appropriate for the people of God.
And just because people disagree about what certain parts of the Bible mean does not mean that there is no meaning there. It just means that we need to work hard, and work together, to get at that meaning.
This God-breathed book has something specific and understandable to say about what you should and should not believe and how you should and should not live. And because of this, all Scripture is useful. “Profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
The Sufficiency of Scripture
So what have we seen so far this morning? We’ve seen that “all Scripture,” which is all the 66 books of the Bible, is God’s word. It was breathed out by God. That means it’s accurate and authoritative and majestic and points to Jesus and is useful for teaching us what to believe and how to live.
We’re almost done our journey through this incredible passage this morning, but we have one final stop to make. And the way we’re going to set this up us just by asking the question “why?” Why did God give us a God-breathed, profitable Scripture? What’s the point here of Scripture’s inspiration and usefulness?
And the answer is found in verse 17. Scripture is breathed out by God and useful “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
There’s some words here we really need to notice. First is the word “complete,” which speaks to being qualified or capable of doing a job. The second word is “equipped,” which doesn’t just mean “outfitted” but rather “finished.”
It’s the same word used in Acts 21:5 which says, “When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey.” This is why the NIV and NKJV translate this word as “thoroughly equipped.” It speaks about being brought to completion.
So notice this—verse 15 reminded Timothy how the Bible had been his elementary school. He knew the Scriptures from childhood. Verse 17 tells Timothy that those same Scripture are his finishing school. They are what will bring him to comprehensive competency, qualifying him for not just one or two jobs but for “every good work.”
The Bible was not just one tool in his tool belt. The Bible was his tool belt, and his tool box, and the shop and trailer too.
All of the demands of his ministry, all of the hard work of staying faithful to the end, all of the struggle that he was facing now and into the future, all of the tough decisions involved in leading a church—there was no good work for which the Scriptures were not enough to completely equip him.
And not just for Timothy—this is truth for all of us. What this verse is telling us is that the Bible is far more than just a final judge for our thinking and practice, like an aging constitution. Scripture is not something we should seek just for final permission, but instead is the place we go for initial direction. God’s word is not the guard-rail that keeps us from going off the highway, but the GPS that tells us where to drive and why. God’s sufficient word should have a central and decisive role in governing our personal lives, and our worship and ministry as a church.
We saw this in the last Adult Sunday school module which was all about decision-making. The Bible gives us the direction we need for our life, it helps us understand how to make decisions, it tells us what matters matter, and it is enough for us as we seek to live a godly life. When we come to this God-breathed book, believing what God has said about it, we will find it a sufficient guide to throughly equip us for every good work.
Now notice I said “we.” Verse 17 here is not encouraging a “me-and-my-Bible” kind of approach. We need to come to the Bible together with the people of God, because none of us has perfect eyesight when it comes to seeing what’s in here. We need each other to help each other understand the Bible. That’s why I read so many commentaries every week—it’s like I’m sitting down with each of those authors and together we’re working out what God’s word is saying.
But at the end of the day, it is God’s word to which we come.
And so the simple question I want to ask you as we end here today is, do you believe what God has told us about His word?
Do you believe that all Scripture is God-breathed? Do you believe that it is inerrant, authoritative, majestic, that it points to Christ, and that it is useful for teaching us true doctrine and right living?
And, on top of all of this, do you believe that the Bible is enough?
And that, I really believe, is the main question for us this morning. So many Christians are happy to affirm that God’s word is without error and useful as far as it goes. But they don’t really believe that it’s enough. And so they spend their lives running off in all directions trying to get what they need from other places.
They might seek spiritual experiences, begging God to “speak to them” or communicate with them in some other way. They might seek the wisdom of the world, chasing practices and programs build on human thinking and experience. They set the Bible alongside of human tradition as merely one source of authority. They might chart their own course, following their heart and trusting their own experiences and expressing their own opinions.
While all the while, here stands this inerrant, authoritative, majestic, Christ-oriented, useful, God-breathed book which is able to complete and throughly equip them for every good work.
So as we end here today, I’m not mainly asking you if you believe the Bible is true. I’m asking you if you believe that it’s enough.
I’m asking you if you feel the truth of this song we’re going to sing here in a moment— “What more could he say than to you he hath said?”
Do you believe that “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)?
There are a thousand real-life practicalities which will show up in your life when you have it settled that this God-breathed book is enough for us. We’re going to get into some of that next week.
But for today, I invite you to reflect and wrestle and pray and then live out your answer to this question: is God’s word enough for you?