This article will explore certain ideas commonly put forth by Evangelicals in regard to one of their favorite passages of scripture, 2 Tim 3:15-17. I have had countless discussions about this passage with Evangelicals and I am posting this here as a reference for future discussions. Hopefully you will learn something interesting from it, or will find it useful in your future discussions of the same topic.
2 Tim 3:15-17
15 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.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Verse 16 says that “all scripture” has been given, so the Book of Mormon and other LDS books of scripture can’t be from God.
The half-sentence being quoted is being taken completely out of its context. It is inappropriate to only quote “All scripture is given” without quoting “by inspiration of God.” This sentence is making a comment on the quality of scripture, not on the amount of scripture.
This type of interpretation is similar to arguing that no more people will ever be born, and then backing that belief up with a statement given by a scientific authority who says “All people have been born with genes inherited by their mother and father.” Clearly this statement does not intend to say that no more people will ever be born.
The response given directly above should be sufficient, but in the case that it is not there is more that can be said. If the critic is not willing to grant the obvious fact explained above, it could be pointed out that even if the statement was about the amount of scripture (as opposed to the quality of scripture) the statement would only include those scriptures that existed at the time of the statement.
When Paul made this statement the only books of scripture in existence were those of the Old Testament. This is further explained by the fact that in verse 15 Paul refers to the “holy scriptures” which Timothy had known. The only scriptures that Timothy could have known were the Old Testament scriptures.
Surely the Evangelical critic would not maintain that the Old Testament is “all scripture” and that nothing more can possibly be given beyond that, for that would make void the importance of the New Testament!
We don’t need living prophets anymore; verse 15 says that God has given us the scriptures and that they are sufficient for salvation. Nothing more need be added.
It has already been pointed out that the only scripture already in existence when Paul wrote this was the Old Testament. Since this is the case, we know that Paul was suggesting that the Old Testament is “able to make thee wise unto salvation.” Would an Evangelical agree that the Old Testament is sufficient for leading us to “salvation”? If so, does this mean no more prophets or scripture should ever be given?
Using the critic’s logic we would be forced to conclude that Paul meant that no prophets could be called and no more scripture written after the Old Testament.
Fortunately, it is obvious that Paul was not suggesting that no prophets of God should be called after Malachi. Indeed, Jesus himself refers to John the Baptist as a prophet (Matt 11:9). Furthermore, there is ample room for understanding all of the New Testament writers, and Jesus himself (Matt 13:57), as prophets of God. They performed the exact same function as the prophetic authors of the Old Testament books. Books of scripture continued to be written despite Paul’s belief that the Old Testament was sufficient for “salvation.”
If Paul, and by extension God, believe that it is appropriate to add scripture (the New Testament) even though sufficient scripture has already been given (the Old Testament), then Mormons are in good company. We also believe that God is able and desirous to give his children scripture in every dispensation.
This passage proves that the bible is inerrant since it says that the scriptures were given by “inspiration of God.” The Greek here translated “inspiration” actually mean “god-breathed.”
As mentioned above, Paul could only have been referring to the Old Testament. There are various reasons for believing that the Old Testament is not inerrant, but that is beyond the scope of this paper.
Yes, the Greek can be accurately translated as “god-breathed.” That is fine. But we immediately run into certain problem with that. LDS researcher Benjamin McGuire says the following concerning this question:
If we take the English language as a basis, it seems quite possible, for example, for God to create a text that could perfectly convey the meaning which God intended for it to convey. But, it would be to a specific audience. More than that, it would be to an audience of one (and even that, it would be to an audience of one at a particular time and place). No one else would be capable of achieving the same meaning from that text. Is this a weakness on the part of God? No. It is a weakness on the part of our ability to communicate.1
In other words, scripture revealed to John the Revelator would be absolutely inerrant for John only. Our ability to perfectly understand what John writes depends on “how closely we can resemble [John in 90 AD], how closely our language resembles his, how closely our culture environment resembles his, [and] how similar our intertextual exposure resembles his.”2 Because of the impossibility we face of understanding the words exactly how John did, or any biblical author for that matter, we are left with a bible that is not inerrant for us.
Dr. William Hamblin expands on this concept by explaining that “Even if one were to claim that the Bible were inerrant, it could at best be a theoretical inerrancy, since in practical terms there are numerous conflicting interpretations.”3 Indeed, one need look no further than the TV guide on a Sunday morning to discover the variety of interpretations the bible lends itself to. Even if the bible were inerrant, that point is made obsolete when considering the multitudes of interpretations.
Claiming that the bible is inerrant because the bible says it is inerrant is a perfect exercise in the logical fallacy called circular reasoning. It is similar to suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of God simply because the Pope says it is, or proclaiming the truthfulness of Islam and backing it up by quoting the Koran. Would a critic feel comfortable if a Mormon insisted that the Book of Mormon is the word of God by appealing to Moroni for authority?
Furthermore, an argument for biblical inerrancy by an appeal to this verse is made more difficult by the fact that the entire inerrancy of the Bible would rest on the assumption that this one verse was in fact written inerrantly. In other words, we would have to know that Paul was writing inerrantly when he wrote these words. Such a thing could never actually be known!
Why does “god-breathed” have to mean “inerrant?” Is it just an assumption that God even desired to make it inerrant in the first place? One might say that if God intended to write an inerrant book for all of mankind to read from and understand, He didn’t do too great of a job. The Bible is riddled with ambiguity that has caused strife for thousands of years among Christians. Why not just accept the fact that God was gracious enough to allow his servants to do their best, even if it wasn’t “inerrant,” in helping to carry out his work?
Now, anyone is certainly free to exercise faith in the words of the Bible. I would never discourage that. In fact, I encourage it. It is unfortunate however when someone claims to “prove” that the bible is inerrant by appeal to this verse. Such a thing simply can’t be proven from this passage.
Verse 17 reads, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This passage suggests that the scriptures were given to us so that we may be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This seems to fly in the face of the common Evangelical belief that our works are as “filthy rags” and are not valued by God. Clearly Paul championed good works, and he believed that the scriptures do too.
Further Further Commentary
It is my contention that the main reason that Evangelicals desire so badly for the Bible to be inerrant is because they reject the possibility of modern prophets. Without a prophet to guide them they are left with only the words of ancient prophets, in which case those words become exceedingly important. If doubt is cast upon those words in any way at all, they have no guide.
Come! Come follow the living prophet!
1. As quoted in Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome. FAIR, 2008. pg. 41. Original can be read at: http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php?s=c43e91952f2d15656049ef73e105413f&showtopic=7578&view=findpost&p=193778
3. As quoted in Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome. FAIR, 2008. pg. 41.