Scripture Provides Instruction for Sanctification
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:16–17)
Before we examine the sanctifying power of Scripture, this crucial statement by Paul must be considered. Some scholars suggest that All Scripture is inspired should be translated, “All Scripture inspired by God is …,” which would leave open the possibility that some Scripture is not inspired by Him. But that rendering would make the Bible worthless as a reliable guide to divine truth, because we would then have no way to determine which part of it is inspired by God and which is not. Men would be left to their own finite and sinful devices and understanding to discover what part of the Bible may be true and which may not, what part is God’s Word and what part is human conjecture. Paul’s thought is that the Scripture that gives salvation must therefore be inspired by God. The words of men could never transform the inner person (Ps. 19:7).
In addition to the many other specific biblical references to the inspiration and authority of Scripture—some of which are mentioned below—it is important to note that similar Greek constructions in other parts of the New Testament (see, e.g., Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4; Heb. 4:16) argue strongly from a grammatical perspective that all Scripture is inspired is the proper translation. Scripture is the revelation conveyed, inspiration is the means of that conveyance. In the words originally revealed and recorded, all Scripture is God’s inerrant Word.
The first predicate adjective that describes Scripture, namely, its being inspired by God, focuses on the authority of His written Word. Theopneustos (inspired by God) literally means, “breathed out by God,” or simply, “God-breathed.” God sometimes breathed His words into the human writers to be recorded much as dictation. He said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). But, as clearly seen in Scripture itself, God’s divine truth more often flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, and emotions of His chosen human instruments. Yet, by whatever means, God divinely superintended the accurate recording of His divinely breathed truth by His divinely chosen men. In a supernatural way, He has provided His divine Word in human words that any person, even a child, can be led by His Holy Spirit to understand sufficiently to be saved.
It is of utmost importance to understand that it is Scripture that is inspired by God, not the men divinely chosen to record it. When speaking or writing apart from God’s revelation, their thoughts, wisdom, and understanding were human and fallible. They were not inspired in the sense that we commonly use that term of people with extraordinary artistic, literary, or musical genius. Nor were they inspired in the sense of being personal repositories of divine truth which they could dispense at will. Many human authors of Scripture penned other documents, but none of those writings exist today, and, even if discovered, they would not carry the weight of Scripture. We know, for instance, that Paul wrote at least two other letters to the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 2:4), but no copies of those letters have ever been found. The letters doubtless were godly, spiritually insightful, and blessed of the Lord, but they were not Scripture.
Many men who wrote Scripture, such as Moses and Paul, were highly trained in human knowledge and wisdom, but that learning was not the source of the divine truth they recorded. David was a highly gifted poet, and that gift doubtless is reflected in the beauty of his psalms, but it was not the source of the divine truths revealed in those psalms.
Scripture first of all and above all is from God and about God, His self-revelation to fallen mankind. From Genesis through Revelation, God reveals His truth, His character, His attributes, and His divine plan for the redemption of man, whom He made in His own image. He even foretells the eventual redemption of the rest of His creation, which “also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” and which “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:21–22).
The Bible is not a collection of the wisdom and insights of men, even of godly men. It is God’s truth, His own Word in His own words. The psalmist declared, “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). God’s Word is divinely revealed to men on earth and divinely authenticated in heaven. Peter declares unequivocally, “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20–21). Those God-given, humanly recorded words became God’s written Word, inerrant and authoritative as originally given. Prophēteia (“prophecy”) is not used here in the sense of prediction but in its basic and broader meaning of speaking forth, of proclaiming a message. It carries the same inclusive idea as “the oracles of God,” with which ancient Israel had the marvelous privilege of being entrusted (Rom. 3:2). “Interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20b) translates epilusis, which refers to something that is released, sent out, or sent forth. In this verse the Greek noun is a genitive of source, indicating origin. In other words, no message of Scripture was originated and sent forth by men’s own wisdom and will. Rather, the godly men through whom Scripture was revealed and recorded were divinely instructed and carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Within the Bible itself, “God” and “Scripture” are sometimes used almost interchangeably. Referring to words spoken directly by God to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), Paul wrote that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you’ ” (Gal. 3:8). Later in that same chapter the apostle again personifies Scripture as God, declaring that “Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (v. 22). In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’ ” (Rom. 9:17).
When he first preached in Galatia, many years before he wrote his epistle to the churches there, the apostle had declared,
And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.” And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm, “Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” (Acts 13:32–35)
the inspired and inerrant scripture
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in both testaments. All Scripture refers to the New as well as to the Old Testament. As noted above, the hieros grammata (“sacred writings”) were the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), which Timothy had been taught from childhood (v. 15). Graphē (Scripture), on the other hand, was commonly used in the early church not only of the Old Testament but also of God’s newly revealed Word, in what came to be called the New Testament.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus gave powerful and unambiguous testimony to the divine authority of both testaments. The four gospels contain the first divine revelation after that of the Old Testament prophets, which had ceased some four hundred years earlier. Jesus’ declaration that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35) applied specifically to the Hebrew Scriptures but also, as will be seen, to the totality of Scripture, that is, to both testaments, which together compose God’s written Word.
Early in His ministry, Jesus said of the Old Testament, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17–18). Later He said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17).
Jesus repeatedly used divinely revealed truths from the Old Testament to affirm His messiahship. He declared, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:38), and, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:42). As Jesus walked with the two disciples on the Emmaus road after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
In addition to His teaching that “Scripture [graphē] cannot be broken” (John 10:35), Jesus said that “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:48–50). The words of the incarnate Christ are the words of God the Father; therefore, to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s Word.
The men whom God assigned to write the gospels would not have been able in their mere humanness to remember accurately everything Jesus said or did. For that reason Jesus promised that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26–27).
The Lord would reveal additional truth after He returned to heaven. “I have many more things to say to you,” He said, “but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you” (John 16:12–14).
In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Scripture [graphē] says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18). It is important to note that the first quotation is from the Old Testament (Deut. 25:4) and that the second is from Jesus’ own lips (Luke 10:7), that is, from the New Testament.
The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) contains at least 680 claims to divine inspiration. Such claims are found 418 times in the historical books, 195 times in the poetic books, and 1,307 times in the prophetic books. The New Testament contains more than 300 direct quotations and at least 1,000 indirect references from the Old Testament, almost all of them declaring or implying that they were God’s own Word. The book of Hebrews opens with the declaration “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). The writer was speaking of both testaments, God’s speaking through “the prophets” representing the Old and His speaking through “His Son” representing the New.
Many New Testament writers directly testified that they knew they were writing God’s Word. Paul reminded believers in Corinth of a truth he doubtless had taught them many times in person when he ministered there: “[These] things we also speak,” he said, “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13; cf. 16). In his next letter to them he defended his earnestness as well as his authority, saying, “We are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).
Paul assured the churches in Galatia: “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.… He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, … called me through His grace, [and] was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:11–12, 15–16). He told the church in Colossae, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:25–27). And to the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Peter recognized that Paul, a fellow apostle, had been used by the Lord to write His Word. Referring to Paul’s letters, Peter wrote of “some things [in them that were] hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, emphasis added). Jude attests that “the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” carried the weight of Scripture, divinely warning that “in the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 17–18).
No New Testament writer had a greater awareness that he was recording God’s own Word than did the apostle John. That awareness is affirmed with particular certainty in the book of Revelation, which begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev. 1:1–2). A few verses later the apostle says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches’ ” (vv. 10–11). At or near the end of each message to those churches is the admonition “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The apostle also makes clear in many other parts of that book that he is writing God’s explicitly revealed truth (see, e.g., 19:9; 21:5; 22:6).
It is both remarkable and significant that, although most, if not all, of the human writers were aware they were recording Scripture and sometimes were overwhelmed by the truths God revealed to them, they exhibit a total lack of self-consciousness or apology, in the common sense of that word. Together, the biblical writers make some 4,000 claims to be writing God’s Word, yet they offer no defense for being employed by God in such an elevated function. Despite their realization of their own sinfulness and fallibility, they wrote with the utter confidence that they spoke infallibly for God and that His revelation itself is its own best and irrefutable defense. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,” Isaiah proclaimed for God, “and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10–11).
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in its words. To deny that all of the Bible is inspired obviously is to deny that all of the words of Scripture are inspired. Just as obviously, such denial places man as judge over God’s Word, acknowledging as authentic and binding only those portions which correspond to one’s personal predispositions. Whether the human judgment about inspiration is made by a church council, church tradition, or individual preference, it is based on subjective, sin-tainted, and imperfect knowledge and understanding. When men decide for themselves what to recognize as true and worthwhile, as meaningful and relevant, they vitiate all authority of Scripture. Even when they concur with Scripture, the agreement is based on their own human wisdom.
Unless the very words of Scripture are inspired and authoritative, man is left to his own resources to ferret out what seem to be underlying divine concepts and principles. But instead of discovering what has been called “the Word behind the words”—that is, the divine truth behind the human words—that approach leads to the very opposite. It presumptuously and self-deceptively “discovers” man’s word, as it were, behind God’s words, judging God’s divine truth by the standards of man’s sinful inclinations and distorted perceptions. As Paul said to Titus, the commandments of men turn people away from God’s truth (Titus 1:14).
Even from a purely logical perspective, to discount the words of Scripture is to discount all meaning of Scripture. Not only is it impossible to write without using words but also is impossible, except in the most nebulous way, even to think without words. It is as meaningless to speak of thoughts and ideas without words as to speak of music without notes or mathematics without numbers. To repudiate the words of Scripture is to repudiate the truths of Scripture.
It is true, of course, that both testaments contain revelations whose bare words God intentionally made cryptic. In some cases, as with Jesus’ parables, the purpose was to hide the meaning from willful unbelievers. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, “He answered and said to them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted’ ” (Matt. 13:10–11). In other cases, as with predictive prophecies, even the most godly believers, including the men to whom God revealed the prophecies, could not discern the full meaning. Peter explains, for example, that, “as to this salvation [through Jesus Christ], the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10–12).
In other words, although Scripture never reveals truths apart from words, in some places it reveals words apart from their full truth. The point is this: The words of Scripture are always inerrant, whether or not they convey their full meaning to those who read them or can be fully understood by our limited comprehension.
When Moses protested to God that he was not qualified to lead Israel because he had “never been eloquent” and was “slow of speech and slow of tongue, … the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say’ ” (Ex. 4:10–12). When Moses continued to object, “the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently.… And you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and it shall come about that he shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be as God to him’ ” (Ex. 4:14–16, emphasis added).
In Psalm 147, the inseparable relationship between God’s Word and His words is clear. The Lord “sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow. He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel” (Ps. 147:15–19, emphasis added). It is only through words that God has revealed His Word.
Jeremiah testified: “The Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’ … Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them.’ … Thy words were found and I ate them,” the prophet responded, “and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jer. 1:9; 5:14; 15:16, emphasis added). Ezekiel made a similar affirmation, saying, “Then [the Lord] said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me.… But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.’ … Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I shall speak to you, and listen closely’ ” (Ezek. 2:3, 7; 3:10, emphasis added).
In reply to Satan’s temptation to make bread from stones in order to satisfy His physical hunger, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’ ” (Matt. 4:4, emphasis added). Man is fed spiritually by God’s “every word,” and every revealed word of God is found in His written Word, the Bible. In His last major public discourse, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35, emphasis added).
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the essence of the gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, emphasis added). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing,” He said on another occasion. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63, emphasis added). “For I did not speak on My own initiative,” our Lord again makes clear, “but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (12:49–50; cf. 14:24). Believing in the Father is believing in the Son, and the Son’s words are the Father’s words.
Scripture is inspired and inerrant in everything it teaches and reports. Some scholars maintain that, because the Bible is not a textbook on such subjects as history, geography, and science, it is inerrant only when it speaks on spiritual and moral matters. But like those who claim to accept the underlying divine concepts and principles of Scripture but not its words, these interpreters also determine by their own resources what is divine and infallible and what is human and fallible. Again, man becomes the judge of Scripture.
Through the centuries, some scholars have pointed to “mistakes” in the Bible, statements about people, places, and things that did not jibe with the accepted “facts” of history, archaeology, or modern science.
Until Copernicus’s discovery in the sixteenth century, men assumed that the sun rotated around the earth, because that is how it appears from our earthly perspective. Because we now know that the earth rotates around the sun, many scholars charge the Bible with factual error in reporting that Joshua successfully commanded the sun to stand still and the moon to be stopped (Josh. 10:12–13), whereas it must have been the earth that stood still. But highly trained meteorologists still speak of sunrise and sunset, especially when communicating with the general public. Those phrases are firmly established figures of speech throughout the world, and no sensible person accuses someone of being inaccurate or unscientific for using them. Not only that, but if God created the universe, stopping the rotation of the earth, the sun, or the moon—or of all three—would have been equally simple. It is significant that most people who question the reality of such miraculous events also question many of the clear theological and moral teachings of Scripture as well.
For many years some scholars charged the book of 2 Kings with error for reporting that “the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:14). They based that judgment on an ancient Assyrian record of the transaction that gives the amount of silver as being 800 talents. But later archaeological findings have revealed that, although the Assyrian standard for a talent of gold was the same as that used by Judah and Syria, the standard for silver was considerably different. When adjusted for that difference, the biblical figure was found to be accurate.
Not only is the Bible’s reporting of history unerring but so is its prediction of history. Ezekiel foretold in amazing detail the destruction of Tyre, first by Nebuchadnezzar, later by Alexander the Great (Ezek. 26:1–21; 29:18), and then by Egypt (30:10–26). In similar detail, Nahum predicted the devastation of Nineveh (Nahum 1:15–3:19; cf. Zeph. 2:13, 15), which was conquered and destroyed in 612 b.c. by the Medes and Chaldeans. Both Isaiah (Isa. 13–14; 21:1–10) and Jeremiah (Jer. 50–51) accurately predicted the ultimate destruction of Babylon, which would “never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation” (Isa. 13:20). That great city was conquered first by Cyrus, founder of the Persian empire and the man whom God prophesied would free His people Israel from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 44:28; 45:1–14). That noble king not only allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, but, with an amazing awareness of his divine mission under the true God, charged them to rebuild the temple there and returned to them all the sacred and valuable temple objects pilfered by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1). Other Assyrian and Persian kings successively conquered and plundered Babylon. Its final conquest was by Alexander the Great, who intended to rebuild the city but was prevented by his untimely death at the age of thirty-two. When the capital of the Syrian empire was moved from Babylon to Seleucia by Seleucus Nicator in 312 b.c., Babylon gradually died. By the time of Christ, the city was inhabited primarily by a small group of scholars, and bricks from its rubble were carried away to build houses and walls in surrounding towns. Today the almost barren site of ancient Babylon, located in the southern part of modern Iraq, is valued only for its archaeological significance.
As noted in the first point, God’s divine Word, revealed through His divine words, is not itself the means or the power of salvation, but is the agency of it. Near the end of his gospel account, John explained that “these [things] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
As Peter declared to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem soon after Pentecost, “Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, … He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10–12).
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul echoes the words of Jesus: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.… So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:9–10, 17, emphasis added; cf. James 1:18).
Christ also uses His Word to sanctify and cleanse His church from sin. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul said: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:25–26, emphasis added). In his first letter to believers at Thessalonica he said, “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis added; cf. Phil. 2:16).
The second predicate adjective Paul uses to describe Scripture is profitable, which focuses on the sufficiency of God’s written Word. Profitable translates ōphelimos, which includes the ideas of beneficial, productive, and sufficient.
Scripture is sufficient in being comprehensive. Paralleled in the Old Testament only by Psalm 119 and confirmed by Joshua 1:8, these verses supremely affirm the absolute sufficiency of Scripture to meet all the spiritual needs of God’s people.
David understood the sufficiency of God’s Word, and in one of his most uplifting psalms he exulted:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. (Ps. 19:7–13)
In verses 7–9 David refers to God’s Word by six different titles: God’s law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear (referring to worship), and judgments. In those same verses, he mentions six characteristics of that divine Word: It is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. Also included are six blessings that the Word brings in the believer’s life: It restores the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and produces complete righteousness. The remaining verses (10–13) extol the benefits of the work of the Word: It makes rich, delights, rewards, convicts, and protects. It is a marvelous mark of God’s loving grace that He has given us every truth, every principle, every standard, and every warning that we will ever need for living out our salvation according to His will.
Scripture also is complete. Jude admonished his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). John closes the book of Revelation, as well as the entire Old and New Testaments, with this sobering warning from the Lord: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19).
False religious systems that claim to be Christian invariably expose their falsehood by their view of Scripture. Mormonism considers The Book of Mormon to be as divinely inspired and authoritative as the Bible, in fact more so, because they view that book as being a latter-day, updated revelation from God. Christian Science views Science and Health, With a Key to the Scriptures in the same way. Some charismatics claim to have received special revelations from God, which, if genuine, would carry the same divine authority as the Bible. For most of the twentieth century, a large percentage of members and a higher percentage of clergymen in most major Protestant denominations have not recognized the Bible as being wholly revealed by God and inerrant. Those views and many others like them share the common heresy of considering Scripture to be incomplete or inadequate.
It is because of such distorted and destructive views of Scripture within professing Christendom that biblical believers must, more than ever before, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As in the early church, the greatest danger to the church has always been from within. Paul warned the godly, mature church at Ephesus, pastored first by the apostle and then by Timothy, and led by godly elders, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30, emphasis added).
In the remainder of verse 16, Paul declares that Scripture is profitable for believers in four important ways: for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
the teaching scripture
for teaching, (3:16b)
As mentioned in chapter 8 of this commentary in regard to verse 10, didaskalia does not refer to the process or method of teaching but to its content. In this context, as in most others in the New Testament, didaskalia refers specifically and exclusively to divine instruction, or doctrine, given to believers through God’s Word, which included not only the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the teaching of Jesus during His incarnation but also the inspired teaching of the apostles and New Testament authors.
“A natural man,” Paul explains, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them.” It is not that the unsaved person is intellectually inferior, but that such truths “are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14–16).
While warning believers about the dangerous teachings and work of antichrists, John assures his readers: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.… As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.… And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:20, 24, 27).
When it comes to godly living and godly service, to growing in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), God-breathed Scripture provides for us the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary to live as our heavenly Father desires for us to live. The wisdom and guidance for fulfilling everything He commands us to believe, think, say, and do is found in His inerrant, authoritative, comprehensive, and completed Word.
Even after conversion, trust in one’s own wisdom is a severe hindrance to correct understanding of Scripture and to full usefulness in the Lord’s service. The counsel to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) is every bit as valid for Christians as it was for Old Testament saints.
Throughout church history, the Lord has uniquely and wonderfully sustained and blessed the spiritual lives and influence of believers who, because of imprisonment, illiteracy, isolation, or other restrictions beyond their control, could not study His Word. But the teaching of Scripture is the divine body of truth without which no believer who has access to it can live, minister, or witness effectively. Tragically, some of the most biblically illiterate believers in our day live in lands where God’s Word is readily available and where scriptural preaching, teaching, and literature are abundant.
It goes without saying that it is impossible to believe, understand, and follow what you do not even know. It is completely futile, as well as foolish, to expect to live a spiritual life without knowing spiritual truth. Biblically untaught believers, especially those in biblically untaught churches, are easy prey for false teachers. They are spiritual “children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Throughout most of redemptive history, God could have said what He said in Hosea’s day: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). It is for that reason, as well as for the even greater reason of honoring the Lord, that regular, systematic, and thorough study of the doctrine in God’s Word is imperative for God’s people.
We not only are to guard what we know but sincerely seek to learn more of God’s inexhaustible truth. We should pray with Job, “Teach Thou me what I do not see” (Job 34:32). That dauntless man of God had lost his children, his servants, his flocks, his health, and even his reputation. He was wholly unable to see why God permitted those calamities to come upon him, and he therefore wanted the Lord to teach him whatever he needed to learn in order to endure his painful existence and to profit from it spiritually.
Just before Jehovah’s covenant with Israel was ratified near Sinai, Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ ” (Ex. 24:7). Unfortunately, the people of Israel seldom again demonstrated such reverence for God’s Word. Shortly before they were to enter and take possession of the Promised Land, Moses reminded them again: “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.… And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it” (Deut. 4:5, 14). God’s command to Joshua, Moses’ successor, applies to every believer: “Be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh. 1:7–8).
When the young but godly King Josiah heard read to him “the words of the book of the law,” which had been discovered as the temple was being repaired, “he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us’ ” (2 Kings 22:11–13).
Although they did not believe their own words, the unbelieving and hypocritical Pharisees were completely correct when they said of Jesus, “You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any” (Matt. 22:16). It was because of His utter truthfulness and righteousness and His refusal to defer to anyone that those men, and others like them, put Jesus to death. Contrary to their godly forefather Josiah, they would not accept the teaching of God.
On a trip from Greece back to Jerusalem, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, many of whom had ministered both with him and with Timothy, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, … how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.… For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:18, 20–21, 27).
Both the first and last pieces of spiritual armor that Paul mentions in his letter to believers at Ephesus pertain to Scripture. “Stand firm therefore,” he says, “having girded your loins with truth.” Then, after putting on the “breastplate of righteousness,” shodding our feet with “the gospel of peace, “taking up the shield of faith,” and donning “the helmet of salvation,” we are to equip ourselves with the only offensive implement mentioned here—“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14–17). Machaira (“sword”) refers to a short sword, or dagger, a weapon used in close combat that required skillful use in order to be effective. “Word” translates rhēma, which refers to a specific statement or wording, not to general truth, as does the more commonly used logos.
Our “wielding” of Scripture, as it were, should be as precise, accurate, and appropriate as possible. No matter how good our intentions might be, to interpret or apply a passage thoughtlessly or to quote it out of context creates confusion and uncertainty. It does disservice to the Lord and to those we are attempting to instruct. In order to present ourselves “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed,” we must handle “accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Careless use of Scripture, even by the Lord’s own people, can do great damage to the cause of Christ, as it often has done throughout church history.
During His wilderness ordeal, Jesus responded to each of Satan’s temptations with an accurate and carefully chosen quotation from Scripture (see Matt. 4:3–10). Because He was the incarnate Son of God, anything He might have said would have carried the same divine weight as Scripture. But as an example for His followers, He chose to quote divine truth that already was recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Following the pattern of our gracious Lord, our weapon against the temptations and deceptions of the devil should always be a careful and precise use of God’s revealed Word. It then goes without saying that, in order to use Scripture in that effective way, we must thoroughly know it and understand it. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us], with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
The truths of God’s Word are spiritual wealth that we should continually be depositing into our minds and hearts. Like deposits of money in our bank account, those deposits of divine truth become spiritual assets that we can draw on readily when confronting temptation, when making moral choices and when seeking God’s specific will and guidance for our lives.
the reproving scripture
for reproof, (3:16c)
A second work of the Word in the life of believers is that of reproof. Elegmos (reproof) carries the idea of rebuking in order to convict of misbehavior or false doctrine. As with teaching, Scripture’s work of reproof has to do with content, with equipping believers with accurate knowledge and understanding of divine truth, in this context divine truth that exposes falsehood and sin, erroneous belief, and ungodly conduct.
Richard Trench, a noted nineteenth-century British theologian, comments that elegmos refers to rebuking “another with such effectual wielding of the victorious arm of the truth, as to bring him not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction of his sin.”
Regular and careful study of Scripture builds a foundation of truth that, among other things, exposes sin in a believer’s life with the purpose of bringing correction, confession, renunciation, and obedience.
Using the same Greek word as Paul does in Ephesians 6:17, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Bible as a divine sword that exposes sin in a believer’s life. “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword [machaira], and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12–13). Scripture precisely and thoroughly penetrates the believer’s mind, soul, and heart.
Every Christian who has been saved for any length of time has experienced times of being sharply and deeply convicted by reading a particular Bible passage or hearing it preached or taught. Every experienced Christian also knows that during times of disobedience he is strongly tempted to forsake Bible study and worship and finds that fellowship with faithful believers becomes less attractive and comfortable. Looked at from the opposite side, decreased desire to study God’s Word, to worship Him, and to be with His people is reliable evidence of unconfessed and unforsaken sin. It is for that reason that a Bible-teaching, Bible-believing, and Bible-obeying church is never a haven for persistent sinners. As Jesus explained the principle to Nicodemus, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20).
Scripture has the negative ministry of tearing down and destroying that which is sinful and false as well as of building up and improving that which is righteous and true. Just as in medicine, infection and contamination must be excised before healing can begin. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.… Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:26, 31).
Reproving the wrongdoing of his people is as much a pastor’s responsibility as helping build them up in righteousness. At the beginning of the next chapter of this letter, Paul wrote, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). The first two of those three admonitions are negative, the first one being the verb form of elegmos (reproof). God’s minister, like God’s Word, must reprove sin and falsehood.
Scripture is the divine plumb line by which every thought, principle, act, and belief is to be measured. Paul reminded the Corinthian church what he doubtless had taught them many times. “We are not like many,” he said, “peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.… We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). Luke commended God-fearing Jews in Berea because they “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). As every preacher and teacher should be, Paul and Silas were not offended but were greatly pleased that everything they said was measured against God’s Word.
“I have more insight than all my teachers,” the psalmist testified before the Lord, “for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts” (Ps. 119:99–100). “From Thy precepts I get understanding,” he continues a few verses later; “therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (vv. 104–105). God’s Word steers us away from sin and toward righteousness.
Isaiah warned the people of Israel to “hate every false way.” “And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [light]” (Isa. 8:19–20).
When we are constrained by God’s Word to reprove a sinning brother or sister, we should do so in humility and love. That always was Paul’s practice. “I do not write these things to shame you,” he told immature and disobedient believers in Corinth, “but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14). If the holy Lord obligates Himself to reprove and discipline His disobedient children in love (Heb. 12:5–11), how much more are His children obligated to reprove each other in love.
It is just as important, although more difficult, to be gracious when we receive reproof, whether directly by God’s Word or from other believers who call us to biblical account. “For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light,” an Old Testament saint professed, “and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23). Like him, every believer should be as grateful for the reproving work of the Word as for its encouragement. It is impossible to genuinely seek righteousness and truth if we do not hate and renounce sin and falsehood.
the correcting scripture
for correction, (3:16d)
Epanorthōsis (correction) is used only here in the New Testament and refers to the restoration of something to its original and proper condition. In secular Greek literature it was used of setting upright an object that had fallen down and of helping a person back on his feet after stumbling. After exposing and condemning false belief and sinful conduct in believers, Scripture then builds them up through its divine correction.
Correction is Scripture’s positive provision for those who accept its negative reproof. “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,” Peter admonishes, “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:1–2).
Perhaps the most extensive praise of God’s Word in all of Scripture is found in Psalm 119. Among the many well-known verses in that beautiful tribute to God and His Word, the unknown psalmist wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word. With all my heart I have sought Thee; do not let me wander from Thy commandments. Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:9–11).
“If we confess our sins,” the Lord assures us through John, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace,” Paul told the Ephesian elders, “which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When submitted to the Lord’s marvelous grace, our areas of greatest weakness can, through correction, become areas of greatest strength.
Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1–2). In order to make His people obedient, useful, and effective in His service, the Lord has to trim away not only things that are sinful but also things that are useless. He may take away things that are perfectly good in themselves, even things that seem necessary, but which He knows are a hindrance to our spiritual growth and service. They can sap time, attention, and effort from the work He has for us to do. Like His discipline, this process sometimes “for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful,” but also like discipline, “to those who have been trained by it” the Lord’s wise and gracious cropping of superfluous branches “afterwards … yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).
As with reproof, godly believers, especially pastors and teachers, are often the channel through which the Word brings correction. Earlier in this letter, Paul reminded Timothy that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, emphasis added). In his letter to believers at Galatia, the apostle gives similar counsel: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Despite the dreadful calamities with which God allowed him to be afflicted, Job affirmed to his friend Eliphaz that “he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9).
the scripture that trains for righteousness
for training in righteousness; (3:16e)
Training translates paideia, which had the original meaning of bringing up and training a child (paidion), but it came to be used of any sort of training. It also is rendered “correcting” (2 Tim. 2:25) and “discipline” (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 7, 11). In the context of verses 16–17, it clearly refers to training in the broader and probably more positive sense, since the negatives are covered by reproof. It is directed at the ideas of instruction and building up. Until the Lord takes us to be with Himself, His Word is to continue training us in righteousness.
As with teaching, reproof, and correction, godly believers—especially leaders in the church—are instruments through which Scripture provides training for God’s people. After reminding Timothy that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5), Paul assured him that “in pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (v. 6, emphasis added).
Peter gives similar counsel to believers: “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23–25).
And just as milk nourishes a baby in ways it does not understand, so God’s Word nourishes us in ways we often do not understand. No matter how deep our understanding of Scripture may be, we still should be able to affirm with the psalmist, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1). We should rejoice with Paul that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
the enabling scripture
that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (3:17)
The Bible can be of great value to an unbeliever. Most important, as discussed in the previous chapter, it will lead to salvation those who come to trust in the Savior and Lord it proclaims. But Paul is speaking here of Scripture’s special value for preachers, who are able, with the Spirit’s guidance, to understand and to proclaim the truths of God’s Word.
The apostle is addressing the man of God, a technical phrase used only of Timothy in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it is frequently used as a title for one who proclaimed the Word of God. In this context, man of God refers most directly to Timothy and, by extension, to all preachers.
Artios (adequate) refers to persons who are complete, capable, and proficient in everything they are called to be or do. In Christ “you have been made complete,” Paul tells Colossian believers (Col. 2:10). The preacher who carefully studies and sincerely believes and obeys the truths of Scripture will stand strong in living and defending the faith.
Equipped for every good work could be paraphrased, “enabled to meet all demands of righteousness.” By his life he will affirm the power of the Word to lead men to salvation and to equip them for righteous living and for faithful service to the Lord. When the man of God is himself equipped by the Word, he can then equip the believers under his care. Just as “we are [the Lord’s] workmanship,” Paul explains, we also should be doing His work. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Christ says to all those who belong to Him what He said to the Twelve: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Whether our purpose is to lead men and women to saving faith in Jesus Christ, to teach God’s truth to believers, to refute error in the church, to correct and rebuild erring believers, or to train believers to live righteously, our supreme and sufficient resource is God’s Word. It not only gives us the information to teach but also shapes us into living examples of that truth.
One cannot help wondering why so many evangelical pastors of our day, like many Christians throughout history, have lost sight of that foundational truth. Every church, everywhere and in every time, should be totally committed to preaching, teaching, and implementing the Word, thereby pleasing and exalting the gracious and sovereign God who has revealed it.
Through the convincing and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is God’s own provision for every spiritual truth and moral principle that men need to be saved, to be equipped to live righteously in this present life and to hear one day in the life to come, “Well done, good and faithful servant, … enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt. 25:21).
16 Without any conjunction (such as “for”), Paul elaborates the supreme value of Scripture. He focuses primarily on two aspects (with emphasis on the second element): first, “all Scripture” (more likely than “every Scripture”; see Notes)—in the original context, the OT (but see 1 Ti 5:18; 2 Pe 3:16)—is “God-breathed” (theopneustos, GK 2535; NASB, “inspired by God”). The term, an apparent Pauline coinage, is found in subsequent Greek literature (Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Sib. Or. 5:308; 5:407 [ca. AD 90–130]; cf. Homer, Iliad, 20.110), but the concept of the creative, life-giving breath of God and the image of the word of God as “breathed” by God have deep OT roots (Ge 1–2; Ps 33:6; Isa 42:5; cf. M. R. Austin, “How Biblical Is ‘The Inspiration of Scripture?’ ” ExpTim 93 : 77–79). The notion of inspiration is not foreign to the OT (Nu 24:2; Hos 9:7). The present passage is one of the major texts on the divine inspiration of Scripture (see B. B. Warfield’s classic study, “God-Inspired Scripture,” Presbyterian & Reformed Review 11 : 89–130).
Second, because it has God as its source (cf. Warfield, “God-Inspired Scripture,” 293–94), Scripture is “useful” (ōphelimos, GK 6068; cf. 1 Ti 4:8; Tit 3:8) in a variety of ways (cf. Ro 15:4; 1 Co 10:11). Employing a symmetrical literary device called “chiasm,” with the two positive features enveloping the two negative ones, Paul notes that Scripture is “useful” for (a) “teaching” (didaskalia, GK 1436, a general term; see comments at v. 10 and at 4:3); (b) “rebuking” (elegmon, GK 1791; cf. Sir 21:6; 32:17; 48:7); (b’) “correcting” (epanorthōsin, GK 2061; cf. 1 Esd 8:52; 1 Macc 14:34; Josephus, Ant. 11.157; 16.263; Epictetus, Disc. 3.21.15); and (a’) “training [paideia, GK 4082; cf. Eph 6:4; Heb 12:5–11] in righteousness.” As in child rearing, Christian growth entails both nurture and correction (cf. Eph 6:4).
17 The end result of such thorough biblical training will be that the “man of God”—Christians in general and specifically church leaders—will be “adequate” (artios, GK 787; cf. Philo, Plant. 125), “complete [exērtismenos, GK 1992; cf. Ac 21:5; the NIV conflates the two terms to “thoroughly equipped”] for every good work” (see esp. 2:21; Tit 3:1).While salvation comes through faith in Christ (2 Ti 3:15; cf. 1:9; Tit 3:5), the purpose of a person’s calling is good works, a major theme in the PE (1 Ti 2:10; 3:1; 5:10, 25; 6:18; 2 Ti 2:21; Tit 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14).
Once again the message is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere (Eph 2:8–10). (1) Proper Christian training must first be grounded in Scripture (not merely the passing on of humanistic principles or values); (2) it must be thorough—there are no shortcuts to true spiritual growth—including both instruction and correction (rather than focusing unilaterally on encouragement); and (3) it is not merely for a person’s own edification or intellectual stimulation but for equipment for ministry to others.
3:16–17 / The reminder of Timothy’s long knowledge of the Holy Scriptures causes Paul to conclude this appeal by reflecting on the divine origins of Scripture, hence their total usefulness for Timothy’s ministry.
First, he affirms Scripture’s divine origins: All (or “Every”) Scripture is God-breathed. Some wish to translate this “Every scripture inspired by God is also profitable” (asv; cf. gnb margin). If so, then it would probably be a further explanation of verse 15, meaning something like: “Scripture makes one wise unto salvation; indeed every God-inspired Scripture is also useful for instruction …” However, on the basis of a similar construction in 1 Timothy 4:4, and in light of the context, Paul probably intended to emphasize that the Scripture that is “able to make you wise for salvation” is in its totality God-breathed (reflecting the creative activity of God; cf. rsv, gnb, “inspired by God”), that is, of divine origin. (Cf. the “commandments of men” in Titus 1:14.) In so doing he is not offering a theory of inspiration; he is, rather, reflecting the common tradition of Judaism (cf. 2 Pet. 1:21).
Second, he affirms that all Scripture is useful for all the tasks of his ministry—and this is why the emphasis on its divine origins. The tasks outlined are a clear reflection of the historical setting of the letter.
For teaching: This is Timothy’s primary responsibility—to use the Scriptures to give sound instruction in the gospel to God’s people (cf. 1 Tim. 4:6, 13, 16; 6:3).
For rebuking: This is the other side of the task; he must use Scripture to expose the errors of the false teachers and their teachings.
For correcting: This word occurs only here in the nt. It is a companion of rebuking, but emphasizes the behavioral, ethical side of things.
And training in righteousness (paideia; cf. 2:25; Titus 2:12): This corresponds to correcting, as its positive side.
Thus all Scripture, God-breathed as it is, is useful for Timothy’s twofold task of teaching the truth of the gospel with its right behavior and of resisting the errors and immoral behavior of the false teaching.
But Paul is not quite finished. He adds a purpose, or perhaps here a result, clause to verse 16, whose intent is not altogether clear: so that the man of God (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (cf. 2:21; Titus 1:16; 3:1). Such a clause should point to those receiving the instruction. However, the context, plus the use of the title man of God in the singular, almost demand that Paul is, rather, concerned with Timothy, as the one responsible for giving the instruction. The clause in a certain sense doesn’t follow; yet Paul’s concern is clear enough. By continually nurturing his own life in the Scriptures that he is to use in his ministry, Timothy will be thoroughly equipped (“able to meet all demands,” BAGD) for every good work, which here means not only Christian behavior but the ministry of the gospel as well, and especially points forward to 4:1–5.
With these words the appeal that began in 1:6 is brought to a conclusion. Paul urges loyalty—to his (Timothy’s) own calling, to himself (Paul), to Christ and his gospel, and to his ministry, including the teaching of Scripture—and to continue in loyalty despite suffering and in the face of opposition. But these words also prepare the way for what follows—a final charge that brings all these things together before he reveals to him the real reason for the letter (4:6–16).
3:16–17. All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully qualified, equipped for every good work.
Paul’s mention of the ‘sacred writings’ in the previous verse leads him to further reflection on the nature of Scripture and its role in the life of the church. Paul begins by affirming the divine origin of Scripture: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed …’ ‘God-breathed,’ or ‘breathed out by God’ (ESV) is a literal translation of the Greek word that has traditionally been translated ‘inspired’. The word emphasizes that Scripture comes from the very mouth of God. Although the Word of God comes through human instruments, God is its ultimate author and source (cf. Heb. 3:7; 2 Peter 1:20–21). What Scripture says, God says.
Some interpreters understand ‘Scripture’ in this verse, in the light of the ‘sacred writings’ in verse 15, to be a reference to the Old Testament. But it is significant that Paul uses a different word in this verse. The apostolic writers understood the New Testament as well as the Old to be Scripture. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted from Luke and referred to it as ‘Scripture’. Peter clearly refers to Paul’s own writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15–16). Paul’s use of the word ‘all’ at the beginning of this verse indicates that he has in mind the totality of divine revelation. Throughout 1 and 2 Timothy, he has repeated his refrain that Timothy is to remain in his teaching, the effect of which is to lead people to salvation, instruct them in godly living and equip God’s servants for ministry. That repeated refrain forms a clear parallel to what Paul says in these verses.
After briefly stating the nature of Scripture, Paul lists its usefulness, all of which must be seen in addition to its function of ‘making wise unto salvation’. First, Scripture is ‘profitable for teaching’. Once again, as in verse 10, teaching heads the list, focusing on Timothy’s primary responsibility. Secondly, Scripture is useful ‘for reproof’, meaning the exposing and rebuking of the opponents and their errors. Thirdly, Scripture is profitable ‘for correction’, or for setting right that which is in error. Fourthly, the Word of God is useful ‘for training in righteousness’, leading God’s people to that holiness in doctrine and in life that pleases the Lord.
After listing Scripture’s usefulness, Paul concludes by stating its purpose: ‘… that the man of God may be fully qualified, equipped for every good work’. When it comes to the ongoing life of the church, the purpose of Scripture is to make God’s people competent and capable, providing them with the knowledge and character necessary to do his work in the world. Paul directly states this with regard to Timothy, or the Christian leader (‘the man of God’). But certainly this applies to all believers as well. All are to be equipped to minister for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
16. All Scripture; or, the whole of Scripture; though it makes little difference as to the meaning. He follows out that commendation which he had glanced at briefly. First, he commends the Scripture on account of its authority; and secondly, on account of the utility which springs from it. In order to uphold the authority of the Scripture, he declares that it is divinely inspired; for, if it be so, it is beyond all controversy that men ought to receive it with reverence. This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare. Whoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him, first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.
If it be objected, “How can this be known?” I answer, both to disciples and to teachers, God is made known to be the author of it by the revelation of the same Spirit. Moses and the prophets did not utter at random what we have received from their hand, but, speaking at the suggestion of God, they boldly and fearlessly testified, what was actually true, that it was the mouth of the Lord that spake. The same Spirit, therefore, who made Moses and the prophets certain of their calling, now also testifies to our hearts, that he has employed them as his servants to instruct us. Accordingly, we need not wonder if there are many who doubt as to the Author of the Scripture; for, although the majesty of God is displayed in it, yet none but those who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit have eyes to perceive what ought, indeed, to have been visible to all, and yet is visible to the elect alone. This is the first clause, that we owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God; because it has proceeded from him alone, and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it.
And is profitable. Now follows the second part of the commendation, that the Scripture contains a perfect rule of a good and happy life. When he says this, he means that it is corrupted by sinful abuse, when this usefulness is not sought. And thus he indirectly censures those unprincipled men who fed the people with vain speculations, as with wind. For this reason we may, in the present day, condemn all who, disregarding edification, agitate questions which, though they are ingenious, are also useless. Whenever ingenious trifles of that kind are brought forward, they must be warded off by this shield, that “Scripture is profitable.” Hence it follows, that it is unlawful to treat it in an unprofitable manner; for the Lord, when he gave us the Scriptures, did not intend either to gratify our curiosity, or to encourage ostentation, or to give occasion for chatting and talking, but to do us good; and, therefore, the right use of Scripture must always tend to what is profitable.
For instruction. Here he enters into a detailed statement of the various and manifold advantages derived from the Scriptures. And, first of all, he mentions instruction, which ranks above all the rest; for it will be to no purpose that you exhort or reprove, if you have not previously instructed. But because “instruction,” taken by itself, is often of little avail, he adds reproof and correction.
It would be too long to explain what we are to learn from the Scriptures; and, in the preceding verse, he has given a brief summary of them under the word faith. The most valuable knowledge, therefore, is “faith in Christ.” Next follows instruction for regulating the life, to which are added the excitements of exhortations and reproofs. Thus he who knows how to use the Scriptures properly, is in want of nothing for salvation, or for a holy life. Reproof and correction differ little from each other, except that the latter proceeds from the former; for the beginning of repentance is the knowledge of our sinfulness, and a conviction of the judgment of God. Instruction in righteousness means the rule of a good and holy life.
16. There is a twofold problem in the interpretation of this verse. First, what is the precise meaning of graphē (Scripture), and second, should theopneustos (God-breathed) be rendered as a predicate (as av, niv and rsv), or as a qualifying adjective, ‘every scripture inspired by God is also profitable’ (rv)? The second problem cannot properly be settled until the first is decided, although in some aspects the two problems are inseparable. Graphē could mean any writing, but the uniform New Testament use of it with reference to Scripture (i.e. the Old Testament) determines its meaning here. But does it mean Scripture as a whole or separate passages within Scripture? The latter meaning is in accordance with the general use of the singular noun, and must therefore be given due weight in the present passage. Yet the crucial factor must be the meaning of all (pasa). The absence of the article may point to the sense ‘every’, but there are analogous cases where pas is used in a semi-technical phrase and where the meaning ‘every’ is ruled out, e.g. Acts 2:36 where all the house of Israel is clearly demanded (see also Eph. 2:21; 3:15; Col. 4:12). Yet it may well be that in all these exceptions the pas draws attention to the partitive aspect of the expression, and, if that is so, the present phrase may mean Scripture as viewed in each separate part of it.
The second problem cannot be decided purely on grammatical grounds for both the readings mentioned above are grammatically possible. It would be more natural for the adjective, if attributive, to precede the noun, i.e. ‘every inspired scripture’ rather than ‘every scripture inspired’, but the latter is not impossible. The context itself must decide. Simpson maintained that the adjectival interpretation ‘presents a curious specimen of anticlimax’. It is difficult to see why the apostle should need to assure Timothy that inspired scriptures are profitable. On the other hand, it is not easy to see why Timothy should need to be assured, at this point, of the inspiration of the Scriptures. One explanation is that it is the profitableness not the inspiration which Paul is pressing on Timothy (cf. Bernard). After all he must have been assured of the inspiration of Scripture since his youth. The significance of the conjunction (kai) has some bearing on the matter. Its normal meaning is ‘and’ as in niv and is useful, whereas the rv has to translate it as ‘also’ which seems in the context to be less meaningful. Comparison with the use of kai in 1 Timothy 4:4 would support the meaning ‘and’ here and this would seem to be the most probable. While not ruling out altogether the rv rendering, it is rather more in harmony with both grammar and syntax to translate as the niv and rsv have done. Timothy is not therefore being informed of the inspiration of Scripture, for this was a doctrine commonly admitted by Jews, but he is being reminded that the basis of its profitableness lies in its inspired character.
Four spheres are now mentioned in which the usefulness of Scripture can be seen. The first two relate to doctrine and the other two to practice. Useful for teaching refers to positive teaching, while rebuking represents the negative aspect. The Scripture contains both encouragement and warning, and this double aspect is always present. On the ethical plane, the Scripture provides both correcting and training, again stressing both negative and positive aspects. All these uses of Scripture were admitted by Judaism; indeed the advanced ethics of the Jews was due to its basis in the Old Testament. Since the Christians took over the same Scriptures, the same profitableness applies. But for them each one of these uses became more comprehensive as the Old Testament teaching was illumined by the life and teaching of Christ.
The Origin and Purpose of Scripture (verses 15b–17)
Two fundamental truths about Scripture are asserted here. The first concerns its origin (where it comes from) and the second its purpose (what it is intended for).
First, ‘All scripture is inspired by God’; it is God-breathed. Some scholars, as in neb, have translated the opening words of verse 16: ‘every inspired Scripture has its use’. Such a rendering would place a double limitation on Scripture. It would suggest that not all Scripture is inspired, and that therefore not all Scripture is profitable, but only those parts which are inspired. Since the Greek sentence has no main verb, it is certainly legitimate, grammatically speaking, to supply the verb ‘is’ after, rather than before, the adjective ‘God-inspired’ and so translate ‘every God-inspired Scripture is profitable’. The argument against this construction, however, is that it does not do justice to the little word ‘and’ (kai) which comes between the two adjectives ‘God-inspired’ and ‘profitable’. This ‘and’ suggests that Paul is asserting two truths about Scripture, namely that it is both inspired and profitable, not merely one. For this reason we should render the sentence: ‘all Scripture is God-inspired and profitable’.
What does he mean by ‘all Scripture’? It seems to me not at all impossible that by this comprehensive expression he is including the two sources of Timothy’s knowledge just mentioned, namely ‘what you have learned’ (sc. from me) and ‘the sacred writings’. It is true that nowhere does the apostle explicitly call his Epistles ‘Scripture’. Nevertheless, on a number of occasions he gets very near it, and he certainly directs that his letters be read publicly in the Christian assemblies, no doubt alongside Old Testament readings (e.g. Col. 4:16; 1 Thes. 5:27). Several times he claims to be speaking in the name and with the authority of Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 2:17; 13:3; Gal. 4:14), and calls his message ‘the word of God’ (e.g. 1 Thes. 2:13). Once he says that, in communicating to others what God has revealed to him, he uses ‘words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:13). This is a claim to inspiration, indeed to verbal inspiration, which is the distinctive characteristic of ‘Scripture’. Peter clearly regarded Paul’s letters as Scripture, for in referring to them he calls the Old Testament ‘the other scriptures’ (2 Pet. 3:16). In addition, it seems evident that Paul envisaged the possibility of a Christian supplement to the Old Testament because he could combine a quotation from Deuteronomy (25:4) with a saying of Jesus recorded by Luke (10:7) and call both alike ‘Scripture’ (1 Tim. 5:18).
His definition of Scripture, of ‘all scripture’, is that it is ‘inspired by God’. The single Greek word theopneustos would be literally translated ‘God-breathed’ and indicates not that Scripture itself or its human authors were breathed into by God, but that Scripture was breathed or breathed out by God. ‘Inspiration’ is doubtless a convenient term to use, but ‘spiration’ or even ‘expiration’ would convey the meaning of the Greek adjective more accurately. Scripture is not to be thought of as already in existence when (subsequently) God breathed into it, but as itself brought into existence by the breath or Spirit of God. There is no ‘theory’ or explanation of inspiration here, for no reference is made to the human authors, who (Peter says) ‘moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’ (2 Pet. 1:21). Nevertheless, it is clear from many passages that inspiration, however the process operated, did not destroy the individuality or the active cooperation of the human writers. All that is stated here is the fact of inspiration, that all Scripture is God-breathed. It originated in God’s mind and was communicated from God’s mouth by God’s breath or Spirit. It is therefore rightly termed ‘the Word of God’, for God spoke it. Indeed, as the prophets used to say, ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken it’.
Secondly, Paul explains the purpose of Scripture: it is ‘profitable’. And this is precisely because it is inspired by God. Only its divine origin secures and explains its human profit. In order to show what this is, Paul uses two expressions. The first is in verse 15: ‘The sacred writings’, he says, ‘are able to instruct you for salvation.’ The Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation. Its over-arching purpose is to teach not facts of science (e.g. the nature of moon rock) which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which no space exploration can discover but only God can reveal. The whole Bible unfolds the divine scheme of salvation—man’s creation in God’s image, his fall through disobedience into sin and under judgment, God’s continuing love for him in spite of his rebellion, God’s eternal plan to save him through his covenant of grace with a chosen people, culminating in Christ; the coming of Christ as the Saviour, who died to bear man’s sin, was raised from death, was exalted to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit; and man’s rescue first from guilt and alienation, then from bondage, and finally from mortality in his progressive experience of the liberty of God’s children. None of this would be known apart from the biblical revelation. ‘Scripture contains the perfect rule of a good and happy life.’
More particularly, the Bible instructs for salvation ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’. So, since the Bible is a book of salvation, and since salvation is through Christ, the Bible focuses its attention upon Christ. The Old Testament foretells and foreshadows him in many and various ways; the Gospels tell the story of his birth and life, his words and works, his death and resurrection; the Acts describe what he continued to do and teach through his chosen apostles, especially in spreading the gospel and establishing the church from Jerusalem to Rome; the Epistles display the full glory of his person and work, and apply it to the life of the Christian and the church; while the Revelation depicts Christ sharing the throne of God now and coming soon to consummate his salvation and judgment. This comprehensive portraiture of Jesus Christ is intended to elicit our ‘faith’ in him, in order that by faith we may be saved.
Paul now goes on to show that the profit of Scripture relates to both creed and conduct (16b, 17). The false teachers divorced them; we must marry them. The neb expresses the matter clearly. As for our creed, Scripture is profitable ‘for teaching the truth and refuting error’. As for our conduct, it is profitable ‘for reformation of manners and discipline in right living’. In each pair the negative and positive counterparts are combined. Do we hope, either in our own lives or in our teaching ministry, to overcome error and grow in truth, to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it is to Scripture that we must primarily turn, for Scripture is ‘profitable’ for these things.
Indeed, Scripture is the chief means which God employs to bring ‘the man of God’ to maturity. Who is intended by this expression is not explained. It may be a general term for every Christian, since the words themselves mean no more than ‘the man who belongs to God’ (neb). On the other hand, it was an Old Testament title of respect applied to some of God’s spokesmen like Moses (Dt. 33:1), David (2 Ch. 8:14) and Elijah (1 Ki. 17:18), and Paul specifically addressed Timothy by this phrase in his first letter (6:11). It may therefore refer here to men called to positions of responsibility in the church, and especially to ministers whose task it is, under the authority of Scripture, to teach and refute, to reform and discipline. At all events, it is only by a diligent study of Scripture that the man of God may become ‘complete, equipped for every good work’.
Looking back over this chapter as a whole, we can appreciate the relevance of its message to our pluralist and permissive society. The ‘times of stress’ in which we seem to be living are very distressing. Sometimes one wonders if the world and the church have gone mad, so strange are their views, and so lax their standards. Some Christians are swept from their moorings by the floodtide of sin and error. Others go into hiding, as offering the best hope of survival, the only alternative to surrender. But neither of these is the Christian way. ‘But as for you,’ Paul says to us as he did to Timothy, ‘stand firm. Never mind if the pressure to conform is very strong. Never mind if you are young, inexperienced, timid and weak. Never mind if you find yourself alone in your witness. You have followed my teaching so far. Now continue in what you have come to believe. You know the biblical credentials of your faith. Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. Even in the midst of these grievous times in which evil men and impostors go on from bad to worse, it can make you complete and it can equip you for your work. Let the word of God make you a man of God! Remain loyal to it and it will lead you on into Christian maturity.’
Vers. 16, 17. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.—
Inspiration of Scripture:—The word Inspiration itself is evidently a figure. It may be illustrated by another word. “Inspiration” is a breathing into: “influence” is a flowing into: neither word is self-explanatory; the former, like the latter, may clearly admit of degrees and modifications. The word Inspiration occurs twice in the English Version of the Bible. “But there is a spirit πνεῦμα in man: and the inspiration πνοὴ of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God θεόπνευστος, and is profitable for doctrine,” &c. (ver. 16). In the one passage instruction is the chief thought, in the other edification. The word occurs twice also in the Prayer-book. “Grant to us Thy humble servants that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good,” &c. (Collect for the fifth Sunday after Easter). “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee,” &c. (Collect in the Communion service). In both these sanctification is the end in view. Definition is still wanting. In several passages of the Epistles (as, for example, Rom. 15:4, and 2 Peter 1:20, 21) strong terms are employed to describe the objects and uses of Old Testament Scripture as a whole, and its source in the agency of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can be more inclusive than St. Paul’s ὅσα προεγράφη, nothing more emphatic than St. Peter’s ἐλάλησαν ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἄνθρωροι. Yet definition is still wanting alike of the word and of the thing. Theories of Inspiration have been many, but it is not in conjecture or in reasoning that our idea of it should be sought. The only true view of Inspiration will be that which is the net result of a lifelong study of Scripture itself, with all freedom in registering its phenomena, and all candour in pondering the question, “What saith it concerning itself?” It is easy to see (and the Church of the present day is honest in avowing it) that the real truth must lie somewhere between two extremes—the extreme of verbal inspiration on the one side, and the extreme of a merely human composition on the other.
- Against the idea of a verbal inspiration of Scripture we are warned by many considerations. Amongst these we may place—1. Its utter unlikeness to all God’s dealings in nature and grace. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom”—freedom, not bondage; freedom, not rigidity. 2. The language of the New Testament as to the difference between “letter” and “spirit,” between γράμμα and πνεῦμα—the deadness of the one, the power of the other. As soon as Inspiration itself is tied to the clause and the sentence, to the precise shape and form of the utterance, and the black and white page of the written or printed book, it too is turned from the πονὴ into the χειρόγραφον, and has lost the very φορὰ of the Spirit which made it a προφητεία (2 Pet. 1:21). 3. Such passages, for example, as the opening verses of St. Luke’s Gospel, which speak only of diligent research and a thoughtful judgment as his guides in composing; or St. Paul’s expressions in the seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, as to his speaking not always with authority, but sometimes in the tone of suggestion and advice; or again, St. Peter’s remarks upon the Epistles of St. Paul, which in the same breath he describes, by clear implication, as “scriptures,” and yet characterises with a freedom which would be irreverent and almost impertinent if each line of those “scriptures” had been verbally inspired. 4. The observation of differences of style and method between one Scripture writer and another; the employment, for example, by one of irony and sarcasm, by another of no weapons but those of simple persuasion. 5. The fearful importance attached to each reading and each rendering of each verse and clause of Scripture, if one was, and another was not; the very word dictated or the very thought breathed from heaven. 6. Also the utter grotesqueness of such an idea as the revelation of science, whether astronomy, geology, or ethnology—which yet there would have been if, where such objects are involved, the phrases and the sentences had been literally and verbally inspired of God; implying an anticipation, perhaps by many centuries, of discoveries for which God had made provision in His other gift of reason, and which it would have been contrary to all His dealings thus to forestall. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity”; that which He had given faculties for finding out in time, He would not interpose, before the time came, to precipitate. 7. The terrible risk to mankind of pinning down the faith to statements utterly indifferent to spiritual profiting, which yet, if philosophically accurate, must for whole ages bear the appearance of error. And who shall guarantee the Bible, even if accurately written up to the science of the nineteenth century, from being condemned by the science of the twentieth?
- If such are the confusions and contradictions of the one extreme, the other extreme is yet more perilous. The practical elimination (now so common) of the Divine element in Scripture is fatal in every sense to its inspiration. 1. It reduces Scripture to the level (at best) of works of human genius; and, when this is done, makes the question, for each book, a comparative one, in which some books would be exposed to a disparaging judgment. 2. It sends us back to human reasoning, which is on many topics (such, for example, as immortality, forgiveness, and spiritual grace) human guessing, for all our information on things of gravest concern. 3. It contradicts (1) express declarations of the New Testament Scriptures as to the Divine authority of the Old, as well as (2) express assertion of Divine illumination, promised and experienced, in the New Testament writers themselves. 4. It does violence to the continuous doctrine of the Church of all ages, which has from the very first been express and peremptory in its view of the Divinity of the Scripture. 5. It leaves us practically destitute, even of a revelation. Because, though there might be a revelation without an inspiration (that is, a gospel of Christ, brought into the world by Him, and by Him communicated to His apostles, and by them to after ages, without a separate inspiration of the writers of its records), yet, as a matter of fact, it is by Scripture that we test our revelation, and that which shakes the authority of Scripture shakes the certainty of the revelation which Scripture enshrines.
III. Between these two extremes lies somewhere the very truth itself about Inspiration. It would be arbitrary to define it so precisely as to unchristianise those who cannot see with us. That there is both a human and also a Divine element in the Bible is quite certain. Some things we may say with confidence. 1. Inspiration left the writer free to use his own phraseology, even his mode of illustrating and arguing. 2. It did not level the characteristic features of different minds. No one could imagine the Epistle to the Galatians written by St. John, or the Epistle of St. James written by St. Paul. 3. It did not supersede the necessity of diligence in investigating facts, nor the possibility of discrepancies in recording them; though it is more than probable that most or all of these would be reconciled if we knew all. 4. While it left the man free in the exercise of all that was distinctive in his nature, education, and habits of thought, it communicated nevertheless an elevation of tone, an earnestness of purpose, a force and fire of holy influence, quite apart and different from that observable in common men. 5. It communicated knowledge to the man of things otherwise indiscoverable, and also to the writer of things which it was the will of God to say by him to the hearer or reader.
- While we refrain from definition, it is our duty as Christians to form a high conception of the thing itself for which Inspiration is the name. 1. Let us think what would have become of the παραφήκη itself, under whichever or whatever dispensation, if it had been left to depend upon oral transmission. 2. Let us give weight to the passages (some of them quoted above) which assert Inspiration in the strongest possible terms. 3. Most of all, let us live so much in the study of Scripture, as to acquire that reverent and devout conception of it which is ever deepest and strongest in those who best know it. A Christian man able to treat the Bible slightingly would be a contradiction in terms. (Dean Vaughan.)
Inspiration:—The word which is here rendered “inspired of God” is common enough in heathen writers, but this is the only place in which it occurs in Holy Scripture. As the word was common in heathen writers, so is the idea. “Best,” says an ancient Greek poet, “is the word of inspired wisdom.” Another Greek writer speaks of “dreams inspired of God.” The Roman orator Cicero says, “No man was ever great without a certain Divine inspiration.” This last example reminds us that in the Bible also inspiration is in the first instance the attribute of men, not of books. The prophet in the Old Testament is also called the man of the Spirit. Men from God, the Second Epistle of Peter tells us, spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost. There is a spirit in man, we read in Job, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. The Divine breath, for that is the idea contained in the words “inspired of God,” is first in a human soul; it is only through the soul that it can be communicated to any word or work. Scripture can only be a body of inspired writings because it is the work of a body of inspired men. Now let us approach the subject from this side, and I think it will lead us to some serviceable truths. All men are not equally capable of inspiration—some have a much greater fitness than others for receiving the Spirit of God. If we wish to see the perfect type of inspiration—inspiration not limited or hampered by any unfitness in its instrument—we must find one in whom there is no sin, but an entire and perfect sympathy with the mind and will of God. One such there is in Scripture, and one only—the man Christ Jesus. No one ever had the Spirit without measure except Him; in other words, no one ever walked the earth besides who was in the true and full sense inspired of God. The Divine breath was in Him, and Him only, the life of every thought and word. Hence the words of Christ have a solitary and supreme value. He says so Himself: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” The difficulties which are felt at the present time in connection with inspiration should all be brought under review in this light. Every scripture, the text tells us, at least by implication, has a Divine breath in it; there is a Divine purpose which it has once served, and which, at a certain stage of human progress, it may profitably serve still; but not every scripture is equally inspired; not every scripture has the final and permanent validity of the words of Christ; and as long as these last find their way to our hearts and work the will of Christ in us, we need not disquiet ourselves because we cannot define the inspiration of Esther, for instance, or of Second Chronicles. When we take the words of Christ as the perfect type of inspired words, and the record of them as the perfect type of inspired Scripture, we see what the essential contents and purpose of inspiration must be. Christ’s words are not monotonous; they are inexhaustible in their fulness; but in them all there is the undertone: One thing is needful. Christ is always saying the same things, and about the same things. The nature of God, the will of God, the true life and destiny of man—these and all that gathers round these are His theme. He aims at making men wise, but it is wise unto salvation. He never taught a school of history or of science, or even of speculative theology. It was His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him, to declare that will, to win others to do it likewise. We cannot come nearer than the study of His words brings us to a true idea of inspiration; and if what I have said is true at all, it follows that inspiration has to do only with the will of God. The man of the Spirit is not necessarily an infallible observer, an infallible scientist, an infallible historian; in matters unconnected with his inspiration he may share the ignorance or the prejudices of his uninspired contemporaries; but he is, in the measure of his inspiration, an infallible interpreter of the will of God. Could anything be more true than that the words of Christ are profitable for doctrine, or to put it in commoner words, useful for teaching? The truth about God and man and all spiritual realities is revealed in them, and brought home to the mind and heart. They have filled and fertilised the intellect of Christendom for centuries. Are they not useful also for reproof, or more exactly, for conviction? Are there any words in the world that can quicken a dead conscience and make it sting, like His? How many of us have been revealed to ourselves as we listened to Him, and been compelled to cry like the woman of Samaria—“Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did”? Are they not profitable also for correction, for the putting right of what is wrong, and for discipline in righteousness? But, some one may say, though all this is plain enough in regard to Christ’s words, it is very difficult to apply it to everything in the Bible—for instance, to the historical books; yet the text speaks of every scripture. That is true, and no doubt by every scripture the apostle has the Old Testament in view; there was no other scripture to speak of when he wrote. But I think a little patience and attention will show that this general and practical definition of inspiration is applicable to the whole of the Bible; and if the Bible, from first to last, has this inspiring and educative power for practical spiritual purposes, we must not deny its inspiration on other and alien grounds. Let us take examples from the historical books to make clear what I mean. There are parts of the Old Testament that belong to the clear daylight of history—for example, the story of the last years of David. That story is told in 2 Sam., from chap. 11 onward. I hardly need to recall it even by mentioning the names of Bathsheba, Uriah, Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, Ahithophel, Joab, Shimei. No one knows who wrote it, but it is not possible to doubt that it rests on the authority of some one in immediate contact with the facts. Now consider how it might have been written. A newspaper reporter often has to deal with the same materials, and the chances are a thousand to one that in his hands they minister to the defilement and degradation of the community. A secular historian would probably handle them lightly, as the inevitable disorders of an oriental despotism—the natural result of such a situation as David occupied. In neither case would there be room to speak of inspiration. But as it stands in the Bible, that terrible record of crime and its consequences, is in the full sense of the word inspired. It is not written by a sensational reporter, or a pragmatical historian, but by a man of the Spirit. We see lust and blood in it, not with the sensual eye which feels the fascination of moral horrors, but with the holy eye of God. No man ever read it but was awed, shocked, disciplined in righteousness by pity and fear. It is in that sense that the story is inspired. The facts were not inspired; they were the common property of men with and without the Spirit. There could not be a more signal illustration of the power of inspiration than that a narrative like this—all of foulest crime compact—should have virtue in it, when told by an inspired man, to quicken the conscience, and educate the man of God. Take one example more, in some ways the most difficult of all, the first eleven chapters of Genesis. According to the usual chronology these cover a space of something like two thousand years. They do not contain many incidents—Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the origin and dispersion of the nations, are the chief. Now nobody lived through all that period, and at the very earliest these narratives were not written as we have them for centuries after it expired. To what extent they embody traditions; how nearly or how remotely, in any given case, tradition may be related to things as they actually happened; whether a primitive revelation survives in them here or there—all these are questions on which men have been very positive, but on which simple regard for truth precludes positiveness. And what I want to insist upon here, is that the inspiration of these chapters, like that of the rest of the Bible, is not affected by any decision to which we may come on these points. Inspiration has to do with the spirit of the writer, not with his materials. The inspiration of Luke did not provide him with facts about the life of Jesus; he had to learn them from eyewitnesses and catechists; he had to scrutinise and compare documents like another historian. Neither did inspiration, as I believe, supply the writer of Genesis with his materials. What is inspired in his story is what speaks to the spirit, what serves to convict, to correct, to discipline in righteousness; and judged by this standard, there is nothing in the Bible better entitled to claim inspiration than the story, e.g., of the Fall. Compare such a narrative with the use made of similar materials by a pagan writer—a comparison that can fortunately be made—and we see how wonderfully the author must have been filled and uplifted by a Spirit above his own. It is because his writing has this spiritual quality, this permanent power to reveal to us both God and our own heart, that it answers to the description given by Paul of every inspired Scripture. There is only one proof, in the long run, that the Spirit of God is in the Bible; and that is, that it exerts its power through the Bible. The perfection of Scripture is perfection for its purpose, and that purpose is the transformation of character. (Jas. Denney, B.D.)
The inspiration and utility of the Scriptures:—
- The inspiration of the Scriptures. 1. What is inspiration? It is not revelation, but the infallible record of an infallible revelation. 2. The extent of inspiration. How far were these men guided by the Holy Ghost in the composition of the Scriptures? To every line and word. Yet was not the self-control or intelligent consciousness of the writer destroyed. Each writer retains his own style (see 1 Cor. 2:13; 12:6). 3. The object of inspiration. To give certainty to that written under its guidance. 4. The proofs of inspiration. Internal evidence. Arguments drawn from the history of these books, from their contents. Christ’s appeal to the Old Testament as of Divine origin. The claim of both writers of Old and New Testaments.
- The utility of the Scriptures. “Profitable for,” &c. 1. As an unvarying standard of doctrine. Not a theological statement, but the germ of all true doctrine. From it all doctrine must be derived, and to it all doctrine must be referred. 2. Useful in the confutation of all religious error. “Profitable for reproof.” 3. Useful as an infallible standard of right and wrong. We cannot trust a pope, a church. 4. Useful for instruction in righteousness. By following its teachings we are brought into fuller measures of perfection. Our sanctification is by the Word. “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth.” (James Hunter.)
Inspired Scriptures, and their Divine purpose:—
- The nature of the writings here spoken of.
- The object for which the Scriptures were written. This object is twofold; first, what the Bible would make man; and next, how it would accomplish its purpose. 1. What the Scriptures would make man. “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” It does this by first making him a “man of God.” Religion is not an abstraction—it is a Divine life, and a life which in man makes him a man of God. 2. The standard after which he ever aims is perfection! 3. But we have not only the standard announced, we have also the style of the spiritual education determined—“that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished.”
III. How the Scriptures propose making “men of God, throughly furnished, unto all good works.” “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.” 1. “For doctrine”; that is, for conveying those truths and that learning needful to salvation. 2. Becoming “profitable for reproof.” This word “reproof,” means “conviction.” 3. It becomes “profitable for correction.” This is equally necessary in a volume suitable to save men. 4. Lastly—by “instruction of righteousness.” The unlearning of man’s love to sin, the undoing of his evil habits—this is correction. But after all this is but the negative part of Christian character. It is the abegnation of evil. Christianity inculcates positive good.
- The work which Holy Scripture is yet destined to do. 1. By the Bible the Church of God must be purified. 2. By the Bible, as an instrument, the Jews must be converted. 3. By the Bible the great apostasy must be destroyed. 4. By the Bible, instrumentally, the heathen must be converted. (A. M. Brown, LL.D.)
The Bible superhuman:—I shall content myself with stating some plain facts about the Bible, which can neither be denied nor explained away. And the ground I shall take up is this—
- That these facts ought to satisfy every reasonable inquirer that the Bible is of God, and not of man. 1. It is a fact that there is a superhuman fulness and richness in the contents of the Bible. It throws more light on a vast number of most important subjects than all the other books in the world put together. It boldly handles matters which are beyond the reach of man when left to himself. 2. It is another fact that there is a superhuman wisdom, sublimity, and majesty in the style of the Bible. Strange and unlikely as it was, the writers of Scripture have produced a book which even at this day is utterly unrivalled. With all our boasted attainments in science and art and learning we can produce nothing that can be compared with the Bible. To talk of comparing the Bible with other “sacred books” so called, such as the Koran, the Shasters, or the book of Mormon, is positively absurd. You might as well compare the sun with a rushlight—or Skiddaw with a mole-hill—or Saint Paul’s with an Irish hovel—or the Portland vase with a garden pot—or the Koh-i-noor diamond with a bit of glass. God seems to have allowed the existence of these pretended revelations in order to prove the immeasurable superiority of His own Word. 3. It is another fact, that there is a superhuman accuracy in the facts and statements of the Bible, which is above man. Here is a book which has been finished and before the world for nearly 1800 years. These 1800 years have been the busiest and most changeful period the world has ever seen. During this period the greatest discoveries have been made in science, the greatest alterations in the ways and customs of society, the greatest improvements in the habits and usages of life. But all this time men have never discovered a really weak point or a defect in the Bible. Over and over again the enemies of the Bible have fancied they have detected defects. Again and again they have proved to be mistaken. The march of intellect never overtakes it. The wisdom of wise men never gets beyond it. The science of philosophers never proves it wrong. The discoveries of travellers never convict it of mistakes. Are the ruins of Nineveh and Egypt ransacked and explored? Nothing is found that overturns one jot or tittle of the Bible’s historical statements. 4. It is another fact that there is in the Bible a superhuman suitableness to the spiritual wants of all mankind. It feeds the mind of the labourer in his cottage, and it satisfies the gigantic intellects of Newton, Chalmers, Brewster, and Faraday. It is the only book, moreover, which seems always fresh and evergreen and new. I place these four facts about the Bible before you, and I ask you to consider them well. Take them all four together, treat them fairly, and look at them honestly. Upon any other principle than that of Divine inspiration, those four facts appear to me inexplicable and unaccountable. Not only were its writers isolated and cut off in a peculiar manner from other nations, but they belonged to a people who have never produced any other book of note except the Bible! There is not the slightest proof that, unassisted and left to themselves, they were capable of writing anything remarkable, like the Greeks and Romans. Yet these men have given the world a volume which for depth, sublimity, accuracy, and suitableness to the wants of man, is perfectly unrivalled. How can this be explained? To my mind there is only one answer. The writers of the Bible were Divinely helped and qualified for the work which they did.
- Let us now consider the privileges which the possession of an inspired book confers upon us. 1. It is a privilege to possess the only book which gives a reasonable account of the beginning and end of the globe on which we live. 2. It is a privilege to possess the only book which gives a true and faithful account of man. 3. It is a privilege to possess the only book which gives us true views of God. 4. It is a privilege to possess the only book which gives a clear account of the full, perfect, and complete provision which God has made for the salvation of fallen man. 5. Finally, it is a privilege to possess the only book which explains the state of things that we see in the world around us.
III. Let us now consider the duties which the possession of God’s oracles entails upon us. 1. First and foremost, let us honour the Bible by making it the supreme rule of faith, the standard measure of truth and error, of right and wrong in our churches. 2. In the next place, if we believe the Bible to be “the oracles of God,” let us show the reality of our belief by endeavouring to spread it throughout the world. (Bp. Ryle.)
Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures:—
- In confirmation of this doctrine, we would ask attention to the following considerations and arguments. 1. We would offer a short, clear, and strong argument, from Mr. Wesley. “The Bible,” says he, “must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.” (1) It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither could nor would make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” when it was their own invention. (2) It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity. (3) Therefore we must draw this conclusion, that the Bible must have been given by Divine inspiration—that it is the work of God. 2. Our second argument is derived from prophecy. The ability to foretell future events, especially hundreds of years beforehand, belongs to God alone. 3. The declarations of the Scriptures themselves plainly prove this doctrine. But will not this be proving inspiration by inspiration? It would be so, indeed, did we assume the Bible in this argument to be inspired. But now we take it only as a book of truth, declaring true doctrines and true history; as such we receive it, and by itself prove its inspiration.
- We pass to consider some objections. 1. The first, and one which is frequently in the mouths of infidels, is that there are contradictions in the Scriptures, and therefore they cannot be inspired. 2. Another class of objections against the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures is founded on the imperfect state of the text, its variations in the reading and punctuations. 3. Another objection which has been urged against plenary or verbal inspiration is founded on the individuality of the sacred writers. The following is our answer:—God speaks to man after the manner of men; and hence He uses human language, and, of course, human language with its imperfections. Inferences: 1. If the Holy Scriptures are Divinely inspired, human reason ought to be held in abeyance to their teachings. 2. If Divinely inspired, they must teach us truth without any admixture of error. 3. We also infer that, if Divinely inspired, they contain a sufficiency of truth for our salvation. (Stephen M. Vail, M.A.)
The Word of God commended to the man of God in the perilous times of the last days:—1. The subject of this text is our own precious Bible. 2. And, assuredly, of the very deepest interest must such a subject be to the sort of person to whom in the text the Spirit, by Paul, addresses Himself, on the Divine inspiration, and authority, and profitableness of the Bible. For it is to “the man of God” the apostle here speaks in commendation of the Word of God. It is to one he writes who (vers. 14, 15) had “learned” and “been assured” of “the things” revealed in “the Holy Scriptures,” which “from a child he had known”—who had experimentally proved them to be “able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” To that sort of person no theme could be more attractive of the deepest interest, than the incalculable preciousness of the Holy Bible (Psa. 19:7–11). One thing only could enhance such a man’s estimate of their infinite value, and that one thing was the character of “the times” in which, as peculiarly threatening of dangerous assaults on the Christian faith, the apostle commended the profitableness of the Scriptures and exhorted the man of God to continue to confide in the profitableness of “all Scripture” as “given by inspiration of God.” 3. And yet, though thus employed as the means of enforcing his exhortation to Timothy to “continue in the things which he had learned,” the “perilous” controversies of “the times” are not suffered by any insinuation on the part of the apostle to disturb the certainty in which his young disciple had “been assured” of “the things which he had learned.” 4. Are we “men of God,” “taught of God” to know Him, and with profoundest reverence to acknowledge His authority speaking in His own Word? Then we are of those who spiritually see. To our renewed hearts, as to open healthy eyes, the light of Holy Scripture has come and entered in, carrying with it its own evidence of its Divine authority, and with a power that is irresistible.
- Whence have we the Bible? It is “of God”—its authority is Divine. When God speaks the highest exercise of man’s reason surely is, in silent submission, to believe and obey, simply because it is the Word of God that is spoken. It is the exercise of a prerogative the noblest birthright of man, to believe God’s truth. In that submission of human reason to the authority of Divine truth, man escapes into freedom! The truth as nothing else can do, emancipates the mind from the debasing slavery to the opinions of men. It puts man as to unseen things in immediate and direct communication alone with God. No creature is allowed to intervene as the Lord of the conscience, when, for the authority of God speaking in it, the word in Holy Scripture is believed. God is then by His Word and Spirit in actual contact with your soul, for your enjoying the most ennobling fellowship with Himself, in the light of truth, and in the perfect freedom of a willing obedience of the truth.
- In what manner is it given us by God?—“It is given by inspiration of God!” The text here, you observe, does not point to such a mode of communication with man as was used in the Garden of Eden, when, in the cool of the day, the voice of God was heard by Adam talking with him. Nor yet does the text here refer to such a mode of writing down what the voice of God had uttered in man’s hearing, as was once and again practised, when, on two tables of stone, the ten words of the Holy Moral Law were engraven by the immediate finger of God. The text does plainly testify to the Word of God being written, but observe, to that result being attained by what is called “inspiration.” It is God-breathed. That, what is written in the Bible is the Word of God, results from the inspiration by God of men employed by Him to write it. The Word in Holy Scripture results from that miraculous operation of the Spirit of God, whereby He did so communicate Himself to the writers of these Scriptures for the revelation of His will to man, as to secure the infallible truth and Divine authority of what is written in the Bible. Of the manner of that miraculous operation of the Spirit of God we know nothing. III. To what extent is the Bible inspired?—“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” It is thus that the Divine Author of the book Himself declares to what extent it is inspired. In whatever manner the Divine influence that “gave the Word” worked—by whatever means, by means of however many varied manuscripts, as by many different compilers—the result we have in this Bible is throughout Divinely inspired.
- With what design has it been given by inspiration of God? It was given to be profitable, in order “that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” and for that end profitable in a way manifold and many-sided. 1. The Bible is “profitable for doctrine.” By its revelation of truth as an objective reality, it really gives man truth to love. It thus stands in the boldest contrast to the utterly unsatisfying vanity of modern rationalism, which gives you nothing but the question whether there be revealed truth at all. 2. The Bible is “profitable, too, for reproof.” By its deep and searching spirituality the Bible deals with man’s state as a sinner before God. It reveals the truth as to man lost. It reaches the deepest needs of his condition. It thus utterly dispels all the delusive fancies of modern rationalism, whereby man is tempted to think well of himself; and so to count that a gain to him which, if ever he be saved, he must be content to count as loss for Christ. 3. The Bible is profitable, besides, “for correction” of every such groundless hope in man. By the revelation of grace to us as fallen, and of deliverance from the guilt and power of our sin by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Bible gives a Divine contradiction to every rationalistic theory of human progress, by which redemption is attempted to be explained without the cross and the sacrifice of the Redeemer. 4. The Bible is profitable, finally, for instruction (or discipline) in the life and walk of righteousness. In direct opposition to the wild ravings of modern rationalism about “emancipation from the external law of revealed truth”—for the solemn rebuke of that delusive licence which is sought in following the light within us, rather than the Word of God without us—the Bible plainly asserts that, “under the law to Christ,” this is the love of the new life in Christ, that we keep His commandments—a life of obedience of “the law of liberty”—even as Christ Himself “kept His Father’s commandments and abode in His love.” (R. H. Muir.)
On the Scriptures:—
- Human ability has been inadequate to the production of anything which would justify us in attributing to it the production of the Scriptures.
- God having graciously resolved to recover the human race from the state into which they had fallen, and to this end having spoke in times long past to the fathers by the prophets, and in the latter days to the world, by His Son, it is reasonable to suppose that, for the benefit of the generations to come for ever, He would cause a record to be made of the communications of His will.
III. The connection and agreement of the several parts of the sacred volume, intimate strongly its Divine inspiration.
- Tradition has accompanied the holy volume in all ages and places of its being, testifying its claim to be considered as the Word of God.
- The providential care of God over the Holy Scriptures may well lead us to believe that they are His offspring.
- The completeness of the sacred writings, whereby I mean their sufficiency and perfection as a rule of faith and conduct; their adequateness to our necessities in this present state. 1. This we may clearly deduce from what has already been established. Being “given by inspiration of God,” the Scriptures must be perfect for the purpose whereunto He sends them; and if they are finished, so that no further addition to them is to be expected, they must be perfect in all generations for ever, for the use of the children of men. 2. And this, if we now advert to the sacred writings, will be found to be really the case. Upon every subject of a religious or moral nature, concerning which mankind have been inquisitive, we may here find ample information. And concerning the conduct which is proper, in every situation in which mankind may be placed, we may here find explicit instruction. 3. But, it may be objected, if the Scriptures are thus complete, whence is it that so many to whom they are sent, are brought by them neither to right faith nor to right practice? 4. And this brings me to observe in illustration of the completeness of the sacred volume, that if any who have access to it are deficient in knowledge or virtue, the cause of the deficiency is altogether in themselves. The Law of the Lord is perfect; and His Spirit is ready to render His Word efficacious to every attentive and humble mind. But we must approach it with docility. It is owing to men’s lusts and passions, to the pride of their minds, to the perverseness of their hearts, to the carnality and viciousness of their lives, that they do not all perceive the excellence and perfection of the Word of God, and find it a savour of life unto life to their souls.
VII. We find ourselves in possession of a volume, wonderfully adapted to the necessities of our nature, and “given by inspiration of God.” It becomes us to inquire, what is the object for which it is given? 1. And let me observe that it is for no purpose of benefit to the Almighty that the volume of His Word is given to our world. Neither our faith nor our obedience can profit the Most High. 2. I must also premise that whether any other beings than ourselves are interested in them, and whether their contents will be of utility to us in the other world, are questions which need not be discussed as essential to the inquiry we are about to consider. It is enough, in order to raise our estimation of them, to be assured that into the mysteries revealed to us the angels desire to look, and that by the dispensations of God to the Church on earth His manifold wisdom is made known to higher orders of beings. From the nature of things we may also be certain that those general principles of duty and virtue which have not respect to mutable stations and relations are the principles by which the conduct of perfect beings is regulated in all worlds. 3. But what I am now principally concerned to consider is the end or uses of the sacred volume to men, to whom it is given, in the present world. And this is nothing less than our recovery from the state of ignorance, sinfulness, and misery into which we are fallen, and our exaltation to the hope of eternal life. That I may more distinctly set before you the gracious design of the Almighty in giving us the volume of His Word, allow me more particularly to observe that it is the efficacious means of all those changes and graces by which the Christian character is formed and perfected. We are told, you know, that we must be born again in order to the knowledge and enjoyment of the kingdom of God. It is through the instrumentality of the Scriptures that this regeneration is accomplished. They are the seed of this new birth. Again: it is necessary that we should be sanctified and made holy in heart and life before we can enter into the kingdom of heaven. And the Holy Scriptures are the means by which the Spirit of God accomplishes this important part of our salvation. Further: it is required of us to grow in grace; and we have need to be constantly nourished in all goodness, if we would not relapse into our vile state, but advance to perfection in knowledge and virtue. The sacred writings are the granary from which this daily sustenance of our souls is to be obtained. They reveal the truths, they contain the virtues, they give efficacy to the ordinances, by which we are nourished into eternal life. Finally: it is necessary to our comfort, and to the full accomplishment of our deliverance from the miseries of our natural state, that we should have joy and peace in believing. And the reservoir of all spiritual joy is the Word of God—the gospel of our salvation.
VIII. From these truths there are several inferences of a very serious nature and great practical importance to which I must now ask your attentive consideration. 1. And from the views we have taken of the sacred volume we may perceive its claim to our highest estimation. 2. But if we value the Scriptures we shall also study them. The consequences of not reading the Holy Scriptures are of a more serious nature and greater in extent than you may suppose. It is to this, I apprehend, that we are to attribute, in a great measure, the total ignorance of religion in some and the decay of it in others. It is in this that we are to look for the cause of the instability of Christians. Here we may find the reason why error prevails. Here we may discover the source of fanaticism and of superstition. To this it is owing that the best seem unconscious of the degree of holiness to which they are called; and that all rest easy under imperfections of knowledge and deficiencies of virtue which a thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures would both reprove and correct. 3. In the course of our observations upon the Holy Scriptures, we have shown that God hath a merciful purpose in conferring them upon us, even to recover us from our ignorance, sinfulness, and misery, and exalt us to the hope of everlasting life. It behoves us, therefore, to inquire how far His desire and gracious intention have been accomplished in us? And this inquiry you will most safely answer, not by adverting to your occasional feelings and transient fervours, but by looking to your principles and your lives. Are you brought to a clear knowledge of the only true God, and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent? Are those traits of excellence which are distinctly exemplified in the lives of the Scripture worthies, and which are all combined and perfected in the example of our blessed Lord, imitated by you in the several conditions and relations in which the Most High hath placed you? If, at the day of judgment, we shall be found, notwithstanding our advantages, to have remained unchanged and unrenewed, the very heathens will rise up in judgment and condemn us. 4. On this solemn account I cannot forbear adding what is powerfully enforced by our subject, the importance of bringing to the oracles of truth, whenever we recur to them, becoming dispositions and conduct. Endeavour, if possible, to make it the standard by which you would regulate all your thoughts and actions. 5. The character of the sacred writings, and your privilege in possessing them, impose on you an obligation to extend the knowledge of them as far as you are able, and especially to make them the source from which you furnish your children with the principles and rules of life. (Bp. Dehon.)
The true teachings of the Bible:—“Every Scripture inspired of God,” is the declaration, “is profitable.” Profitable for what? Well, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction.” It is a good teaching-book. It is a good book out of which to get instruction, provided you seek the right sort of instruction—instruction in righteousness. What is righteousness? Right living. In the Old Testament and the New the ideal pattern is that of a man living right in himself, in his social and civic relations, in his whole orb of self. A man must have some ideal pattern before him, and he must live according to it. The Bible is said to be inspired—that part of it which is inspired. “Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” For what purpose? Why, “that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” There are two radical views of the function of sacred Scripture. First, it is held that it is a book proceeding directly from the mind of God, in the same sense in which Milton’s poems proceeded from his mind, or in which Newton’s discoveries proceeded from his mind, or in which any legislation proceeds from the minds of the legislators, and that it contains a substantial revelation of God’s moral government, both in this life and in the other world. In part, it is such a book; but that is not the genius of the Bible. Such is not the grand end of this book. The second view is the Scriptural theory. It is contained in the text. The Bible is a book that under-takes to teach men how to live so that they shall live hereafter; and in regard to that aim and design of the Bible there is no divergence of opinion. All Scripture, then, is not inspired. Why should we suppose that the genealogies, and the land laws, or the laws of property, among the Jews, needed to be either inspired or revealed? Was it to supersede the natural operation of human reason that the Bible was given? If the division of property sprang up in the Hebrew common-wealth, and if there were many minute economies, all of which were of a nature such as that they could be born out of the human mind, and it was perfectly within the power of the human mind to write them down, what inspiration was needed for that purpose? No inspiration is necessary to record things that common human intelligence cannot miss, and cannot very well fail of recording. Proverbs and national songs, manners and customs, of the Hebrew commonwealth—all lay within the natural function of human reason; and when it is said, “All Scripture that is inspired,” doubtless it was with the conception that many of these things were natural and not supernatural. The existence of God; a belief in the moral order of the universe, or supervising Divine Providence; conscience, or the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong, and sensibility to that which is right as well as reaction from that which is wrong; the nature of things that are right and the nature of things that are wrong; sanctions for virtue, and sanctions also, penal, for vice, selfishness, wickedness, cruelty—all these things are constitutional, if I may say so, in the Bible. Here, then, is the life that you must not live, and here is the life that you must live. Was there ever a man that wanted to take anything away from that? The whole Bible is an attempt to correct a man, and take him away from this under-passionate life of which we have been hearing the registration, and to persuade him to come out of it into the higher and spiritual life. The genius of the Bible is to lift men to righteousness, and to show the things to be avoided, and the things to be taken on. It is a book of instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished to every good work; and here are the work and the qualities. Now, I should like to know if there is any infidel in this world on that subject, or can be. A great many do not believe that God can exist in three persons; but is there anybody that ever doubted that love was beautiful, was true, was desirable? A great many men have had theories of the Atonement of Jesus Christ; there are some fifteen or twenty different theories or modifications on that subject; but did men ever have any difference of opinion as to love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, or any of these other qualities? About them there is absolute unity. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Divine authority and perfection of the Scriptures:—
- That the Scriptures are given by inspiration of God. 1. In order to judge whether persons are inspired, we must carefully inquire into their moral character; into their doctrine or message; and into the credentials or proofs of their mission. 2. The other external proof of an inspired person is the fulfilment of prophecy.
- The perfection or sufficiency of the Scriptures. 1. They are profitable for doctrine to acquaint us with our lost and miserable condition by the entrance of sin into the world, and the train of fatal consequences that attended it; with our recovery by Christ; the covenants of redemption and grace; the offices of Father, Son, and Spirit in the work of our redemption, and with all those other mysteries which were kept secret since the world began, but are now made manifest by the Holy Scriptures for the obedience of faith (Rom. 16:26). 2. For reproof, or the discovery of our pernicious errors in doctrine and practice. 3. The Scriptures are profitable for correction of vice and wickedness. “Wherewithal,” says the Psalmist, “should a young man cleanse his way but by taking heed thereto according to the Word of God?” There we have a collection of all Christian graces and duties, with their opposite vices. The fruits of the spirit and of the flesh are distinguished with the greatest propriety; and the most engaging motives to the practice of the one, and awful threatenings against the other, are represented with the greatest strength and advantage. 4. For instruction in righteousness. That is, either in the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe, or in the practice of moral righteousness, the nature and excellency of which is better explained and illustrated in the sermons of our blessed Saviour than in all the writings of the ancient philosophers.
III. The clearness and perspicuity of the Scriptures. 1. They were written in the vulgar language, and therefore designed for the use of the common people. 2. Our Saviour, in His sermons to the people, appeals to the Scriptures, and exhorts His countrymen, the Jews, to search them. The Bereans are commended for this practice (Acts 17:11), and Timothy appears to have been acquainted with them from his childhood. If, then, it be proper to teach our children the Scriptures, and if it be the duty of grown persons to search them, it must follow that they are sufficiently clear in all points necessary to salvation. Lessons: 1. Hence we may learn that the religion of a Christian should be his Bible, because it contains the whole revealed will of God, and is a perfect rule of faith and practice. 2. Let us be thankful that we have the Scriptures in the vulgar language. 3. Let Christians of all ranks and capacities revive this neglected duty of reading the Scriptures in their families and closets: it is both a delightful and useful employment. 4. When we read the Scriptures, let us consider them, not as the words of men, but as in deed and truth the Word of God. 5. In judging of controversies among Christians, let us not be carried away by the authority of great names or the numbers of them that are on one side, but keep close to the Scriptures. 6. When we read the Scriptures, let us pray for the instructions and teachings of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to remove the prejudices and enlighten the understandings of those who are truly sincere. (Daniel Neal.)
The inspiration of the Scriptures:—
- The nature of the inspiration. Inspiration means that which is breathed into the human mind of God. In the same way as Christ breathed upon the apostles, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” so inspired men receive that influence and power which enlightens, and purifies, and sustains their judgment and their capacity whilst they are writing it. Exactly in the same way as a musician, out of an instrument, by the touch of his fingers, will evoke such sounds, such harmonies, as his own skill, his own will, or his own pleasure may design, the writers of the Holy Scriptures are the instruments out of which the Holy Ghost evokes the melodies of truth—the harmonies of heavenly and Divine doctrine—that which makes us happy in time, and prepares us for the happiness of eternity. There is a slight distinction to be made between inspiration and dictation. Dictation addresses itself to the ear, and goes through the ear into the understanding and the heart; inspiration is more that which is within a man—it is a power dwelling in the interior of his soul, and influencing his thoughts and expressions accordingly. 1. There is inspiration in matters historical—that which relates to the histories and biographies contained in the Bible. 2. We come to the inspiration which is doctrinal, or which has to do with abstract truth, such truth as the human faculties could never elicit, invent, or evolve; such truth as, if known at all by man, must be made known by God. 3. I advert to that inspiration which I denominate legislative—that which is associated with the giving of law and the enunciation of commandments. 4. There is the inspiration which is devotional. 5. I shall mention but one other form: that is, the form of prophecy—the inspiration which relates to the prophetic Word. I take this to be the fullest, most perfect, and unmingled of all the inspirations, because to man in no case is there vouchsafed any foresight.
- Some of the leading evidences, the more striking proofs, that the Bible does come from that sacred and celestial source to which we ascribe it. 1. First it claims to be so; i says of itself that it is so. Moses did as the Lord commanded him. Again and again we read, “the Lord spake unto Moses”; and every prophet came with this annunciation, “Thus saith the Lord.” We find Paul saying, “I command; yet not I, but the Lord”; “The Spirit speaketh expressly”; “Ye have received the Word of God.” 2. There is another evidence which arises from the nature of its contents—from the original, exalted, enlightened, amazing principles, which it contains. I hold it as an axiom that God only can reveal God—that God is never known but by His own teaching and by His own inspiration. Here is God revealed. 3. There is also an argument arising from the self-evidencing power of truth. Light is self-evidencing. When a child sees light, it does not want any logical argument to say that it is light. When mind flashes, when intellect sparkles, when genius coruscates, you say, this is mind; you want no other evidence—the thing demonstrates itself. So does the truth in the book of God. Read out the doctrine, make known the precept, let us see the history; why, it is of God; it carries its own evidence. 4. Then there is the harmony of all its parts. 5. I must add the evidence of its holiness. The Bible, received in the heart and mind, makes a man pure, gentle, and Christlike; received into a family, it makes a scene of peace and unity; received into a nation, it purifies and elevates; and the world, did it receive the Bible and act upon its principles, would be paradisaical; almost all the miseries of it would be gone at a stroke; whatever is peaceful and felicitous for the glory of God and for the happiness of man would multiply, prosper, and abound. 6. There is one other argument, that arising from prophecy, in connection with the total want of human foresight, and the vastness and extent of this proof: “We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto we do well to take heed, as to a light shining in a dark place.”
III. The use and purpose: “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” You note the expression, “man of God.” I take it to be a very noble and magnificent thing to be a man; I glorify God every day of my life that I am a man; I mean, that I have the capacities, the mind, the thinking powers, the will of a man. Then it is said, “man of God.” There are the faculties consecrated, the grace and light, the emanation and power of Deity beaming upon the man, making him a “man of God.” (James Stratten.)
The inspiration of Scripture:—We can form no more distinct conception of what inspiration is in itself than that implied in the word—the breathing of God upon, or into, the minds of His servants. He imparted to them an extraordinary degree of influence, whereby they were instructed what and how to speak and write. This special Divine influence distinguishes them from all other teachers, and their writings from all other books. The manner of inspiration is beyond our knowledge; indeed, the working and influence of the Divine Being anywhere are to us a profound mystery. Motion, life, and growth, the fruitfulness of the earth, and the order and harmony of all things must be traced to Him; but how they are produced we know not. In Him we live and move and have our being; He besets us behind and before, and lays His hand upon us; but His manner of doing this is too wonderful for us to understand. We are bound to recognise His influence in the mental power, wisdom, and goodness of men; but how He comes into contact with the mind it is impossible to explain. So also of the prophets and apostles. They were inspired of God; He breathed into their minds, and endued them with a supernatural power of seeing and teaching spiritual truth—this we know; but beyond this point we cannot pass. Observe a threefold effect of inspiration—the revelation of truth, intensity of feeling, and abiding power in the words.
- First, the inspired man was a “seer”; the veil was turned aside, and he was permitted to look into the sanctuary of truth. Think of the Hebrew prophets to whose writings the text refers. The unity, personality, and spirituality of God were revealed to them. They beheld His glory as others did not, and therefore spoke of it in sublime and incomparable language. The teaching of the Bible should be judged of by this: Do the prophets and apostles reveal spiritual truths in a clearer light than the ancient philosophers did? To this a thoughtful man can only return one answer—they do. Read, for instance, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and then turn to the Epistles of St. Paul, and I think you will be obliged to acknowledge that moral and spiritual truth shines in the verses of the apostle with a brilliancy and strength not to be found in the words, wise and beautiful though they are, of the imperial Stoic. Seeing, then, that the prophets and apostles speak with such deep spiritual insight, the question is, How this came to pass? They were not philosophers, scholars, and orators, as the great and learned men of Greece and Rome were. The true explanation is, “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
- Their mental illumination was accompanied by deep and intense feeling. Their spirits were “moved”—they felt the burden of “the word of the Lord”—the truth was in their heart “as a burning fire.” Therefore speech became a necessity, for by speaking they lightened the burden that oppressed them and gave out the fire that burned in their bosoms. When they had messages of peace and good tidings to deliver, their “doctrine dropped as the rain, their speech distilled as the dew, and as the small rain upon the tender herb.” But when the sins of the nation and the judgments of heaven were their themes, they cried aloud, and their language was as terrible as a midnight alarm. To speak as the prophets spoke we also must be enlightened and “moved” by the Holy Ghost.
III. The abiding power in the words. They are instinct with the love, the pity, the sympathy, and the power of the Divine mind. “They are spirit, and they are life.” The ancient sacred fire that descended from heaven continues to burn on the altar of the Bible. (T. Jones.)
The Bible:—I speak of the Bible first as the great teacher of mankind, because it must ever continue to be of the supremest importance to the race of mankind. It contains the record of God’s special revelations to one chosen people, and of that final all-inclusive revelation, wherein He has spoken and is speaking to us by His Son. The Bible is not by any means God’s only revelation. It always has been an evil when it has been so considered. It contains, however, some of the clearest and directest lessons which God has ever spoken to man through the mind and utterance of his brother man. Take but one illustration of its unique supremacy. After all these thousands of years of the world’s existence, after all splendours of literature in all the nations and in all ages, there is no book in the whole world which can supersede the Bible as an instrument for the education of the young. After all these millenniums it remains the most uniquely glorious book which the world has ever known. “Its light,” says Cardinal Newman, “is like the beauty of heaven in all its clearness, its vastness like the bosom of the sea, its variety like the scenes of nature.” Perhaps testimony from a religious teacher might be regarded as purely official. Let me, then, quote the testimony of an eminent living man of science; the testimony of a man like Professor Huxley on this subject will, at least, not be suspected. “I have been seriously perplexed to know,” he says, “how the religious feeling which is the essential basis of conduct can be kept up without the use of the Bible. The pagan moralists lacked fire, and life, and colour, and even the noble Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, is too high and refined for an ordinary child. For three centuries this book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history. It forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of the existence of other countries and other civilisations, and of the great past stretching back to the furthest limit of the oldest nations of the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanised or made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary inter-space between two eternities, and earns the blessings or the curses of this end of all time, according to his efforts to do good and to hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their daily work?” Unhappily, however, the Bible in age after age has been liable to such boundless misinterpretation, that it is not possible or honourable to speak of it as the most blessed among the teachers of mankind, without admitting, as St. Peter did eighteen hundred years ago, that it may very easily be wrested to our own destruction. Century after century men, misled by their religious teachers, have failed altogether to see what the Bible is; they have made a fetish of it, and under the plea of its sacredness have taken advantage of its many-sidedness to get rid of its most central and essential teaching; they have made it like the fainéant monarchs who have been surrounded with splendid state and almost Divine reverence, while care was taken that their real voice should never be heard, and their real wishes never known. Men have used the Bible to find an excuse for hating and cursing and burning one another, they have torn it into shreds and turned each shred of it into a fluttering ignoble ray of some party pennon; they have dislocated its phrases and built false theologies on the perversions of its texts.… But having eliminated these errors, we may dwell without stint on the priceless value of Scripture as a whole—of Scripture in its best and final teaching to the heart of man. The Talmud and the Koran, and even the writings of the Indian and the Buddhist, have stolen its precious gems. It has exercised the toil of men like Origen and Jerome, and fired the eloquence of Chrysostom and Augustine. It dictates the supreme and immortal songs of Dante and of Milton. It has inspired the pictures of Fra Angelico and Raphael, the music of Handel and Mozart. There is scarcely any noble part of knowledge worthy of the mind of man, but from Scripture it may have some direction and light. The hundred best books, the hundred best pictures, the hundred best pieces of music, are ten times over involved in it. The sun never sets upon its gleaming page. “What a book,” exclaimed the sceptical poet Heine, after a day spent in the unwonted task of reading it. “Vast and wide as the world, rooted in the abysses of creation and towering up beyond the blue secrets of heaven; sunrise and sunset, promise and fulfilment, birth and death, the whole drama of humanity, are all in this book.” “In this book,” said Ewald, the foremost of modern critics, when Dean Stanley visited him, and the New Testament, which was lying on the table, fell accidentally to the ground—“in this book,” he said, as he stooped to pick it up, “is all the wisdom of the world.”
- Test it once more by the immeasurable comfort and blessing which it, and which it alone, has brought and ever can bring to dying men. Millions have loved it passionately who have cared nothing for any other literature, and it alone has been sufficient to lead them through life as with an archangel’s hand. “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit”; in age after age Polycarp, Augustine, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, St. Bernard, Luther, Melancthon, Columbus, Francis Xavier, and I know not how many thousands more, have died with these words upon their lips. “That book, sir,” said Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, pointing to the family Bible upon the table, as he lay upon his death-bed, “that book, sir, is the rock on which our Republic rests.” “I have only one book now,” said the poet Collins, “but that is the best.” “Bring me the book, sir,” said Sir Walter Scott to Lockhart on his death-bed. “What book?” asked Lockhart. “The book, the Bible,” said Sir Walter, “there is only one.” Every shallow and ignorant freethinker thinks he can demolish the Bible; he might as well try to demolish the Himalayas. The greatest men have esteemed it most. Infidels babble about the contradictions between Scripture and science. I have quoted the testimony of one of the most eminent living men of science; let me quote one of the most illustrious dead. Once, when the famous Faraday was lying ill, his physician, Dr. Latham, found him in tears with his arm resting upon a table on which lay the open book. “I fear you are worse,” said Dr. Latham. “It is not that,” said Faraday, with a sob; “but why will people go astray when they have this blessed book to guide them?” Its words speak to the ear and to the heart as no other music will, even after wild and sinful lives. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me.” Those words were written by his physician to Daniel Webster on his death-bed, and the great man, the despised, broken idol of a great nation, who had cast the destiny of all his life on one throw of ambition and had lost the cast—the great man faltered out, “That is what I want—Thy rod, Thy rod, Thy staff, Thy staff,” and they were the last words he said.
III. I would then urge you all to a constant and reverent, but at the same time a wise and spiritual, study of this book. “If we be ignorant,” said the translators of 1611, “the Scriptures will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us.” Tolle lege, Tolle lege; take them and read, take them and read. Only beware how you read. Read as a scoffer read as a pharisee, and it will be useless. Read rightly, and then the Bible will be a light unto your feet, and a lamp unto your path. Read teachably, read devotionably. The saving knowledge of Scripture is a science, not of the intellect, but of the heart. Read, above all, as Christ taught us to read, not to entangle yourselves in the controversial or the dubious, but go to the very heart of the central significance. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The Holy Scriptures:—
- The Bible is the most ancient book in the world, and yet it is not antiquated, but always fresh and fragrant, as the beauty of the morning, and the breath of spring. Like the angel of the resurrection, the spirit of the Bible is clothed and crowned with immortal youth, and rejoices in the possession of undecaying strength.
- The Bible is the most expansive book in the world. It was the saying of Malebranche, the great philosopher, that if he had all truth, he would let forth only a ray at a time, lest it should blind the world. And this seems to be the principle which underlies the whole revelation in the Word of God. The truth is unveiled to men according as they are able to bear it.
III. The Bible is the most inspiring book in the world. We may hold certain mechanical views of inspiration, but the question for each one of us is to ask, Does the Bible really inspire us? The Bible is inspired because it is inspiring, and if it fails of this effect, then the mere theoretical knowledge of the inspiration will be of little value. And yet if we derive no inspiration from Scripture, we must not therefore lay the blame upon the Bible, and conclude that it has failed to stand the test. There are certain qualities of mind and heart which we must bring to the interpretation of all things. Nature herself will not inspire us if we have no eye to see her beauty, or heart to understand her charm. It is the poet who sees in nature a glow and glory which may be hidden from others, because he is possessed with a certain sympathy. So it is in regard to the Bible. We must bring to its study an innocent eye and a pure heart, a longing desire for truth, and a purpose to obey it; and then we shall feel inspired by the revelations which it makes known to us.
- The Bible is the only perfect book in the world. Perfection is the sign and signature of all God’s works. If you put under the microscope a bee’s sting and an ordinary sewing needle, you will at once see the difference between man’s handiwork and God’s. They are both very like each other when examined by the naked eye; but when brought beneath the lens we perceive the mighty difference. The needle is rough and rugged, full of bulges and bends, like the undressed bough of a tree, whereas the sting of the bee retains its arrowy point and perfection under the closest scrutiny. And so it is with all God’s works in contrast with man’s. The Bible is the only perfect book, because it is the work of God. The law of the Lord is perfect, says the Psalmist, the sun rules in the heavens, and divides the day from the night. And so with the Word of God. The light which shines through it rules the mind and will and heart of man, and divides the darkness from the light. But the Word of God is not only perfect, but it is designed to make man perfect—that the man of God may be perfect—fully furnished unto every good work. (J. Coats Shanks.)
The incidental advantages of study of the Bible:—It is common to urge upon men a study of the Bible as a matter of duty—a part of the “thou shalt” of God; and also as a matter of worship—the other part of prayer and praise. While it is fortunate that we have a book which can lay the claim of duty upon us, and still more fortunate that we have a book worthy to be incorporated into our worship, there are other aspects in which the Bible offers itself, which might be called its advantages. Set aside now the fact that it is a religious book, and all religious considerations, and regard it simply as a book to be studied, and there is no book the study of which brings so many advantages as the Bible, because there is no other one book that embraces so many departments of truth and knowledge or treats them in so wise a way.
- Look at it as a book of history. The Bible begins with the creation out of chaos, and ends with humanity lifted into the heavens, and the whole mighty sweep is history. But the great advantage of studying history through the Bible is that we thus follow the main current of human progress in all the ages; we are tracing an idea, a principle, a force, and that the greatest the world has ever felt.
- Look at it as a book of political science. A study of the Hebrew Commonwealth is valuable because it shows how close and real is the relation of the nation to God, and how vital is righteousness and fidelity to God. We have in the Bible the finest illustration of patriotism to be found in all history. There was no individualism, there was no communism, but a happy balance between man as an individual and as a member of the race, such as we find in nature. We are individuals; we are also members of the race, and both exist in God. A true nation is a true expression of this threefold fact. Nowhere is it so clearly set forth as in the Hebrew Commonwealth. Its institutions, also, are well worth studying. The details of life are treated sacredly. A Divine emphasis is laid upon trivial matters of well-being. Filth and contagious diseases are an abomination in the sight of God. Health is well pleasing to God. Family, property, personal rights, sex are guarded by Divine sanctions.
III. Look at it as a book of biography. “The proper study of mankind is man.” The Bible is permanently a book of biographies. It is a book of religious history, but the history is always turning on a man. It is a book of religion, but the religion is that of real life, and of separate men. When men of great natures move through great scenes, and do great deeds, or when they unfold qualities and traits that are fine and rare and strong, then we have the materials for biography. By such a standard the Bible is most rich in this material for study.
- Look at it as a book of literature. Dr. Johnson once read the Book of Ruth to a company of literary infidels. “What a charming idyl!” they said. “Where did you find it?” There are four fields of literature in which the Bible rises higher than all other books—ethics, religious poetry, religious vision, and the drama in its high sense as a discussion of human life. The Proverbs and Book of Ecclesiastes are the wisest, aptest, most varied, and best expressed maxims of practical life ever made, and outweigh in value all others taken together. The Psalms, considered simply as expressions of religious feeling, find no rival. They touch every mood, sink to all depths, rise to all heights; they are as free and natural as the winds, and cover human nature as it weeps and struggles and hopes and rejoices. The prophetic utterances are not only unique, but are fuller of passion, sublimer in expression, bolder in imagery, loftier in conception, than anything to be found in profane literature. And they have this unique quality: they are the products of an actual experience, and not mere creations of the imagination. They have also this transcendent value—one that should make them dear to every thoughtful man: they are expressions of patriotism, and contain the philosophy of national life as existing in God.
- Look at it as a book full of undeveloped forces and truths. I mean the opposite of the common assertion that it is an exhausted book. I mean it in a sense that excludes it from being classed with other books called sacred. I admit that there are a few books which seem to hold within themselves truths capable of infinite expansion, and to touch truths not yet realised. Such are some of the great philosophies and poems and essays; but, after studying them awhile, the sense of finiteness begins to gather about them; we come to limitations, to boundaries; there is a solid firmament above, and the truths run round the world and not into endless heavens; we detect faults; we feel the weakness of a human personality; we say, “Thou hast seen far, but not the end, nor the whole.” It is not so when we read the Bible. One reason why some men reject it or pass it by is that it so quickly carries them beyond their depth and outruns their conception. And one reason why other men delight in it, and write books upon books about it, is that it brings the infinite and the mysterious within reach, enkindling their imaginations and stirring their spirits by the outlooks thus gained. I spoke of the Bible as a book of undeveloped spiritual forces. I mean that we find in it those facts and laws and truths which are working out the destiny of man. They are spread out in a fire; they are uttered in words. The parables of Christ—if we but knew it—contain the history of the world and of mankind for all eternity. The Sermon on the Mount states the laws by which human society progresses, and will reach its goal of perfection. The acts of Christ’s life illustrate or reveal how this material world is immersed in the real world of the spirit, where the miraculous becomes natural. The whole life of Christ is simply a true life—perfectly obedient to God, wholly sacrificed for man, duty itself, love itself, lost and so found, Divine and human, and claiming a oneness for humanity with itself in God. I anticipate the day when the Bible will stand higher in the estimate of men than ever before. It will not be blindly worshipped as in the past, but it will be more intelligently read. It is not a book of the past, but of the future. As we move up toward it we shall find that it reflects the world on its pages, and that it contains the true order of human life. Meanwhile, it is not amiss for us to study the Decalogue for social guidance; the Beautitudes for guides in daily life; and Christ, in all the light and mystery of His being and character, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the way through this tangled world, the truth in this world of perplexity, the life in this world where all things else perish and pass away. (T. T. Munger, D.D.)
What is the Bible?—The first thing I want to say to you is this: You are not to look in the Bible for a complete and comprehensive presentation of Divine truth. You are not to look in it for a revelation or disclosure of science of any kind, physical or metaphysical, natural or supernatural. It is not at all a scientific treatise. It does not aim or purport so to be. Nor are you to regard the Bible as an infallible book of equal value and equal authority in all its utterances and all its parts; as a book “without any intermixture of error.” An infallible book would require, first of all, that the writers should be infallibly informed as to the truth; in the second place, that they should be able to utter it infallibly; in the third place, that they should have a language for the communication of their ideas which was an infallible vehicle of thought; in the fourth place, that, if they died, the manuscripts in which their thoughts were contained should be infallibly preserved, without any intermixture of error, through the ages after their death; fifthly, that, if the language in which they wrote were changed, the translators should be themselves capable of giving an infallible translation; sixthly, that, if the book were to be infallibly applied to the actual conditions of life, men who interpreted and applied these principles should be infallible interpreters. And, finally, it would require that the men who received should be able infallibly to apprehend what was given. The treasure of truth in the Bible is not a minted treasure with the stamp of the Divine image upon it. It is like the gold hid in the bosom of the mountain. It must be mined, dug out with the alloy with which it is intermixed, washed, burned in the furnace, and the stamp must be put upon it before it is ready for currency. But as soon as this is done, the process begins over again. The Bible yields its treasure only to him who digs for it as for a hid treasure; the promise of the Bible is only to him who seeks and knocks. No age can do this seeking, this knocking, for another. The structure and the history of the Bible alike demonstrate that what God has given us here is not a substitute for thought, but an incentive to thinking. Lessing said, “If God were to offer me in one hand Truth and in the other Search for Truth, I would accept Search for Truth.” What God gives us in the Bible is Search for Truth. What, then, is the Bible? It is a selection of literature evolved out of eighteen centuries of human life, comprising all various literary forms, written by men of all various types and temperaments, without concord, without mutual understanding, without knowing that they were making a book that was to last for all time. It is a collection of the most spiritual utterances, of the most spiritual men, of the most spiritual race, of past time. You are to come to it as such a collection. It is as such that you are to study and take advantage of it—as such a record of spiritual experiences. I. In the first place, then, in view of this generic statement, I urge on you to have your Bible—not merely a Bible, but your Bible. Mr. Shearman has a copy of the Bible which Mr. Beecher carried for something like forty years—perhaps more—with his marking scattered through it. It is more than a Bible—it is Mr. Beecher’s Bible; and the pencil-marks in it tell the story of his own spiritual experience, while they emphasize the spiritual experiences of the ages that are past. So, have your own Bible, into which your life shall be woven, around which your spiritual associations shall cluster, and which shall become sacred to you, not so much for the voice that spake to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, or Paul, so many centuries ago, but for the voice that has spoken to you—through Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, or Paul—in your own life-experience.
- Use your Bible. The Bible that is to lay hold on you is a Bible that you must lay hold upon. Familiarise yourself with the Bible. It is a coy acquaintance. It does not let every one into its heart, or disclose to the chance acquaintance the secret of its power. You must love it. If you are to love it you must acquaint yourself with it. You must take it with you into your experience. You must make it the man of your counsel in your perplexity; you must go to it for comfort in your sorrow; you must find in it inspiration when the deadening process of life has brought you earthward; you must seek in it those experiences for which your own heart and soul hunger.
III. You must, in your use of the Bible look behind the book to the truth which is in the book, and which really constitutes the book. Studying Biblical criticism is not studying the Bible. Behind all form and structure is the truth which makes the Bible. What is the Bible? This thing that I hold in my hand? Not at all. Were it in Greek, it would still be the Bible. Not the book—the truths that lie behind the book, they make the Bible. Such truths as these: the man is immortal—not that he is going to live a thousand or a hundred thousand years after death, but that he has in him a spirit that death cannot and does not touch; that he is under other laws than those that are physical, that he is under the great moral laws of right and wrong; that there is a God who knows, thinks, feels, loves; and that there is a helping hand reached down out of heaven to lay hold of and to give help to every struggling man seeking, working, praying, wrestling toward a nobler manhood; an immortal spirit, a personal God, a forgiveness of sins—that is the Bible. Go to the Bible, not for an infallible philosophy of human life, but for unveilings and disclosures of infinite, helpful, inspiring truth.
- But behind this truth there is something further to be sought. For life is more than truth, and experience is more than philosophy. The Bible is the most human of books. It is the record of human life, and of the noblest and divinest experiences in human life. It is because it is a human book that it appeals to humanity. It is because it is a human book that humanity finds light and life and power in it. Writers of the Bible are not like lead pipes that take water from a distance and bring it a long way and deposit it for you, without the trouble of your drawing. Writers of the Bible are like the mountain-side, saturated with water which pours from its side in springs when we ask to drink. The Bible writers were saturated with Divine truth; then out of that saturation the truth sprang forth into utterance. In the Bible you come into association and fellowship with men who are living in the spiritual realm; you come in contact with men who are struggling, not for art, not for wealth, not for culture, not for refinement, but for walking with God. They blunder; they do not know; they have dim visions, oftentimes, of God—they see Him as that blind man saw the trees as men walking. Their notion is intermingled with the notion of their time; but in it all, throughout it all, inspiring it all, is that hunger and thirst after righteousness that shall be filled. To come into the Bible is to come, not into words graven on stone, however true, but into living experiences of love, of faith, or hope, wrought in imperfect lives, but glorifying them by the glory of an indwelling God.
- And behind the truth and behind the experience you are to look for something still more than either—you are to look for God himself. Back of all Bible truth is the human experience of the Divine. Back of all human experience of the Divine is the God that inspires, irradiates, and creates it. Do I value the locket less because I know it is a human handiwork? It is not the locket I care for. It is the picture of the beloved that is in the locket. It is not the frame and form and structure of the book, but it is the God who dwells in the book that makes it dear to me. Kaulbach’s famous cartoon of the Reformation presents Luther holding aloft an open Bible, while grouped around and before him are the inventors, the discoverers, the thinkers, the writers of genius, that were nurtured in the cradle of the Reformation. It is a true picture. Where that open Bible has not gone, there to-day is darkness illimitable. Where that Bible has gone, partly opened and partly closed, there is a dawning of the day. And where it is an open Bible with a free page and a well-read one, there is the illumination of civilisation. (Lyman Abbott, D.D.)
What use do we make of the Scriptures?—All our practical knowledge of God is comprised in the Bible. The Bible then ought to be to us that which the chart and the compass are to the mariner on a stormy ocean; we have absolutely no other guide, no other directory to our course. In what light, then, do we practically regard the Bible? Is it enough to possess the Scriptures, to have been instructed out of the Scriptures in infancy, to hear them read in public worship, to have a general approbation of their contents? Would it be satisfactory to the mariner merely to possess a compass on board his vessel; to have received information as to its use in infancy, to admire its utility, or to discourse sometimes publicly of its merits; meanwhile he is driving on, it may be, to rocks, to shoals, to sands, or quite away from his course? But how many an individual lives in this precise manner, as to his use of the Scriptures! Day passes after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and God marks not his anxious eye pondering over this chart of life. Politics, science, poetry, history, it may be lighter productions—these can arrest his attention and interest his mind; but the Bible which notifies the waymarks to eternity—this excites no interest. And yet such a person perhaps expects God’s favour—expects to reach the harbour of endless peace, and never even dreams of the probability of intervening shipwreck! Mournful and inconsistent expectations! Many, however, are to be found who are by no means chargeable with this entire neglect of the Scriptures. Some have, from infancy, acquired regular habits of reading the Bible, and peruse, as a daily or at least as a weekly task, their allotted chapters. But they do this oftentimes without anxiety, and without progress in religious knowledge. The fact of reading is to them more important than the contents which they read. They manifest no submission of the heart to God’s teaching—no godly diligence to lay up in the soul His statutes and promises. Eternity fastens not upon their thoughts—the wonders of redeeming love attract not their affections. They read with coldness, and languor, and unconcern. There is no scrutiny as to the effect of their knowledge—as to the conformity of their views, and sentiments, and habits, with the decisions and intentions of God! The heart makes no progress in its voyage—it is no nearer to God—no nearer to the dispositions of Heaven than it was many years ago. Think again of the mariner—his eye glances daily upon his compass—or once a week he fixes his look upon the needle; but he uses not the helm—he brings not the vessel into the prescribed course! As well then might the compass be cast into the depths of the sea! Now, it is evident that this is not the use of the Scriptures which God demands—this is not to possess any anxiety as to the knowledge of God’s will. Those who thus neglect, or thus imperfectly respect the Scriptures, are not among those who “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Christian World Pulpit.) Scripture manifold yet one:—The Bible is, to use the language of Prof. Westcott, “a book manifold by the variety of times and circumstances in which its several parts had their rise, one by the inspiring presence of the same spiritual life.” It may be compared to a cathedral whose parts have been built at different successive ages: the traces of these ages are easily seen in the architectural style, but all are knit together in one holy temple of God. Closer investigation of this cathedral shows that the historical range of its growth is greater and wider than was at first supposed. The stones which have been built in, it seems, were drawn from widely-scattered quarries; here are marbles which must have been imported from distant lands; here are great blocks of stone which must have been conveyed from unthought-of hills; here are richly-carved capitals which show some foreign skill: but all these have found their fitting place. Each stone, each ornament, drops into the spot prepared for it; arch, pillar, buttress, mullion and pinnacle, whatever their greater or their lesser antiquity, are lending support or beauty, and fulfilling their functions as parts of one vast sanctuary, whose purpose is not lost or altered because antiquarians have made its stories doubly interesting and doubly dear by enlarging the bounds of its history and adding new elements to the story of its growth. (Bp. W. B. Carpenter.) Profitable for doctrine, &c.—
The uses of the Scriptures:—The Scriptures give Divine, and therefore infallible, direction “for doctrine”—the didactic teaching of the truth concerning God; “for reproof”—the refutation by proof of error concerning God; “for correction”—the setting right or rectifying the wrong principles of practical ethics; “for instruction in righteousnsss”—the positive nurture of the soul in experimental knowledge of the way in which a sinner may be accounted righteous before God. And this, it will be perceived on a little reflection, is a marvellously logical classification of their uses; and it is exhaustive, as covering all the possible wants that man can desire to have met by a revelation. As a being endowed with reason, and capable of believing only what he conceives to be truth, his religion must embrace a “doctrine” of God and his relations to God. As a creature liable to be deceived, by error and unbelief concerning God and his relations to God, his religion must have a guide to warn against and expose the wiles of error, that are ever tampering with his “evil heart of unbelief.” As a being whose passions are ever blinding his conscience in reference to duty toward God and man, his religion must supply him with a rule of right, by which to correct his crooked judgments and amend his crooked ways. As a being capable of a birth to a new and everlasting life, his religion must supply him with a nurture under the new law of righteousness which the faith that is unto salvation teaches him. So that it may be affirmed with truth, that no want of the human soul can be conceived, which is not provided for under one or other of these four heads. (S. Robinson, D.D.)
The profitableness of Scripture:—The Scriptures are “profitable for reproof.” The word here means conviction. The teaching has reference to the ignorance of men, the conviction refers to their errors and prejudices. The mental state presupposed here may be thus expressed: First, there is ignorance; secondly, error, wrong thoughts and beliefs; thirdly, prejudice in favour of the errors that are present, and against the truth that is absent. The declaration of the apostle is that the Word of God has power to convince those who are in this state; that it will destroy their errors and remove their prejudice. One great reason why there is so much prejudice in many minds with regard to religion is, that they do not study the sacred Scriptures. They read all sorts of books concerning the Bible, but the Divine book itself is neglected. They prefer the water that is brought to them through pipes and curious contrivances of men to the fountain of living water, pure, clear as crystal, which springs up from the primeval rocks close to their own door. They gaze upon the cold and spiritless engraving rather than examine the grand original picture. The honest and earnest study of the Bible would produce a mighty revolution in the minds and hearts of thousands, both Christians and others. Akin to this there is another thought that follows. The Scriptures are profitable for correction. Some read to criticise. They cannot admire the great opening poem of the Book of Genesis, in which the inspired muse sings the creative power of the Almighty in notes “harmonious with the morning stars,” because it does not speak with scientific precision. It is quite right to point out whatever inaccuracies may be discovered in the history of the deliverance from Egypt and the sojourn in the Wilderness, but one cannot help remarking that that is a peculiar state of mind in which a man can read through the wonderful story without being once struck with its spirit, its grandeur, and its awfulness. Others turn the sacred pages to find supports for the systems they have formed. This is the same as if a man constructed a theory of nature, and afterwards went in search of the facts whereby its truth must be proved. Others, again, read for comfort. They have been disappointed by the world in which they placed too much trust; or death has broken in upon their charmed circle and filled their hearts with sorrow; or their health is failing, and there are indications that the end is not distant; or their sin has been a burden from which they seek rest. Well, let them read for comfort, for the Bible is the book for sorrowful people. Its deep expressions of Divine love, sympathy, and tenderness have in them a power to heal the broken heart. But we should also know that the Scriptures are given for our “correction.” He is the wise reader of God’s Word who tries his opinions, beliefs, principles, life, and character by the Divine standard, and is willing to have them corrected. This brings us to the high purpose for which the Scriptures were given to us, namely, to impart “instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect”—right in every respect, in thought, feeling, character, and therefore right in state and condition—right in himself, right in his relations to his fellows, and right before God. The aim of the husbandman in the plants he cultivates is to have fruit; but Nature is as careful of the blossoms and the foliage as of the fruit, for her purpose is a perfect tree. Men cultivate parts of their nature. Some educate and develop their physical nature, and not much else. Others pay attention to the sensuous soul—they love music, art, eloquence, and light literature. There are persons who are mere thinkers; the cultivation of the intellectual powers is the one important thing in their estimation. Some spend their lives in small activities—things that are good in themselves, but which become harmful when done to the neglect of more important duties. There is good in all of these; but none of them aim high enough. The Divine purpose is not physical perfection, nor intellectual strength, nor refinement of taste, not even morality and devotion, but the full development of the whole nature, “that the man of God may be perfect.” (T. Jones.)
The proper way to test the Bible:—You see a recipe for making bread. What is the way to test that recipe, but to put the materials together according to its direction? If the bread is good, the recipe is good, is it not? If it is good, I do not care where it came from—I do not care if King Pharaoh wrote it; and if it is not good, I would not care any more for it if it came from the angel Gabriel. It is the thing that proves the thing. The effect proves what is the nature of the cause. And if there are prescriptions in God’s Word to heal pride, and selfishness, and all forms of sin and diseases, and on trial the prescriptions are found to do what they profess to be able to do, the effect justifies the cause. Now, the Bible does not profess to be a book of theories or philosophies. It professes to be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof”—it is the best book in this world for all sorts of reproof addressed to the weaknesses and wants of human life—“for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Where a man wants to be a good man, where a man wants to be thoroughly furnished, and he goes to the Bible, he will have the best evidence that any man can have that it is a Divine book; for it will furnish him with those things which his experience shows him he needs. Here is a roll of charts of a difficult harbour. They were drawn, it may be, by Robert Small. They are handed by him to Admiral Dupont. The Admiral, the moment he sees them, laughs right out, and says, “Do you call this a chart?” It was made with a burnt stick. Robert Small, you know, was a slave; and he had to get his knowledge as other slaves get theirs. He was a pilot in Charleston harbour, however, and he knows where the shallow places are, where the deep places are, where the obstructions are, and where it is clear sailing; and he makes a rough sketch of the whole vicinity, and puts it into Admiral Dupont’s hand; and the Admiral says, “Do you suppose I am going to steer my ships by a chart that a nigger made?” Or he says, “When did you make this? On what kind of a table did you make it? What did you use to make it with?” Does he say this? Under such circumstances what would Admiral Dupont do, who is a sensible man, and who has so much sense that he knows how to employ negroes, and take the advantage of their aid? He would say to those under him, “Take a cutter, man it, and go out, and sound, and see if the chart is correct”; and they would find the shoals and channels to be just as they were represented to be; and after they had put the chart to proof, and found it to correspond to the fact, they would report to him, and he would say, “That is a good chart, if a black man did make it. It is true, and that is the reason why it is good.” Now, the Bible is a chart. It teaches men how to steer where that sandbank of temptation is; where that rock of danger is; where that whirling vortex of passion is. The Bible is a chart of salvation; and if a man only knows his course by this, he will go through life, with all its storms, and come safely into the port of heaven. The way to test the Bible is not to criticise it, and compare its rude marking with the more modern ways of making charts: the way to test the Bible is to put your sounding lines into the channel, and try it, and see if it is not true. But that is the test men do not employ. (H. W. Beecher.)
Scripture teaches a religion of grandeur and joy:—I do not wonder that the men nowadays who do not believe the Bible are so very sad, when they are in earnest. A writer in one of our Reviews tells that he was studying the poems of Matthew Arnold, who believes not in a living God, but in a something or other, which somehow or other, at some time or other makes for righteousness. The sad and hopeless spirit of the poet passed for the time into the reviewer, and he felt most miserable. He went out for a walk. It was a bleak wintry day, and he was then at Brodick in Arran. The hills were in a winding-sheet of snow, above which arose a ghastly array of clouds. The sky was of a leaden hue, and the sea was making its melancholy moan amid the jagged, dripping rocks. The gloom without joined the gloom within, and made him very wretched. He came upon some boys shouting merrily at play. “Are you at the school?” he asked. “Yes,” was the reply. “And what are you learning?” “I learn,” said one, “what is the chief end of man.” “And what is it?” the reviewer asked. The boy replied, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.” He at once felt that the boy was taught a religion of grandeur and joy, while the poet’s was a religion of darkness and despair. (J. Wells, M.A.)
All Scripture profitable:—In the plainest text there is a world of holiness and spirituality: and if we, in prayer and dependence upon God, sit down and study it, we shall behold much more than appears to us. It may be, at once reading or looking, we see little or nothing; as Elijah’s servant went once and saw nothing, therefore he was commanded to look seven times. “What now?” says the prophet. “I see a cloud rising like a man’s hand,” and by and by the whole surface of heaven was covered with clouds (1 Kings 18:44). (J. Caryl.)
Scripture to be used in daily life:—A good husband having received a bag of money, locketh it up safe, that none may rob him of it, and as occasion is he fetcheth it down and layeth it out, some of it for food, some for clothes, some for rent, some for servants’ wages, some for this thing, and some for that, as his necessities require; so, friend, do thou lay up the precious treasure of the Word safe in the cabinet of thine heart, and bring it out as occasion calls for it, in thy daily life. (G. Swinnock.)
Adaptation of the Bible:—The eyes of a good portrait follow the spectator wherever he stands, to look him exactly in the face; and so, whoever a man may be, and whatever his case, the Bible confronts him with its warning if he be doing ill, its warranty if he be doing well, and its wisdom under any, and for all, circumstances.
Apology for the Bible:—King George III. on first hearing of Bishop Watson’s “Apology for the Bible,” said, “Apology for the Bible! I did not know that the Bible wanted any apology.”
The pulpit and the reading-desk:—John Wesley said to one of his followers, who urged upon him the deficiencies of some of the clergy, as a cause of separation, “If you have nothing but chaff from the pulpit, you are abundantly fed with the finest of the wheat from the desk.”
Scripture its own evidence:—It has been for thirty years the deep conviction of my soul that no book can be written on behalf of the Bible like the Bible itself. Man’s defences are man’s word … the Bible is God’s Word, and by it the Holy Ghost, who first spoke it, still speaks to the soul that closeth itself not against it. (E. B. Pusey, D.D.)
Revelation and conscience:—If we admit the agreement of revelation with conscience to be an evidence of Divinity in the Bible, do we thereby make conscience the criterion of what is Divine in it? Some say so and make this the door to Rationalism. But it is surely possible to make conscience a witness, without exalting it into a judge. (J. Ker, D.D.)
The Bible penetrative:—In the Bible there is more that finds me than I have experienced in all other books put together; the words of the Bible find me at greater depths of my being; and whatever finds me brings with it an irresistible evidence of its having proceeded from the Holy Spirit. (S. T. Coleridge.)
Scripture profitable:—A threefold account. 1. For their dignity and authority. 2. For their utility. 3. For their perfection. (1) They are profitable for doctrine and instruction: they teach men what to know and believe, they instruct us in all truth necessary to salvation, viz., concerning God, man, Christ, law, gospel, heaven, hell. He first begins with doctrine, which in order must go before all the rest; for it is in vain to reprove or exhort unless we first teach a man and inform him of his duty. (2) For reproof of error and confutation of false doctrine. We need not run to general councils or send for ancient fathers to determine controversies or confute errors; we have the Holy Scriptures that enable the man of God, and furnish him richly for that purpose. (3) For correction of sin and evil manners, which is done by admonition and reproof denouncing God’s judgments against them, that those which go astray may be brought into the way by repentance. (4) The Scripture teacheth us how to lead a holy and righteous life according to the will of God, and so is profitable for instruction in righteousness and good worts, it being the most perfect rule of righteousness. (5) The Scripture allures us to piety by the sweet promises of the gospel, and so is profitable for consolation (Rom. 15:4). This God hath ordained as a lamp for our feet, that we miscarry not amidst those many by-paths that are in the world. Let us, then, make use of it in the course of our lives. If a carpenter have a rule or line, if he tie it to his back and never use it, his work must needs be crooked; so if we have Bibles and never read them, nor meditate on them to practise them, our lives must needs be irregular. They are, then, to be reproved who set up false rules to walk by, as—1. Antiquity. 2. Custom. 3. Fathers. 4. The Church. 5. Reason. 6. Universality. 7. Enthusiams. (T. Hall, B.D.)
Profiting in Scripture to appear:—Let us imitate the sheep, which boast not how much they have eaten, but show it actually by their fat, fleece, and young. (Ibid.)
How to profit by Scripture:—Observe, such as meddle with God’s Word must profit by it. We abuse the Word when we read or hear it only for speculation, novelty, and curiosity, but not for practice, that we may know, love, and fear God, and so be happy for ever. God gave them for this end, that we might profit by them. Those ministers, then, are to be blamed that play with Scripture and feed their people with the chaff of airy notions, frivolous questions, idle distinctions, and foolish controversies, seeking their own ends and praise, and not the benefit of God’s people. Let such remember that the Scripture was given to profit us, but not play withal. (Ibid.)
Perfection of Scripture should win regard:—This perfection of the Scripture should stir up our love to it. As imperfect things are slighted by us, so complete and perfect things are highly esteemed by all the sons of wisdom. No book to be compared to this for perfection, and therefore no book should be so loved, read, studied, and prized by us. Here’s nothing vain or superfluous, but all things full of life and spirit; whatever good the soul can desire, ’tis here to be had. Here is food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, wine for the wearied, bread for the weak, raiment for the naked, gold for the poor, eye-salve for the blind, and physic for the sick. If thy heart be dead, this will quicken thee; if hard, this will soften it; if dull, revive it. In all our temptations, this is a David’s harp that helpeth to still them (Acts 15:31). We should therefore with joy draw water out of these wells of salvation (Isa. 12:3). We see how worldlings delight to view their bills and bonds, their leases and indentures, by which they hold their lands and livings; and shall not we delight to study the Scripture, which assureth us of never-fading riches? (Ibid.)
Plainness of Scripture:—A lady of suspected chastity, and who was tinctured with infidel principles, conversing with a minister of the gospel, objected to the Scriptures on account of their obscurity and the great difficulty of understanding them. The minister wisely and smartly replied, “Why, madam, what can be easier to understand than the Seventh Commandment—‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’?” (C. Buck.)
The Bible a guide:—The Bible is not a puzzle to wise heads, but a lamp for the wayfaring man. (Daniel Moore.)
The Bible a guide:—No; I say, destroy the Bible, and still everything remains the same—except that you have lost your guide. If a party of voyagers who are passing through a dangerous channel were to say, “Away with the chart! it is such a worry to be always looking at it; and it expects one to be so very careful, too; away with it; it’s a nuisance!” you might easily get rid of your chart, but the rocks and shoals and sunken reefs and all the perils of the channel would remain there just the same. Suppose a community were to say, “Banish your doctors. Let’s have no medical books here, no treatises on disease. ‘Throw physic to the dogs. We’ll none of it!’ ” They could do that, of course, if they liked. But the laws and conditions of health and disease, of life and death, would remain precisely where they were before. And it is conceivable that men might get rid of the Bible. Practically, many do get rid of the Bible; but what do they gain? Only the loss of a guide. The facts of the universe, the facts about man and about God, the facts about the mutual relation of the one to the other, remain precisely the same. (G. Calthrop, M.A.)
Restraining power of the Bible:—The Rev. Charles Vince, of Birmingham, told the following incident at a meeting of the Bible Society in 1863:—“The Hill-top Auxiliary in the ‘Black Country’ determined to send round two or three Christian men every Saturday evening, with packages of Bibles, to visit the public-houses and persuade the miners and puddlers of the district, while they had their money, to spend some part of it in buying the Word of God. While they were carrying out this plan a miner said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a good thing for us to have a copy to read down in the pit at dinner-time?’ The proposition met with general approval, and they agreed to buy a copy for this purpose. Of the first copy handed to them the landlord said the print was too small to read down in the pit, and offered to give a shilling towards the cost of a better type. This was bought, and one of the men said with great simplicity, ‘If we have the Bible at dinner-time, we mustn’t have any swearing.’ This, too, was carried, and a fine imposed upon the man that should break the rule. Is there any other book in the world that you could carry into the company of men and make them say, ‘If we open this, and begin to look at it, we must begin to put away some of our sins’?” (Family Treasury.)
The Bible instructive:—A Hindoo paper, published in Bengal, speaks as follows of the excellence of the Bible:—“It is the best and most excellent of all English books, and there is not its like in the English language. As every joint of the sugar-cane, from the root to the top, is full of sweetness, so every page of the Bible is fraught with the most precious instruction. A portion of this book would yield to you more of sound morality than a thousand other treatises on the same subject. In short, if anybody studies the English language with a view to gaining wisdom, there is not another book which is more worthy of being read than the Bible.” (Sword and Trowel.)
Faraday’s testimony to the value of Scripture:—One of the best and greatest Fellows of the Royal Society in the present century was ill, and sitting in his room, when one of the best of my profession that ever lived in this country, Dr. Latham, went in to him and found this great man in tears, sitting by his fireside. Latham told me this story himself. He said, “My good friend, I fear you feel more ill to-day; what is it?” “No,” he said, “not that; I was thinking what a sorrow it is that the world will go astray when it has this blessed book to guide it.” This man was Faraday, and I need not say that the book on his table was the Bible. (Sir H. W. Acland, M.D.)
The poor widow’s treasure:—“Did ye ask me if I had a Bible?” said a poor old widow in London; “Did ye ask me if I had a Bible? Thank God I have a Bible. What should I do without my Bible? It was the guide of my youth, and it is the staff of my age; it wounded me, and it healed me; it condemned me, and it acquitted me; it showed me I was a sinner, and it led me to the Saviour; it has given me comfort through life, and I trust it will give me hope in death.”
The principles of Scripture to be applied:—Professor Newman complained, some years ago, against our Bible, because it does not tell every father to what business or profession he should put his sons. For such infinite particulars and detailed advices we should require, not a portable manual, but a British Museum. Far wiser and truer is the principle enunciated by the orator Burke, when he says, “Reading, and much reading, is good. But the power of diversifying the matter infinitely in your own mind, and of applying it to every occasion that arises, is far better; so don’t suppress the living force.” (J. Clifford, D.D.)
The Bible a lighthouse:—A lighthouse looks like a tall pillar rising out of the sea, or built upon some high bluff. The top is a large lantern, where a bright light is kept burning all night, which is seen far out at sea; and it says to all ships and sailors sailing by, “Take care! take care!” One is built on a ledge of rocks; its warning light says, “Give wide berth to these sunken rocks.” Another says, “Steer clear of this dangerous reef.” Another, “Keep clear of this dangerous headland. If you come here, you are lost.” There are a great many lighthouses on the coast: how does a sailor know which is which? He sees a light gleaming through the darkness and the storm; but where is it? He has a chart in the ship, and that tells. A chart is a map of the coast, with all its rocks and sandbanks and lighthouses put down, and everything that a sailor ought to know in order to steer his ship safely across the ocean. If he faithfully consults it, and keeps a good look out, he is likely to ride out the storm and come safely into port. That the man of God may be perfect.—
Character:—The superiority of man is everywhere manifested on earth. True greatness is measured by character.
- To perfect the character of man is the aim of Christian truth.
- In developed character is to be found the great moral riches of the world.
III. In it we have a striking proof of man’s immortality.
- It supplies a test by which to measure the value of the services of the sanctuary, the value of the Bible, of all things—its ability to develop true manhood. Have we grown in Christian character? Have the Church services proven barren or fruitful to us? (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)
The Bible the book for the man of God:—Jerome was versed in the polite literature of his day and in the works of classic writers. He tells us that in a dream he once thought himself arraigned before the judgment seat of Christ, where he was asked the nature of his profession. He answered, “I am a Christian.” “Thou art not!” said the Judge; “thou art a Ciceronian, for the works of that author possess thy heart.” The Judge then gave order that he should be scourged by angels. Although it was only a dream, his chastisement never was forgotten; it changed the direction of his thoughts. “From that time,” he says, “I gave myself to the reading of Divine things with greater diligence and attention than I had ever read the other authors.” To give undue attention to secular reading, to the neglect of sacred literature, is a temptation peculiar to the cultivated believer, and it is a real temptation; for one may be as sordid in the acquisition of knowledge as in the pursuit of wealth. The man of God’s equipment:—
- The man of God is instructed—1. Concerning God. 2. Concerning man. 3. Concerning duty. 4. Concerning responsibility.
- The man of God is disciplined. 1. Joy in prosperity. 2. Hope in adversity. 3. A cheerful submission to the will of God at all times.
III. The man of God is inspired. 1. The mind is illumined. 2. The affections are sanctified. 3. The whole life is made the reflex of revelation. (Weekly Pulpit.)
Development of character:—An English barrister who was accustomed to train students for the practice of law, and who was not himself a religious man, was once asked why he put students, from the very first, to the study and analysis of the most difficult parts of the Sacred Scriptures? “Because,” said he, “there is nothing else like it, in any language, for the development of mind and character.”
The Bible the text-book of character:—Professor Matthew Arnold represents modern literature, and is often regarded as one of the severest critics of the current Christianity; yet he says, “As well imagine a man with a sense for sculpture not cultivating it by the help of the remains of Greek art, or a man with a sense for poetry not cultivating it by the help of Homer and Shakespeare, as a man with a sense for conduct not cultivating it by the help of the Bible.” Professor Huxley represents modern science, and is the bete noire of controversial theologians; yet he says, “I have been perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, was to be kept up … without the use of the Bible.”
16, 17. Paul now expands the idea which he has just expressed. He does this in three ways:
- Not only are “the sacred writings” (verse 15) of inestimable value; so is also “all scripture.”
- Not only does this sacred literature “make wise for salvation” (verse 15) but it is definitely God-breathed and as such capable of thoroughly qualifying a person “for every good work.”
- Not only will it benefit Timothy (verse 15), but it will do the same for every “man of God.”
Accordingly, Paul writes, All scripture (is)162 God-breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
All scripture, in distinction from “(the) sacred writings” (for which see on verse 15) means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical, that is, authoritative. When Paul wrote these words, the direct reference was to a body of sacred literature which even then comprised more than the Old Testament (see on 1 Tim. 5:18; also footnote ). Later, at the close of the first century a.d., “all scripture” had been completed. Though the history of the recognition, review, and ratification of the canon was somewhat complicated, and virtually universal acceptance of all the sixty-six books did not occur immediately in every region where the church was represented—one of the reasons being that for a long time certain of the smaller books had not even reached every corner of the church—, it remains true, nevertheless, that those genuine believers who were the original recipients of the various God-breathed books regarded them at once as being invested with divine authority and majesty. What should be emphasized, however, is that not because the church, upon a certain date, long ago, made an official decision (the decision of the Council of Hippo, 393 a.d.; of Carthage, 397 a.d.), do these books constitute the inspired Bible; on the contrary, the sixty-six books, by their very contents, immediately attest themselves to the hearts of all Spirit-indwelt men as being the living oracles of God. Hence, believers are filled with deep reverence whenever they hear the voice of God addressing them from Holy Writ (see 2 Kings 22 and 23). All scripture is canonical because God made it so!
The word God-breathed, occurring only here indicates that “all scripture” owes its origin and contents to the divine breath, the Spirit of God. The human authors were powerfully guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. As a result, what they wrote is not only without error but of supreme value for man. It is all that God wanted it to be. It constitutes the infallible rule of faith and practice for mankind.
The Spirit, however, did not suppress the personality of the human writer, but raised it to a higher level of activity (John 14:26). And because the individuality of the human author was not destroyed, we find in the Bible a wide variety of style and language. Inspiration, in other words, is organic, not mechanical. This also implies that it should never be considered apart from those many activities which served to bring the human author upon the scene of history. By causing him to be born at a certain time and place, bestowing upon him specific endowments, equipping him with a definite kind of education, causing him to undergo predetermined experiences, and bringing back to his mind certain facts and their implications, the Spirit prepared his human consciousness. Next, that same Spirit moved him to write. Finally, during the process of writing, that same Primary Author, in a thoroughly organic connection with all the preceding activity, suggested to the mind of the human author that language (the very words!) and that style, which would be the most appropriate vehicle for the interpretation of the divine ideas for people of every rank and position, age and race. Hence, though every word is truly the word of the human author, it is even more truly the Word of God.
Though the word God-breathed—that is, inspired by God—occurs only here, the idea is found in many other passages (Ex. 20:1; 2 Sam. 23:2; Is. 8:20; Mal. 4:4; Matt. 1:22; Luke 24:44; John 1:23; 5:39; 10:34, 35; 14:26; 16:13; 19:36, 37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 7:38; 13:34; Rom. 1:2; 3:2; 4:23; 9:17; 15:4; 1 Cor. 2:4–10; 6:16; 9:10; 14:37; Gal. 1:11, 12; 3:8, 16, 22; 4:30; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13; Heb. 1:1, 2; 3:7; 9:8; 10:15; 2 Peter 1:21; 3:16; 1 John 4:6; and Rev. 22:19).
Now by virtue of the fact that “all scripture” is God-breathed, it is useful or beneficial or profitable. It is a very practical, yes an indispensable, instrument or tool for the teacher (implied here). Timothy should make good use of it:
- for teaching. What is meant is the activity of imparting knowledge concerning God’s revelation in Christ. See on 1 Tim. 5:17. This is ever basic to everything else.
- for reproof (cf. Ps. 38:14; 39:11). Warnings, based on the Word, must be issued. Errors in doctrine and in conduct must be refuted in the spirit of love. Dangers must be pointed out. False teachers must be exposed (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:15; then Eph. 5:18; and see N.T.C. on John 16:8–11).
- for correction (see M.M., p. 229). If reproof stresses the negative aspect of pastoral work, correction emphasizes the positive side. Not only must the sinner be warned to leave the wrong path, but he must also be directed to the right or straight path (Dan. 12:3). This, too, “all scripture” is able to do. The Word, especially when it is used by a consecrated servant of God who is diligent in the performance of his pastoral duties, is restorative in character (cf. John 21:15–17).
- for training in righteousness (cf. 2 Tim. 2:22). The teacher must train his people. Every Christian needs to be disciplined, so that he may prosper in the sphere where God’s holy will is considered normative. Such is the character of training in righteousness (cf. Titus 2:11–14).
The teacher (in this case Timothy, but the word applies to everyone to whom the souls of men are entrusted) needs “all scripture” in order to enable him to perform his fourfold task (teaching, administering reproof, correction, training in righteousness), with a glorious purpose in mind, a purpose which in his own way and at his own time God will cause to be realized in the hearts of all his people: that the man of God may be equipped, for every good work thoroughly equipped.
The man of God (see on 1 Tim. 6:11) is the believer. Every believer, viewed as belonging to God, and as invested with the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king, is here given this title. To function properly in this threefold office the believer must become equipped (note the emphasis of the original; literally, “… that equipped may be the man of God”); yes, once for all thoroughly equipped (cf. Luke 6:40) “for every good work” (1 Tim. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:21; Titus 3:1). Paul (and the Holy Spirit speaking through him) is not satisfied until the Word of God has fully accomplished its mission, and the believer has reached “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12, 13).
The ideal to be realized is glorious, indeed! The power to reach it is from God. Hence, let Timothy remain steadfast. Let him abide in the true doctrine, applying it whenever opportunity presents itself.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 142–163). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 591). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 279–280). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Barcley, W. B. (2005). A Study Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy (pp. 279–281). Darlington, England; Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 248–250). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Guthrie, D. (1990). Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 14, pp. 181–182). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (pp. 100–104). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Second Timothy–Titus, Philemon (Vol. 1, pp. 294–317). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 301–304). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.