Memorizing Scripture

Verses for July 2007: Scripture

By Jerry Truex

This month we are memorizing 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which is part of “Paul’s” advice to Timothy about how to handle malicious people (2 Tim 3:1-5).

2 Timothy 3:16-17. 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 3:13 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (NRSV)

The phrase, “so that” (hina), points to the aim of scripture: To train everyone who belongs to God for good works (3:17). In context, “Paul” is expressing confidence that Timothy can cope with malicious people (3:1-5), live the divine life (3:12), and reap salvation (3:15). Why? Because Timothy has been trained by the scripture (3:15). There are three elements to clarify:

First, “all scripture” (pasa graphē.) refers to the Hebrew Bible (the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament), which was written prior to the time of Jesus, Paul, and Timothy. Only later did the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, including 2 Timothy itself, come to be recognized as scripture.

Second, the phrase “inspired by God” (theopneustos) is formed by the words theos (God) and pneō (to breathe). Scripture is inspired or “God-breathed.” It’s metaphor! Since God doesn’t have lungs, we are asked to imagine the impossible, God exhaling or breathing out scripture. However much we want it, metaphor rules out a precise “theory of inspiration.” Rather, the writer wants us to mull over the impossible image until we grasp its significance for our lives.  

I think of it this way: The Bible contains the words of men (literally), which expresses the Word of God (metaphorically). As with all human words, the Bible is culturally conditioned. So, to be faithful to God, we must exercise critical reason in interpreting, evaluating, and applying the human words to our circumstances. But, as the Word of God, we have confidence by faith that the Bible is sufficient to bring us to salvation, to make us wise regarding peace, justice, and righteousness.

Third, Paul identifies how scripture is useful or profitable: (a) For teaching(didaskalia) or guiding us in the truth; (b) For reproof (elegmos) or helping us see what we need to change; (c) For correction (epanorthōsin), which refers to restoring or repairing us to what we were intended to be, and (d) For training (paidia), which refers to coaching us in disciplined ways so that we may become mature in Christ.

May the word of Christ dwell in you (Col 3:16).

Jerry Truex is the Pastor of the Mennonite Church of the Servant; instructor of Biblical Studies at AMBS-Great Plains.