2 Timothy 3:15-17:
Proof for Sola Scriptura?
By Matt1618

Sola Scriptura is the formal principle of the "Reformation.” Although there are a variety of ways in which this principle is enunciated, and some pour a meaning into Sola Scriptura that is different from others, this principle teaches that Scriptures is the exclusively infallible rule of faith. Although some Protestants will grant that the Church and Tradition has some authority to guide believers, when push comes to shove and one disagrees with the interpretation given by Church and Tradition, the ultimate guide of the individual is one’s own interpretation of Scripture. If one studies Scripture and comes to the conclusion that is opposite of his Church, that person is free to disregard that interpretation. Scripture (or actually one’s interpretation of Scripture) is the final authority and no other authority is at the same level of Scripture.

Now, when asked to prove Sola Scriptura from Scripture itself, 2 Tim. 3:15-17 is the Scripture that is most often cited as the most powerful proof text for Sola Scriptura. In this study we will examine this Scripture. Before we dig into this Scripture however, let us briefly dig into what proponents say that Sola Scriptura teaches. Although some who profess this teaching agree that the concept of Sola Scriptura is not explicitly taught in Scripture, these same people will argue that the teaching is at least implicitly taught in Scripture. Both Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes for example, both admit that the Bible does not explicitly teach Sola Scriptura. However, they both argue that an explicit statement in Scripture supporting that doctrine is not necessary to support their view. They also both argue that just as the Trinity is not explicitly but implicitly taught in Scripture, so the same goes for Sola Scriptura. 2nd Timothy 3:15-17, they say, at least implicitly teaches this principle. [1]

Ironically, absolutely no Church Fathers used 2 Tim. 3:16 or verses 15-17 as a proof text for Sola Scriptura, at least anywhere near the principle enunciated by Protestants. Those who did hold a materially sufficient view, also held the Church and its tradition were equal authorities to Scripture. One can say that those verses may say that Scripture is materially sufficient (I don’t believe 2 Tim 3 even teaches the material sufficiency of Scripture, which I will show as the passage is examined), which Catholics can hold (as long as the Church and Tradition are given equal authority). Catholics are allowed (but not forced) to believe that Scripture has everything that we believe in, at least implicitly. One thing to note, as Shawn McElhinney has noted, is that 2 Tim. 3:16 was used by Arians to actually teach that the Bible was the only infallible rule of faith. They used Scripture alone to come to the conclusion that there is indeed no Trinity at all.

Maximus who was an Arian actually had a version of Sola Scriptura that many Protestants would agree with. Here is what he writes in the first paragraph his commentary on 2 Tim. 3 and the following paragraph is Shawn’s commentary on that statement:

"If you produce from the divine scriptures something that we all share, we shall have to listen. But those words which are not found in the scriptures are under no circumstance accepted by us, especially since the Lord warns us, saying, In vain they worship me, teaching human commandments and precepts'(Mt. 5:19)." [8]Maximinus, Debate with Maximinus, 1 (A.D. 428), from the book ‘Arianism and Other Heresies’ (AOH), 188

Now before any Protestant reads that passage and adds a hearty "Amen" to it, they had better be clued in on who is being quoting here. The quote is from a late 4th early 5th century personality named Maximinus and he was an extremist Arian heretic who denied the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did he deny the Divinity of Our Lord (and the Trinity) but he used the Scriptures to do it (Matt 4:5-6; Luke 4:9-11). He cited 2 Timothy 3:16 as a "proof-text" to support an early form of "Sola Scriptura" in Trinitarian disputes. To the knowledge of this author the heretic Maximinus is the ONLY early witness to use this verse to support a form of ‘Scripture sans Tradition’. [2]

Thus, those who hold that the Trinity is a perfect example of Scripture implicitly teaching something at the same level of the Sola Scriptura, use the same principle, Sola Scriptura, that at least one Arian heretic held who used a Sola Scriptura principle to deny the Trinity. Those who are Oneness Pentecostals who hold to Sola Scriptura, for example, also use Scripture as their authority to deny the Trinity. Thus, it is not as clear cut as MacKenzie and Rhodes might like.

Now, before we look at 2nd Timothy 3:15-17, let us see look at what the Westminster Confession of Faith says what Sola Scriptura is (This will be the “Reformed” version of Sola Scriptura). We need to give this background in order to see if 2 Tim. 3:15-17 accomplishes this goal:

VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them...

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[3]

So according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, everything that is necessary for us to know, the whole counsel of God can be found explicitly in Scripture or at least deduced from Scripture. That which is necessary for salvation is clear in Scripture. Even the unlearned due to a use of ordinary means, (which is deliberately left vague as what ordinary means is) can understand clearly what the teaching on salvation is, through the Bible. Everything that is necessary for us to know on not only salvation, but also faith and life is taught in the Scripture. Another important principle is given is that Scripture interprets Scripture.

Now, what do some current Protestant apologists say what Sola Scriptura does? The following apologists help to clarify how the Protestant (at least Sola Scriptura from the so-called “Reformed” position) interprets the meaning of ‘clarity’ of Scripture. After that, other aspects of what Sola Scriptura is, will be given. John Armstrong, in the book, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible, writes:

Basically, “perspicuity” (or clarity) means the Bible is self-interpreting as to its essential truths. This truth seems presupposed, as a matter of course, in Luke 16:29: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” We read, in words that came from the lips of our Lord: “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). This counsel would be meaningless unless all readers can know the truth through the Scriptures. Further, the Bereans are commended as the most noble of all early Christians because “They searched the Scriptures daily” to see if the oral teachings of even an apostle were faithful to the text (cf. Acts 17:11). Again, the assumption is that in truly searching the Scriptures truth can be clearly discovered. [4]
Mr. Armstrong goes on to argue that the Bible is the sole testimony to God's words and redemptive actions:
The Bible is, simply put, our sole testimony to God’s words and great redemptive actions. [5]
Then Mr. Armstrong asserts with confidence that Scripture itself is able to judge all matters of faith and practice.
Is Scripture able to judge between truth and error in all matters of faith and practice? The doctrine of the sole authority of Scripture answers with an unmistakable "yes."[6]
This is no doubt a sweeping claim. Scripture is actually able to judge not only Scripture, but also all matters of faith and doctrine.

John MacArthur, in the same book, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible, summarizes his version of Sola Scripture by the following:

It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture...So Sola Scriptura simply means that Scripture is sufficient. The fact that Jesus did and taught many things not recorded in Scripture (Jn 20:30; 21:25) is wholly irrelevant to the principle of Sola Scriptura. The fact that most of the apostles’ actual sermons in the early churches were not written down and preserved for us does not diminish the truth of biblical sufficiency one bit. What is certain is that all that is necessary is in Scripture-and we are forbidden “to exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6)...

It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture. [7]

James White gives us three short summaries of what Sola Scriptura is:
  • 1. The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church....
  • 2. All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture, and in no other source....
  • 3. That which is not found in Scripture-either directly or by necessary implication-is not binding upon the Christian....
  • White goes on to further clarify this position by writing:

    The Bible claims to be the sole and sufficient infallible rule of faith for the Christian Church. The Scriptures are not in need of any supplement; their authority comes from their nature as God-breathed revelation; their authority is not dependent upon man, church or council. The Scriptures are self-consistent, self-interpreting, and self-authenticating. The Christian Church looks to the Scriptures as the only infallible and sufficient rule of faith, and the Church is always subject to the Word, and is constantly reformed thereby. [8]
    So thus we see many a claim for Sola Scriptura by those advocating this position. It makes Scripture itself the judge of all matters of faith and life. It is self-interpreting, with no other guide of equal authority to it. We can ignore that which is outside Scripture (at least to the point that whatever authority there is, does not equal the authority of Scripture). Scripture is clear in its interpretation, especially on matters of salvation, although there is no denial that there may be less clarity on other issues. Through Scriptures we can clearly discover its truth. Although they will admit that there are other authorities, such as Church, and even tradition some may give some credence to, they are not of equal importance or authority as the Bible.

    Thus, 2nd Tim. 3:15-17 has a tall order to fill. Let us see what Protestant apologists make of this text. Below is the text, and following that we will see what Protestant apologists will claim that it teaches. We must keep in mind what Sola Scriptura teaches, as we have seen, and let us see if it matches what they say Sola Scriptura teaches. Let us look at the Scripture and look at the claims made by the apologists for that Scripture and how well that Scripture fits Sola Scriptura:

    2 Tim. 3:15-17

    15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

    John MacArthur writes:

    A brief summary of that passage is perhaps appropriate here as well. In short, verse 15 affirms that Scripture is sufficient for salvation: "The sacred writings. . . are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." Verse 16 affirms the absolute authority of Scripture, which is "God-breathed" (Gk. theopneustos) and profitable for our instruction. And verse 17 states that Scripture is able to equip the man of God "for every good work." So the assertion that the Bible itself does not teach Sola Scriptura is simply wrong.[9]
    Armstrong argues that 2 Tim. 3:15 shows that Scripture is perspicuous:
    Paul very specifically says to young Timothy that "from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures" (2 Tim. 3:15) and the Psalmist says that the Word and statues of God are "Making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7). To attack the perspicuity of Scripture is a not-so-subtle attack upon the very authority of Scripture. itself.[10]
    Robert Godfrey noted that Catholic apologists (including me and you will see me do it later on in response) note that there are other passages which say that there are other things that make one complete just as Scripture does in 2 Tim. 3:17. To counter the argument Godfrey writes:
    The usual response of Catholic apologists is to repeatedly assert that 2 Timothy 3 does not teach sufficiency. Sometimes they will refer to James 1:4, Mt. 19:21, or Colossians 1:28 and 4:12 as parallel texts, claiming that the word "complete" in 2 Tim. 3:17 does not mean sufficient. But such passages are not parallel; a completely different Greek word is used. Where 2 Tim. 3:17 uses exartizo, which has to do with being fitted for a task, these other passages use the Greek word teleios, which has reference to maturity or having reached a desired end. [11]
    Therefore, Godfrey argues that the fact that the other verses use a different Greek word, militates against the Catholics using those verses and elements used in those verses as a text against the Protestant use of 2 Tim. 3:17 to prove sufficiency.

    Finally, James White uses the same passage in attempting to prove more things as well as address a couple of Catholic arguments (that I in fact will use when I respond later on). He also focuses especially on v. 17. Here are a few of his comments as we see what he attempts to prove for Sola Scriptura. He starts off in paragraph one below by commenting on v. 15 which shows him admitting that Paul is referring Timothy to the Old Testament. The second paragraph below has him referring to the inspiration of Scripture (v. 16) and how that shows that Scripture is superior in authority to the Church. In the final paragraphs he focuses on the words "Fully equipped for every good work" as showing Scriptural Sufficiency.

    Paul's words refer primarily to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, for it is obvious that Timothy would have had none of the New Testament writings at that time. Some have argued that this fact makes this passage irrelevant to any discussion of sola scriptura, since it speaks only to the Old Testament, and no one would wish to say that the Old Testament is wholly adequate and the New Testament in superfluous or unnecessary. However, such an objection misses the point, as the thrust of the passage is the origin and resultant nature of Scripture and its abilities, not the extent of Scriptures (i.e., to the canon.) That which is God-breathed is able by its very nature, to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus ("all things necessary for man's salvation") and to fully equip the "man of God" for the work of the ministry ("all things necessary for . . .faith and life")...

    Paul's point should not be missed. Because of the origin of Scripture in God himself, the authority of Scripture is God's authority. You don't have different authorities in the Church: Scriptural authority over here, and God’s authority over there. The authority of Church is one: God's authority . And when God speaks in Scripture His words carry His authority... The divine authority of the Church, then, in teaching and rebuking and instruction, is derived from Scripture itself, despite Roman Catholic claims to the contrary...

    The first term to examine is the adjective translated "complete". The term, according to Vine, means "fitted, complete." Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker tell us the term means "complete, capable, proficient." That is, as they say, "able to meet all demands," giving the specific citation of 2 Timothy 3:17 as the reference. Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains uses the term "qualified" as well. I pause only long enough to note that Paul asserts that the man of God can be complete, capable, proficient and qualified, because God's inspired Scriptures are always available to him. If another source of authority was necessary surely Paul would have directed us to it in order that we might be complete, but he does not!...

    The Scriptures are able to fully equip the man of God so that he is able to do every good work. No one serving God has to search about for other sources. The inspired Scriptures are the sufficient source for a person's needs in ministry. Is there a doctrine we need to impress upon our congregation? We will find the Scriptures sufficient to provide the basis of this exhortation....[12]

    Thus, we see this passage supposedly fulfilling all or at least most of the main points that the Sola Scriptura doctrines teaches as that would be consistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith. I note down below a short summary with the apologists who cite 2 Tim. 3 in support of that position. I am sure the other apologists would agree with the other apologists, but here I am only noting those apologists who in the material that I have, have commented on 2 Tim. 3:15-17:

  • 1. The fact that Timothy is referred to the Old Testament is of little relevance. The teaching applies to Scripture as a whole. (White)
  • 2. The passage teaches the perspicuity of the Bible's teaching on salvation (v. 15). It also means that the Bible is self-interpreting as to its essential truths. (Armstrong, MacArthur)
  • 3. Scripture equips the man of God for every good work, and is thus sufficient. The fact that it equips man for every good work means that although there may be other authorities, none of those authorities are of equal authority as Scripture. (Godfrey, White, Geisler, Rhodes)
  • 4. The fact that parallel texts exist which speak of equipping for good works, does not denigrate the sole authority of Scripture.(Godfrey, White)
  • 5. The Church gets its authority from Scripture.(White)
  • 6. By this passage not mentioning other authorities, this shows that all necessary doctrine is found in Scripture.(White, Rhodes)

  • A Catholic Response

    Below is the passage again, and we will address each of the six points made by the varying Protestant apologists.

    2 Tim. 3:15-17

    15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

  • 1. The fact that Paul is referring Timothy to the Old Testament is of little relevance. The teaching applies to Scripture as a whole.(White)

  • There are several problems with this attempt by White to render this point invalid. Yes, ultimately the teaching on this passage does apply to Scripture as a whole. However, we must understand the passage in the way that the passage was meant to be understood at the time it was written to give a proper context. This brings Protestants problems on the canon that this passage does not address which we will shortly look at. Now, if Scripture was the sole infallible authority on the teaching on salvation, and in Timothy's possession was only the Old Testament, the teaching on salvation as it was on that occasion must be sufficient. In fact it is very relevant that at the time Paul is only speaking of the Old Testament, as he is speaking in v. 15 of the Scriptures that Timothy has known since infancy. Thus, for those who say that justification is a once and for all occasion where Christ's righteousness must be imputed and applied to one's account, there must be at least some basis for that in the Old Testament as well, if it is sufficient on salvation, as spoken of by MacArthur. That is because Sola Scriptura proponents say that the Scripture that Paul speaks of, makes Timothy wise unto salvation. Of course, nowhere is that view of salvation even hinted at in Old Testament (as we will see as we address point #2).

    Timothy was half Greek, half Jew (Acts 16:1-4). As he was Greek, what was the Old Testament that he was brought up in from infancy? Those such as Timothy would have been brought up reading the Septuagint. The canon that Timothy was brought up on would have reflected that canon that contain the Deuterocanonicals that Protestantism rejects as not on an equal par with the rest of the Old Testament. Thus, the Scriptures that Timothy was brought up on would have reflected such things as Prayers for the dead (2nd Macc. 12:44-46). We know that Paul knows of the contents and unmistakably refers to these contents elsewhere in his writing (Heb. 11:35; 2nd Macc 7). Catholicism accepts the contents of the Scriptures that Timothy was brought up in while Protestantism rejects their canonicity.

    Another even more important problem with this interpretation is that it not only ignores the problem with the Old Testament canon, but it does not deal with the canonicity of this very epistle. Yes, Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is profitable, but absolutely nowhere in this epistle does Paul tell Timothy that what he is writing is Scripture. So on what basis is 2nd Timothy Scripture, and on what basis do you use it to teach Scriptural sufficiency when Paul nowhere makes the claim that what he is writing is Scripture? How do we know that what Timothy is writing is Scripture? Paul certainly nowhere in this epistle writes that it is. Obviously, it is the Church that declares this as Scripture, and it is only the Tradition of the Church that declares 2nd Timothy Scripture. When Peter mentions Paul's writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), he does not mention any specific letter that Paul had written. How do we not know that when Peter refers to the Scriptures that Paul had written, that they were not the letter from Laodicea (Col. 4:16), nor do we see the letter that he had written to the Corinthians that was before 1st Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9)? Neither of those letters are part of the canon, but on what basis do we know are Paul’s canonical letters from the non-canonical ones? The church is the one that infallibly decided what the contents of Scripture are. There is no contents of the New Testament in the New Testament itself. Surely it is not given in 2 Tim. 3. Thus, the only way that we know 2nd Timothy (and the rest of the Pauline letters) is inspired is because of the authority of the Church and her tradition. Thus, the quotation of 2nd Timothy only proves the absolute reliability of the Church and her tradition. To quote this Scripture in an attempt to undermine the authority of the Church or her Tradition actually undermines the authority that one can have in calling this Scripture.

  • 2. The passage teaches the perspicuity of the Bible's teaching on salvation (v. 15). It also means that Bible is self-interpreting as to its essential truths. (Armstrong, MacArthur)

  • Yes, I realize that the Westminster confession of Faith argues that the Bible is perspicuous on salvation and those who hold to Sola Scriptura must hold to the perspicuity of Scripture on the doctrine of salvation. Armstrong and MacArthur matter of factly argue that v. 15 shows that Scripture teaches the perspicuity of salvation. However, the context of this passage again would undermine the understanding of salvation that these same Protestant apologists hold to. We have seen these apologist cite v. 15, where it says the Scriptures that Timothy has known since infancy would make him wise unto salvation. Of course, theoretically, what is taught here does apply to the New Testament as a whole. Nonetheless, in order to properly interpret this text we must interpret the way that this was meant to have been interpreted for the reader at that time. It is in fact after the fact extrapolation if one tries to apply from this passage an idea that the Scriptures that Paul is speaking about to include the New Testament. So, if one tries to interpret the passage the way that Paul wrote it, as it included only the Old Testament, for the Protestant faith alone idea to hold, we must be able to read in the Old Testament, that the view of salvation presented there, perspicuously teaches faith alone through the means of an alien righteousness applied to one's account. Of course, that is nowhere found in the Old Testament, nor even implied.

    Now it is true that the Old Testament does teach on salvation, but it definitely does not teach that one is justified by faith alone. For example, if we look at the way that one is justified before God in the Old Testament, we see justification is not a one time imputation of righteousness based on faith alone, but by those within God's grace who perform righteous actions being declared righteous based on those actions. For example, let us look at Psalm 106:29-31.

    Psalm 106:29-31

    29 they provoked the LORD to anger with their doings, and a plague broke out among them. 30 Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. 31 And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation for ever.

    The writer of Psalms refers us to Numbers 25, where Phinehas had done a righteous act of killing idolaters who were committing sexual sins. Note the language used. Reckoned to him as righteousness, (also used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6), the exact language that Paul would use in Romans 4:3, that Protestants will try to use to justify the faith alone theory.

    Psalm 106:31 so much destroys the Protestant position on Rom. 4 that Protestant John Murray writes:

    If Paul had appealed to Psalm 106:31 in the matter of justification, the justification of the ungodly, then the case of Phinehas would have provided an inherent contradiction and would have demonstrated justification by a righteous and zealous act...Genesis 15:6 is dealing with justification, as Paul shows . Psalm 106:31 is dealing with the good works which were the fruit of faith.[13]
    Psalm 106:30-31 refers to the incident recorded in Numbers 25 in which the men of Israel had sex with Moabite women. The Lord ordered Moses to kill them. Phinehas grabbed a spear and killed a man and woman who were engaging in this sexual sin. God tells Moses that Phinehas was zealous for God's honor, and that as a result of his act Phinehas turned God's wrath away. This is the act that Phinehas is accounted for righteousness. Nothing about an alien righteousness. Phinehas is not merely considered righteous, but this righteousness is inherent. His work is meritorious, and is what justifies him. This is not the Protestant, Faith alone position, but the Catholic position that works are indeed a cause of salvation, not merely a fruit of it. Murray is forced to call this passage in inherent contradiction to his view of salvation, but in fact labels Psalm 106:31 in contradiction to his faith alone theory. For Murray to call this passage only a fruit of salvation is a repudiation of the Psalmist's words. The Psalmist calls this action by Phinehas a reckoning of righteousness. This is the same words as used of Abraham in Genesis 15, and no Protestant calls that action only a fruit of good works. Other passages that show the view of salvation that is not faith alone include Prov. 24:12, Prov. 17:15, Psalm 62:12, and Psalm 7:8.

    One may ask, why are you digressing to examining the view of justification, when this is a discussion of authority? I am checking to see, that since the Protestant view of Sola Scriptura includes a 'perspicuous' view of salvation, and since the passage in 2 Tim. 3:15 has been cited to show that the Scripture that Timothy has known since infancy teaches a perspicuous view of salvation, whether that matches the faith alone view of salvation. This would be where the righteousness of another is imputed to ones' account by the instrument of faith alone, and whether this matches what Timothy has been brought up in. Although obviously one would not expect the full explication of this Sola Fide doctrine, if Timothy was perspicuously taught this, there must at a minimum some foundation for that belief in the Old Testament, if as MacArthur and Armstrong teach, v. 15 teaches that Scripture is perspicuous on salvation. In fact, the sacred writings do not teach that at all in the Old Testament (I would argue that neither does the New Testament, but that is another issue).

    The other thing that shows that Scripture is not the sole authority just based on this verse is that for Timothy, it has been since his infancy and as a child that he has become acquainted with in its teachings. How does any child or young adult become acquainted with Scripture? Fathers, Mothers, and teachers instruct the child on the meaning of the Scriptures. No one would argue that as a child, one could grasp the Old Testament teaching on salvation. It is obvious that when Paul is speaking on how the Old Testament teaches on salvation, he takes for granted that as a child he was instructed by others on exactly the meaning of salvation as understood in the Old Covenant. Now as an aside, if we go to the New Testament writings, especially that of Paul, the teaching on salvation is not perspicuous (cf., Rom. 3:28; Rom. 2:6-13, etc.) Of course when the New Testament gives us its teachings on salvation, Peter tells us that Paul's writings on salvation are not easy to understand and are easy to distort (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Thus, the attempt to say that this passage teaches us the perspicuity of the Scripture on salvation, is a point that is belied by the context.

    On the idea given by Armstrong that "the Bible is self-interpreting as to its essential truths", where is that written anywhere in Scripture? The Scriptures he cites has absolutely nothing to do with that idea. The word 'essential' is nowhere noted. Where is the idea anywhere in Scripture that there are some things called "Essential Truths" and other things called "truths where it is Ok to disagree on."? Nowhere at all. Jesus said he would send the Spirit to guide his Church into “all” truth (Jn 16:13). He did not put into categories of "This is essential truth that Scripture will guide you in" and "These other categories are 'non-essential' so it is Ok to disagree on.” Jesus did seem to say that all truth is essential. Paul likewise writes that he wants the Church to be united in one mind and judgment (1 Cor. 1:10).

    BTW, what is essential truth that Scripture would guide us to? The identity of Jesus as the Eternal Son of God as fully God would seen to be an essential. Remember, we saw earlier that the Arian Sola Scripturist of his time, Maximus argue from Scripture that Jesus was not fully God. As evidence, one of the contributors to the Sola Scriptura book, John MacArthur, wrote that Jesus is and was God, but before the incarnation was not the Son of God. Only after the incarnation, supposedly, did Jesus become the Son of God. If one of the main contributors of a book that ‘proves’ Sola Scriptura, and one of the top Evangelical Ministers in the United States today, misses on who Jesus was before his incarnation is not essential, what, pray tell, is essential? Fortunately, recently, MacArthur has changed his mind and agrees that Christ's sonship is eternal, but he had advocated this heretical position all the while going by "The Bible Alone".

    One of the main arguments that Protestants use to explain away the differing positions on doctrine due to the use of Sola Scriptura is the fact that supposedly, ‘well, we may have many differences on minor issues, but we agree on the essential doctrines’. Well, besides sounding nice, and having no Biblical basis for that rationale, the issue at hand is, “What are the essential things?” As Phillip Blosser notes:

    Nor will it do to fall back on the assertion that Protestant conservatives, at least, are united on “essentials”; for the question as to what is “essential” and what is not, is itself part of what is at issue. Lutherans consider baptism essential, while Quakers do not. Baptists consider an “adult” profession of faith to be an essential prerequisite for baptism, while Presbyterians do not. Presbyterians consider the predestination of the elect to be an essential doctrine but Free Methodists do not. Nazarenes consider personal holiness an essential prerequisite for salvation, while Lutherans do not. Calvinists consider the “irresistability of grace” an essential belief, while Lutherans do not. Episcopalians consider sacraments essential, but the Salvation Army does not. Presbyterians regard the belief in the “total depravity” of man essential, but Methodists do not. The Dutch Reformed consider creeds and confessions essential, but Baptists do not. Baptists consider “altar calls” essential but Presbyterians do not. [14]
    Thus, the idea that we saw earlier that was given by Sola Scriptura proponents that “Scripture decides what is true doctrine” has proved to be a colossal failure as there is no agreement among the sects on what the true doctrines are. The Catholic position on such doctrines are united. A look at the Catholic Catechism, based on the three pillars of Church, Tradition and Scripture, has helped to give a solid guidance on what is true doctrine and what is not true doctrine. The same can not be said of Sola Scriptura.

  • 3. Scripture equips the man of God for every good work, and is thus sufficient. The word exartizo means that Scripture equips fully. The fact that it equips man for every good work means that although there may be other authorities, none of those authorities are of equal authority as Scripture. (Godfrey, White, Geisler, Rhodes)

  • There are two points in analysis of this Scripture passage that prevents Sola Scripture from being implied from this passage. Each of these points, in and of themselves destroy the interpretation given by Sola Scriptura advocates.

    1) The reading of the Protestant apologists (such as Robert Godfrey, James White, Ron Rhodes) who emphasize that this text speaks of Scripture fully equipping for every good work means that there are no other authorities that serve the same end is I say a horrible misreading of the text. A plain reading of the text shows that Scripture here is not even close to achieving what Sola Scriptura proponents say it does. I will give the texts, vv. 16-17 again:

    16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
    Many proponents, will argue that Scripture is inspired, God-breathed, and since it is so important that no such other authorities exist. That is an argument from silence, since Scripture does not say so, here or anywhere else. The Catholic Church agrees that Scripture is inspired, and we must obey Scripture. But this passage does not exclude other authorities and in fact as we examine the context a little further down, we will see other authorities and things that also guide Timothy that are of equal value.

    I say this argument done by Sola Scripturists in analyzing these verses is a perfect fulfillment of the following verse:

    2nd Peter 3:16

    speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

    Why do I say that? Why do I consider the misusing of this passage to prove Sola Scriptura a knowing twisting of Scriptures? Well, we see all the emphasis on the Scripture that is noted in verse 16, as being directly linked to the fully equipping of man for every good work in v. 17. What is the twisting of that? Well, this is a horrible twisting because fully equipping for every good work, is not described as speaking of Scripture as being sufficient to do so. Note again that this fully equipping for every good work , is speaking of verse 17. Now, what does it specifically say of Scripture to serve that end, which is in that prior verse? What fully equips? Doctrine, Reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness are the four items that fully equip. Where is Scripture in the mix? V. 16 speaks of Scripture only being, not sufficient but profitable to those four ends. The word profitable is nowhere near the meaning of the word sufficient. Thus, Scripture is only profitable in training us in righteousness, reproof, doctrine, for correction. Then those four ends are those that equip. Those four ends are the things that fully equip, and Scripture is only profitable in getting people ready to do that. Therefore, all the emphasis on fully equipping for every good work, and the word exartizo meaning that Scripture fully equips us, is absolutely a fraud. It fully ignores the description of Scripture itself. The reason is, that when Scripture is directly spoken of, it is only termed 'profitable' in doing so. Thus, Scripture is termed profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. If I drink water, it is profitable but not sufficient to keep me alive. Water is indeed profitable to my body. However, I also need food which is profitable to my body. If I do not have food, eventually I will still die. Likewise, if I have all the food in the world but I don’t have water I can die of dehydration. Neither one of them are sufficient to fully nourish, but they are both profitable. The church likewise asserts that scripture is profitable for these four ends. Then it is those four ends (not Scripture) that fully equips. However Sola Scriptura teaches that it is sufficient for those four ends. Later when it talks about being fully equipped for every good work we must remember that scripture is only termed profitable for those ends. The going on to emphasize how the Greek word means that it fully equips us is totally irrelevant to whether the Bible is sufficient. It is termed in the immediate context of only being profitable. In fact, as this I say near fraudulent use of the word for fully equipping since there is a vast difference between sufficient to fully equip and only being profitable for the four ends that do equip. The authors who emphasize it, including White, Geisler & MacKenzie, Godfrey, MacArthur, and Rhodes, all knowingly ignore the fact that Scripture is never termed as sufficient to fully equip, but are only profitable to the four ends (doctrine, correction, reproof, training in righteousness) which are the grounds for fully equipping. By it only being termed profitable, de facto, this passage does not demonstrate the Sufficiency of Scripture in any way shape or form, no matter the meaning of exartizo. This passage in and of itself does not even teach the material sufficiency of Scripture. It is a twisting of Scripture and God’s word when the emphasis on the word exartizo and equipping ignores the fact that Scripture is only termed profitable for the four ends so noted.

    I let some people on the Catholic Converts Message Board know that I was going to do this article and a person going by the name of "Let's Obey Christ" asked me to engage him on the following points:

    While your researching 2 Tim. 3:15-17 don't forget to treat my exegesis of this passage:

    2 Tim 3:16 Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.
    17 That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.-asv

    In context Paul is giving Timothy reasons why Scripture is “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”-2 Tim 3:15 kjv

    His premise is indicated by “hina” in Vs. 17 which begins with the word “that” In Greek “hina” (Strong’s # 2443) literally means “in order that.” This premises his conclusion that "all Scripture is inspired of God," or literally "every Scripture (holy writing) is inspired of God."
    In other words, Paul’s argument is "Scripture is able to make thee wise unto salvation because all scripture is inspired by God in order that the man of God be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
    In abstract we could rearrange this portion to read thusly:

    2 Tim 3:17 [In order] That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
    2 Tim 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:-kjv

    Paul is obviously saying God’s purpose when inspiring Scripture was to render all men of God perfect and thoroughly equipped. [15]

    How do we respond to this approach to this supposed 'proving' Sola Scriptura? The principles that I have already established would easily respond to these points, which is a slightly different approach than the Protestant apologists already noted. First, in the context of salvation that he brought up we have already been over that so there is no need to retread my earlier comments on that.

    Next, with the translation of "every Scripture is inspired, etc." LOC (short for the moniker “Let’s Obey Christ”) proves that Paul can't even remotely be speaking of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura says that the contents of all of Scripture sufficiently complete a person to be fully equipped for every good work. If a subject that is necessary for us to know is not in one book of the Bible, we have the rest of Scripture to look at (We saw this in the Westminster Confession of Faith Section on Scripture, Section VI & VII). Thus, all of Scripture must be our guide. However, with the correct translation of Paul actually meaning, "every Scripture" it means that if we pour the Sola Scriptura interpretation into the text and look at the meaning of the word, each verse becomes our full guide! Each individual Scriptural verse becomes a sufficient guide for us? Thus, not even the most avid Sola Scriptura advocate would say that one verse of Scripture is a sufficient guide for us. However, with the correct translation of every, or each Scripture (Not All Scriptures), this is what the verse would have to say!! The Westminster Confession of Faith does not say that, nor does any Sola Scriptura advocate. In actuality, no matter how great one Scriptural verse is, it can never be a full guide for the life and faith of believers. Thus, with this correct translation, 2 Tim. 3:16 is a proof text against Sola Scriptura. We know that if Paul wanted to speak of the full Scriptures he would have mentioned the term Scriptures in plural. Whenever the Bible refers us to the whole corpus of Scripture, it always uses the term "Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, Romans 1:2, Mt. 22:29, Lk 24:27). Paul does not use that term here. Thus, on that basis alone, we see that 2 Tim. 3 can not in any way be used to support Sola Scriptura.

    Next, LOC’s premise is that v. 16 is written so that v. 17 is fulfilled. He makes an important link of 16 to 17 by stressing that, hina, (or in order that) makes the meaning of v. 16 important so v.17 is fulfilled. V. 17 says that a man is complete and equips the man of God mentioned in v.16. I have no problem with that at all. However, in his bit by bit analysis of v. 16 he actually ignores the content of v. 16 and thus links the two verses incorrectly. Yes, the beginning of v. 16 does say that Scripture is given by the inspiration of God. And yes, each verse of Scripture is inspired, as Paul writes. However, LOC writes that his conclusion is that Scripture is inspired and he links that to v. 17 to imply that Scripture is sufficient, where again, the word sufficient is not used or by any stretch or imagination, even implied. When Paul writes about each Scripture being inspired, that is not the conclusion of v. 16 that links to v. 17, but is only the beginning of the verse. It is not ready to get linked yet. The first thing that it says about Scripture is that it is profitable. Again, I have emphasized this before but that in itself renders Scripture as insufficient, as being 'profitable' is not sufficient. It is useful to an end, not sufficient. Then, it says that the study of each verse (remember, every Scripture), is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. This is what the aim of each Scripture verse is for. (Remember, Paul is not writing of Scripture in its totality). Now, those four ends, for which each Scripture is profitable, is that which is qualified by hina. And again, it is those four things, not Scripture that so equip the man of God. The hina link is thus, to those four things which fully equip, and each Scripture is only termed 'profitable' for those ends. Profitable is a weak term even describing those four ends. Those are the ends that do the equipping, and each Scripture is profitable for that. So LOC’s conclusion, where he says "in other words" are in fact putting into Paul’s mouth LOC’s words “Scripture is able to make thee wise unto salvation because all scripture is inspired by God in order that the man of God be thoroughly equipped for every good work" which practically ignores all of v. 16 to serve a doctrine that is not even hinted at in this passage. Then in his conclusion he again links the verses but his conclusion ignores the bulk of v. 16 which is that which is linked to v.17.

    2) The other point that destroys the idea that this passage speaks of Scripture to the exclusion of other authorities as spoken of by the Sola Scriptura apologists I quoted is the fact that Paul has referred Timothy up to this point in his letter (2 Tim. 3:15-17) to other authorities, and other means of being equipped for Christian service. In fact, up to this point in time, Paul only quoted Scripture one time, and that was only used to refer to encourage those to stand firm in the faith (2 Tim. 2:19).

    First, we need to look at the immediate background of Chapter 3, and then look at the larger context of the epistle, where there are definitely other authorities of importance. In the immediate context he writes in v. 10 "But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith long-suffering, love, perseverance,...". Thus, this doctrine that he must carefully follow is not Scripture in this instance. Does he say in v. 10 that the only source of doctrine is scripture? No! It is obvious that the way that Timothy primarily received Paul's doctrine was orally, also by his way of life and oral teaching. Next, in. v. 14 Paul writes: 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it. Paul tells Timothy to continue in the things that Paul has assured him. Everything that he has told Timothy of, is something that Timothy has experienced with Paul as a witness most of which obviously is not reduced to writing. So when we get to vv. 15-17, the conclusion that talks about being fully equipped for every good work in v. 17 includes this oral tradition explicated in v. 10 and v. 14. This is the immediate background to vv. 15-17. Even the immediate background of those verses thus shows Paul referring Timothy to oral tradition as an authority.

    In the context of the whole epistle we see several things that equip, including especially oral tradition. In fact, we see Paul in the beginning of chapter three where he speaks of Scripture as inspirational, actually drawing from oral tradition in 2 Tim. 3:8 when he writes:

    2 Tim. 3:8

    As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith.

    If one looks in the Old Testament, one will find that there is absolutely no mention of Jannes and Jambres as the names of the magicians who opposed Moses. Where did Moses draw this information from on who Moses’ opponents were? A proponent of Sola Scriptura even admits that Paul drew this information from tradition , but disregards that point in the following way:
    Evangelical Christians agree that the reference to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Tim. 3:8 apparently draws not on the Old Testament but on a fairly widespread Jewish legend about two of Pharaoh’s magicians who competed against Moses and lost (Exodus 7:11; 9:11). This legend appears in Pseudo-Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud, Targums, and various rabbinical writings... Evangelicals deny that the mere drawing of this fact from tradition necessarily means that tradition is inspired or authoritative. If Paul was referring to tradition in this verse, he did so only because the tradition in this case contained a true statement that bore mentioning. He was not thereby saying that tradition in itself is authoritative or on an equal par with written revelation..

    Let us be clear: The inclusion in a biblical book of a true fact from a tradition does not thus mean that the tradition itself is inspired. It simply means that the tradition includes a true fact. [16]

    First, to term what Paul refers to as a ‘legend’ puts a bad face on what Paul refers to. Legend has a connotation of it not being true, as a fable. Thus, Rhodes tries to color his attack on tradition by calling it a legend, when in fact, he later admits that Paul is drawing upon not a legend, but a tradition that is true. Paul in fact assumes that what he is speaking of is true, not merely a legend. Rhodes’ attempt to downgrade this fact is in the midst of Paul referring to the New Covenant traditions as being of equal authority (2 Tim. 3:10, 14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:2) that people must heed (we have already looked at vv. 10-14, and the latter two texts we will examine next). In fact, if Paul wanted to say that tradition is of lesser authority than Scripture, why, since he admittedly draws upon tradition in this very chapter, not say: “Even though I am drawing upon tradition, it is of less authority then Scripture.” In fact, if we look at 2nd Tim. 3:15-17, we see no mention of Scripture as being of a superior authority than tradition. In fact, in 2 Tim. 3:15-17, we see absolutely no comparison that Rhodes points to. If he wanted to prove Sola Scriptura, this would have been the perfect opportunity to say that oral tradition is inferior. He does no such thing. We have already seen Paul’s oral tradition as a source for Timothy to draw from. In fact, in the midst of Paul’s affirming tradition, if he thinks that tradition is not authoritative, it is a strange way to prove that oral tradition is not of equal authority as Scripture, when he quotes from another tradition that is not Scripture. If he thinks that oral tradition is ‘less reliable’ than written tradition of Scripture, why is there no hint of this in Paul’s writing in his letter to Timothy?

    Next, in the larger context of the epistle we see in the prior chapters, Paul write to Timothy, that oral tradition is binding and must be passed down. Let us look at a couple of passages that show this:

    2 Tim. 1:13-14

    13 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; 14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

    2 Tim 2:1-2

    1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

    The context of these statements affirms that it is oral tradition that is passed on. First, a look at 2nd Tim. 1:13-14. Paul tells Timothy to hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me,. That which Timothy is to hold are the words that Paul has spoken to Timothy. This is an authority that Timothy is bound to hold to. He doesn’t say, “After I die, then it is no longer binding”. That is the unfounded supposition that Sola Scriptura advocates hold to. A good commentary on this verse (2 Tim 1:13) is by St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Timothy:

    Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also; which he shows, both in many other passages as where he says, "whether by word or epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou has heard of me." (2 Tim 1:13). [17]
    The words Paul tells Timothy to hold to, just as St. John Chrysostom notes, are spoken of, and do not relate doctrines imperfectly. Paul shows no fear of this at all. The whole Protestant charge on the unreliability of tradition is not true, as noted by Paul and St. John Chrysostom. This authority that Timothy holds is told to hold fast to, is an authoritative guide. (BTW, some Protestant Sola Scriptura proponents, will outrageously take one or two quotes from St. John Chrysostom where he asserts the absolute authority of Scripture (which no Catholic would disagree with) but ignores the fact that on passages such as 2 Tim. 1:13, 1 Cor. 11:2 and 2 Thes. 2:15 he unambiguously affirms the equal authority of oral tradition. He also agrees with the Catholic Church on the succession of bishops, baptismal regeneration, both the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the fact that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, the sacrament of penance, praying for the dead based on tradition, etc. We must remember that Sola Scriptura not only states that Scripture is the only authority that is infallibly authoritative, but that the teaching of Scripture on salvation is perspicuous. It must clearly teach the concept of Faith Alone. If St. John Chrysostom believed in Sola Scriptura in the sense that Scriptures teaches clearly on salvation as Sola Scriptura advocates say that he should, he would have rejected all of the above teachings, since they all have to deal with salvation in some sense, and those Sola Scriptura advocates reject his view of salvation. Thus, if St. John Chrysostom’s view of salvation is so far from the teaching on salvation of Sola Scriptura advocates, this shows at a minimum that Scripture is not clear on salvation. In fact no Father taught Sola Fide anywhere near approaching the Protestant view, (although some Fathers may have used the words ‘Faith Alone’ the fact that they held to such teachings as purgatory, prayers for the dead, Eucharistic sacrifice, etc. shows that they did not have faith alone as merely an instrument to get an alien righteousness imputed to one’s account, as Sola Fide advocates hold)

    2 Tim. 1:14 shows us that Paul expects the bishop Timothy (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6) to hold fast to this tradition by the Holy Spirit. This is in perfect keeping with the church teaching on the authoritativeness of and surety of this teaching. And this is how Paul lays down the foundation for 2 Tim 2:2.

    There are various Protestant objections to the use of 2 Tim. 2:2 to establish authoritative oral teaching. For instance John MacArthur attempts to make 3 points when he speaks of this passage. I will examine each of his points:

    1)Here the apostle Paul instructs Timothy, a young pastor, to train other faithful men for the task of leadership in the church. There is no hint of apostolic succession in this verse, nor is there any suggestion that in training these men Timothy would be passing on to them an infallible tradition with authority equal to the Word of God...

    2) Paul commanded Timothy to preach, and it is the same message that is preserved in Scripture and sufficient to equip every man of God (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2)...[18]

    3) Word of mouth tradition is never said to be theopneustos, God breathed, or infallible.[19]

    1) MacArthur attempts to limit the extent of the authority given here in this passage as only discipleship. In fact the oral teaching that was passed on from Paul to Timothy serves at the basis of this training of leaders, but it is not merely speaking of that. What he has heard from Paul is his oral teaching, which would obviously consist of doctrine. This oral teaching which is Pauline tradition is exactly what Timothy is explaining in 2 Tim 2:2. When we get to the passage (just after telling Timothy to hold to Paul's words) we notice that three generations of Christians are told to pass on truth orally. In 2 Tim 2:1 Paul calls Timothy his son. Paul is the first generation apostle who is to pass on his authoritative teaching orally to Timothy, the second generation. Then he tells the second generation leader Timothy to entrust this same oral teaching to the third generation (Timothy's spiritual sons) which is to pass this authority to the fourth generation. To say that this has nothing to do with apostolic succession ignores the very words of Paul. Paul has already shown us in 2 Tim 1:13-14 that oral tradition is in the background of this very verse. 2 Tim 2:2 speaks of passing on what is entrusted to Timothy of what he has heard from Paul. Individually (2 Tim. 1:13-14 and 2 Tim. 2:1-2) these verses assert oral tradition in the Catholic way. However when these verses are combined, any honest reader will see that Sola Scriptura is the farthest thing from Paul's mind. This is not mere discipleship, it is teaching. When the background to this verse is shown to be (2 Tim 1:13-14) Timothy holding on to Paul's oral teaching it is clear that this oral tradition is binding on not only Timothy, but his successors. Also, what is Timothy being entrusted with? Nothing but the deposit of faith. There is absolutely no hint in this passage that authority is downgraded. The Protestant asserts that after the first generation of apostles passed, the absolute binding apostolic authority was lost, except that which was written in Scripture. The other authorities are subservient to that of Scripture and no authority equals that. However, in Paul’s writing in 2 Tim. 2, there is absolutely no hint of a loss of such authority to the succeeding generations. Paul assumes that those who follow him, will have the same binding authority.

    MacArthur attempts to quote 2 Tim. 3:15-17 as a proof text against 2 Tim. 2:2. This passage indeed shows that there is another authority besides Scripture. The attempt to corral 2 Tim. 3:15-17 as a refutation of 2 Tim. 2:2 would make Paul and Timothy forget what Paul had written in the first two chapters of this very letter. There is no mention in 2 Tim. 1&2 of Scripture being a superior authority, and in fact, Scripture is not even mentioned in the first two chapters. What is relevant is that right in the middle of passing on authoritative teaching there is no mention of Scripture at all. MacArthur's conclusion on 2 Tim 2 that Timothy is told that the only reliable method of passing on teaching is scripture is absolutely nowhere in the text or context. In fact 2 Tim 3:15-17 said nothing about passing his letter on to future generations whereas in 2 Tim 2:2 oral teaching is specifically said to be entrusted to Timothy to pass on that which would include doctrines. In fact, Paul specifically says that this is to be passed on when he never mentions to pass on this very letter! Nowhere does either 2 Tim. 3:15-17, or 2 Tim. 1:13-14, or 2 Tim. 2:1-2 say, "well, after Paul passes on, the only thing binding on future generations is Scripture."

    Another passage in 2 Tim. 2 shows even further the reliability of this oral word of God. Many try to use this passage to say that this is in agreement with Sola Scriptura. But let us take a quick look at it:

    2 Tim. 2:15

    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

    Who is Paul writing to except Timothy, one who was a bishop with authority who was ordained by Paul (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6)? He is speaking to Timothy who as Bishop has authority over others. Now, many try to use this passage, where it says word of truth to refer us to Scripture. However, what is the word that Paul is speaking of? Up to this point he has not even quoted or alluded to Scripture. Twice as we have seen he has referred Timothy to his own oral words (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:2). Paul’s oral word is the word of God. Paul has written elsewhere that the words that he speaks, not merely writes, are God’s word:
    1 Thess. 2:13

    And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

    Thus, we know that Paul sees his spoken word to other people as the word of God. This is the word that Paul refers us to in the first two chapters of 2nd Timothy (1:13-14; 2:1-2). With this background, and with absolutely no even allusion to Scripture at this point, it is obvious that the word that Paul is speaking of here is the Oral Word of God, not Scripture. Scripture has not even been mentioned. Timothy who now has authority over other people, can rightly divide the word of truth, which is the authority of oral tradition. Thus, here is another point where this word of truth is oral tradition, not Scripture.

    2) MacArthur's argument that when Paul is speaking in 2 Tim. 2, it is the same message that is preserved in Scripture and sufficient to equip every man of God (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2) again only builds on the distortion of using 2 Tim. 3:16 to say that Scripture is sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work. Remember, Scripture is termed by Paul as useful or profitable in correcting, doctrine, reproofing and training in righteousness, and in any case it is those four things that equip the man of God, not Scripture which is only profitable for those ends.

    His error in misusing again of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 is compounded by the assumption that he makes that oral tradition spoken of in 2 Tim. 2:2 as the exact same thing as what Paul had written. In neither 2 Tim. 2:1-2, or 2 Tim. 1:13-14 did Paul write, "Well, for future generations the only thing binding on the believers as infallible are those written things that will become Scripture." That is a fallacious assumption nowhere hinted at in the text. Now of course the oral tradition is consistent with the written tradition, but it very well could give more elaboration on things that he wrote, or could teach about things not even written in Scripture. In any case, Paul nowhere limits his oral teaching to being less authoritative to only Scripture, and his oral teaching as not being infallibly binding upon future generations.

    3) The idea that because the word inspired, or theopneustos is never used of tradition, per se, and therefore only Scripture is authoritative is making a mountain out of a molehill. Robert Sungenis gives a response to these specific MacArthur comments and I will let his response to that argument serve as my response to that self-same argument:

    First, 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (My insertion of the text: And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.) assures us that Paul's oral teaching is God's word as much as Scripture is God's word; hence, both must be infallible. Second, theopneustos is a term used to describe Scripture not as a technical term which seeks to distinguish the infallible nature of Scripture from the purported fallible nature of Tradition. Theopneustos means that Scripture, though written by men, is in actuality a unique combination of the words of God and the words of men - Scripture is "God -breathed" in the analogous sense that God breathed life into man at the creation. To claim, however, that "word-of-mouth" tradition is not equal to Scripture simply because the word theopneustos is not used to describe inspired oral teaching and its subsequent tradition is short-sighted, unprovable, and begging the question. Scripture uses various term to describe divinely originated revelation, e.g, "the word of God," (1 Thess. 2:13) "the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matt. 10:20); "in spirit" (Mt. 22:43); "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 4:8), and many others. None of these descriptions is of less divine origin and authority than theopneustos.[20]
  • 4. The fact that parallel texts exist which speak of equipping for good works, does not denigrate the sole authority of Scripture.(Godfrey, White)

  • This argument is not necessarily an argument that has to be dealt with because what we have shown in our prior section. The fact that 2 Tim. 3:16-17 only shows that Scripture is profitable for the four ingredients (doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness) which are the items that actually fully equip, blows away all the emphasis on Scripture being sufficient to fully equip the man of God for every good work. Scripture is only profitable for those ends, and is not termed as sufficient for this. Thus, the efforts to emphasis the word exartizo as fully perfecting through the study of Scripture as sufficient is totally irrelevant to the issue as Scripture is only termed profitable to those four ends which are the items that equip. In my opinion, the fact that Catholic apologists respond to these charges in both oral debates that I have heard, and even in books gives credence to the Protestant idea that, Well, If the Protestant proves the point on exartizo means to fully equip, that means the Protestant proves Sola Scriptura. In fact, even if the Sola Scriptura advocate is correct on the point that exartizo means to fully equip and the Catholic comparing of passages make no point at all, the Protestant side has not proved anything. That is because, yet again, and the point can not be emphasized too much, and that is why I am pounding this point in until the reader gets it, is that the modifier of Scripture in this passage, is only termed profitable for the four ends which actually are the means to fully equip the man of God for every good work

    With that said, let us go on to compare some Scriptures that show the use of words very similar to the word exartizo, or fully equipping in v. 17, which are used in speaking of other things that equip the man of God as well. For example, here are some other passages and sources of things that also equip the man of God:

    James 1:4
    And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

    Colossians 1:28
    Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.

    2 Cor. 9:8

    And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.

    2 Thess. 15-17
    15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

    2 Tim. 2:21
    If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.

    One thing to note, that in agreement with the Protestant authors the use of the word exartizo, to fully equip, is not used in these other passages. Nonetheless, the words that do prepare to equip the person, are comparable. Also, in each of those passages the phrase ‘every good work, or complete’ are directly paralleled to the 2nd Tim. 3:17 passage. So these are equal and real parallels.

    In the first passage James tells us that perseverance makes us complete, even lacking nothing. I would assume that if James had written this of Scripture, this would have been the passage that Sola Scriptura advocates would have used to prove that doctrine. However, perseverance is put here instead. In fact, perseverance is not qualified by only being termed profitable, as Scripture is so qualified in 2nd Timothy 3:16. Can one say Sola Perseverance? That only perseverance is necessary? That Scripture is not necessary? If Sola Scriptura advocates are consistent, they would have to say that. Of course they do not do so.

    Listening to the preaching, in Colossians 1, matures the man. Do we say that listening to preaching is all that is necessary? Getting the manifold blessing of God prepares us for every good work, per 2 Cor. 9:8. Is getting the blessing of God mean that other things are not necessary?

    2nd Thessalonians 2:15-17, Paul tells the readers that one is told to hold to traditions, both oral and written (a key passage that proves the necessity of oral as well as written tradition, but that is not the purpose of this essay. The purpose of this essay is to establish that 2 Tim. 3:15-17 does not teach what Sola Scriptura advocates say it teaches). However, look at what it does. In the context of one getting steeped in tradition, and established in grace, based on holding fast to the traditions, one is established for every good work. This is a fairly close parallel to 2 Tim. 3:15-17. However, what is modified in this instance is not only the grace that comforts us, but also holding fast to the oral and written traditions from which that grace works. Thus, this is another source, and authority for perfecting the man of God to equip for every good work. And this passage is not qualified by merely ‘profitable’ as the 2 Tim. 3 passage is so qualified.

    Finally, in the immediate context of 2nd Timothy 2:21, we see that purification, sanctification makes us ready for every good work. Therefore we see that in the very epistle where Paul writes of Scripture being profitable for the four ends that do equip the man of God for every good work, Paul writes in the preceding chapter of sanctification doing the same very thing as Scripture.

    James White is aware of the fact that 2 Tim. 2:21 uses the very phrase, (even though exartizo is not used) and tries to get around that fact by writing:

    Paul is talking about a man purifying himself, denying godlessness and walking in a godly fashion. This is just what hetoimazo refers to. But in chapter 3 he speaks of sufficiency and capability because he is not talking about something the man himself does, but of the perfection of the source from which the man of God draws: the God-breathed Scriptures. [21]
    Again, even in attempting to rationalize his attack on the real parallel of 2 Tim. 2:21, he misstates his comparison to chapter 3 as Scripture as being sufficient, because the word that is used to describe Scripture by Paul is not sufficient, which is nowhere used in chapter 3, but profitable. So the premise he uses is wrong to begin with. Again, I restate that this is a fraudulent misuse of Scripture as nowhere is Scripture termed as sufficient. In Chapter 2, the purification of oneself to make the man able for every good work is not qualified by profitable, but is spoken of as the means of preparing for every good work without any lessening of its extent, as Scripture is qualified by the use of "profitable." In any case, Sungenis makes a further response to the comparison of White of sanctification to prepare for any good work of 2 Tim. 2:21 and the profitableness of Scripture for the four ends which equips the man of God for every good work.

    White attempts to dismiss using 2 Tim. 2:21 because it is not speaking about the "source of the man of God ability to engage in the work" but "of sanctification in the person's life." By forcing this dichotomy into the discussion, White makes it appear as if "sanctification" cannot be considered a "source" from which the man of God can drawn in order to do "every good work." White conveniently confines "source" to revelatory dimensions and thereby misses the whole point of Paul's contextual argument-an argument designed not to single out or make exclusive revelatory sources but to direct Timothy to whatever will help him become the man of God he desires to be and to teach others to do the same.[22]
    Thus, we see in very similar language many things that help to perfect the man of God. These passages are not meant to exclude these other things that prepare a man of God for every good work. Perseverance is one thing (James 1:4). God's blessing and grace is one thing (2 Cor. 9:8). Scripture is one thing (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Listening to wisdom is one thing (Col. 1:28). Holding fast to oral and oral traditions and resting in God's grace is one thing (2 Thes. 2:15-17). Sanctification is one thing (2 Tim. 2:21). They all help to perfect. However, these are complementary things that are not meant to exclude these other things as perfecting the man of God. Therefore any attempt to use 2 Tim. 3:16-17 as excluding other authorities or things that perfect the man of God, must ignore the way that Paul and other apostles (including James) speak of these other things that also perfect the man of God. One of those other things include oral tradition, as spelled out in this very letter, as we saw earlier.

  • 5. The Church gets its authority from Scripture.(White)

  • It is hard to respond to this one, because where in the world White or any Protestant apologist can extract this idea from 2 Tim. 3:16-17 is beyond my comprehension. Nowhere in the text does it say anything of the sort. There is nothing in context which limits Church authority to that which is derived from Scripture. Of course, Scripture does show that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), that one must hold fast to the traditions both oral and limited (2 Thes. 2:15), that Jesus gave his commission to the Church and he would be with his Church unto the end of the world (Mt. 28:19-20), and he commissioned his apostles to forgive sins (Jn 20;23), etc. Nevertheless, the authority that the Church has came from Jesus himself. Yes, the witness to this authority is given in Scripture, but the Bible is not the sole basis for that authority. For example, the very first writings of New Testament Scripture was some 20 years or so after Jesus' death and resurrection. The Church already had its authority from Jesus and did not wait for the Scripture to be written to say "Oh, wow, now we have authority." The Church had authority that preceded Scripture. The Church, as shown in Scripture, through Peter's leadership had the authority to decide on whether people had to be circumcised, and later on through James and the elders of the Church on the secondary issue of what to eat, gave rules on the practices that were to be followed (Acts 15:1-29) with only one passing mention of a Scripture, which said absolutely nothing about the issue of circumcision which was the core of the issue. This Church acted on its authority that was given to it by Jesus, long before New Testament Scripture was thought of, let alone written and canonized. This was real authority well before the witness of that authority was given in Scripture. The Church was aware of its authority and exercised it well before the canon was finished, and also well before there was any fixed canon, which did not exist for centuries. Thus, to say that the Church’s authority came from Scripture is ludicrous.

    The idea that Tradition and the Church is totally dependent upon Scripture is false. Very few of the apostles actually wrote a thing. There is no record of one apostle saying, “Well, after I die, forget all that I taught you, as that is not binding, but instead go to the apostle Paul’s and the other epistles and the gospels, and read them as your only infallible guide, although Church and Tradition will help.” To White's denial that the Church and Tradition was in any way independent of Scripture, is the establishment of many apostolic Churches which were not in any way dependent on the New Testament writings. Since most of the apostles wrote nary a sentence of Scripture, it is absolutely amazing that one who knows history, as does White, say that the Church is dependent upon Scripture, when there was not a New Testament canon for about 3 1/2 centuries. There was no certainty for centuries on the canonical status of 2nd Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, and some writings such as Clement's letter to the Corinthians, Didache, etc. were in some quarters held as canonical Scripture. The tradition that established those Churches was dependent upon the successors of the Apostles having binding authority on the followers in Christ. It was not merely based on Scripture.

    How was the apostolic community founded by Thomas the apostle in India dependent upon Scripture, when as far as I know they did not have NT Scriptures? However, when discovered in the 1500s or so, these Indian believers had all the beliefs that Catholics had. They somehow believed in baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, the true presence and sacrifice of the Mass, seven sacraments, the ministerial priesthood, etc. all of which Protestant apologists deny (although Lutherans and Anglicans would accept Baptismal regeneration). Their tradition, even though cut off from the other Churches, even submitted to Rome, because even this tradition passed on its authority. Now yes, Scripture derived its authority from God, and not from the Church, per se, but the only way that we can know which writings are Scripture, is if we accept the authority and reliability of the Church. In any case, this responds to the point attempted to be made by White, but in all honesty, I had to leave 2 Tim. 3:15-17 to deal with this assertion, because even though White used this passage as a springboard for this novel theory, it is nowhere derived from the text at all. Even when making this assertion, White did not refer to any specific thing in the passage itself which brought him to this conclusion.

  • 6. By this passage not mentioning other authorities, this shows that all necessary doctrine is found in Scripture.(White, Rhodes)

  • This is an argument from silence. Nowhere in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 does Paul write, after he writes of Scripture being only profitable, of it excluding other authorities. Nowhere in the text is there a comparison between Scriptural authority as opposed to Church authority, or oral tradition. As noted earlier, if Paul wanted to write that Scripture's authority outweighs that of the Church or that of oral tradition, here would be the perfect place to put it. Of course, he does not. Indeed, as we saw earlier, Paul's very life and conduct (v. 10, 14), and teaching to Timothy, in this very chapter also serves as a basis for doctrine that Timothy must abide by. As we noted earlier, he had also just cited in 2 Tim. 3:8 an oral tradition that was authoritative and reliable.

    Paul had written in this very letter that Timothy must hold to the words that Paul had spoken (2 Tim. 1:13-14) which was Oral tradition. This was authoritative enough for Timothy to hold to those words. Then, he wrote to Timothy his son (2 Tim. 2:1-2) that he had entrusted to him all of the truth and authority and was to be passed on to Timothy’s successors. This is based on what Timothy heard. Oral tradition again. This word of truth that he passed on to Timothy we know elsewhere is termed the Word of God (1 Thes. 2:13). The word of God, thus, is not reduced to writing. In fact, in this letter Scripture is not mentioned until the Third chapter. Then Paul tells Timothy, the bishop with authority, to rightly divide the word of truth. As up to this point the only word of truth that he is speaking of is that which Paul told Timothy. Not a word of Scripture at all. Now, with all this emphasis on oral teaching, we are being asked to believe that Paul says, “Well, ignore all this stuff about holding to my oral words (2 Tim. 1:13-14), about having what I told you being the basis for succession being passed on based on this oral word of truth (2 Tim. 2:2) and , about my life and doctrine that I have taught you (2 Tim. 3:10, 14), but that is no longer binding, absolute authority, and the only binding authority that generations after you have will be what the few apostles, including me write. Even though I said to entrust to others the oral deposit of faith I taught you, ultimately that which I write is the only infallible authority.” This is quite a stretch, but serves as the basis for the Sola Scriptura argument that 2 Tim. 3 proves that there is no other infallible authority besides Scripture.


    There are many different views of Sola Scriptura. Now, since I wanted to address one main strain of Sola Scriptura, in this essay I focused on the “Reformed” view of Sola Scriptura through the Westminster Confession of Faith. Now of course I do know that Protestants will try to use many more Scriptures than 2 Tim. 3:15-17, and I have examined those passages elsewhere in other writings. Nevertheless, whatever type of Protestant there is, and whatever brand of Sola Scriptura one has, this passage is the one that is most used to support this doctrine. Sola Scriptura, according to this Westminster Confession of Faith, teaches that all that is necessary for salvation, faith, and life, is found in Scripture. Other authorities such as Church and tradition do not have the same authority as Scripture. Those authorities are not binding upon the believers. Scripture is supposed to be perspicuous, or clear, at least on the ‘essential’ things, especially including salvation. Scripture itself, as through the lens of Christians, is the final court of arbitration and is supposed to clearly judge right from wrong doctrines. Church and Tradition is to have its authority derived from Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture. Now, most of these points were supposedly proven by Protestant apologists on their examination of this passage. Most importantly, Scripture is supposed to be sufficient to equip the man of God in doctrine, instruction, training, and reproof, and correction. Although I do not say that this passage is the only one used in support of these parts of Sola Scriptura, it is by far the biggest passage used in support of this doctrine.

    Next, we examined 2 Tim. 3:15-17 itself. We saw that there were problems for Protestants in dealing with the canon. The Church and Tradition are the authorities that make it possible for us to know what, and what is not the canon. Those who attack the tradition of the Church, thus undermine the authority of the very Bible that they quote against the Church. The infallibility of the Church makes our surety of the canon secure. We saw that when Paul wrote of the canon that Timothy knew, it was only the Old Testament, and since Protestant apologists argue that 2 Tim. 3 taught the Scriptural clarity on salvation, it boomerangs on them, since the view of salvation as given in the Old Testament, nowhere approaches the Protestant view of an imputation of righteousness based on the instrument of faith alone. There also is no clarity on salvation, especially when seen by the fact that not one Church Father, as admitted by Alistair McGrath, even though steeped in Scripture, approached the Protestant view of salvation. We also saw, when we read the passage that there is no hint of uniting on “essentials” as through the private interpretation of Scripture, as Protestant theory on Sola Scriptura has produced important differences in doctrine that the Catholic Church has been united on in the interpretation of those same doctrines, through the Magisterium of the Church.

    We also looked at the passage when we saw a twisting of Scripture by Protestant apologists to call Scriptures as sufficient to fully equip for every good work. The fact is that when Paul writes in that passage, he only uses the term 'profitable' to describe the efficacy of Scripture. In v. 15 he had used the word 'scriptures' in totality. It was Scriptures in plural. However, as noted, when Paul writes in v. 16, he is only speaking of individual Scriptural verses. On that ground alone, it is impossible that each Scriptural verse is sufficient to fully equip the man of God. As Paul only uses the word 'profitable', at least, according to 2 Tim. 3, it is insufficient by itself to fully equip for every good work. We saw the misplaced emphasis on the Greek word exartizo, as the context does not show that it modified the sufficiency of Scripture, but only it’s profitability, which no Catholic would dispute. This attempt to misuse that word to serve the four ends of doctrine, reproof, correction and training in righteousness, when the modification of Scripture was only profitable, is a twisting of Scripture. It is those four ends, not Scripture itself that fully equip the man of God. Also, we saw that there were other authorities, including oral tradition that served as a basis for imparting doctrine to Timothy, and his successors. In fact, oral tradition is referred to in chapter 1, 2, and 3 as a source of doctrine, whereas Scripture is not brought up (with the exception of one passing reference in 2 Tim. 2:19) until the passage in question. Paul does not write in 2 Tim. 3:15-17, “well, after I die, these oral words I spoke to you, and the necessity of successors to pass on my apostolic authority is not binding”. Paul nowhere says that this Scriptural authority was superior to oral tradition when he had a perfect opportunity to do so. We also saw that there were many parallel passages throughout the New Testament that used parallel language (including oral tradition, no less) that helped to perfect the man of God, just as Scripture did. In sum, we can say that 2 Tim. 3:15-17 does prove the usefulness of Scripture. It is useful in studying, and it is a help in equipping us for good works, as Paul says. But it does not prove that all doctrine must be derived from Scripture, (or our own personal interpretation of Scripture), nor does it do away with the equal binding authority of the Church and its tradition.


    [1] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2000, p. 186-187, and Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995, p. 267.

    [2] Taken from the article on Christian Unity by Shawn McElhinney, available at http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/unity.html

    [3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section 7. This is available at: http://opc.org/documents/WCF_frames.html

    [4] John Armstrong, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible, ed. Don Kistler, Soli Deo Gloria, Morgan, PA, 1999, p. 136.

    [5] ibid., p. 106.

    [6] ibid., p. 132.

    [7] John MaCarthur, ibid., p. 166-167.

    [8] James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, Bethany House Publishers, 1996, pp. 59-60.

    [9] John MacArthur, op.cit., p. 168.

    [10] Armstrong, op. cit., p. 137.

    [11] Robert Godfrey, Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible, ibid., p. 7.

    [12] White, op. cit., pp. 63-66.

    [13] John Murray, Commentary on Romans, Vol. 1, p. 131, taken from Robert Sungenis, Not By Faith Alone: The Biblical Evidence for the Catholic Doctrine of Justification, Queenship Press, Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, p. 246. For more commentary on Psalm 106:31 and Sungenis’ comments on Murray’s comments, see pp. 245-248.

    [14] Phillip Blosser, Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, ed. Robert Sungenis, Queenship Publishing Company, Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, pp. 97-98 .

    [15] Let’s Obey Christ, from a post on the Catholic Converts Message board , on Feb. 14, 2001.

    [16] Rhodes, op. cit., pp. 81-82.

    [17] St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Timothy, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series vol. 13, p. 484).

    [18] This exact same argument is also used by Norman Geisler, op. cit., pp. 184-185 & Ron Rhodes, op. cit., p. 61.

    [19] MacArthur, op. cit., pp. 169-172.

    [20] Sungenis, op. cit, Not by Scripture Alone, pp. 248.

    [21] White, op. cit., p. 240, footnote 21.

    [22] Sungenis, op. cit., Not By Scripture Alone, p. 117, footnote 9.

    ©2001, "2 Timothy 3:15-17: Proof for Sola Scriptura?", written by Matt1618. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

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