All Scripture?

Back in the recent little debate about inerrancy, one suggestion was that Evangelical reliance on 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t provide enough support for their argument that Scripture is without error because it is inspired by the God who is without error. 

Here I want to respond to some of the arguments here

God breathed into human beings too

In Genesis 1 and 2, when Scripture describes the creation of humanity, it talks about God breathing his life into the first man.  The argument runs that if God “breathing” Scripture means that Scripture is without error, then so too it should mean that humans are inerrant. 

There’s a fairly obvious problem with that argument. It forgets that Genesis 2 is followed by Genesis 3. Of course, the consequence of human life being God breathed is that like the rest of creation, we were made good, without error or flaw. This is a fundamental doctrinal principle.  Adam and Eve did not sin because of some design flaw, there wasn’t an error in the programming. However, they did sin and the result is that post The Fall we must talk in terms of “not good.” Sin brought consequences, creation was corrupted and humans were no longer merely finite but also frail and prone to error.

It’s just one verse

Are we hanging our doctrine of Scripture on just one verse in one epistle?  Well it is true that this is the go to passage for evangelicals wanting to set out the doctrine of inspiration on which inerrancy is based.  Indeed, that’s exactly where I went when I wrote “How do you know?” Indeed, we cannot determine the significance or certainty of a doctrine based on quantity of proof texts. Just one line in Scripture that sets out a position clearly should be enough for us.

However, the argument for inspiration is not found in 2 Timothy alone. It’s found throughout Scripture. It’s seen in the way that Jesus relies on Scripture to counter the temptation of Satan. It’s seen in how we are told that we are not to live only by bread but depend on every word that comes from God and it is seen in the description in Psalm 119 of God’s Word as a light and lamp to our path.

It’s only talking about the Old Testament

The writer couldn’t possibly have meant the whole Bible because when he wrote, we didn’t haver the whole Bible yet goes the argument. Although, peculiarly, it is often made by people who doubt Paul’s authorship and insist the letter was written later as a pseudograph by which stage most of the New Testament was presumably available.

There are three problems with this. First of all, if Paul was only referring to the Old Testament, then this would still mean that we have to take seriously his assessment of the Law, Prophets and Writings. Those scriptures at least should be treated as God breathed with all that implies. This is important because it is often those books, including especially Deuteronomy which are treated with the greatest suspicion which are most strongly attested as God’s Word by Christ and the apostles.   

However, we can surely assume that if Paul identifies the OT books as inspired explicitly then by implication as other Scripture was written, we should assume that it shared the same qualities.  In fact, what specifically makes a book “Scripture” is that we know it to be “God breathed.” It is Scripture because it is inspired rather than inspired because it is Scripture.  What we see also is that the New Testament writings were rapidly accepted as Scripture so that Peter acknowledges Paul’s letters as such.[1]

Indeed, perhaps Peter’s endorsement of Paul’s letters despite the resistance of some to them and the objection that they were too difficult tells us something about the specific point Paul was making.  It seems odd to me seeing the way that Jesus treated the Scriptures and how they were already treated within second temple Judaism that the inspiration of Scripture might be in question. That God spoke through Moses and the prophets doesn’t appear to have been in doubt.

Now look at 2 Timothy 3:16 in context and what do you notice? In verse 10, Paul notes that Timothy has observed his teaching, then in verse 14-15, he says:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul seems keen to emphasise here that Timothy has benefited from his instruction and goes on to place that alongside what Timothy learnt from “the sacred writings” (Scripture).  The point seems to be that Paul’s teaching is going to be useful and that his teaching, his Gospel along with the pre-existing, already accepted Scriptures will be sufficient.  It is more likely that it would be Paul’s specific writings that would be under scrutiny than the book of Isaiah.  There would be of course times when people would prefer Paul over the Old Testament (cf Marcion) but there again in our day and age people are likely to reject Paul too, sometimes denying his authorship of certain letters and often placing his teaching in opposition to that of Jesus.  Here we are reminded that “all Scripture is God breathed” and the point is “that includes Paul’s writings too.”  The emphasis is less “All SCRIPTURE is God breathed” and more “ALL Scripture is God breathed.”


If all Scripture is God breathed that has important implications. It does mean we can rely on it as trustworthy and true. It also means that we should take all of it seriously. There’s no point simply getting into apologetic and theological debates about the inspiration of Scripture if practically we don’t then rely on it and allow God to disagree with us through it.

[1] 2 Peter 3:15-16.

%d bloggers like this: