Posts Tagged With: 2 Timothy 3:16

 
 

The Authority of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Our recent study about special revelation (here, here, here, and here) addressed the nature of how God reveals Himself to us and what that tells us about the nature of Scripture. Since the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to mankind, it is the authority to which all mankind, and especially all Christians and the Church, must yield.

The Bible is not a man-made record of God’s self-revelation. It is a God-breathed record. The Greek word used here, “theopneustos,” is translated in different English Bibles as “inspired,” “God breathed,” or “breathed out by God.” The Word of God was breathed out by the Spirit of God into the hearts and minds of those who recorded it for future generations. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and directed them as they wrote. He guided the apostles to understand truths they were not ready to receive during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 16:12–13), and these now appear in the pages of Scripture. This is not an ordinary book. Sadly, many Christians treat the Bible like an intellectual Lego set, trying to piece it together to suit their desires:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19–21).

This divine inspiration is the source of the Bible’s authority. Since the Bible bears God’s authority, we have an obligation to yield to it: the Bible does not yield to us. This should be self-evident to Christians, but a growing number of believers prefers to exercise their own authority over God’s Word. We have no right to force God’s Word to line up with our convictions. We need to know what it says and means, not what we wish it said and meant. Unfortunately, non-Christians are not alone in their rejections of Scriptural authority. At times, even those who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians” can try to place themselves outside its authority, even while seeking to reject “tradition.” To avoid the errors (or perceived errors) in Roman Catholicism, many choose to read the Bible for themselves and make up their own minds about what it means. While we should seek to know the truth (and avoid falling into the errors others have made), we must not use this as an opportunity to redefine biblical truth.

While Jesus was critical of “the traditions of men,” the concept of tradition is not always rejected in the New Testament:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Note that Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions that they learned either via spoken word or letter. The “letter” here could refer to 1 Thessalonians, which shares a place in the Bible with this letter. What about the spoken words, though? It seems that these traditions could be traced directly back through the apostles to Jesus Himself. Until the New Testament was canonized about 300 years later, the Church’s official source of authority was “apostolic teaching.” If a tradition did not come from the apostles, it was not considered authoritative Christian doctrine. That apostolic tradition found its crystallized final form in the New Testament books we read today.

I am not advocating adherence to every tradition that was ever passed down. Some traditions contradict each other, and others that have emerged in church history clearly contradict the Bible. Roman Catholics believe Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, while Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that she was buried in Ephesus (where St. John, the beloved disciple, is also believed to be buried). One of these traditions is not true. However, many other historic traditional teachings remain trustworthy.

I realize I have entered some controversial territory here, but I do not think my stance is unique. Martin Luther (famed for the slogan, “sola scriptura”) did not stray too far from historic Church teaching on many subjects (e.g., the sacraments), and John Wesley balanced his devotion to Scripture with a desire to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In a following post, I will add some more thoughts to show why it is important to connect our understanding of Scripture with some level of tradition.

A few final disclaimers: (1) My beliefs about the relationship and role of Scripture and tradition have evolved in recent years. I am still learning and studying, and my thoughts on this subject could change in recent years. (2) I do not guarantee that my thoughts on this subject, in this and the following post, exactly match the teachings of my church or any other denomination. (3) While I welcome comments and discussion, I may not respond to all comments directed to specific doctrines affected by this discussion.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness

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Having correct beliefs about God demands that we recognize false teachings about Him, such as those taught by churches that do not accept the historic tenets of the faith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).

The above passage is one of the familiar passages that we use to teach about the inspiration of Scripture. The King James Bible phrases it as “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (hence, the theological term “divine inspiration of Scripture”), whereas the ESV translates it more literally, “breathed out by God.” The image depicts the words of the Bible being exhaled from the lips of God.

It is important that we avoid the temptation to simply focus on the fact that God breathed forth these words. Paul tells his young protegé, and us, that God breathed these words forth for a reason. God wants us to learn from His word. This learning is both doctrinal and practical, covering what we both should and should not believe and do. God wants us to know what to believe, and what not to believe; what to do, and what not to do.

Teaching indicates what we need to know. The New Testament teaches that we receive eternal life by believing in Jesus:

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

There are certain teachings that are essential to salvation. There are things God wants us to know. I hate to be divisive with other Christians, so I do not reject a professed believer over purely denominationally distinctive doctrines. Accepting other believers who adhere only to your own church’s official statement of faith borders on cultism. Yet, we have to believe in the right Jesus. We have to adhere to certain biblical truths. Since the early centuries of Christian history, the key doctrines of the faith have been best described by the ancient creeds: The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are the most familiar. While these creeds do not include every important teaching of Scripture, they are an important starting point. Any church that disagrees with these core teachings cannot truly be considered “Christian.” (I know some believers take offense at the statement, “I believe in … the holy catholic church.” However, the word “catholic” here should be taken in its original meaning of “universal,” indicating that there is one true worldwide body of Christ.)

The “flip side” of teaching would be correction. If teaching is the presentation and definition of truth, correction is exposing error. Again, we need to avoid the temptation to mark everybody as a false believer if they do not share all of our beliefs. Yet, there are some core teachings. If Jesus is truly God in human flesh, and the “fullness of deity dwells bodily in Him” (Colossians 2:9), then He is not merely a nice guy and great teacher who showed us that we can all be gods (He is not some sort of New Age guru). If He was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), we cannot claim that He sinned. If He died on the cross and rose on the third day, we cannot claim that He just swooned during the crucifixion and awoke from a long nap on Sunday morning. If the Bible tells us that we are appointed to die once, and then face a final judgment (Hebrews 9:27), a Christian cannot believe in reincarnation.

In addition to instruction about correct and incorrect belief, the Bible gives us instruction about correct and incorrect behavior. It has to reprove us when we sin. Passages like Ephesians 5:3-20 point out a plethora of sins: adultery, fornication, covetousness, etc. The list can go on and on. God forgives our sins, but He does not shrug about them. He cares deeply that we do His will. That means, we have to avoid doing things contrary to His will.

Along with the negative (what not to do), the Bible gives us specific instruction about things we should do as children of God. This does not mean we do these things to become Christians, or to become children of God. Rather, because we are His children, God gives us training in righteousness. He shows us how to resist temptation, pray, worship. He gives countless examples of ways that we can tell others about Jesus or serve others.

I realize every one of these items could be addressed in greater detail. I made no attempt to give an exhaustive teaching on correct and incorrect doctrine (this would require an in-depth systematic theology textbook, which usually runs about 1500 or more pages). Nor could I cover all examples of godly and sinful living.

However, as we read the Bible, we should look at it from this perspective. What is God trying to tell me? What is He trying to teach me about Himself, or myself, or the world He created? What sinful behaviors or bad habits is He pointing out in my life? What false beliefs is He seeking to correct? What should I be doing as a beloved child of God? Ask these questions whenever you approach God’s Word, and He will reveal His truth to you.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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