Does "all Scripture" in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 mean both testaments?

Does "all Scripture" in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 mean both testaments?

Question

"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). How can we show that these verses refer to the Old Testament and New Testament together rather than just the Old Testament?

Answer

Thank you for your question. I'm persuaded that the preponderance of the evidence below reveals beyond any reasonable doubt that Paul is referring to both the New and Old Testament Scripture in his phrase "all Scripture" in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. In other words, if we take all the facts below together as one, then this would lead one to the truthful conclusion that the apostle Paul is speaking of one Scripture in both Testaments.

A reasonable reply to what I just said there would be, "What evidence?" Let's look at five points.

First, consider the words "all Scripture" themselves. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore God's word (Psa. 12:6; John 1:1). As 2 Peter 1:20-21 states, "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." The Holy Spirit is God and we can trust the meaning of these words. Moreover, this sovereign God ordained the canon of the New Testament before it was actually manifested in time and space and so spoken through Paul accordingly.

Second, there is the covenantal canon of Scripture. The Bible consists of the books of old covenant and new covenant and is therefore an entirely covenantal book. Although written by many human authors over 1500 years, there is a single divine author, and so we must view the book as a single text centered upon God's eternal covenant. (Please see "The Re-Newed or New Covenant?" below.)

If the New Testament is linked to the Old Testament through God's eternal covenant (cf. Isa. 59:21; Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 37:26 [1]), it may be argued that what is true of Scripture in the old covenant is just as true for Scripture that is under the new covenant. Put another way, since we definitely know that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 includes at least the Old Testament Scripture, because of its covenantal nature it must necessarily apply to the New Testament Scripture as well.

Even the words in the old covenant are used within the new covenant. Scholar Roger Nicole writes that he has counted 224 direct citations of the Old Testament within the New Testament. He adds, “and to these must be added seven cases where a second quotation is introduced by the conjunction 'and, ' and 19 cases where a paraphrase or summary rather than a direct quotation follows the introductory formula." He further notes "there are at least 45 instances where the similarity with certain Old Testament passages is so pronounced that … [the author’s] intention can scarcely be doubted. Thus a very conservative count discloses unquestionably at least 295 separate references to the Old Testament… If clear allusions are taken into consideration, the figures are much higher: C. H. Toy lists 613 such instances, Wilhelm Dittmar goes as high as 1640, while Eugen Huehn indicates 4105 passages reminiscent of Old Testament Scripture." So, more than 10 per cent of New Testament Scripture is made up of the Old Testament. [2]

With there being such a purposeful close covenantal continuity between the two testaments and the words of each, the entire New Testament must be inspired, infallible, inerrant, and literally just as true as the Old. So Paul's phrase must be inclusive of both Testaments.

Third, 2 Peter was written in approximately A.D. 65-67 and 2 Timothy in A.D. 64-68. Therefore the phrase "all Scripture" not only would include all the Old Testament but also would include all the New Testament books written up to these dates and were already circulating around the churches as God's word (cf. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27) – all except possibly Hebrews, John's letters, Jude, and Revelation. And, we naturally understand that the phrase includes Paul's letters up until this point because of what Peter says of Paul's writing: "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:16). Here, through the Holy Spirit, Peter directly includes Paul's letters as "Scripture" and so also meaning some of "all Scripture." Though the Bible doesn't directly state it, I also feel confident that Peter would say the same of the other apostle's writings as well; he associated with many of them, never calling them out on anything they wrote (James and John – see Acts 15:1-35; Gal. 2).

Fourth, Paul quoted Luke 10:7 as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18, linking it to Deuteronomy 25:4. He placed the same emphasis and authority on our Lord's words in Luke as those in Deuteronomy. Subsequently, the New Testament Scriptures themselves bear witness to the conclusions the apostles had reached under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, though canonizing the New Testament was done by man, we can be assured that God still sovereignly superintended over it (Isa. 55:11). It is, after all, his word which is backed by his authority. Therefore, the phrase "all Scripture" includes the entire New Testament. As Ronald Ward states:

Perhaps the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write "all Scripture" (in verse 16) rather than the "holy Scriptures" (as in verse 15) "are given by inspiration of God" because He wanted to differentiate between the Old Testament alone (that Timothy learned as a child), and the Old Testament combined with the New Testament writings—some of which had been in circulation for almost fifteen years. One may never know for sure. However, it seems certain, considering all of the above information: (1) that Paul had earlier quoted Luke 10:7 as Scripture; (2) that Peter referred to Paul's writings as "Scripture;" (3) that Paul indicated prior to his writing of 2 Timothy that he wrote "by the word of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:15; cf. Galatians 1:12); and (4) that much of the New Testament already had been written. Thus, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 "can be interpreted as covering the NT as well as the Old" (Ward, 1974, p. 200).

Of course, "all Scripture" doesn't include the Apocrypha as Jesus himself states it isn't Scripture. Elsewhere in a question regarding the Apocrypha, I wrote the following: (Please see "Apocrypha Accounts?" below.)

While Christ affirmed the Hebrew canon of his day (Luke 11:51), he nowhere affirmed these extra-canonical works. Note that in the Jewish Bible the books are arranged in three groups: (1) The Five Books of Moses (Chumash), (2), Eight Books of the Prophets (Neviim) and (3) the Twelve Books of the Writtings (Kesuvim). The last book in the Torah is Chronicles. So, Jesus, in his description of the Canon "from the blood of Abel" (Genesis, the first book) "to the blood of Zechariah" (Chronicles, the last book) destroys any possibility that the Apocrypha (written during the 400 years of silence from Malachi to Matthew) of being in the Canon.

We are to live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4). "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8; cf. 1 Pet. 1:24-25). All Scripture – every single jot and tittle of it – is given by inspiration of God.

I hope this is helpful.

Reference

[1] Eternal Covenant: Gen. 9:16; 17:7, 19; Num. 18:19; Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:14-18; 2 Chron. 13:5; Psa. 89:28-29; 105:8, 10; 111:5; Isa. 24:5; 55:3; 59:21; 61:8; Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 16:60; 37:26; Heb. 13:20.

[2] Nicole, Roger. Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl. F.H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), pp. 137-151.

Related Topics

The Re-Newed or New Covenant?
The Old/New Testament Church/a>
Who is the One True Church?
Christ in the Old Testament
Apocrypha Accounts?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).