Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bible Myth #55: The Bible is Sufficient (2 Tim 3:16-17)

When asked where the Bible says it is to be used as the ultimate authority on faith and morals, nearly all non-Catholic Christians will point to 2 Tim 3:16-17.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

These verses “prove” that the Bible alone is sufficient to teach us everything we need to know about God (faith) and how we are to behave (morals), right?

Well… let’s take a closer look.

The above statement makes some assumptions that aren’t warranted. First, what is Paul meaning when he says “useful” for teaching (other translations say “sufficient”)? Protestants want this to mean that scripture by itself has everything we need to discover the truth. They point out that Paul says “one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for EVERY good work”.

The problem is that this clearly isn’t the case. For example, scripture doesn’t teach us how to read. So, the scriptures AND literacy are required to know truth (not scripture alone). Scripture doesn’t teach us historical and colloquial references used in its writings. Therefore the scripture AND an understanding of the audience, author, inferences, word play, and other writing conventions common to the time are required to know the truth.

Don’t believe me? Look at Jn 2:4 “Woman, how does your concern affect me?”. The word play here, if written by a modern author, implies that Jesus (the speaker) is being disrespectful or, at best, indifferent. The truth is nothing of the sort. In Lk 14:26 we read Jesus saying “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.“. We have to hate the ones closest to us? No, in the proper context we understand Jesus is saying “love less than me” not “do not love them at all” which is the modern definition of hate. These are just two examples of passages that have a different connotation in modern terms compared to the time it was written.

Scripture IS sufficient, however (Paul isn’t wrong, after all). Catholics believe that scripture is like a tool chest that is fully stocked with every piece of equipment a mechanic may need to fix any problem. It’s all there. However, that mechanic still needs training. He still needs to be taught how to use those tools correctly. In this way a tool chest is “sufficient” but not “sufficient alone”.

This is perfectly consistent with the rest of the Bible. In Jn 5:39 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for searching the scriptures and not realizing that they point to him. If the scriptures are “fully sufficient” then how did the Pharisees not realize they point to Jesus? Obviously there was something lacking the Pharisees’ use of scripture.

In Acts 8:30-31 we see Phillip asking the Ethiopian eunuch if he understood the prophet Isaiah to the reply “How can I, unless someone instructs me?" Clearly he didn’t think scripture alone was sufficient. He wanted the meaning explained to him by someone qualified to do so.

Even two verses earlier Paul tells Timothy to be faithful to what he has “learned and believed because you know from whom you learned it”. Paul implies strongly that Timothy learned the truth from a person, not just personal study.

2 Tim 3:14-15 bring up another point; what does “scripture” mean? The assumption is “scripture” = “Bible”. Is that true in every case? Let’s read those verses now.

But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 3:14-15)

Timothy has been immersed in “scripture” since infancy. Did they really have the Bible when Timothy was a child? Chronologically, that’s difficult sine Paul was one of the first writers, many writings came after this letter, and Paul is clearly saying that Timothy grew up with the “scriptures”. What scripture would Timothy have grown up with? The only reasonable answer is today’s Old Testament.

Some will say that Paul’s writings were considered “on par” with scripture so he was pre-assuming that the apostolic writings would be included. To an extent I can agree with that, however, Paul specifically says the scriptures Timothy grew up with and this letter was written before nearly any of the other New Testament writings existed. If you were Timothy and you received this letter, would you interpret it as “the scriptures you grew up with plus this letter, and the one I sent you before, and my other writings I haven’t written yet, and the other writings of the other apostles that will be included in a list of books over three hundred years from now”?

I’m guessing you would just figure Paul meant the scriptures you grew up with.

If we see “scripture” as meaning the Old Testament then we have a problem if we say scripture alone is sufficient, don’t we? No Christian would be able to accept that.

Catholics have no trouble accepting this obvious understanding of 2 Tim 3:16-17; the scriptures that Timothy grew up with (our Old Testament) were enough (sufficient) for Timothy to know Jesus was the Messiah. We are comfortable with this because we believe the New Testament writings get their authority from God who revealed their inspiration through the Church. We don’t need a verse in the Bible to tell us that the Bible is inspired; we already knew that.


Anonymous said...

Just a quick note .The pharisees had scripture and got it wrong you say. So, scripture was not sufficient for them. As a catholic-protestant, I could say Catholics have scripture AND their Magisterium and get many things wrong. So what you propose as an addition to needing the Word(Bible) is NOT enough either. Be clear. You preach an interecessor to the Only intercessor : there is me, the church and then Jesus. I can not meet Jesus in His fullness for me,unless I go thru Rome first. Speak plainly.

dave ruiz said...

Dan, does Paul tell timothy to trust the old testament because it came from God who revealed their inspiration through the Sanhedrin(a type of old testament jewish "magisterium" )? Your last verse should read, "We don't need a verse in the bible to tell us that the bible is inspired, we have already been told that"..... What is higher, the teacher or that which he teaches ? Was scripture justified to Timothy because it was Paul (1st chapter vs. 13) who taught it? Or was the teaching (and the teacher) justified by scripture itself ? Does Paul or our parents or our church justify scripture ? Or does scripture justify what a our parents or church teaches ? Indeed there is a teacher, as you and Paul point out (vs 14), but I see Paul as resting his authority or justification fully on scripture. Timothy is to and has done the same(vs 15 and16)......Indeed we have teachers and witnesses, and even churches and their magisteriums.etc,etc. The only common thread and hope between them all is scripture quickened by the Spirit that bears testimony to what is right and justified. I would say my teachers ,church ,magisteriums put forth scripture for their justification. Of course you see them as saying only scripture or scripture "alone", as if they were not teachers or a church or had no traditions(scriptural) or had no a magisteriums also.It is only the Roman Catholic Church that puts tradition on equal footing with scripture, and therefore can not say their church faith is based on scripture "alone". As far as magisteriums, all denominations have the challenge to be under and rightly divide scripture in "truth and in spirit"