How to use 2 Timothy 3:16

What is Scripture? The typical answer is that Scripture is the inspired Word of God. It is theopneustos, God-breathed. This is generally taken to mean that Scripture is the normative criterion for theology. When we think theologically we measure our theological judgments and have those judgments guided and rooted in Scripture. The word theopneustos is derived from 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

But more often than not, when this passage is taken to support the authority or normativity of Scripture, it will be replied that Paul only had the Old Testament Scriptures in mind, if that.  As such we can’t take it as a proof text for Scriptural inspiration.

In response to this objection I think it important to make a distinction which will help us to parse how this passage can be used. If the passage is taken to be a way of establishing what should be included in the canon, then this is clearly a mistake. If, as seems obvious, Paul was referring to the OT Scriptures then at most this passage will only serve to establish the canonicity of certain OT texts. However, when one talks about the inspiration or normativity of Scripture one isn’t making claims about the texts that should be included in the canon, but what kind of texts canonical texts are. In other words, whether Paul was referring to OT texts, NT texts, or whatever, his key point is to establish the authority of Scripture, whatever that Scripture contains.

To put it another way, the statement that Paul makes concerning Scripture is a ‘universally quantified statement’. William Lane Craig writes that ‘universally quantified statements’, “are true with respect to all the members of the domain of quantification7, existentially quantified statements are true with respect to some of the members of the domain of quantification.” (48, God Over All). When Paul writes that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ this is a universally quantified rather than an existentially quantified statement. Paul is referring to all the members of the class ‘Scripture’ whatever that class contains.

For example, if we ask the question ‘Is the gospel of John Scripture?’ And we reply in the affirmative, then the universally quantified statement, ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ will apply to the gospel of John whether or not Paul had the gospel of John in mind. In which case I think that we can be confident that 2 Timothy 3:16 gives us ample warrant for believing in the authority of Scripture whether or not it tells us what can be included in the canon. For more on how to deduce what should be included in the canon B. B. Warfield has written helpfully and extensively. You can find one of his articles here:



Finding a Successful Theological Methodology.

You would have thought that a Christ centered theological methodology would guarantee a commitment to Christian orthodoxy; wouldn’t you? When a theologian like Karl Barth or Kathryn Tanner proclaims the centrality of the person of Christ it’s easy to shout a loud “Amen!” in response. But a Christ centered theology won’t always guarantee orthodoxy. The orthodoxy of a Christ centered theology will ultimately depend on the orthodoxy of the Christology, or the way in which an orthodox Christology is applied. The peculiar danger of a Christ centered methodology is with the application of that Christology without that application being itself informed by God’s revelation in his word.

The idea is, that the Logos became incarnate within salvation history, and that it isn’t up to us to apply that event theologically independent of that salvation history. Henri Blocher (below) writes in his book Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle,

“If one starts with the cross, the character of Christ’s work as a remedy for sin, as redemption, is obscured; simply to read the meaning of original sin off the Christ-event is to act as if we were masters of revelation. Far from it!” (17)

And again,

“Sound theological method requires that we listen to Scripture as a whole, according to the analogy of faith, and only then perceive how precisely the doctrine is proclaimed and, so to speak, reinforced in the Christ-event.” (17).

We are led to Christ by Scripture, and so should apply Christology within a canonical framework. If we seek to be christological without the Scriptures moderating and leading us, then the result will be a theology which is informed by a christology of our own construction. Instead, the scriptures are the normative authority by which we are led to Christ. Only after having come to the scriptures and being led to Christ, will we then be able to reflect christologically in an appropriate way. This creates a hermeneutical circle in which scriptural exegesis leads us to christology, then that enables appropriate christological reflection on exegesis.

When faced with a theological problem we go first to scripture, trusting that it will eventually lead us to a Christologically informed solution. In this way we’ll have a christologically focused theological methodology tempered by the Scriptures.


Henri Blocher