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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God?

Don Stewart :: When Paul Said All Scripture Is “God-Breathed,” Was He Also Referring to the New Testament? (2 Timothy 3:16)

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When Paul Said All Scripture Is “God-Breathed,” Was He Also Referring to the New Testament? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God – Question 5

The Apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy, made the statement that all Scripture is “God-breathed.” He said it this way:

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 competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

There is a difference of opinion as to whether Paul’s use of “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the New Testament as well as to the Old Testament. What exactly is the “Scripture” that Paul is referring to in this passage? There are basically two options.

Option 1: Only the Old Testament Is in Paul’s Mind

Some do not believe that Paul had the New Testament in mind when he made this statement. At the time that he wrote to Timothy, the New Testament had not yet been completed. Therefore, it is argued, that it is probably better to limit his statement to the Old Testament writings. Therefore, in his mind, only the written Old Testament would be considered to be God-breathed Scripture.

Option 2: He Was Referring to Both Testaments

Others, however, disagree. The word “Scripture” was a technical term used by the New Testament writers to refer to the sacred writings that came from God. Twice it is used to refer to something written in the New Testament. Consider the following examples:

Paul Called Luke’s Writing “Scripture”

In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul cited a statement from Luke’s gospel and called it Scripture. He wrote:

For the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NET)

The New Living Translation says:

For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:18 NLT)

The phrase that is variously translated, “The worker deserves his pay,” “the laborer is worthy of his wages” or “those who work deserve their pay” is a direct quote from Luke 10:7. It is word-for-word the same in the original Greek. Paul, therefore, called Luke’s writing Scripture.

Peter Assumed Paul’s Writings Were New Testament Scripture

Not only did Paul call Luke’s writing Scripture, Peter said that Paul’s writings were Scripture. He wrote:

And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16 NET)

Peter compares the writings of Paul to the “rest of the Scriptures.” To him, they carried God’s divine authority.

Thus, these two passages called certain writings Scripture which were not part of the Old Testament. Consequently, it would be fair to assume that 2 Timothy 3:16 also refers to the New Testament writings, as well as the Old Testament.

Christ Died According to the Scriptures

There is something else which should be considered. In another place, Paul wrote that Christ died, was buried and was raised “according to the Scripture.” He said:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scripture. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NRSV)

While it is likely that Paul had certain Old Testament prophecies in mind, it is not impossible that he was referring to one or more of the written gospels that may have been circulating at that time. If that were the case, then he would be calling these works “Scripture.”

However, we cannot be certain that he had one of these works in mind. In addition, the fact that he said that he received it from someone else and then passed it along to the Corinthians may go against the idea that he was actually referring to one of the gospels. We simply do not have enough information to know for certain what Scripture he was referring to in this particular passage.


The evidence could be used to support either option. Paul may have been referring to the Old Testament when he wrote to Timothy, or just as likely he could have been referring to the Old Testament and those writings which would eventually make up the New Testament. There is not enough evidence to be certain exactly what was in his mind.

Summary – Question 5
When Paul Said All Scripture Is “God-Breathed,” Was He Also Referring to the New Testament? (2 Timothy 3:16)

Second Timothy 3:16 clearly states that all Scripture is God-breathed. Some feel this only refers to the Old Testament writings, while others believe that it can also have reference to the New Testament. Twice in the New Testament, we find it quoting other parts of the New Testament and calling it Scripture.

Therefore, it is possible that Paul had both testaments in mind when he made this statement. However, there is not enough evidence to make a firm conclusion.

To What Extent Is the Bible Authoritative? ← Prior Section
Don’t Some Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 Seem to Limit the Bible’s Authority? Next Section →
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