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

Don Stewart :: Don’t Some Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 Seem to Limit the Bible’s Authority?

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Question 6

Don’t Some Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 Seem to Limit the Bible’s Authority?

Seemingly, yes. Traditionally, Second Timothy 3:16 is translated as follows:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible renders the verse in this manner:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 HCSB)

The translation known as God’s Word says:

Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval. (2 Timothy 3:16 God’s Word)

This idea, which is found in most English translations, is that all parts of Scripture are breathed out or divinely inspired by God. This has been the usual understanding of this verse.

Some Translations May Give the Wrong Impression

However, there have been some translations of Scripture that seem to limit the extent of the Bible’s divine inspiration in this passage. They may give the impression that the divine inspiration of Scripture is somehow limited. These translations include the following:

  • The English Revised Version

    The English Revised Version of 1881 is an example. It reads as follows:

    All Scripture that is divinely inspired is also profitable... (2 Timothy 3:16 ERV)

    This verse could be read in such a way as to be understood to mean that only the parts of Scripture that are divinely inspired are profitable. This may infer that other parts are not divinely inspired and hence, are not profitable.

  • The New Revised Standard Version

    The New Revised Standard Version gives the following as an alternate reading to the one they place in the text. It says:

    Every scripture inspired by God is also useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV)

    Again, this could be understood in such a way as to limit divine inspiration to parts of Scripture.

  • The Revised English Bible

    The Revised English Bible says the following:

    All inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living. (2 Timothy 3:16 REB)

    This is another example of the possibility of this passage being understood as limiting divine inspiration.

    What are we to make of these translations? Are they acceptable renditions of the original?

The Bible Does Not Teach That It Has Limited Authority

The following points need to be made about this very important issue:

  1. It Would Be a Repugnant Idea That Some Scripture Was Not Authoritative

    To begin with, there is no New Testament writer who would hold to the idea that a book could be considered part of Scripture without it being fully authoritative. This would be something unheard of. Yet these alternative translations would seem to suggest this. Such an idea would have been repugnant to the New Testament authors. To them, the Scripture is equated with the words of God.

  2. Human Reason Would Be the Final Judge

    The view of rationalism is that human reason is the final determiner of what is true. If some parts of Scripture were not divinely inspired, then it would be left up to each person to decide what was true and what was not. This would render the Bible meaningless because everyone would create God in his or her own image and ignore those passages that disagreed with their point of view. The problem everyone would have would be identifying which parts are “God-breathed” or “divinely inspired” and which are not. The final result is that no authoritative Bible is left.

  3. It Was Not Necessary to Say That Some Parts of Scripture Were God-Breathed

    There is something else to be considered. It has been argued that Paul did not need to tell Timothy that some parts of Scripture are God-breathed and profitable. No one would doubt that. Thus, his emphasis in the passage is that all Scripture is profitable ? readers can examine every part and derive benefit from it. He was not limiting the Scripture to certain unknown, divinely inspired or “God-breathed,” sections.

Conclusion: This Is Probably Not the Best Translation of This Verse

Given the above reasons, there is no basis to assume that Paul was dividing Scripture into those portions which were breathed out by God and those portions which were not.

Furthermore, it should be noted that few translations have followed the reading of these versions in 2 Timothy 3:16. Although it is possible for the Greek text to read this way, it is not the natural way in this context. The verb “is” needs to be supplied somewhere in the sentence. It is more consistent grammatically, as well as in keeping with the rest of Scripture, to supply the verb after the words “all Scripture” and before the word “God-breathed.”

If the alternative translation was to be preferred, we would expect that the Greek word translated “God-breathed” would stand before the word “Scripture” in the sentence; but it does not. Therefore, it should read, “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

There Is Another Way of Understanding the Translation That Does Not Limit the Authority of the Bible

There is, however, another way of understanding these alternative translations without necessarily viewing them as limiting divine inspiration. When it says, “Every Scripture inspired of God is profitable” it automatically assumes that all Scripture is divinely given. In other words, it is not intending to make a distinction between the divine and the non-divine. Understanding the verse in this manner makes the alternative translation a non-issue. Whichever way the verse is translated, it is admitting that the entire Scripture is divinely inspired. This is the biblical stance on this issue of the inspiration and the authority of the Scripture. All of it is derived from God.

Summary - Question 6
Don’t Some Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 Seem to Limit the Bible’s Authority?

All Scripture has God’s authority behind it. However, the translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 in the English Revised Version of 1881, the New Revised Standard Version and the Revised English Bible seem to limit God’s authority to only parts of Scripture. The verse reads, “All Scripture that is divinely inspired is profitable” or “Every Scripture inspired of God is profitable.” These versions translate the verse with the impression that the only portions of Scripture that are profitable are those “divinely inspired” or “God-breathed” portions. It gives the idea that some parts of Scripture are not authoritative or profitable.

There are a number of problems with limiting divine inspiration to some parts of Scripture.

First, it is a repugnant idea—inconsistent with the totality of Scripture. The Bible knows nothing of a limited authority for itself. If this idea were correct, then human reason would have to be employed to determine what parts of Scripture were authoritative and which parts were not. There would be no ultimate standard that everyone could trust and agree upon.

In addition, Paul would not have to inform Timothy that some parts of Scripture were authoritative—this would be something of which Timothy would be well aware. Therefore, this passage is not attempting to make a distinction between some parts of Scripture which are God breathed and other parts which are not.

Finally, it is not the natural way to render the original Greek in 2 Timothy 3:16. Therefore, the preferable translation is “All Scripture is God-breathed” rather than “All Scripture that is divinely inspired is profitable.”

Having said that, it is also possible to read the alternative translations without assuming they are making a distinction between parts that are divinely inspired and parts that are not. Since there would have been the assumption that all parts of Scripture were divinely given—it was not something that had to have been said or proven. Either way we look at this verse, there is no warrant for assuming that Paul was teaching that some parts of Scripture do not carry God’s authority behind them. All of Scripture is divinely inspired or breathed out by God.

When Paul Said All Scripture Is “God-Breathed,” Was He Also Referring to the New Testament? (2 Timothy 3:16) ← Prior Section
How Did the Process of Divine Inspiration Occur? (How Did the Eternal God Speak Through Human Beings?) Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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