2 Timothy 3:16
— All Scripture is God-Breathed? —
All proof is welcome
All proof is welcome, but not if it's no proof.
To declare that the Bible is the one and only Word of God, folks most often cite 2 Timothy 3:16. There Paul seems to inform Timothy that the Bible is God-breathed, in stark contrast to other writings, which are the mere fumblings of man. What very few of these folks seem to notice is that just eight verses prior, Paul refers to the legend of Jannes and Jambres, which is wildly extra-Biblical (2 Timothy 3:16).
Let's, therefore, have a calm and composed look at the wisdoms dispensed in 2 Timothy 3:15-16:
In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminds the addressed that he has been instructed in, specifically, the Holy Texts, from early childhood on. The word Paul uses is γραμμα (gramma), that which is written. This word is derived of γραφω (grapho), meaning to write. Another derivation of this same verb is γραφη (graphe), a noun that means writing.
In all occurrences of graphe where the Holy Scriptures are meant, this word is preceded by the definite article: The Scriptures, but not in 2 Timothy 3:16. The only other exception happens in John 19:37, where the definite article is replaced by the word another. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul has the word graphe precede by the word πασα, pasa, the feminine form of πας (pas), where also the familiar word pantos comes from. This root pas means all, with a clause of one-ness; the whole of something.
In 2 Timothy 3:15-16, Paul basically divides everything that has ever been written in two parts:
- Holy Texts. These are those Texts that are able to make wise, even so wise that you will believe in Christ Jesus, which then leads to salvation.
- The whole of all texts. These are any written word, from a Bible commentary to a Star Trek script to the TV guide.
Anything written can be used by anybody clever, creative or inspired enough to introduce the gospel or give an example of how things work or don't. Language and specifically written language requires such an enormous degree of cooperation and convention that Paul rightly deems it θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) or "God-breathed".
Another example of a huge cooperation between elements which is also God-breathed is Adam (Genesis 2:7). And even though Adam was a compilation of dust made into a living one-ness by being breathed into by God, he was by no means as divine as the Bible is. The Bible is divine, but not because it is God-breathed.
In the New Testament we find another occurrence of God-breathing, namely when Jesus confronts his disciples after the resurrection (John 20:22): God-breathed but certainly not infallible or divine, the disciples await the Holy Spirit.
It seems like Paul is saying something in the same line of thought as 1 Corinthians 6:12, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable." Apparently, all texts are, and so Paul quotes like no other Bible writer, often without references and sometimes to books which aren't part of any holy canon. With the reference to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8, for instance, Paul endorses an unbiblical but popular tradition (earliest surviving citation in the Damascus Document, 1st century BC). But Paul is not the only text-importer: Jude's revelation that Michael and the devil fought over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9; Deuteronomy 34:6 states that God buried Moses on an unknown location somewhere in Moab) is also drawn from an extra-Biblical source.
The gospel may seem hard to believe, especially from the perspectives of ignorance and that of an intellectual investment in another conclusion. In Acts 17:23, Paul masterfully gains a few yards by pointing out that the incorporation of an Unknown God in Athens' theology willingly states its own incompleteness (much like modern science does ever since Kurt Gödel) and hence allows, anticipates and even invites the gospel.
Then Paul reminds the Athenians that they already believe in divine sonship, which is a serious stumbling block for many still today (the Quran for instance devotes much effort to denying that divine sonship can exist). By utilizing documents that we now consider faulty, but which then were kept in the highest regard, Paul is able to introduce the gospel to the Athenians, some of whom express the desire to continue the discussion at a later time, and some of whom convert (Acts 17:32-34).
And so quotes from and references to all kinds of secular and apocryphal books have found their way into the Holy Texts of the Bible:
- Epimenides, a poet and Jovian priest is quoted in Titus 1:12.
- The story of Jannes and Jambres is a non-surviving ancient legend referred to by Paul (2 Timothy 3:8).
- The Books of Enoch are works of legend and fabrication created over the ages and based on the single, enigmatic note in Genesis 5:24 that Enoch walked with God and was taken by God. Paul seems to tap into more than the Torah reveals (Hebrews 11:5) and Jude actually quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude 1:14.
- Aratus, who was, like Paul, from Tarsus (or a neighboring town) wrote, "for we are also his offspring; the offspring of Jove." Similar expressions are found in the Jovian works of Cleanthes, who taught at Athens, and even Homer. Paul, preaching in Athens and tapping into the worship of the Unknown God, hijacks the hymn devoted to Jupiter and applies it to the Creator (Acts 17:28, "...as even some of your own poets have said...")
- The Corinthian Letter prior to First Corinthians, was a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth, to which he refers in 1 Corinthians 5:9. This Very First Letter to the Corinthians is lost.
- The Complete Works of Solomon, contained 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. Only a fraction of these works made it into the canon (1 Kings 4:32).
- The Book of the Wars of YHWH, a work of which no trace remains except for the quote in Numbers 21:14-15.
- The Book of Jashar is said to report the miraculous behavior of the sun and moon during Joshua's battle with the Amorites. The book is referenced as an argument that it really happened. The same book is noted to contain David's Song of the Bow (2 Samuel 1:18).
- The Book of Acts of Solomon is listed as a reference, and maybe even a source, in 1 Kings 11:41.
- The Book of the Matters of the Days of the Kings of Israel is pointed at all over Kings and Chronicles. (1 Kings 14:19).
- The Book of the Matters of the Days of the Kings of Judah is pointed at all over Kings and Chronicles. (1 Kings 14:29).
- The book of Nathan the Prophet; a non-surviving work mentioned in canon with the Book of Samuel (1 Chronicles 29:29). The Book of Nathan is also said to contain acts of Solomon (2 Chronicles 9:29).
- The Book of Gad the Seer; a non-surviving work mentioned in canon with the Book of Samuel (1 Chronicles 29:29)
- The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite; mentioned along the Book of Nathan (1 Chronicles 9:29).
- The Visions of Iddo the Seer; mentioned along the Book of Nathan (1 Chronicles 9:29).
- The Records of Shemaiah the Prophet; said to contain all acts of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:15).
- The Records of Iddo the Seer; said to contain all acts of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:15).
For a lengthy look at traces of Homer in the New Testament, see our article on that name. For a general exposé of the Bible's vast library of influences and contributions from all over the world, see our article on Mary. For a look at the highly diverse and genetically diluted nature of Israel, see our article on the name Abraham.