Second Timothy 3:16.

By the Rev. Professor Israel E. Dwinell, D. D., Pacific Theological Seminary


This is a crucial passage. It is a Gibraltar commanding the entrance to the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture. He who holds that the Bible contains a revelation—things inspired, by God—seeks to make this passage favor his idea. He who believes that the Bible as a whole is the word of God resorts to this for proof. So the battle rages about this passage.

The Received Version reads: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable;” the Revision: “All Scripture given by inspiration of God is also profitable.” The commentators are divided in opinion. Ellicott, De Wette, Van Oosterzee, Bengel, and many others, including those with higher views of inspiration generally, make θεόπνευστος a predicate, interpreting “all Scripture is inspired.” Grotius, Rosen müller, Heinrichs, Hofmann, Alford, and most persons with weak views of inspiration, make it attributive of γραφή. Of the ancient versions, the Peshito and the Vulgate omit the καί, and of course consider θεόπνευστος as attributive. Murdock’s translation of the Peshito is: “All Scripture that is inspired by the Spirit, is also profitable.”

In interpreting this passage, the first thing to be considered is the meaning of γραφή. According to the custom of that time, this word when applied to religious subjects among the Jews always referred to the writings of the Old Testament, though there is evidence that the term was beginning to be extended among the Christians to such of the New Testament writings as had then been produced and recognized as authoritative; for example, the apostle Paul, in 1 Tim. 5:18, says: “The Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn,” quoting from Deuteronomy, and then adds, quoting Christ’s words recorded in Luke 10:7, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Some of Christ’s words, then, had already become Scripture. And in 2 Peter 3:16, the writer, speaking of the Epistles of the apostle Paul, says, that there are some things in them which “they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures.”

Though there are indications of a gradual enlargement of the scope of the word “Scripture” so as to include sacred writings of the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Old Testament. This is true of the word whether singular or plural. Of the fifty-one times in which it is used in the New Testament, with the exception of the two mentioned above, it refers exclusively to the Old Testament or some portion of it. This is the use which our Saviour made of the word. In fact, it almost seems as if in thought there were no other writings to be quoted. When he confronts Satan, in his temptation, in referring to the authority of what he utters, he merely says, “It is written;” “It is written.”

The apostle speaks of Scripture equally absolutely—”The Scripture hath included all under sin.” There is a significant passage in Rom. 15:4, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.” That must include all the contents of the sacred books. This is the passage which Meyer regards as explaining the meaning of πᾶσα γραφή in our passage, all Scripture being equal to “whatsoever things were written aforetime.”

Πᾶσα γραφή means, however, not so much the whole Scripture, or all Scripture viewed in its totality, as every Scripture viewed in its individual or constituent parts.

This expression πᾶσα γράφή is immediately followed, without a copula, by θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος. The question is, Are both of these predicates? It is safe to say there is absolutely nothing in the Greek here used to hint that they are not. Further, if θεόπνευστος were intended to be attributive to γραφή, it should properly have the article ἡ before it. The law of the Greek language requires this. Buttmann says: “An adjective without the article, standing either before or after a noun with the article, is predicative.”1 We have before us an adjective without the article, standing after a noun. The noun is without the article, it is true, but it has an equivalent, πᾶσα. Therefore the adjective should be interpreted adjectively, in the same way and for the same reason that ὠφέλιμος, is.

Again, unless there is something to indicate the contrary, καί is naturally a conjunction connecting the two words. There is something strained, in the absence of such indication, in considering it an adverb, making it surrender its natural function as a connective, and lean meekly on ὠφέλιμος giving it feeble support. Such an interpretation would never have been suggested to a Greek scholar by the Greek of the passage.

The first suggestion of this interpretation is supposed to have been from the absence of the conjunction καί in some of the early versions and some of the writings of the Christian Fathers. In modern times it seems to have been adopted, in some cases, for dogmatic reasons. But there is no doubt about the correctness of the text as it stands, no one questioning it.

Further, when we regard καί as an adverb, we leave the meaning still ambiguous. It may mean, “Any Scripture inspired by God is also profitable;” or “Every Scripture, being in point of fact inspired by God, is also profitable.” Possibly some of the Revisers may have had this latter interpretation in mind in voting for the reading put in the text. While the majority have put “Every Scripture inspired of God is profitable “in the text, they have put in the margin “Every Scripture is inspired of God, and profitable,” showing that there was no unanimity in the body. If those who believed that θεόπνευστος is used predicatively, had succeeded in having the phrase, “inspired of God,” separated by commas from the rest of the passage, that punctuation would have indicated the fact. It would have read, in that case, “Every Scripture, inspired of God, is also profitable; “and that would mean “Every Scripture, being in fact inspired of God, is also profitable.” But it is not so punctuated; and the punctuation indicates that θεόπνευστος is used as an attributive, limiting the meaning of γραφή. They may, however, some of them, have intended to interpret it in the other way, and voted for the Revision, though they failed to punctuate it in such a way as to indicate their interpretation. For this is the reading and the interpretation of Meyer. He argues in this way: “There is no reason for directing attention to the fact that the whole of Scripture is θεόπνευστος. There was no doubt on that point (viz., that the whole of Scripture and not a part of it was inspired by God), but on the point whether the Scriptures as θεόπνευστος are also (καί serves to confirm) ὠφέλιμοι.”2 But such an interpretation does not harmonize with the apostle’s habit of thinking and writing. It is too subtle and nice. He wrote right on, and put two predicates side by side in the same construction without hesitation, though logically the first might be the ground or reason, and the second the consequence.

Rev. Thomas F. Pot win shows in the Independent, of October, 10, 1889,. that the apostle has a habit of using adjectives in pairs as predicates. He cites twenty-seven passages. Seven of these (Rom. 7:12; 14:18; I Cor. 12:30; 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:9) are connected by καί and without a copula, as in the case before us. Yet in no one of these seven passages has any interpreter ever suggested that the first is an attributive, and καί an adverb, though, so far as the Greek is concerned, there would be as much reason for doing it in any one of the seven, with the exception of 2 Cor. 10:10, as in the passage in Second Timothy. So we not only wrench the Greek, but wrest the habit of St. Paul, when we make καί an adverb and θεόπνευστος an attributive.

Besides, we cannot imagine that a writer as bold and positive as the apostle, if he had wished to throw the contents of Scripture into two divisions, one of which he considered inspired and authoritative and the other uninspired and unauthoritative, or to suggest that any such distinction was to be made in thought, would have used Greek which, naturally interpreted, means that in this respect there is but one kind, and that it is all inspired. If he had desired to hurl his spear through a portion of Scripture as destitute of divine authority, he would have left no uncertainty about the direction and quality of the shivering lance.

The improbability of this is increased by the fact that no suspicion of the want of inspiration is cast by any other sacred writer on any integral portion of Scripture. We look in vain elsewhere for any suggestion of the sort. Clearly this passage should be interpreted in harmony with the habitual practice of the sacred writers, unless the Greek is positively inconsistent with such interpretation; whereas, in fact, the Greek itself requires this interpretation.

What this passage teaches, therefore, is the inspiration of Scripture in its constituent parts. It has reference to the objective fact—the inspiration of the books as books.

But while it does not directly state the inspiration of the writers or the method of inspiration, yet the word θεόπνευστος hints both. It hints that it was by a divine inbreathing. θεὸς-πνέων—God-breathing. This does not suggest a mechanical method—giving words, or even, necessarily, thoughts; but a method of spiritual suggestion and quickening, of co-working under and with the firm activity of man; a dynamic movement of God and man both, the two working jointly and inseparably to produce Scripture.

It is very much to be regretted that, in an age when there is so much disposition to question the authority of Scripture and weaken its claims, the Revisers should have failed to give clearly what we feel must have been the apostle’s thought in this important passage.


1) Grammar of New Test. Greek, § 124.

2) In loco.