The rabbit trails of 2 Tim 3:15-16.

One of the things I am enjoying about the study of Greek is the variety of twists, turns and bends the trails can take you. Now, I know that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. And so I am self aware that the little Greek knowledge I do have, could be a dangerous tool indeed. However, it is also giving me a deeper thirst to know the Scriptures in a deeper way. It’s also giving me a deeper appreciation of the work previous translators and scholars have done in piercing all the scraps and documents together to bring them together into the cohesive Bible that we have today. I’m also starting to understand the importance of the nuances of the variety of words that the authors use. I believe that its important to note that when different terminology or words are used within a particular passage, book or books, that that uniqueness needs to be taken note of. One passage which has a number of such rabbit warrens to follow through is from 2 Timothy.

2Ti 3:8  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men oppose the truth. They are depraved in mind and their faith is a counterfeit.
2Ti 3:9  But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those two men, their stupidity will be plain to everyone.
2Ti 3:10  But you have observed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance,
2Ti 3:11  and how I was persecuted and suffered in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.
2Ti 3:12  Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in union with the Messiah Jesus will be persecuted.
2Ti 3:13  But evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse as they deceive others and are themselves deceived.
2Ti 3:14  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and found to be true, because you know from whom you learned it.
2Ti 3:15  From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to give you the wisdom you need for salvation through faith in the Messiah Jesus.
2Ti 3:16  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
2Ti 3:17  so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good action.

In particular I’m interested in verses 15 –16. These two passages have a variety of unusual, rare and unique words and terms that are not found within the wider body of Scripture. Perhaps the most unique is from verse 16, “God – Breathed, θεοπνευστος.” This is the only place this Greek  word is used within the whole corpus of Scripture which therefore makes it worthy of our attention. The next unusual term to look at is from verse 15 which says “Holy Scriptures, ιερα γραμματα.” And finally there is a third word to look at which is also unique and is the term “useful, ωφελιμος”This particular word is only found 4 times in the Scriptures. Twice in Titus 3:8, once in 1 Tim 4:8 and here in 2 Tim 3:16.

In the two passages which concern us, the terms Scripture seem to be clear cut. What is unusual is that the term Holy Scriptures – ιερα γραμματα,” from verse 15 is not translated as Scripture else where. “γραμματα” is found 14 times in the NT, whose translation is formed around the terms of letters, writing and wrote. Instead γραφη which is used in verse 16 is normally used for the terms Scripture. What is interesting is that the author uses two distinct terms to describe what is translated as Scripture in two sentences. The uniqueness of this must cause us to stop, pause and ask why?

The second unique term is “θεοπνευστος.” It appears to be a simple composite word, combining Theos / God and Pneuma / Spirit / Breath, together, giving us the term “God breathed.” or God inspired.” This term is not found anywhere else in Scripture and therefore this also is cause for us to stop, pause and reflect further.

The third unique word is  translated as “useful, ωφελιμος.” While the root word is common enough in Scripture, this particular one is only found in the Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy corpus. So once more we need to stop, pause and ask why?

In translating  2 Tim:16 πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος και ωφελιμος  – All scripture is God Breathed, …”  I found it says “All God breathed / inspired  Scripture.”  In my only commentary on Timothy, I found the author, William Barclay also translated it the same, which gave me some assurance I was right. There is a number of nuances here which make this passage interesting. There is a difference between translating  All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for and All God breathed Scripture is useful for… Yet within the rules of the grammars I am using, it seems that the later translation is the more accurate.

These nuances are worthwhile following up. Is the author of Timothy actually taking about the whole Corpus of Scripture in this passage, or is he actually talking about other writings being God breathed / inspired. Most scholars agree that the term Holy Scriptures in verse 15 is referring to the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets. Timothy had a Jewish background from his mothers side, and like most Jewish children knew their scriptures from an early age. Scriptures which are able to make him wise for salvation in Christ.This is an obvious referral to the law and prophetic writings which point to Christ, as we have many records of Paul using these scriptures in his Synagogue visits, to prove that Jesus was the Christ.

Why does the author use two different terms to describe the same thing. It’s extremely unusual that he uses the terms “ιερα γραμματα” to describe the OT, as the normal referral throughout the corpus of Scripture is γραφη. If indeed he is talking about the same body of literature why doesn’t he acknowledge to Timothy that indeed he was raised up on the  ιερα γραφη and that all God breathed γραφη is useful for… I believe the very unique differences within this passage, shows us that Paul is talking about two very distinct bodies of literature in his conversation to Timothy.

In my next post, I will explore the next rabbit trail of “useful, ωφελιμος.” within the Titus / Timothy corpus to see if this throws any light onto the context of this passage.

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
This entry was posted in 2 Tim 3:15-16 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The rabbit trails of 2 Tim 3:15-16.

  1. Dave Black says:

    For what it’s worth, I disuss the Greek of 2 Tim. 3:16 on page 125 of my beginning grammar.

  2. brian sleeman says:

    Perhaps that’s one of the reasons behind the discussions over the Apocrypha – just because the writings were bundled with Scripture, it didn’t make it God Breathed / inspired.

    • Craig Benno says:

      I had to laugh when I read this Brian. You reminded me of something from years ago. When I first got saved I asked the pastor of our church (Picton Anglican) about the Apocrypha…he said while its not Scripture it is useful.

      Certainly many of the books in the Apocrypha would have been known to the early church, and the Epistle of Jude does make reference to Enoch. I was also reminded just now that the OT has 3 components to it. The Law (Pentateuch) Prophets and other writings.

      You have just thrown another hat into the ring for me to think about. Thanks.

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