The word of the day is “Scripture.” In our reading of 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4, St. Paul declares that the Scriptures are effective for instructing the faithful. He states, “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (vs. 16).
Paul’s execution is in sight. He says, “The time for my departure is at hand” (vs. 4:6). Knowing this, in 2 Timothy, Paul passes on the mantle of his authority to the young Bishop Timothy. As he transfers his apostolic ministry to Timothy, Paul foresees the primary challenge that the young preacher and pastor will face. He says, “the time will come when many will have “itching ears.” (vs. 4:3). They will reject the truth of “sound doctrine” and long to fill their ears with entertaining novelties. They will lust after false teachers who can enthrall them with stories, myths, and fables (Strong’s #3454, 168).
Continue in the Traditions
Against such hunger for falsehoods, Paul reminds Timothy to continue in what he has learned from childhood. He should hold fast to these teachings and remember those who have taught them. His tutors have passed along the tradition that Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians, “the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
At the center of these traditions are the Holy Scriptures. These “make you wise for salvation” (vs. 3:16). They are also “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (vs. 16). The word “doctrine” in the original Greek is more general than its current sense of “dogma.” It is a generic word for “teaching” just as its instructors are “teachers” (Strong’s #1319 and 1320, 68). The term for “reproof” refers to proof or the evidence that convicts (Strong’s #1651, 34 and #3809, 186). The basis for the word “correction” is the sense of “making straight again” (Strong’s #1882), and the word “instruction” has the connotation of training and the disciplining of children (Strong’s 3809). In summary, the Scriptures are the basis of teaching, setting one straight, presenting evidence of truth, and training.
The Scriptures Before the New Testament
But what were the Scriptures that Paul urged him to apply to the controversies of false teachers? The Orthodox Study Bible explains what Timothy had been taught, “A part of this tradition is Scripture. Paul, of course, speaks of the OT (Old Testament) as the NT (New Testament) did not exist yet” (OSB fn. on 3;14-17).
The authorization of the New Testament depended on the Church’s collection and selection of certain writings of the early Church. Moreover, the Church had to accept this specific set of writings as inspired Scripture, that is, the authorized list of writings that the Holy Spirit inspired. This set was added to the Old Testament which was already considered inspired.
From the Viewpoint of the Resurrection
Throughout the writings of what came to be the New Testament, we find that Paul’s high estimation of the Old Testament was a norm that other writers of the Bible shared. The books of the New Testament quote the Old Testament over 300 times and clearly allude to it almost 500 times.
However, the New Testament writings applied a distinctive interpretation (or interpretations) to the Hebrew scriptures. This way of reading the Old Testament is centered and grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Promised Messiah. As we see in the story of the “Walk to Emmaus,” the Risen Christ Himself taught the apostles how to comprehend the (Old Testament) Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the resurrection cast the life and teachings of Jesus in a new light. Only after Christ had risen did the disciples fully understand his life, teachings, and actions on earth (e,g. Mark 9:32) (John 12:16).
Only after Christ rose from the dead did the church grasp the full meaning that He was the Son of God born into our world as the Promised Messiah. Only then did the church learn what we sing in Matins this morning: “You the Master who loves mankind, * ever wishing to demonstrate * the abundant wealth of Your goodness to mankind, * became incarnate and thus assumed * our nature; and You were born * of a Virgin in the flesh; * and You dwelt in a cave on earth, * so that You might raise * to the heights and make heavenly Your servants, who are praising and extolling * Your ineffable Nativity” (Matins 2013).
So then when Paul referred to the Scriptures in today’s reading, he was speaking of the Old Testament with the understanding that it was fulfilled in Christ. Yet, the apostle also said “hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). He was referring to the Gospel that he preached and taught. The word for “sound” refers to what is healthy, wholesome, and strong (Strong’s #5198, 255). We might add “reliable.” Thus we note that this description of the apostolic teachings points forward to the time when it will also be considered as Scripture inspired by God.
Thus St. Irenaeus (130-202 AD) said: “We have learned the plan of our salvation from no one else other than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, for they did at one time proclaim the gospel in public. And, at a later period, by the will of God, they handed the gospel down to us in the Scripture to be the ‘ground and pillar of our faith” (ANF1: Chapter 1).
In conclusion, we can say that the benefits of Scripture apply to both the Old and New Testaments. Further we can say that the New Testament interprets the Old as Christ Himself illustrated. How can we profit from our reading of Scripture in his sense? We must open our ears to its message and our minds to its teaching. We must be willing to let it instruct, correct, convince, and train us that it might make us “wise unto salvation” (vs. 15).
Irenaeus suggests that we should not treat the Scriptures as if they were sheets of paper that stand between ourselves and the Lord, the object of our faith. Instead, when we read the Gospels, we should read them as if the disciples who witnessed the words and actions of our Christ were telling the story of our Savior directly to us. And when we read the writings of St. Paul, we should read them as if he were writing them specifically to us. Thus, we should believe that the Scriptures are not just so many words on a page. But the Holy Spirit addresses us through the living testimony of the eyewitness to the Lord’s majesty (2 Peter 1:16) written in the inspired writings of the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:4, 2 Timothy 3:16, scripture for correction, scripture for instruction, scripture for reproof, profitable for doctrine, reading the scripture, St. Irenaeus, the Old Testament from the viewpoint of the New Testament, scripture speaks directly to us
Matins, December 27. 2013. Lauds: Stichera Prosomia. In Digital Chant Stand: Greek Orthodox Diocese of America.