November 26, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 & Sola Scriptura

This is a response written to a Catholic that responded to my article on Sola Scriptura. Here follows his article (in block-quotes) and my follow-up responses (normal text).

Roman Catholic Introduction

Definition according to James White

“Positively, the doctrine teaches that the Bible is sufficient to function as the sole, infallible rule of faith for the Church.

Negatively, it denies the existence of any other rule of faith as being necessary for the man of God.

The doctrine of sola scriptura, simply stated, is that the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone are formally sufficient to function as the regula fide, the “rule of faith” for the Church.  All that one must believe to be a Christian is found in Scripture and in no other source.”

As James White says… “I must demonstrate that the Bible is sufficient to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church, that is, I must demonstrate its [formal] sufficiency.”

Therefore, the person who rejects Sola Scriptura does not have to show that there is some other source of divine-revelation, though that can be shown, but rather all the person has to do is demonstrate that the Bible does not teach sola scriptura and therefore must be false.

Simply put…

  • Sola Scriptura is a divinely revealed doctrine, in other words is revealed by God.
  • Divine revelation is limited to scripture and nothing else.
  • Therefore, Sola Scriptura is revealed within Scripture and must be found there alone.

Premise 1 is plainly true, if Sola Scriptura is not a divinely revealed doctrine then it is a tradition of men and must be rejected.

Premise 2 is simply a statement of Sola Scriptura and thus cannot be denied.

The Conclusion obviously cannot be disagreed with in a valid deductive argument.

Therefore, we need to find some verses whereby Sola Scriptura is shown.


The first premise is correct, but the second is false. Extra-Biblical revelation is compatible with Sola Scriptura. The Reformed tradition recognizes revelation from God outside Scripture and has for centuries. For instance, the Westminster Confession’s first chapter begins by contrasting Scripture to natural revelation: “the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable.”

Then there is of course the countless recordings in Scripture of divine oracles in the past that were not themselves Scripture. On that list goes God’s creational decree to Adam in Genesis 1 and 2, God’s many appearances to Abraham and Jacob, the burning bush in Exodus 3, the theophany of Joshua 5, and since there are too many further examples to list, we’ll skip to the fruition of God’s self-revelation in Jesus. About God Incarnate, John wrote in his Gospel (John 21:25): “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Sola Scriptura does not limit the scope of divine revelation to Scripture. Rather, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura includes two aspects relevant here. First, historically, God’s normative method for speaking to His saints is through Scripture. Second, in the age between the completion of the New Testament writings and Christ’s final return at judgment, the scope of special revelation is the Bible.


Roman Catholic Lexical Argument

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (Revised Standard Version).

The appeal to the first clause, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching is fruitless since it merely says that Scripture is profitable or useful (Greek, ophelimos) for teaching, not that it is mandatory for teaching every individual point of theology. A hammer is profitable or useful for driving nails, but that does not mean that nails can be driven only by hammers (as anyone can testify who is lucky enough to have a nail gun or unfortunate enough to have had to drive a nail with a random blunt object which was at hand).

A more careful appeal to this passage would look to other parts of it instead, for example, the last clause, which focuses on the idea that “the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Now James White built his case on the second clause that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work built his case on the Greek words used in this passage for “complete” (artios) and “equipped” (exartizo), which he interpreted to mean “sufficient.” He was able to cite one lexicon that listed “sufficient” as a possible translation of artios in his debate with Patrick Madrid and one lexicon which listed “sufficient” as a possible translation of exartizo, but there are major problems with his argument.

According to Jimmy Akin

  • “The two lexicons that used the term “sufficient” listed it as a third or forth translation of the terms, not as the primary translation, and one cannot appeal to possible meanings of a term as proof that it does mean something in a given text, especially when they are third or fourth string possibilities for its meaning.”

  • All the published Protestant Bible versions (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, etc.) agree that “sufficient” is notthe correct translation of these terms in this instance. None of them render the passage “that the man of God may be sufficient, sufficient for every good work.” In fact, none of them use “sufficient” as a translation of even one of the two terms.


Let’s begin by conceding that the defense of Sola Scriptura from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 relies on connecting Paul’s comment about divine inspiration of Scripture with its function, connecting theopneustos to artios and exartizo. Because Scripture is uniquely inspired, it is sufficient to equip or complete the man of God for Christian life. Our opponent makes two objections to this argument.

Objection 1: Hammer Analogy

This objection is from analogy: a hammer’s usefulness does not entail its sufficiency. It’s unclear what the objection is here, but perhaps our Roman Catholic opponent wants to say that Scripture is useful but insufficient. Reason being, apart from an audience, apart from a shared language, apart from the reader’s cognitive ability, and other such background conditions, the Bible accomplishes nothing. Here, we agree. The Bible isn’t sufficient for the task laid out by Paul without someone to wield it effectively. However, that misses the point.

This is to confuse for what a hammer is sufficient. When we say a hammer is useful, what we mean is that a hammer is sufficient for the purpose of hammering things. The purpose of hammers, for which they are sufficient, presupposes all relevant conditions, like hammerers and nails. Likewise, to say Scripture has the power to equip or complete is just to say Scripture is sufficient for that purpose. That purpose presupposes an audience, shared language, reading comprehension, and all other background conditions of communication.

In short, usefulness means that something is sufficient for a specific purpose. The Roman Catholic has split hairs if he means Scripture is useful but not sufficient. Usefulness is sufficiency.

The argument from 1 Timothy 3:16-17 is not that the Bible is a magic artifact which imparts knowledge without ordinary means of human language. The argument is that because the Bible is uniquely co-authored by God (theopneustos), it is sufficient to communicate Gospel knowledge. Scripture is useful because it is sufficient for this purpose, which sufficiency it possesses due to its divine Author.

Consider a brief contrast of human and divine works of communication. When a human author writes, unaided by divine inspiration, his word is not a sufficient guarantee of its own veracity or clarity. Human writings are not a sufficient condition of successful communication, their purpose. Even when human writers share their audience’s language and the audience possesses decent comprehension, still the written work can turn out unclear, mistaken, dishonest, or the audience can misconstrue. Given the right background conditions, human authorship is not a sufficient condition of communication.

God does not suffer these ailments of finite, sinful humanity. His speech is perfectly clear, perfectly true, as distinct as its Author, and carries the infinite power of the all-wise Lord of the universe. Furthermore, God has crafted the psychology of His audience from top to bottom. Given the right background conditions, God’s speech, verbal or written, is a sufficient condition of knowledge. It is sufficient for the purpose of communicating the Good News. To say otherwise is just to deny God His divine attributes.

There are at least two more reasons for discounting the hammer analogy. First, if the hammer analogy meant that Scripture is not relevantly sufficient, the same argument would apply to Rome’s three-legged stool (Scripture, Magisterium, and Tradition). If God’s revelation in Scripture is not sufficient to communicate the Gospel, there is no relevant property of a Roman Pope or Roman paradosis that would explain why the latter is sufficient even while the former is not. Put inversely, if our Roman opponent wants to maintain the sufficiency of the three legged stool on account of divine inspiration, then the same sufficiency-due-to-inspiration supplies us with the sufficiency of Scripture.

Secondly, on Rome’s view of interpretation, only the Pope can infallibly interpret Scripture and he has only infallibly interpreted [xyz passages.] That means, ignoring the previous objections, the metaphorical hammer would only have sufficiently nailed in these random, unrelated verses. The hammer analogy thus reduces our opponents view as close as possible to unadulterated skepticism about what the Bible means.


Objection 2: Quibbles About Lexicons

He is correct to distinguish what a word possibly means and what it actually means. That a word possibly means something doesn’t tell us what it means. Yet, I think the lexicons state something stronger. For example, BDAG gives the definition:

to being well fitted for some function, complete, capable, proficient=able to meet all demands 2 Ti 3:17.—DELG s.v. ἄρτι. M-M. TW.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 136). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Even though a narrow term “sufficient” doesn’t appear here, that in no way entails the concept of sufficiency is absent (as the author himself argues later about a different point). From the semantic range presented here, it’s obvious the concept of sufficiency is present. In fact, the other prominent lexicon they are referring to (LouwNida Greek Lexicon) even states that it is sufficient. Which itself and BDAG attribute to 2 Timothy 3:17

75.4 ἄρτιος, α, ον: pertaining to being qualified to perform some function—‘qualified, proficient.’ ἵνα ἄρτιος ᾖ ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος ‘in order that the man of God may be qualified’ 2 Tm 3:17.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 678–679). New York: United Bible Societies.

Jimmy Akins appears to grossly downplay the meaning of the terms, neglecting the lexical evidence. The point over translations not translating it that way seems to be a pointless one because “complete” or “adequate” is able to be synonymous with sufficient. Secondly, translations are not infallible either. So, it isn’t unusual for them to be disputed and even in this text exist several issues where they had to make interpretive choices that didn’t have to be made.

Returning to the article:

  • There is such a thing as hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), and it is a common Hebrew idiom and a common feature of Paul’s letters. For example, in Colossians 1:20 Paul states that God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself through Christ. But obviously he does not mean absolutely all things or he would have to say that God reconciles Satan and the damned to himself through Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19, Eph. 1:10). Thus Paul’s statement that Scripture makes a minister one complete may be no more than a typical Hebraic hyperbole.


Col 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

2 Cor 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Eph1:10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.


Absurdities result if we take the principle that he uses to interpret 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and apply it to other texts. The principle is: “If (X) makes you complete then you don’t need anything other than (X)” (hence his reasoning, “If Scripture makes you complete then you need Scripture only”). If we apply this principle to James 1:4, which states, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” If we applied the principle to James 1:4 we would have to say that we do not need anything other than steadfastness, including Scripture!

Now the objection brought up to this is as follows…

But such passages are not parallel; a completely different Greek word is used. Where 2 Timothy 3:17 uses exartizo, which has to do with being fitted for a task, these other passages use the Greek word teleios, which has reference to maturity or having reached a desired end. Repeated assertions do not prove a point; that is only a propaganda technique. Our opponents need to answer in a responsible, thorough way.

This is certainly true; the words in that passage are teleios and holokleros, which are even stronger Greek terms. The objection would also commit a basic translation fallacy by assuming that a difference of term always means a difference of concept — it doesn’t — and, in any event, nobody is going to be able to build much of a case for the meaning of either artios or exartizo based on New Testament study since the first term occurs only once in Scripture and the second only twice [the other occurrence being in Acts 21:5], making meaningful Scriptural comparative studies of the usage impossible).

Therefore, we can quite clearly see that not only is it irrelevant that a different word is used, but it’s even worse that a different word is used because the word is much much stronger. Now I’ll expound on this more in a bit but even if we think that it is saying “perfectly completed and equipped” or something strong like that, it does not follow from that, that Sola Scriptura is taught anymore then finishing the last chocolate on an advent calendar as a kid on the 24th of December “completes” the calendar in the relevant sense. There were 23 other “chocolates” that were all exactly like the 24th chocolate, save that the 24th chocolate was the last one. Or similarly how a jar of money might become “complete” when I put the last coin inside, it doesn’t follow that that last coin is all I needed to complete the jar.

My Response:

I actually disagree with the notion that Col. 1:20(which will be the only one I comment on because of relevancy) and such are hyperbole. In Col. 1:20 you have this new creation paralleling the first creation. So, it is highly unlikely that Jesus is the first creation merely created a great many things. It is rather that he created everything! Just like he will set everything right in the creation to come( but that includes letting judgment fall upon the unjust). Even the text a mere few verses later presuppose that the reconciling that belongs to believers isn’t the same for unbelievers(verse 23-24). I agree with the general point that there can be uses of an exaggeration but we will have to contend as to whether Paul uses it in this instance.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James is exhorting his followers through their internal temptations and external persecutions(while all the other possible sufferings of this present evil age). The Christians were being manipulated by the rich that even were refusing to pay them. This only plunges them further into poverty.
James in an act of encouragement tells them to count this as “all joy” and from this endurance and patience our faith is purified. That as we endure the sufferings of this world our character is shaped more and more Godly(if we endure it rightly). We shall let God mold us and we will achieve eschatological perfection.

But the two OT occurrences both denote the process of refining silver or gold, and this is the way James uses the word. The difficulties of life are intended by God to refine our faith: heating it in the crucible of suffering so that impurities might be refined away and so that it might become pure and valuable before the Lord. The “testing of faith” here, then, is not intended to determine whether a person has faith or not; it is intended to purify faith that already exists. …

The last words in the verse underscore this point: when endurance is allowed to run its course and attain its goal, believers will be mature and complete, not lacking anything. “Mature” translates teleios, and we would argue again for a stronger rendering. The word “complete” suggests the idea of wholeness and soundness, in contrast, for instance, to ill health (see Acts 3:16). Testing, James suggests, is intended to produce, when believers respond with confidence in God and determination to endure, a wholeness of Christian character that lacks nothing in the panoply of virtues that define Godly character. This concern for spiritual integrity and wholeness lies at the heart of James’s concern, and he will come back to the matter again and again (see esp. 1:7–8 and 4:4–5).

Moo, D. J. (2000). The letter of James (p. 54-56). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

So, James doesn’t have the same concept in mind either. It still is about an intended state that is reached through the struggles between this age and the age to come, but it isn’t really discussing whether or not it is possible for suffering to actually accomplish it. It is assumed it can bring the fruition of this state and it is especially emphasized that it can when restates that believers will “lack nothing”.

Returning to the article:

  • The two terms modify the man of God, not Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:17 says Scripture helps makes the man of God complete and equipped, not that Scripture itself is complete and equipped. In order to prove that Scripture is sufficient, the advocate of sola scriptura would have to argue backwards from the sufficiency of a man to the sufficiency of a collection of documents. This puts an extra layer in the argument and thus an extra layer of exegetical uncertainty.
  • This layer of uncertainty is even more problematic for the advocate since to say something helps make a man complete and equipped can presuppose that he already has certain other pieces of equipment. For example, if a man is going on a hiking trip and he has all the equipment he needs except a canteen. He then goes into a sporting goods store and buys one. When he does, he says, “There. Now I am complete, equipped for all of my hiking adventures.” This does not at all imply that the canteen alone was all the equipment he needed to be completely furnished. It was only the last piece of equipment. The statement that it made him complete presupposed that he had all the other equipment he needed. In the same way, the statement that Scripture works to complete the man of God can presuppose that the man of God already has certain other articles in his possession that pertain to doctrine (such as the oral teachings of the apostles).


  • Even if a single source does give a person all the equipment he needs, this does not teach him how to use the equipment. He may need training in how to use his equipment. Just because a person has all the tools he will need to survive in the woods on a hiking trip does not mean he knows how to use the tools. In the same way, even if Scripture gives one all the basic equipment one needs to do theology, it may be unclear to the point that one needs to use Apostolic Tradition to arrive at the correct interpretation of it. In fact, this is a permissible position for Catholics to hold. The claim that Scripture contains or implies all the basis data for theology is known as the material sufficiency of Scripture, and it is a perfectly acceptable position for Catholic theologians to hold (cf. Yves Congar’s work Tradition and Traditions), so long as one does not move to the position of claiming that Scripture is so clear that one does not need Apostolic Tradition or the Magisterium to interpret it — a position known as the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which is identical with the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Thus a Catholic can say that Scripture gives one all the equipment one needs for theology, just not the background one needs to use the equipment.


The disanalogy between the canteen and the Bible is that the Bible is uniquely divinely chosen for its role while a canteen is not. The Bible is the speech of God, therefore carries relevant qualities (read: authority) of God, unlike a canteen. That which enables divine revelation  to equip and complete the “man of God” is its divine origin.

Consider that a canteen may be sufficient (not necessary) for retaining water in general, but not for an entire month stay in the woods. As noted above, usefulness presupposes sufficiency. But sufficient for what and sufficient how? A canteen is sufficient to probably serve some agents due to nomological laws. The Bible is sufficient to guarantee communication of the Gospel to its audience due to its holy Author. The source of usefulness is what results in the vastly different levels of usefulness.

The Roman Catholic is trying to make it merely necessary for these things, but not sufficient. The idea here is more like all the items for the camping trip being sufficient for the trip, but it still leaves you needing to use them properly. This allows for the idea we need to interpret these things correctly and the notion of the sufficiency of scripture.

The issue over whether an individual is using it correctly won’t get you to the dogmas of the Catholic Church. So, that really isn’t an issue in dispute. Suppose we have an infinite, all-knowing, infallible, morally perfect God as a witness. That witness testimony would be our ultimate standard to discern whatever he speaks about. The Bible just is the testimony of God in written form. Certainly, if we misunderstand it, then we will have distorted beliefs about issues. That doesn’t mean we need an infallible interpreter to decide these issues. So, I don’t see why this point was brought up as an issue of debate.

He wishes to defend the position known as material sufficiency(in contradistinction from other Catholic views like partim-partim). The obvious problem with this position is that the ideas that all traditions of the Catholic Church is found in both the Bible(explicitly or implicitly) and in oral tradition is not plausible. It is also seeming suspicious one can come to this view without knowing anything about God’s revelation in the Bible. How would one know the Church’s interpretations aren’t merely a con game? Wouldn’t one need to know about revelation before deciding the Catholic church’s view is correct about the material sufficiency of the text? Wouldn’t that imply it is clear enough to understand it to adjudicate the positions? But if one was able to decide which they thought was right, then you never needed the interpreter in the first place. So, it seems like the Catholic has put himself in a catch-22.

Returning to the article:

In fact, the text says that Scripture will make the man of God complete — it completes a clergyman, not an ordinary layman. A clergyman is someone who has special training — for example, his knowledge of the Apostolic Tradition which enables him to correctly interpret Scripture. The text thus presupposes a knowledge that the man of God already has before he even approaches Scripture.

My Response:

I think given my argument from earlier that even a clergyman is insufficient for scripture(in what the text affirms) to be sufficient or able to make him complete. In fact, only the Pope this ability becomes sufficient for scripture to be sufficient for him. In order for the bible to do what 2 Tim. states it will, you must understand it and know what it states. The issue is a Catholic can never know if they have the correct interpretation with an infallible interpretation.

Secondly, what makes him think this only refers to clergymen? What’s the argument for that? Paul calls all Christians to good doctrine and good works (1 Tim 2: 10; 3: 1; 5: 10, 25; 6: 18; 2 Tim 2: 21; Titus 1: 16; 2: 7, 14; 3: 1, 8, 14; § 5.2). I think the main idea is that it refers to Timothy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a wider application.

Returning to the article:


And when we turn to the Greek of 2 Timothy 3:16, we find that there is, indeed, a mistranslation. The phrase rendered “All Scripture” is pasa graphe, which means “Every Scripture” — they key word being “every,” not “all.” This is an important distinction, and it makes grammatical sense of the phrase, given our knowledge of what the singular term “scripture” means (for “every individual book of Scripture” and “every individual passage of Scripture” certainly make grammatical sense).


Had Paul wanted to refer to the entire corpus of Scripture, he would have used a different Greek phrase — something like hai pasai graphai (“the whole of the scriptures”), not pasa graphe, which means simply “every scripture” (a fact which even some of the biggest advocates of using 2 Timothy 3:16-17, such as anti-Catholic James White, have admitted).

My Response:

The issue is that this is a bit of an oversimplification. This can be translated either two ways, “every scripture” or “all scripture”. I prefer “All Scripture” because no specific passage is brought up. Secondly, if it were “Every Scripture” then it seems to be the same thing, but with a slightly different emphasis. The idea is that the collection is made up of that which is “God-Breathed”. I also wish to state that James White hasn’t admitted such and it just ignores the simple fact that things can be said in different ways. Another reason to prefer the idea that it should be “All Scripture” is because of the singular usage of scripture is to make us look at it in a more collective sense. I think the debate was summarized by Plummer: “It matters little whether we say ‘the whole of Scripture’ or ‘every passage of Scripture.’”

This later becomes an argument that every passage is sufficient to teach us every doctrine in every particular passage. This backfires on the person that proposes that this is materially sufficient. If this argument worked, then every passage is materially sufficient. Most Catholics recognize that this is a point about the category of scripture and not the thought that every chapter separate from one another teaches us everything we would need to know about the faith. Each chapter is sufficient to teach us what it actually contains, but there is no reason to think Protestant interpretation implies every “passage” teaches everything needed for theology(what even constitutes a passage?). Hopefully, our modern numbering system for verses isn’t thought to determine that. The idea is that scripture can be used to acquire divine content. Every passage teaches something and that is communicated from God to the reader. The Bible when interpreted correctly is able, sufficient, etc for the person to know what God meant.

Returning to the article:

Thus, right here in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, we have a double appeal to both apostolic Tradition and apostolic Scripture. So when Protestants come and quote verses 16 and 17, they are only quoting the back half of a double appeal to Tradition and Scripture, clearly something that does not prove sola scriptura.

My Response:

I disagree with this notion of apostolic tradition. But suppose what was actually meant was just oral teachings from the Apostles. Why assume we still have these oral traditions?  Other than assuming the Roman Catholic Church, there appears to be a baseless assertion to think it merely refers to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.

Returning to the article:

In addition, if Paul is stating that Timothy is “complete, equipped for every good work” merely by the scriptures that Timothy’s mother and other teachers had access to, well that obviously at best limits it to all the books of the Old Testament. So why not Sola Old Testament? I saw a reply to this but couldn’t quite understand the objection so forgive me if you feel this has been responded to.

My Response:

I quoted an article from Steve Hays that argued two points:

1. Paul has already called the works of Luke inspired scripture. This doesn’t allow for us to merely reduce it to the texts of the OT.

2. Paul already recognized his own writings were written with Divine authority. Paul clearly would include his own works into that which he has told Timothy to follow.

I would add another point that it seems to be a categorical point about scripture. So, the idea would just apply to other books of the NT canon.