IT WILL STAND FOREVER
2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17
- What is the Bible? Why do we spend so much time talking about it, reading it, teaching it, etc? It’s quite apparent that if you were to simply walk up and down the streets of any city in America asking people what they thought about the Bible you would get many different answers.
- Some would say the Bible is the work of religious men; albeit very intelligent men. Some would say it is a good moral book; on par with other religious or holy books. Others would say it is old fashioned and outdated. So it is irrelevant. Those of a more intellectual sort my claim that it is poorly translated or lost in translation.
- There are a lot of opinions floating around out there as to what the Bible is and is not; but what is the truth? What is the truth about this thing we call “the word of God”? To put it as simply as we can state it: what is this book?
- I reviewed some surveys recently that are a bit dated but they get the point across. According to the Barna Research Group, 2 out of every 5 adults (38%) believe that the entire Bible was written several decades after Jesus’ death. 10% of adults believe that Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc. 49% agree that the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil. And other surveys indicate that people don’t know even half of the Ten Commandments. They don’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. They don’t know the story of Jonah and the great fish is from the Bible; and they believe the expression “God helps those who help themselves.” is a direct quote from Scripture.
- Now don’t be offended if you didn’t know some of those things; particularly if you’ve only known Jesus as your Savior for a short time. But I want to ask the question: why is this? Why is our society so ignorant of the Bible? It is because we don’t, as a society, recognize what the Bible is. If we knew what the Bible is, we would approach it differently. One recent number is that 30% of polled Americans believe in the absolute truthfulness of all the words of the Bible.
- So is the Bible true? Can we trust it? Is it really from God? Have the original words been lost? What are we to make of this book we hold in our hands? Let’s answer some of those questions.
- We are going to work through a text in 2 Timothy chapter 3. Turn there in your Bible. As you are finding your place, let’s notice some background information. We won’t get too in depth, but a few things need to be mentioned.
- The author of 2 Timothy is the Apostle Paul. We have become quite familiar with him in our study of Philippians. He is writing around 66-67 A.D. - about 5 or 6 years after he wrote Philippians.
- He is undergoing a second imprisonment. He was presumably released from the house arrest he endured while penning Philippians and the other Prison Epistles, but now he is again incarcerated. This time the situation is worse. He is locked in a dungeon, awaiting almost certain execution.
- The letter is named for its recipient: Timothy, a disciple of the Apostle Paul and a young pastor. The purpose of the letter seems to be to encourage Timothy to stand strong in the faith. Apparently Timothy was struggling with some difficulties, and Paul’s concern about this causes him to write this letter to him. Paul knows his time is short, so he tells Timothy to hurry to Rome so that they can meet in person one last time. History does not tell us whether or not Timothy made it. So this is quite possibly the last correspondence between on of the great founders of the Christian church and his non-apostolic successor.
- In this letter of encouragement to Timothy, we find one of the clearest statements about Scripture in all of Scripture. Look at 2 Timothy 3 beginning at v.10.
Read 2 Timothy 3:10-17
- Now we are going to concentrate on vv.16-17. What do these verses tell us about Scripture? What claims is the Bible making for itself? Let’s start with the first, most fundamental truth about this book: it is breathed out by God. We call this:
INSPIRATION: THE BIBLE IS GOD-BREATHED
- The first part of v.16 says: All Scripture is breathed out by God. Now what do we mean by this term inspiration? It would be normal for us to hear someone say that they heard a song that inspired them. Or we see movies that were inspired by true events. We often hear inspiring stories. And, of course, we mean that the song aroused an emotional response within us. Or that the movie was based on actual events. Or that a story made us feel good or confident in ourselves. Is any of that what we mean when we say the Bible is inspired?
- Well, no; that is not what we mean. The inspiration of the Bible refers to its source. It was, as v.16 says, breathed out by God. The word is θεόπνευστος. It is a compound of the words that mean “God” and “to breathe or blow”. This means that as the human authors were writing, the Spirit of God moved on them in such a way as to use their personalities and writing styles to write the very word of God.
- What the authors of Scripture wrote, God said. He breathed it out. It came from him. The clearest explanation of this is found in 2 Peter 1:20-21: no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- Now that phrase carried along is interesting. Think of it this way: picture a leaf floating down the river. The leaf goes wherever the river carries it. In the same way, the writers of Scripture went wherever the Spirit carried them. They wrote whatever the Spirit wanted them to write.
- So we’re not talking about dictation here. In most cases, the authors didn’t sit down with a scroll and pen and listen to God audibly dictate what to write down. We see that happen a few times in the Bible, but the norm was God breathing, or inspiring, or producing his word through the human pen.
- So that the final product was a book, or letter, or poem that was written by a man, but he was the secondary author, the true source was God himself.
- Now there are two important aspects of inspiration that we need to notice. The first is that:
INSPIRATION WAS VERBAL
- By this we mean that the very words were inspired. I heard a preacher say recently that someone told him that he was so caught up in the words of the Bible, that he missed the entire message. That preacher correctly thought that was an odd statement. You can’t have a message without words. It is not just the biblical concepts that are inspired. Inspiration extends to the very words.
- Jesus said in Matthew 24:35: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Does that mean that his message will not pass away? Yes. Does that mean his teachings will not pass away? Yes. But those things will not pass away because his words will not pass away.
- Consider Psalm 119:89, which says: Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. What God says is eternal. It is firmly fixed in the heavens. It is permanent.
- And there are other passages, but here is probably the clearest of them all; Matthew 5:18: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. This is quite a statement. An iota is a letter in the Greek alphabet. It’s a tiny thing. It corresponds to our letter “I”. The word dot literally means “a stroke”; a part of a letter.
- Not even the tiniest letter; in fact, not even a stroke or part of the tiniest letter of all that God says will go unfulfilled. Jesus here is speaking of the Old Testament; and the New was God-breathed just as the Old was. All of the “I’s” are dotted and all of the “T’s” are crossed.
- So inspiration was verbal – the words and not just the ideas were inspired. Secondly:
INSPIRATION WAS PLENARY
- Plenary means “full or complete”. In other words, all of Scripture is inspired. Some would like to say that the parts of the Bible that deal with matters of faith are inspired, but the parts dealing with science or history are not. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All of the words in the Bible were God-breathed. Remember the clear claim of our text: All Scripture is breathed out by God.
- Listen to Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. This is a rich text because you have both verbal and plenary inspiration here – every (plenary) word (verbal).
- And this leads us very naturally into the next issue; and that is the veracity of Scripture.
VERACITY: THE BIBLE IS TRUE
- The Bible is accurate. It is perfect. We just read that every word of God proves true. Now this makes sense doesn’t it? If all of the Bible is God-breathed down to the very words, then it is going to be true and right.
- Titus 1:2 describes God as a God who never lies. He does not say anything that is untrue. And Hebrews 6:18 tells us why he never lies: because it is impossible for him to do so. God is perfect and holy and there is no possible way that he can say anything that is not true.
- That’s why David said this in 2 Samuel 7:28-29: And now, O LORD GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O LORD GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever. David said, “God, you said you were going to bless my house and my lineage and you will do it. You have spoken; and since you have spoken you will do it.”
- When we speak of the veracity or truthfulness of Scripture there are two terms we need to remember. The first is the term:
INFALLIBLE: THE BIBLE IS PERFECT IN ITS TOTALITY
- This is similar to the concept of plenary inspiration. All of the Bible is perfect. The second term is:
INERRANT: THE BIBLE IS PERFECT IN ITS PARTS
- This shares similarities with the verbal aspect of inspiration. Every part of the Bible is without error. So together we have the concept of a book that is completely true down to the very tiniest of details.
- Now this is a good time to insert a point of clarification. It is a fair question to ask “What English Bible should we read?” Does inspiration mean that one English Bible is the correct word of God? The answer to that question is “no”. This is very important so don’t miss this: inspiration applies to the autographa (or autographs) only; the original manuscripts of the Bible that were written in Hebrew and Greek (with a few parts in Aramaic).
- The Bibles we read in English are translations of copies of those inspired texts. We do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible. This is why some people say we can’t trust the Bible because it has been lost in translation.
- If we don’t have the original copies, is it true then, as some would claim, that because the Bible has been translated so much and copied so many times we do not have a reliable book that we can confidently call the very word of God? Does the inspiration of the original manuscripts really mean anything at the end of the day?
- We have to answer these questions before we move on to the rest of our text in 2 Timothy 3. Because who cares if the Bible was inspired if we don’t have access to that God-breathed truth? Can we call the English Bibles we read from the very word of God? It is here we raise the issue of the preservation of Scripture.
PRESERVATION: TODAY’S BIBLE IS THE SAME AS THE ORIGINAL
- One man tells the story of when he passed by a blacksmith one evening. As he was walking by, he looked into the shop and saw a multitude of hammers – worn and useless, lying on the floor. He watched as the blacksmith hammered an anvil. Then he said to the blacksmith “How many anvils have you gone through in order to wear and batter all of these hammers?” And the blacksmith replied “Only one. The anvil wears out all of the hammers.” So the man walked away comparing the anvil to God’s word – how for ages skeptics and atheists have hammered at Scripture. And how unbelief and hatred of truth have beaten the word of God; and the word, like the anvil, is unworn. The hammers are all gone – wasted away; and the word of God stands strong.
- Is this right? Is the Bible like the blacksmith’s anvil? We are going to answer that question in two ways. First, we will respond with what the Bible claims about itself.
SCRIPTURE ATTESTS TO ITS OWN PRESERVATION
- In Isaiah 40:6-8 the prophet wrote: A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
- Isaiah says grass withers away, flowers fade off and die, and all flesh is the same. Everything, including humanity, withers and fades away. But there is something that does not wither nor fade way, and it is the word of God.
- Here is one of my favorites, Psalm 119:160: The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. The psalmist writes “the sum”, the total. All of your word is truth (there is plenary inspiration and veracity), and all of it endures forever. Nothing you say is lost; it is preserved throughout all of eternity.
- Having said these things, do these promises hold up? Do we have reason to believe that what God promised concerning his word actually happened?
- First, it must be said that if the Spirit of God does not convince you of these truths, you will by no human ingenuity be convinced of them. However, we do have verifiable reasons to believe that God’s word has been preserved for us just as he said it would be. So:
EXTERNAL EVIDENCE ATTESTS TO SCRIPTURE’S PRESERVATION
- Let’s start with the Old Testament. Before we look at these things, let me just say that I don’t expect you (and you won’t even if you try) to remember all of this. This is for our benefit; to show how sensible it is to trust the Bible we have today.
- First, you need to understand that the meticulous care that Jewish scribes took in copying the Scriptures is almost un-human. Our current Old Testament is largely derived from the work of these scribes. It is called the Masoretic Text. One scholar from Cambridge University said that the transmission of the Hebrew text of the OT; that is, the process of copying the originals, is “little short of miraculous.” Another scholar adds that “it may safely be said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.”
- And this is the result:
There are thousands of Hebrew manuscripts and fragments available to us today.
In addition to these, there are copies in other ancient languages as well.
The Septuagint (LXX) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT.
Origen, an early church father compiled the Hexapla: a collection of Greek translations comparing them to the Hebrew.
The Samaritan Pentateuch: Copies of the first five book of the OT in an ancient script.
Then there are other writings that quote or paraphrase the OT: the Targums, Mishnah, Midrash.
- All of these different resources are used in determining the original Hebrew Old Testament. You want a well preserved book? Open your Bible to Genesis 1 and start reading.
- Well what about the New Testament? Let’s just get this out there right off that bat: it doesn’t matter what you’ve heard on the History Channel, or Discovery Channel, or Oprah, or whatever else; the New Testament is the most reliable ancient document in existence!
There are over 5,600 known Greek manuscripts (the language it was written in)
There are over 10,000 Latin manuscripts
There are at least 9,300 other early versions.
Which means we have close to or a little more than 25,000 manuscript copies of the NT.
- It is no wonder that Bruce Metzger said that “the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material.” In comparison, the next most copies of an ancient work we have are copies of Homer’s Iliad. How many copies do we have of that? Just under 650. That’s second.
- So to say that the Bible is unreliable or was lost in translation or transmission is to reveal your ignorance. It has more attestation than all of the other historical works combined. So not only are we convinced by the Spirit of God that he has made good on his promise, we are compelled to believe this by the wealth of manuscript evidence. The Spirit of God has brought us to a conviction, and that conviction is verifiable.
- So let’s just consider that barrier dealt with. The original words of the Bible are well within our reach. With that in mind, let’s consider the rest of v.16 and v.17. With confidence that what we have in this book is directly from God, let’s look into God’s riches. The last portion of our text deals with the sufficiency of Scripture.
SUFFICIENCY: THE BIBLE IS ALL WE NEED FOR GODLY LIVING
- At the end of v.16 into v.17 Paul writes: [All Scripture is]...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
- The word of God is what makes us competent for the Christian life. That word competent means “complete”. Timothy did not need, and we do not need, anything to supplement the Bible because it alone is our authority for all matters of faith and practice.
- By the word of God the man of God is equipped for every good work. The Bible equips us to do whatever we need to do in our spiritual lives. Now that phrase man of God is used frequently in the Bible to describe God’s spokesman. The title is used of Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Elisha. It’s used many times in the OT but only a few times in the NT.
- In this context it speaks of Timothy being “God’s man” in Ephesus. He was the the overseer, the pastor. He was the man who preached and taught God’s word. The broader application for all of us would be that anyone who wants to be a man or woman of God has all they need to do so in the Bible. All you need is right here.
- So Paul says that Scripture is profitable for, firstly:
- This is pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? We use the Bible to teach people. It teaches us about God. It teaches us about ourselves. It teaches us of our need of God because of sin. It teaches us about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, how to receive eternal life, and how to honor God. Scripture is our spiritual textbook. Next is:
- The Bible reproves us. What does that mean? It shows us where we are wrong. It shows us wrong attitudes and wrong behavior. It reveals to us what ways of thinking and what patterns of belief are not right. It exposes us.
- Many of you know Hebrews 4:12-13: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
- God’s word penetrates us on the deepest level and reveals who we really are before God. But it is also profitable for:
- Scripture not only tells us when and where we are wrong, but it tells us how to be right. If we are being disobedient in a certain area, it shows us how to rectify that and become obedient. If there is something not right with the way we are thinking or living, God’s word reveals to us the godly way to think and live. In reproof you have the negative and in correction you have the positive.
- And finally, it provides:
TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS
- Reproof and correction are for the times when we are already doing something wrong. Training in righteousness is that positive instruction for living. It is proactive. The Bible trains us to flee and avoid the things that it would reprove us of, and teaches us how to live so that we do not have to be corrected.
- And once again the Bible has a lot to say about itself in this matter. The word of God is so sufficient and authoritative that we are warned not to add to or take away from the Bible.
- Deuteronomy 4:2 says: You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.
- Proverbs 30:5-6 (we saw v.5 earlier): Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
- And probably the best known warning is the one Scripture ends with, Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
- It is a very serious issue. Do not add to what God has said. If we want to know what God says about something, we open this book. Here is where he has spoken, and here is where he continues to speak. Any other thing we think may be God trying to communicate something to us must align itself under the authority of the word of God.
- So there is a sense in which God still “speaks”; meaning that he still communicates to us through a variety of means: we have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, we have nature, we have godly mentors, circumstances – and yet there is a sense in which God has spoken with finality: that’s the word of God. And the Bible takes precedence over every other thing.
- As we close, let’s consider one last thing that our text presupposes. That is the perspicuity of Scripture.
PERSPICUITY: THE BIBLE IS CLEAR AND UNDERSTANDABLE
- We can know what the Bible means. There is a growing trend that says “The Bible is so profound that we cannot understand what it means. We cannot be absolutely certain of what it teaches. Therefore, we cannot and should not be dogmatic about anything we believe.”
- Let’s just bring ourselves back to reality for a moment. Communication presupposes intent on the part of the communicator. If you were to say to a child: “Don’t jump on the bed.”, by saying that you intend for them to understand what you mean; and expect that they will accordingly refrain from pretending to be on a trampoline when in their bedroom, right?
- Now to be fair, communication does not always work. The intended transfer of information doesn’t always take place. But that’s not the case with God. Everything we’ve read indicates that God has spoken to us clearly. He has not mumbled; and he expects us to understand what he says. The Bible would not be profitable for any of the things we mentioned if it were not understandable. Some parts are harder to understand than others, but the task is not impossible.
- In fact, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders many times for not properly understanding the Old Testament. He assumed they had the ability to understand what they read.
- There is a profound complex simplicity in Scripture. It can be understood and understood in detail; and yet it is so vast that we will never comprehensively understand it all.
- So that was an enormous amount of information. Let’s wrap it all up with a nice little bow:
Scripture is God-breathed in all of its words.
It is therefore true in all that it affirms.
This truth has been adequately preserved throughout history.
Therefore the Bible is completely sufficient for all matters of faith.
And in order for these things to be true, Scripture must be clear and understandable; and it is just that.
- That is why this book gets so much of our attention. That is why we study it, preach it, and teach it. Because there is no greater motivating factor for life and ministry than knowing you have the word of the living God at your fingertips.