What Does 2 Timothy 3:16 Mean?

“Teaching.” Scripture tells readers positively what they must believe; it gives sound doctrine. “Reproof.” Scripture tells readers negatively what they should not believe; it disabuses readers of unsound doctrine. “Correction” means “setting right, . . . most likely with a reference to conduct.”1 Scripture tells readers negatively what not to do. “Training in righteousness” indicates “teaching” or “education” in right living. Scripture tells readers positively what they must do.

God-Breathed and Profitable

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. —2 Timothy 3:16

The term translated “Scripture” is the Greek word graphē, from which we get our English suffix -graph (as in paragraph). In general, the word denotes writing of some sort. In the NT this word is used as a technical term to refer to the Word of God written in the thirty-nine books of the OT. Paul in his statement specifies “all” Scripture, not just some; the use of “all” may indicate that Paul wishes to stress each and every individual passage of Scripture.

The phrase “breathed out by God” translates a single word from the Greek: theopneustos. This compound consists of two parts, the words for “God” (theos) and for “breathe” (pneō). Some translations render the compound as “inspired,” an acceptable translation that is nevertheless not as accurate as “God-breathed,” which emphasizes the divine authority of Scripture. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. The very “writings” themselves have the characteristic of “God-breathedness.” They are God’s Word.

The word translated “profitable” means that all Scripture is useful, beneficial, or advantageous (BDAG, s.v. ὠφέλιμος). Scripture is good for God’s people precisely because it is the Word of God. In fact, we might loosely render this phrase, “All Scripture is God-breathed and therefore is good for you.”

These two attributes of Scripture are often the most challenging to accept and are the two attributes of Scripture false teachers and critics regularly attack. Such critics do not want hearers to have confidence in Scripture as the Word of God. If they fail to convince that Scripture is not God’s Word, then they seek to convince that it is not good for God’s people. The faith of believers can falter on either one of those points.

Four Tasks of Scripture

Scripture is “profitable” for readers in regard to four very specific tasks.

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