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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Taken in context of his letter, Paul’s words to Timothy in this passage are a continuation of a heartfelt, urgent message from a wise mentor to a younger friend. As a coach might admonish her players, Paul instructs Timothy to “leave it all on the field” – to give every ounce of his intentionality, effort, and energy to the work of the Gospel. This work matters, and the way it's done matters most of all. This is because Paul and Timothy aren’t just striking out on their own, charting a new course in a new religion. No, Paul is clear: Timothy and Paul are following the faithful who have gone before in their own lives, and in scripture. As we listen in to this personal conversation, we hear for ourselves that there is something vast and steadfast that we too are invited into, and must steward well.

For me, the most striking element of this passage is the wondrous and slightly comedic fact that while Paul is describing the inspired nature and usefulness of scripture, he is in fact penning scripture himself (3.16-17)! Surely he never would have anticipated that fact!

Yet this scripture has at times been used to undergird a simplistic or fundamentalist view of scripture: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But this does Paul, and all of scripture, a great disservice. We cannot ignore that our relationship with scripture is complicated, because scripture itself is complex and nuanced. And I don’t think Paul is ignoring that fact, either. Have we forgotten that it is Paul’s interpretation of scripture that has brought him into so much conflict with people who have received all the same religious training that he has? He read the same scripture, and found reasons to believe God is doing a brand new thing in history through Jesus Christ. Others read the same scripture and found reasons to cling to the old ways for fear of being unfaithful or impure, especially in regard to the inclusion of Gentiles.

Of all people, it seems Paul would have an incredibly high view of both the great value and great complexity of scripture. So I think it is purposeful and nuanced that Paul says scripture is “God-breathed” (3.16). Just like God breathed life into Adam and Eve, so it is the Spirit of God who provides the animating force in words of scripture. First, to hearts and minds of authors to write true words, and then the same Spirit stirring hearts and minds to perceive truth when they read those words.

Let’s step back a bit and re-familiarize ourselves with how any portion of scripture has come to us. It always begins the same way: God took the initiative, made Godself known, and invited someone into an experience. It was such a crucial event that they didn’t want to forget it, and they wanted others to know it. So then this person or persons told their story, wrote a poem or sang a song. And each experience created a new story, or set of stories. These stories were preserved for generations as oral tradition, carefully protected as they were told, memorized, and retold. The stories, poems and songs provided shared language and history as they shaped individuals, communities, and culture. And they spoke of a God whose character and activity became more clear with each revelation.

Eventually oral tradition was written down as well as spoken. But it was only about 100 years before Jesus’ birth that the scriptures we know as the Old Testament were “canonized” as scripture. At the time of Paul’s writing, when he said that “all scripture is God-breathed,” he was talking about the Pentateuch, or the Torah, the historical writings, Psalms and Proverbs, and all the prophets. All of these writings, P