Monday, May 26, 2014

Inspired Scripture (part 1)

Every Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17  (NET)

A powerful statement indeed!  Too often, however, there is a tendency to become focused on the first part of the statement, that of Scripture being inspired by the Creator God.  Though it is customary to go on to quote the last part, it is often seen as something of an add-on, proving the fact of its inspiration because it provides teaching, reproof, correction, and training.  In addition to that, some users reference the verse in a post-Reformation context, using it as a proof text for the infallibility of Scripture, which was a relatively late development (historically speaking) proposed essentially in response to the doctrines of the infallibility of Pope and church.  This, of course, while certainly worth considering when contemplating the value of the sacred text of Jesus-followers, is entirely anachronistic and not really worth pursuing if one desires to hear the letter speak on its own terms and within its own setting. 

There is a movement here in what is found in the text.  Naturally, it is a movement in the sense that this particular Scripture is not designed to be heard in isolation.  Prior to the sixteenth verse, the author of the letter (presumably the Apostle Paul) writes: “You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about.  You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:14-15). 

With this one is reminded that there is no reference being made here to anything that would be considered as part of the New Testament.  At the time at which this letter is written, if indeed composed by the Apostle Paul and forwarded on to Timothy during the Apostle’s lifetime, the only “New Testament” writings that can be safely and confidently presumed to exist would in fact be the letters of Paul.  While it is possible, and indeed probable that the letters of James and Peter would have been in existence at that point, it certainly cannot be said that Paul was referring to their or his own letters as “holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 

By no means would Paul, based on what can be known about his personal disposition through his letters, and though they were certainly meant to be impactful for their recipients, have considered his letters to the churches as being inspired Scripture on par with the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures (the law and the prophets).  Though Paul can be heard offering words from the Lord in contrast to words that come from him, and though Paul can be heard speaking confidently and tersely at times, this does not allow for the presumption that Paul thought extraordinarily highly of his own writings. 

Any attempt to make this insistence on his part would be solely due to the preservation of the writings and the value of the teaching and instruction contained therein, as Christians have studied and preserved the writings for well nigh two thousand years.  However, that does not allow for going well beyond that which is warranted when the letters and what is contained therein are considered on their own terms and in their own contexts.  That said, it would seem to be undeniable that the Creator God has most certainly and mysteriously worked through the New Testament writings to bring about a portion of His purposes for the world, which actually goes towards proving the point of this study. 

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