Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-20

Sola Scriptura

The studies this Fall in the “Reformation Fridays” series examine the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Following our introduction and a short study of the key Scripture-declaration in 2 Tim 3:15-17 (cf. the previous study), we now turn to consider Jesus’ view and treatment of the Scriptures.

The term “(sacred) Writing(s)” (grafh/, plur. grafai/) occurs 14 times in the Gospel sayings of Jesus, almost always in a context that points to the fulfillment of Scripture (prophecy) in the person of Jesus. This is also the specific emphasis where the word is used elsewhere by the Gospel writer (Luke 4:27, 32, 45; John 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9). Jesus’ use of the term “Writing” (i.e. Scripture), as for nearly all Jews of the period, was more or less synonymous with the expression “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13 [par Lk 16:16]; 22:40; Luke 24:44)—meaning the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), including the Psalms. It is not entirely certain, based purely on the Gospel evidence, to what extent the other Old Testament books were similarly included under the label of Scripture.

Indeed, our study on Jesus’ view of the (Old Testament) Scriptures can be divided between the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (including the Psalms).

The Law of Moses (Torah/Pentateuch)

A summary of Jesus’ recorded sayings and teachings clearly shows that he considered the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) as authoritative for Israelites and Jews—and for his disciples as well. And yet, Jesus’ view of the Law, according to the Gospel evidence, is rather more complicated and nuanced. A proper study of it goes far beyond the scope of this article, but I have earlier provided and extensive treatment of the subject in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (articles on “Jesus and the Law”). In Part 2 of that series, I present a detailed survey of the Gospel passages, divided into three main categories:

    1. Traditions where Jesus advocates Torah observance, but where following him may involve going beyond it
    2. Traditions where Jesus appears to relativize Torah observance:
      1. By spiritualizing the commandment, or, more commonly:
      2. By emphasizing or indicating that his own person (and following him) supersedes the Torah regulations
    3. Traditions which suggest that, in some way, the Torah regulations are limited temporally or in religious scope. In many ways this aspect cannot be separated from #2; certainly, in early Christian thought, the person and work of Jesus inaugurated an (eschatological) “new age”, in which the old religious forms and patterns either passed away or were given new meaning.

Jesus addresses the authority of the Law in a number of key traditions (sayings and episodes) in the Gospels, but perhaps the most important collection of teaching is to be found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49). A careful study of this Sermon-collection demonstrates that it is Jesus’ interpretation (and application) of the Torah regulations that is most important for his disciples (and for us as believers). For an exegesis of key sections of the Sermon, cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned series “Jesus and the Law”.

While the teaching and example of Jesus may take priority over (and surpass) the written text of the Torah, the written Torah (that is, the Scripture) certainly was considered authoritative by Jesus himself. We can see this, for example, by the way that the written text (of Deuteronomy, 6:13, 16; 8:3) is quoted in the famous Temptation episode (Matt 4:4, 7, 10 par).

Matthew 5:17-20    

Nowhere does Jesus offer such a clear example of his view of the Old Testament Law (Torah) as in Matthew 5:17-20, which also serves as the introduction to two key blocks of teaching: (1) the six so-called “Antitheses” [Matt. 5:21-48], and (2) instruction on specific religious behavior (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for his followers [Matt. 6:1-18]. They are also among the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings, especially for (Protestant) Christians accustomed to the idea of a “Law-free” Gospel.

To begin with, it is important to consider these four verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (for a critical introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’, see the introductory notes of my series on the Beatitudes). Matt. 5:17-20 follows the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and several additional sayings illustrating the character of Jesus’ faithful followers (Matt 5:13-16). The sayings in vv. 17-20 need not have been uttered by Jesus at the same time—the “Sermon” is better understood as a literary and didactic arrangement or collection of Jesus’ teaching, rather than as a single discourse delivered on a particular occasion. Instead these four sayings are thematically related, representing, as it were, principles governing Jesus’ own interpretation of the Torah for his followers. They will each be examined in turn.

1. Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. Similarly the opposing verbs katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”) have a very specific meaning in this context: as a legal term, katalu/w can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc., while plhro/w has the sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. Several points can be made:

    1. The juxtaposition of “Law and Prophets” here indicates hrwt/no/mo$ primarily as Scripture, rather than as the law-code or commandments per se. That is, no/mo$ here refers to the Pentateuch (books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy), and the “Foretellers” the Prophetic books (see above). The conjunction h* means that Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”. The Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time.
    2. The ‘incorrect’ statement (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176. It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (for it to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”
    3. The verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law. Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”

For a more detailed study on v. 17, see my earlier note.

2. Matthew 5:18

a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai
“For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

There is an interesting chiastic form and parallelism to this saying:

    • “Until heaven and earth should pass along”
      • “One yod or a single horn will not pass along from the Law”
    • “Until all (things) should come to be”

The first and last phrases are both temporal expressions: the first in concrete terms, according to the ancient worldview (“heaven and earth” represents the universe as understood at the time); the second more abstractly, as the coming-to-be of all things. In between these two expressions is a statement regarding the (relative) permanence of the Law. The “yod” is traditionally the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and of the Greek as well); it is not as clear precisely what kerai/a (lit. “horn”, or possibly “hook”) signifies here, but presumably it indicates a small ornamental mark in the script. The force of the expression is rhetorical rather than literal, i.e. “not even the smallest letter or mark will pass away from the Law”.

Noteworthy is the fact that the reference is specifically to a written text. It is not certain to what extent there was a distinction between written and oral Torah in Jesus’ time; but overall Jesus appears to have had a negative view of traditions added to the primary sense of the written text. Indeed, it can be argued that a fundamental purpose of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) was to restore the true meaning and significance of the original (written) Torah. In any event, it is clear enough that here Torah means primarily sacred Writing (Scripture, as in v. 17); but it probably also refers to the Torah as (written) Law-code—i.e., the collection of commandments, statutes, etc., contained in the Pentateuch.

The saying as a whole seems to limit the force and validity of the Law to the current world-order, as opposed to subsequent Jewish ideas which often emphasized the eternality of the Torah. There is an eschatological aspect at work here, as in much of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ followers were to be aware of the (imminent) end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God (with its accompanying Judgment). The Law would only serve as a governing (religious) authority for believers during the present Age. Paul expresses a rather different view of the temporal limitation of the Law (see, for example, in Galatians 3:26-4:7).

3. Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:]
“Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. There are a number of important questions within this verse, which I will discuss briefly in sequence.

    • How does the verb lu/w here relate to katalu/w in verse 17? The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”.
    • What exactly is meant by “these commandments”? Are these the commandments of the written Torah, or are they the commandments of Jesus? Arguments can be made for both views. The context of verses 17 and 18 would indicate that the written Torah is meant—if so, then the saying would imply that the written Law is fully binding for Jesus’ followers. However, many commentators would hold that Jesus’ commands are what is meant here; such commands would include Jesus’ (authoritative) interpretation of the Law, but would not be synonymous with the commandments of the written Torah itself.
    • What is meant by the “least/littlest” of these commandments? There are several possibilities:
      (a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
      (b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
      (c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
      (d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).
      In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.
    • How should the juxtaposition of “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here.

The most significant question remains whether “these commandments” are those of Jesus, of the written Torah, or both? I don’t know that it is possible to give a decisive answer here. Subsequent Christian tradition tended to identify “the commandments” with “the commandments of Christ”, but is this the same as what Jesus means in the saying of verse 19? It is probably best to understand the phrase here in the qualified sense of “the commandments of the written Torah… as interpreted by Jesus”. Admittedly, we almost certainly do not have all of Jesus’ teachings related to the Law. The Gospels themselves contain, I am sure, only a portion of them; even here in the Sermon on the Mount, the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 and the instruction in 6:1-18 are only representative of the teaching Jesus gave to his followers. For this reason, in particular, the phrase “commandment[s] of Christ” requires a more thorough and systematic treatment.

4. Matthew 5:20

Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perissu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n
“For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

This is probably the simplest, and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of the four sayings. It does not deal directly with the Law; rather it offers a challenging point of comparison for Jesus’ followers. The “Scribes and Pharisees” is a stock phrase and schematic expression in the Gospels, often related to those who question or dispute with Jesus, involving some point of legal or religious observance. They are typically mentioned only in the setting of the narrative, or in reaction to something Jesus says or does. The Pharisees have been given a superficially bad reputation by Christians, often as the result of careless reading of the Gospels. Of the major Jewish groups known from the time, the Pharisees probably had the most in common with Jesus himself. He doubtless had many interactions with them, of which only traces have been preserved in the Gospels; on the whole, they appear to have been thoroughly devout and scrupulous in religious matters, though not as strict as the Community of the Qumran texts (usually identified as Essenes). The Scribes [lit. Writers] were legal experts, largely synonymous with the “Teachers of the Law”, and certainly many Scribes were also Pharisees. Jesus’ disputes with the “Scribes and Pharisees” (and other religious leaders) will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming article in this series.

It is important to understand the sense of dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢, “justice/righteousness”) here. As throughout the Sermon of the Mount, and much of early Gospel tradition, the term signifies obedience and conformity to the will of God as expressed in the Torah and the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole. In this respect, it is comparable (and compatible) with the traditional Jewish sense of righteousness, and should not be confused with subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theological and soteriological use of the word. Presumably, for the first followers of Jesus, and early Jewish Christians, the point of the comparison with the righteousness of the “Scribes and Pharisees” would have been more readily apparent. Today, we can only speculate as to what precisely was meant. There are several possibilities:

    1. The Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in observing the Torah—that is, they did not penetrate to its deeper meaning and significance, as indicated by Jesus in his teaching. This would seem to be implied by the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48.
    2. Their approach to Torah observance and religious behavior was fundamentally flawed, and not the product of a pure heart. This seems to be the thrust of Matt 6:1-18, as well as the Beatitudes. Cf. also the association of Pharisees with “hypocrisy” at numerous points in the Gospels (esp. in Matt 23).
    3. The religious leaders who failed to follow Jesus were (all) missing the teaching and revelation which fulfills and completes the Law (and Righteousness). As such the righteousness of Jesus’ followers would (and should) by its very nature far surpass theirs.
    4. The comparison is primarily rhetorical and exhortative: a call to follow and obey Jesus’ authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.

I think there is merit in each of these four views, which can be supported by further detailed study of the Sermon on Mount itself.

Sola Scriptura: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Sola Scriptura

The first series of Reformation Friday articles dealt with the doctrine of “Justification by Faith” and the principle of Sola Fide (i.e., salvation through faith alone). Our second subject will be the principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)—that is, the Christian Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) as the primary, if not exclusive, source of authority for all matters of theology, teaching, and the Christian life.

This Protestant principle was born out of the early years of the Reformation, but did not develop and coalesce into a distinct article of faith until some years had passed. The historical context of this development, often ignored or unknown by Protestant Christians today, is worth summarizing briefly.

By the onset of the Reformation (usually tied to the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517), the late medieval Roman Catholic Church had established a number of lines of authoritative religious tradition, having grown and developed over many centuries. However, it was the concentration of this authority in the Roman hierarchy that was most problematic for the princes and leaders in the German Empire. Indeed, the Pope (bishop of Rome) was accorded virtually an absolute and infallible religious authority, though one which was an extension of the authority possessed by bishops and archbishops throughout the old (Roman) Imperial system, based on the theological principle of apostolic succession—that is, an authority inherited and continued from the first apostles (the idea of Apostolic Tradition among first-century believers is touched on below). The Pope, in particular, was seen as the spiritual successor of Peter as the head (and foundation-rock) of the Church.

At the same time, a vast corpus of authoritative Church Law (Canon Law) had accumulated, including the decisions of the bishops in the various international Church Councils, as well as many other ecclesiastical rulings. Other customs and traditions had become equally authoritative in practice, even if they had not been specifically spelled out in the Canon Law.

As learned Christians began, under the influence of Renaissance scholarship and education, to study the text of Scripture (esp. the Greek New Testament) in more detail, many people noticed that there was little (if any) clear Scriptural support for these authoritative Roman Catholic beliefs, traditions and customs. Gradually, fueled by the socio-political tensions within the German Empire (as well as in the neighboring countries) over the influence of the Roman government, prominent leaders, ministers, and scholars began to express dissatisfaction and to speak out against the authoritative Roman Catholic traditions.

At first, the conflict between Scripture and Roman Catholic Tradition was only expressed in a marginal way, being implied at key points, for example, in Luther’s 95 Theses or Zwingli’s 67 Articles, the Ten Theses of Berne, etc. Even the foundational Augsburg Confession (1530) deals with the question of the authority of Scripture only in passing or indirectly, though the seminal principle of Sola Scriptura is implied throughout. See, for example, the opening sentence of article 22 (at the close of the first part), where it is stated that the “sum of doctrine” among Protestants contains “nothing which is discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Church Catholic”. The First Helvetic (Basle) Confession in 1536 is one of the first Protestant creeds or confessions of faith with a clear statement (Article I) regarding the nature and status of the Scriptures. While this statement is quite brief, it was developed considerably in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566)—here, quoting from chapter 1:

“We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God Himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures. And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.”

The later Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) gives, in its first chapter, an even more systematic expression of the Sola Scriptura doctrine, from the Reformed standpoint. The Lutheran Tradition has an equally clear statement in the opening of its Formula of Concord (1576). Many Protestant theologians have defended and expounded the Sola Scriptura principle. One of the earlier treatments of the subject, within the framework of a rudimentary Systematic Theology, is by John Calvin in his famous Institutes (Book I, Chapters 6-10).

*   *   *   *    *

In these articles, we will be examining the Scriptural (New Testament) basis for the Protestant Sola Scriptura doctrine, beginning with the famous declaration in 2 Timothy 3:16 (discussed below). It will be helpful to define first what the earliest Christians understood by the “Scriptures”. It is abundantly clear that, with one possible exception, the “Scriptures” (lit. “Writings,” grafai, grammata) refer to the Old Testament Scriptures, though there is some uncertainty regarding the extent of the Old Testament that is meant. Unquestionably, early Christians, following the view of contemporary Jews, considered the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi), and the Psalms to be uniquely inspired and authoritative Scripture. Moreover, all of these books were authoritative because of their prophetic character. The Prophetic books throughout contain oracles of God’s words, while similarly the Pentateuch is rooted in the revelation of the Torah to Moses; the Psalms tended to be grouped together with the Prophets, its authors (such as David) being understood as functioning as inspired prophets (cf. Mark 12:36 par; Acts 1:16; 2:30; 4:25). It is uncertain whether, or to what extent, the remaining books of the Old Testament were considered authoritative Scripture in the same way. By the second half of the 1st century A.D., it is likely that Jews and early Christians accepted something like the entire canonical Old Testament as authoritative, but we cannot be absolutely certain on this point.

In 2 Tim 3:15, the specific expression ta\ i(era\ gra/mmata (“the sacred Writings”) is used, an expression that had become relatively well-established in reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, though it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (the unprefixed adjective i(ero/$ is itself rare, used only in 1 Cor 9:13). The same expression is found in the writings of Philo of Alexandria (Life of Moses 2.292) and Josephus (Antiquities 10.210), roughly contemporary with the New Testament usage here.

Our studies will take the following course. After an initial examination of 2 Tim 3:16 (below), we will be looking at other representative New Testament passages in relation to the following topics:

    • References reflecting the view of Jesus and first-century Christians on the Old Testament Scriptures
    • The Gospel (and the Gospels) as Scripture, in terms of:
      • The words of Jesus himself
      • The Gospel message
      • The inspired character of the Gospel narratives
    • The authority of the Apostolic Tradition—i.e., the words and writings of the apostles has having authorative/inspired Scriptural status
    • The main challenges to the Sola Scriptura doctrine within the New Testament itself

The last topic will be touched on at a number of points throughout the individual studies (cf. below), but our final article(s) will bring the manner into sharper focus.

2 Timothy 3:15-17

The central New Testament declaration regarding the inspiration of Scripture—and arguably the only reference that is directly on point—is the famous statement in 2 Timothy 3:16:

“Every Writing (is) God-breathed and (is) profitable toward teaching…”

There is, unfortunately, a tendency by Christians—Protestant Christians, in particular—to cite this verse out of context. When so cited out of context, it sounds much more like an absolute declaration regarding the nature of Scripture. When read within the full context of chapters 3-4, however, there is a rather a different emphasis to verses 15-17.

Before proceeding, a word about the authorship of 2 Timothy. All three of the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) are presented as genuine letters by Paul to his younger ministerial colleagues (Timothy & Titus). Many scholars, however, including nearly all critical commentators, regard these letters as pseudonymous—and, as such, were likely written considerably later (toward the end of the first century, or even the beginning of the second). There are legitimate arguments for pseudonymity that need to be considered, though, in my view, there is far more evidence (in favor of pseudonymity) in the case of 1 Timothy, compared with 2 Timothy and Titus. Indeed, 2 Timothy appears to have much more in common with the undisputed letters, in terms of content, style, and points of emphasis. For the purpose of this study, I will treat 2 Timothy as a genuine work by Paul, while recognizing the merit of at least some of the arguments that have been posited for pseudonymity.

Chapter 3 begins with an eschatological section (vv. 1-9), warning (Timothy) against wicked and immoral persons who pose a threat to believers within the Church. The danger of ‘false believers’ is part of the end-time period of distress, during which there will be an increase of wickedness and opposition to God. This is central to the eschatological worldview of early Christians, seen clearly in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 13 par); the false prophets and Messianic pretenders predicted by Jesus (Mk 13:6, 21-22 par) came to include the idea of false and deceptive Christians who would corrupt the Church and lead people astray. First John shows perhaps the clearest evidence of this development within early Christian eschatology (see esp. 2:18-27; 4:1-6), but the developing polemic against heresy can also be seen in 2 Peter, Jude, and the Pastoral Letters.

In contrast to the godless ‘false believers’ who oppose the truth and will not accept sound teaching, Paul (or the author) emphasizes the importance of ministers (like Timothy) holding firm to what we may call the “Apostolic Tradition”. By this expression is meant the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching communicated by the apostles—the pioneering missionaries (like Paul) who first proclaimed the Gospel and played a key role in the founding of congregations. Verse 10 clearly expresses the importance of this tradition, as exemplified (for Timothy) in the person of Paul:

“But you (have) followed along (with) me in the teaching, the leading (a way of life), the setting forth (of purpose), the trust (you hold), the long endurance, the love, the remaining under (with patience)…”

The Apostolic Tradition thus entails both teaching and personal example—i.e., character and way of life, etc. This is Paul’s emphasis in verses 10-14, stressing the importance for Christian ministers of holding firm to this inherited tradition:

“But you must remain in the (thing)s which you (have) learned and trusted in, having seen (from) alongside whom you learned it” (v. 14)

It is in this context, that Paul (or the author) makes reference to the Scriptures, in verse 15:

“…and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred Writings, the (writing)s being able [i.e. that are able] to make you wise unto salvation through (the) trust th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

They way that verses 15-17 are related to vv. 10-14 makes relatively clear that the “sacred Writings” are understood as supplemental (“and that…”) to the Apostolic Tradition. As a Jewish Christian (cf. Acts 16:1ff), Timothy would have known the Old Testament Scriptures from childhood (spec. since he was an infant). These Scriptures remain important for Christians, for two reasons: (1) they provide the framework for early Christian religious and ethical instruction (“able to make you wise”), and (2) they point to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah (“the Anointed Yeshua”) and confirm the truth of the Gospel (“…unto salvation through trust in…Yeshua”). We will be discussing these points further in the upcoming studies.

The special character of the (Old Testament) Scriptures is further described in vv. 16-17:

“Every (such) Writing (is) God-breathed and profitable toward teaching, toward rebuke, toward straightening up, toward training a child in justice/righteousness, (so) that the man of God might be fit, having been fitted out toward every good work.”

Two key points (or claims) are made regarding the Scriptures:

    • They are “God-breathed” (qeo/pneusto$)—This adjective, which is found (albeit rarely) in other Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman writings (e.g., Pseudo-Phocylides 129; Plutarch Moralia, p. 904F), more or less accurately captures what most Christians mean by the special inspiration of Scripture. It primarily refers to the idea of prophecy—of a message by God communicated to the prophet (Scripture-writer) through a special (and gifted) revelation. For Jews in the 1st century B.C./A.D., this refers unquestionably to the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and the Psalms (cf. above); and early Christians inherited this religious view. The inspiration of the Scriptures, in at least a basic and fundamental sense, would have been accepted by virtually all early Christians without reservation.
    • They are “profitable” (w)fe/limo$)—that is, for Christian teaching and all manner of religious-ethical instruction. The underlying denotation for the adjective w)fe/limo$ is of the ‘piling up’ of wealth (i.e., profit, gain); it can be used in a more general sense, for something that is useful or advantageous, but here it is better to hold to the fundamental meaning of “profitable”.

I must emphasize again that, from the standpoint of our passage here, the Scriptures are supplemental to the Apostolic Tradition—the Tradition itself has priority for early Christians (and their pastors/ministers). It is this point, which will be further demonstrated and illustrated through an examination of other key New Testament passages, which runs contrary to the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura. While the Scriptures are immanently valuable for first-century Christians, they are scarcely the sole (or even primary) source of authority for them. Rather, it is the apostolic line of tradition—the Gospel message and other authoritative teaching inherited from the apostles—that holds first place.