What Does the Bible Mean When It Says, “All Scripture?”
All scripture can teach us about God and instruct us in his ways
One verse I heard often at a particular church I attended was 2 Timothy 3:16. It says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (KJV). This verse was cited to remind us of the holiness and practical applicability of the Bible to inform our daily lives. According to this preacher, “all scripture” referred to the KJV, the only version he accepted.
However, let’s consider the phrase all scripture. When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, the New Testament didn’t exist. So Paul couldn’t have been referring to that text. Yes, there were various portions of what later became the New Testament being circulated among the followers of Jesus, but they also shared other texts that didn’t make it into today’s Bible. Therefore, Paul couldn’t have meant for all scripture to encompass the New Testament.
From his perspective, when he said, “all scripture,” he envisioned the texts that were available to the Jewish people. That would certainly include the Old Testament) and may have included other supporting religious documents).
The version of the Bible in use in Paul’s time was the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint included the thirty-nine books we have in our Old Testament, but it also included more.
The Septuagint used during the lifetime of Jesus and Paul, also included the books we now call the Apocrypha. So these books of the Apocrypha would fall under Paul’s umbrella term of all scripture. (And for my preacher friend who insisted on reading the Bible in the KJV, I must point out that the original version of the KJV included the Apocrypha.)
That’s something to think about.
If the Apocrypha is part of what Paul meant when he said, “all scripture,” then the Apocrypha is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. Click To Tweet
The books of the Apocrypha included in the Septuagint are:
- 1 Esdras
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Bel and the Dragon (sometimes called Daniel 14)
- The Letter of Jeremiah
- The Prayer of Azariah / the Song of the Three Young Men (sometimes inserted into Daniel 3)
- The Prayer of Manasseh
- Sirach / Ecclesiasticus
- Susanna (sometimes called Daniel 13)
- Expanded Esther (additional text for Esther)
When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. And I encourage you to as well.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.