The Difference between the Authority & the Applicability of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16)
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, October 2, 2009 at 9:43am
ONE OF MY READERS sent the following (edited) query:
In your book, “Set Free: What the Bible Says About Grace,” you say that Paul’s assertion that “we are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15) means that we are not under the law SYSTEM of salvation. It does NOT mean, however, that we are no longer under a law CODE, i.e., a list of commandments we are obligated to obey. You say that everyone is always under some law code. You also say that the Law of Moses “has been replaced with another law code, i.e., the law commandments that are included in the New Covenant Scriptures.” My question now is this: How does this work in the context of 2 Timothy 3:16? This verse says that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
2 Timothy 3:16 definitely refers to “all Scripture,” including both Old and New Testaments. Verse 15 refers to the “sacred writings” which Timothy had learned since childhood, which would have been the OT writings. Then in v. 16 Paul expands the scope of his reference to ALL Scripture, which would include the New Covenant inspired writings. Even Paul’s own writings were being referred to at this time as Scripture; see 2 Peter 3:15-16, where Paul’s letters are compared with “the rest of the Scriptures.”
The main point of 2 Tim. 3:16 is that all Scripture is “theopneustos,” or “God-breathed,” i.e., “breathed out by God” (sometimes translated “inspired by God”). The main point is that the ultimate origin of all Scripture is God; thus all Scripture—OT and NT—is the WORD of God, and thus absolutely trustworthy (inerrant) and authoritative. Thus the Law of Moses (the Mosaic law code) was and still is absolutely trustworthy and authoritative, as is everything in the NT Scriptures, including its New Covenant law commandments.
There is a difference, however, between AUTHORITATIVE and APPLICABLE. The authority of all parts of Scripture never changes; it will always represent the mind of God and will always be absolutely true. But some parts of Scripture will not always APPLY, in the sense that their commands will not always be binding, in view of the change from Old Covenant administration to New Covenant administration. In particular, the Mosaic law code ceased to APPLY—it ceased to be binding as a code of conduct—when Christ’s death established the New Covenant; but it did not cease being the authoritative Word of God.