“If God didn’t want three-point sermons, He wouldn’t have given so many three-point Scriptures.”
Father Patrick Henry Reardon
“If God didn’t want three-point sermons, He wouldn’t have given so many three-point Scriptures.”
Father Patrick Henry Reardon
Why the phrase “man of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not refer to every Christian generally but to Church leaders specifically.
Earlier, I examined 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to show why Scripture cannot be said to claim for itself all-sufficiency. Here are the verses once more:
Every Scripture is God-inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Thanks to a comment from Perry Robinson to me, I was compelled to look at this phrase in 2 Timothy 3:17, “man of God.” The phrase occurs more than sixty times in the Scriptures, more than forty of them in 1-2 Kings, where they refer most often to Elijah, Elisha, and the unnamed prophet out of Judah of chapter 13. In all “man of God” refers to the prophets–all instances of the phrase are to named prophets or unnamed but specific prophets–nearly fifty times, Moses (eight times), David (three times), the angel that appeared to Samson’s parents (twice), to the son of Igdaliah (Godolias in the LXX), a Levitical priest (once), to St. Timothy (once at 1 Timothy 6:11), and to the unspecified “man of God” in our text under consideration, though contextually its most proximate target would be St. Timothy.
From this follows 4 observations and a corollary:
1. “Man of God” is never used in Scripture to refer to the people of God generally, but to specific persons.
2. “Man of God” always refers to a prophet, priest, King or Church leader, never to the general people of God. Since this is so for every other occurrence, then even 2 Timothy 3:17, though it does not name a specific person, contextually can only refer to a Church leader.
3. We know from passages such as Acts 15:35; 18:11; 20:20, 28-31; Romans 12:7; Colossians 1:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; 4:2; Titus 1:10-14 and Hebrews 13:7 that teaching and correction was an essential part of Church leadership (though Colossians 3:16 could be construed more broadly to apply to Church members generally, and 1 Corinthians 14:26 to those with the charism of teaching, which only the more emphasizes teaching and correction as essential to Church leadership).
4. Given 1-3, then, St. Paul is telling St. Timothy that Scripture is useful for Church leaders “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” Whatever else we may say about Scripture and Christians generally, this specific verse is not for application to Christians generally, but to Christian leaders specifically.
5. As a corollary to 4–especially in light of such verses as Acts 15:1; 20:28-31; Colossians 2:22; Titus 1:10-14–when Christians who are not Church leaders make use of Scripture, they should ensure that their teaching conforms to the teaching of the Church leadership.
As I have indicated in my arguments elsewhere, Church leaders are responsible for the faithful transmission of the tradition of the Apostles, which ultimately means that all Scriptural interpretation, especially that of the laity, must conform to what the Church has always taught and believed from the beginning.
So, given my previous argument regarding 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that it does not claim the all-sufficiency of Scripture, and given this argument that the verses only apply to Church leaders specifically, it is now indisputable that Protestants cannot appeal to these verses for Scriptural all-sufficiency, for not only do the verses not make this claim (as I’ve previously proven), neither are they useful for any Christian generally, but for Church leaders particularly, and so even if their all-sufficiency were provisionally granted, it would not apply to all Christians indiscriminately, and therefore would violate the purported claim to be all-sufficient.
We are used to thinking of Islam as a religion separate from, though related to, Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, even many Christians appeal to a common heritage between these three faiths, all being so-called “Sons of Abraham.” But it would appear that Islam is not simply a separate faith that grew up out of its own soil. Rather, it would appear that it is a form of Christian heresy; and, indeed, this was how it was viewed by the Christians who knew Islam in its earliest days.
Let’s first look at Church historian Sozomen. Writing in the early part of the fifth century, about two hundred years prior to the rise of Islam, Sozomen notes:
This is the tribe which took its origin and had its name from Ishmael, the son of Abraham; and the ancients called them Ishmaelites after their progenitor. As their mother Hagar was a slave, they afterwards, to conceal the opprobrium of their origin, assumed the name of Saracens, as if they were descended from Sara, the wife of Abraham. Such being their origin, they practice circumcision like the Jews, refrain from the use of pork, and observe many other Jewish rites and customs. If, indeed, they deviate in any respect from the observances of that nation, it must be ascribed to the lapse of time, and to their intercourse with the neighboring nations. Moses, who lived many centuries after Abraham, only legislated for those whom he led out of Egypt. The inhabitants of the neighboring countries, being strongly addicted to superstition, probably soon corrupted the laws imposed upon them by their forefather Ishmael. The ancient Hebrews had their community life under this law only, using therefore unwritten customs, before the Mosaic legislation. These people certainly served the same gods as the neighboring nations, honoring and naming them similarly, so that by this likeness with their forefathers in religion, there is evidenced their departure from the laws of their forefathers. As is usual, in the lapse of time, their ancient customs fell into oblivion, and other practices gradually got the precedence among them. Some of their tribe afterwards happening to come in contact with the Jews, gathered from them the facts of their true origin, returned to their kinsmen, and inclined to the Hebrew customs and laws. From that time on, until now, many of them regulate their lives according to the Jewish precepts. Some of the Saracens were converted to Christianity not long before the present reign. They shared in the faith of Christ by intercourse with the priests and monks who dwelt near them, and practiced philosophy in the neighboring deserts, and who were distinguished by the excellence of their life, and by their miraculous works. It is said that a whole tribe, and Zocomus, their chief, were converted to Christianity and baptized about this period, under the following circumstances: Zocomus was childless, and went to a certain monk of great celebrity to complain to him of this calamity; for among the Saracens, and I believe other barbarian nations, it was accounted of great importance to have children. The monk desired Zocomus to be of good cheer, engaged in prayer on his behalf, and sent him away with the promise that if he would believe in Christ, he would have a son. When this promise was confirmed by God, and when a son was born to him, Zocomus was initiated, and all his subjects with him. From that period this tribe was peculiarly fortunate, and became strong in point of number, and formidable to the Persians as well as to the other Saracens. Such are the details that I have been enabled to collect concerning the conversion of the Saracens and their first bishop. (Ecclesiastical History 6.38)
Note what Sozomen details: a dependence upon the Jewish faith, and then a coversion of some of the Saracens to Christianity. This happened more than two centuries prior to the rise of Islam.
Now take a look at St. John of Damascus, who lived, in the eighth century, in a city and region dominated by Islam. In his work, The Fount of Knowledge, and the section on heresies, he writes:
There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, who was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from [in Greek] Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: “Sara has sent me away destitute.” These used to be idolaters and worshipped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabar, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration. (St. John of Damascus, The Fount of Knowledge, “On Heresies,” 101)
Sozomen has already noted the dependence of certain of the Saracens on the law of Moses and a strong exposure to Christianity. St. John confirms this in his account, and even notes that Mohammed met an Arian (some say Nestorian) monk. Perhaps Islam is, after all, Christian heresy.
This Christian heresy, of course, has slaughtered untold numbers of Christians throughout its history, and is a source for the current fanatical terrorism being committed in our world.
From the Qur’an:
It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that he should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is. (Surah 19:35)
They do blaspheme who say: “God is Christ the son of Mary.” But Christ said: “O Children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with Allah,–Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.
They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except one God (Allah). If they do not desist from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (Surah 5:72-73)
O People of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion; nor say of Allah anything but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Do not say “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Sura 4:171)
Islam rejects the divinity of Jesus, just like Arianism.
Islam rejects the Holy Trinity, just like Sabellianism/modalism.
Islam rejects that Mary is the birthgiver of God, just like Nestorianism.
Yep. It’s all rotten with heresy.
Advocates for sola scriptura argue that Christians need a written record since oral tradition is so given to inaccuracies and therefore untrustworthy. Aside from the fact that anthropological studies have demonstrated the extremely accurate fidelity of oral traditions in cultures for whom such traditions are central to their culture (unlike literate cultures such as ours), there is a very accessible way to demonstrate both the accuracy and trustworthiness of the oral apostolic tradition.
If one were to compare contemporary Christian writers, who were separated by significant geographical distance, and were writing before the full canonization of the Christian Scriptures, and even during the period when there was some dispute over which books were Scripture, and also during the period when many heresies had arisen, and if those writers provided a summary of the Christian faith, then one can readily compare whether or not the oral apostolic tradition is accurate and trustworthy. As St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes:
As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.(St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Bk I, Ch. X, Par. 2)
Now, the historical period that would be ideal, in my view, would be the end of the second century, or beginning of the third. My reasons that this period would be ideal are these:
1. Although all of the New Testament books had been written, historical evidence indicates that not only did not all Christian communities have all of the New Testament books, but that some considered certain books divinely authoritative that others did not, some of which in fact did make it into the New Testament canon (e. g., Revelation) and some of which in fact did not (e. g., Shepherd of Hermas). Thus, given these canonical discrepancies, it would be theoretically possible for there to be equally discrepant practices and beliefs among these far-flung contemporary Christian groups.
2. Furthermore, given 1, there would need to be a great reliance on oral apostolic tradition, all the more so, if, as scholars generally assume, the vast majority of Christians at the end of the second century (and generally throughout history) were illiterate and entirely dependent on oral tradition.
3. Thus, given 1 and 2, if oral tradition is inaccurate and untrustworthy, if one selects contemporary communities in geographically distant locales, it would stand to reason that there would potentially be great discrepancies among the central beliefs that they hold.
I will demonstrate that 3 is false, and that therefore the claim by sola scriptura advocates that oral tradition is unreliable is unfounded.
My three representative writers will be St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in western Europe; Tertullian of Carthage in northern Africa; and Origen of Alexandria, also in northern Africa to the west of Carthage. Lyons is definitely significantly geographically distant from northern Africa, though Alexandria and Carthage are near enough to be geographically linked via trade routes. Furthermore, Alexandria was well known for number of Christian heresies arising from teachers resident there. Indeed, certain doctrines espoused by Origen were later condemned by ecumenical council. And Tertullian himself later embraced the sectarian heresy of Montanism. So this should be enough thrown in the mix to give one a reason to think there would be great discrepancy in the faith of these three men.
Since St. Irenaeus can be considered an orthodox standard against which to judge the others, I will cite him first.
The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: (She believes) in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His (future) manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” [Ephesians 1:10] and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” [Philippians 2:10-11] to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” [Ephesians 6:12] and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning (of their Christian course), and others from (the date of) their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.(St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Bk I, Ch. X, Par. 1)
Next, let’s look at Tertullian, who later abandoned the faith.
Now, with regard to this rule of faith-that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend-it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 13)
And finally, Origen, who, although some of his doctrines were later condemned, was nontheless a significant influence on orthodox Christian writers such as St. Maximus the Confessor.
The particular points clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follow:-
First, That there is one God, who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into being-God from the first creation and foundation of the world-the God of all just men, of Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noe, Sere, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets; and that this God in the last days, as He had announced beforehand by His prophets, sent our Lord Jesus Christ to call in the first place Israel to Himself, and in the second place the Gentiles, after the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself gave the law and the prophets, and the Gospels, being also the God of the apostles and of the Old and New Testaments.
Secondly, That Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures; that, after He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things-“For by Him were all things made” [John 1:3]-He in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was; that He assumed a body like to our own, differing in this respect only, that it was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit: that this Jesus Christ was truly born, and did truly suffer, and did not endure this death common (to man) in appearance only, but did truly die; that He did truly rise from the dead; and that after His resurrection He conversed with His disciples, and was taken up (into heaven).
Then, Thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son. But in His case it is not clearly distinguished whether He is to be regarded as born or innate, or also as a Son of God or not: for these are points which have to be inquired into out of sacred Scripture according to the best of our ability, and which demand careful investigation. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation, and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches.
After these points, also, the apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this: and also, that there is to be a time of resurrection from the dead, when this body, which now “is sown in corruption, shall rise in incorruption,” and that which “is sown in dishonour will rise in glory.”[1 Corinthians 15:42-43](Origen, De Principiis, Preface, Pars. 4-5)
One can easily note the striking similarity on doctrinal points as well as verbal formulations (even in translation, and from different original languages) of these three writers.
All that remains is to juxtapose these teachings against the Scriptures to note, even on sola scriptura terms, the apostolic origin of these teachings, and therefore their divine authority.
Now, let me readily admit that my stress on the oral apostolic tradition might well be compromised by the following facts.
1. All three of my representatives are literate, indeed, Origen is recognized as a brilliant genius. These men themselves were not dependent wholly on oral tradition for their summations, but could recall those apostolic writings they had themselves read.
2. St. Irenaeus and Origen both cite Scripture directly, thereby demonstrating that they relied on the apostolic writings.
These facts would seem to obviate my claims that oral apostolic tradition was both accurate and trustworthy, for it seems clear that these men were not using oral apostolic tradition but the apostolic writings themselves.
But here’s why such facts do not, contrary to my sola scriptura interlocutors, obviate my claims for the accuracy and trustworthiness of the oral apostolic tradition.
These men are offering summations of the faith, which requires not merely the direct reliance on Scripture, but an interpretive framework by which they can select and emphasize those different texts (and they use different texts to make the same points). Furthermore, which books were deemed Scripture was itself not always a certainty, and this required some sort of incipient canon handed down through oral apostolic tradition. That the Gnostic heretics in Alexandria emphasized different canonical and non-canonical texts, and interpreted them in a vastly different way from our writers is both obvious and evidence that our writers were not just operating from private interpretations but from a tradition that they themselves had received.
Now, it may well be that some other explanation(s) than oral apostolic tradition accounts for this consonance, but it’s hard to know what that could be. One could not appeal to private interpretation, for that would be belied by the heresies that also arose from private interpretation. One could suppose that God worked directly on the minds of these men in separate locales to sum up the faith just in the way they did, but one wonders how this differs in essence from direct inspiration, and one is also hard pressed to justify that explanation in the face of Origen’s heresies, and Tertullian’s later abadonment of the faith. One also wonders why such direct inspiration is not more readily at work today, given the increasing discrepancies among Christian bodies to sum up the faith.
No, given the facts, the best explanation which does not involve special pleading (direct inspiration) or manifest contradiction (private interpretation) is going to be that these men relied on the oral apostolic tradition, which had been faithfully and carefully transmitted throughout out varying geographical, religious and cultural locales.
Thus, oral apostolic tradition is accurate and trustworthy, and the fact that Scripture itself commands us to attend to both oral and written apostolic tradition (2 Thessalonians 2:15) is enough to bolster this contention on its own in sola scriptura terms.
*Please note that I am indebted for my references to St. Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian above in a passing reference by Eric Jay in his article “From Presbyter-Bishops to Bishops and Presbyters.”
A summation of my argument(s) thus far.
1. In this post, I laid out the Scriptural evidence and my argument for my assertion that the Church is united to God’s divine nature in Christ, through the union of the humanity and divinity in the Person of Christ.
2. As a further argument from 1, I have argued that since the Church participates in the divine nature of God, by grace, through union with Christ, the Church has divine authority to declare God’s will and her knowledge about God is authoritative due to her participation in God’s divinity through Christ (for example, this authority was manifested through the ministry of the apostles and prophets on whom the Church was built, and who were themselves members of Christ’s Body, the Church).
3. I have also made two counter arguments against sola scriptura: namely that the Scriptures themselves enjoin upon us the necessity of adhering to the oral apostolic tradition, and that the Scriptures do not claim to be all-sufficient.
4. Given 1-3 above, then, the Church, as “pillar and bulwark of the Truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), has the authority to speak God’s will about Scripture (for example, as to what books are Scripture and as to Scripture’s proper meaning), and to speak about those things Scripture does not address (for example, as to gathering every Sunday for worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper).
5. Given 1-4, then, what the Church says about Scripture and about what Scripture does not address, the Church in her declarations will not contradict Scripture, nor will Scripture contradict the Church, for their source is the same, for the Church is being built up into the full man and the head which is Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16), and she cannot contradict herself without becoming something other than herself (given 1 above).
I present here a brief sketch as to why 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not teach the all-sufficiency of Scripture.
Every Scripture is God-inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Sola scriptura advocates frequently utilize these verses to both prove the divine origin and authority of the Scriptures as well as that all that Christians need are the Scriptures, and either we need not feel bound to follow traditions not explicitly enjoined in or necessarily inferred from the Scriptures or, more strongly, we must not do anything that is not explicitly enjoined in or necessarily inferred from the Scriptures. Christians need nothing more than the Scriptures.
By “Scriptures” of course, sola scriptura adherents mean the (relatively late) Protestant canon of sixty-six books (minus the so-called “Apocrypha”), and, more pointedly, they mean the New Testament Scriptures. Thus, the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon are “all-sufficient” and we either do not need tradition, or even must reject all extrascriptural tradition.
But is St. Paul making a claim for the all-sufficiency of Scripture? The answer is no, and here’s why.
1. The “Scriptures” to which St. Paul refers here in 2 Timothy 3:16 has already been identified previously as what we would call the Old Testament just one verse prior in 2 Timothy 3:15. That St. Paul cannot mean the New Testament Scriptures is clear in that the Scriptures St. Timothy was taught in his youth could only have been the Old Testament since no New Testament book would have been written in St. Timothy’s youth. St. Paul first encountered St. Timothy on his second missionary journey (c. AD 50-53), and at this time it is possible for only one to three New Testament books to have been written, depending on how one dates them (perhaps Galatians and 1-2 Thessalonians), and St. Timothy could not have studied these in his youth.
2. St. Paul does not claim that the Old Testament Scriptures are all-sufficient, and, indeed, if they were, then the New Testament would have been superfluous. What he says is that the Old Testament Scriptures are “profitable” (ophelimos) for four purposes (teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction which is in righteousness), which purposes result in an “adult” (“perfect” here is artios which indicates complete, full-grown, prepared) Christian, who has been equipped for every good work. But that they are not all-sufficient is clear: the Old Testament does not tell us about baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit; nor does it tell us about the Lord’s Supper; nor about the necessity for all Christians everywhere to gather on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Lord’s Supper (nor does the New Testament explicitly teach this last practice for that matter)–three of the most important practices of the Church and without which the Church and the faith would not be what they are.
3. Given 1 and 2, it cannot be the case that St. Paul, though he does not explicitly state the all-sufficiency of Scripture, he at least implies it.
As an aside, also in this same chapter, St. Paul refers to the names of two men who opposed Moses. Jewish tradition identifies these two as the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses (though the text here in St. Paul does not clearly state this). This is one example of what many take to be a clear use of tradition in Scripture (the other is in Jude 9, where the archangel Michael argued with the devil over the body of Moses). Sola scriptura advocates explain that it is not necessary to appeal to tradition for these facts, that the Holy Spirit could quite well have revealed these facts to St. Paul and St. Jude directly. This is certainly true that this could be the case. But it does involve some circularity of reasoning that makes such an explanation suspect.
In any case, appealing to tradition to explain 2 Timothy 3:8 is not necessary to my main argument above.
So, since St. Paul does not make any claims about the New Testament in these verses, and since manifestly the Old Testament is not in itself all-sufficient, St. Paul cannot mean that Scripture is all-sufficient for Christian faith and practice.
Especially given the fact that St. Paul enjoins upon the Thessalonian Church to adhere to the entirety of the apostolic tradition, both oral and written, as it comes from St. Paul’s ministry (2 Thessalonians 2:15), then to claim that St. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is teaching the all-sufficiency of Scripture is a false teaching and must be rejected.
I here present a brief sketch as to why “tradition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is necessarily apostolic oral tradition, and why we must adhere to oral apostolic tradition as it has been handed down to us.
So then, brethren, be standing firm and holding fast the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word or by our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
1. The Church at Thessaloniki had been disturbed by a letter purporting to have been from St. Paul claiming that the day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
2. St. Paul tells them not to be disturbed “by a spirit, a word, or an epistle (seemingly) from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
3. After describing some particulars about the man of lawlessness, he asks the Thessalonians whether they remember, when he was last with them, that he had spoken these things to them (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
4. He continues speaking about the man of lawlessness and the spirit of delusion the Lord will send on those who persist in their unbelief, and then gives thanks that the Thessalonians are not of that sort but are the first fruits of sanctification, and then exhorts them to “hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by word or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Four interesting observations are in order:
1. The written word was not necessarily a guarantee of apostolicity; a fraudulent document going out in St. Paul’s name had misled and confused the Thessalonians.
2. The Thessalonians had the apostolic traditions which they had been taught through St. Paul’s apostolic ministry, and they were to use that to compare anything that disturbed or shook their mind (i. e., anything that was “new” or out of concert with the apostolic tradition), and the entirety of that apostolic tradition was not only St. Paul’s letter to them, but also his spoken word.
3. That the teaching of “the man of lawlessness” is not contained anywhere else in canonical letters of St. Paul clearly entails that this tradition was that which St. Paul had given them orally while ministering to them.
4. The unity of oral apostolic tradition and Scripture is clearly presumed; i. e., oral apostolic tradition and Scripture are not opposed to one another, and, in fact, are essentially the same since they are manifestations of the authority of a single source: the apostolic ministry.
Now some sola scriptura adherents will argue that since St. Paul’s teaching regarding the lawless one has been preserved in 2 Thessalonians, and since that letter has been received by the Church as canonical, that this obviates oral apostolic tradition. This conclusion, however is false, and here’s why.
First and foremost, St. Paul’s counsel to adhere to oral and written apostolic tradition is, itself, certified in the same canonical text that supposedly obviates apostolic tradition. This is simply self-contradictory. In other words, Scripture itself enjoins upon the Thessalonians that they hold to the oral apostolic tradition St. Paul had delivered to them. Clearly Scripture cannot be used to obviate oral apostolic tradition.
Secondly, this begs the question that sola scriptura advocates assert but do not prove: namely, that the Scriptures (which necessarily, on their terms, include the New Testament) are all-sufficient. Scripture nowhere asserts this (the spooftexting of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 notwithstanding), but more importantly the sheer logic of history denies it: the complete canon of Scriptures were not available to all Christians for many decades (to estimate on the highly conservative end) after Pentecost, since the New Testament was not complete until the end of the first century. Unless sola scriptura advocates are willing to argue that a partial New Testament canon is also all-sufficient (since various Churches in the first century would have only some copies of St. Paul’s letters, and not all the New Testament canonical books would have been available to all Churches till, minimally, well into the second century, perhaps a century after Pentecost), then they are forced to admit that the Church operated for decades after the death of the last Apostle, and for perhaps as long as a century after the death of most of the Apostles, before there was any realistic opportunity for Churches to have most, though perhaps not all, of the completed canon of the Scriptures. This means the Churches did not have direct access to the Apostles themselves, nor of their writings, for perhaps as long as a hundred years (again, estimating very conservatively, I happen to think it was much longer), and therefore were without anything that was “all-sufficient” to guide them in their faith.
Clearly, the Churches had to operate on oral apostolic tradition for many decades, even for as long as a century (I would argue longer even than that).
If, therefore, sola scriptura cannot withstand the test of canonical Scripture as well as historical fact, it is a false teaching and should be rejected.