On Elementary Doctrines

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Three pairs of foundational teachings are the Hebrews instructed to leave:

  1. Repentance of dead works and faith toward God;
  2. Instruction about washings and the laying on of hands;
  3. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment;

Now, although it’s true that many Christians have not digested this milk yet and have no clue about these things and are not mature, yet this is not the writer’s point. We have to remember that the writer is talking to Hebrew Christians here. And so the question we should ask is how this relates to their immaturity specifically.

The writer is admonishing them not the lay again a foundation, by which he refers to the old Jewish practices rather than Christian doctrine. You have to ask yourself the question what is distinctively Christian about this list. Where is the mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah? No!

Let’s look at them again:

  1. Something has changed regarding the way of repentance and faith towards God. Our faith should now be in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Repentance should now be based on conviction from the Holy Spirit, which is now available through the resurrection of Jesus, and sin should be put to death. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
  2. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings. Yet these washings will not save you. Only Jesus’ blood will save you, and Christian baptism should only be seen as an outward sign in obedience to Jesus of an inward change which is a work done by the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is also a reference to these washings.
  3. The object of their hope has changed! No longer should they aim to please God through works, thereby escaping the final judgment and be resurrected from the dead. Now their hope should be in Jesus! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Now, these elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the “common ground” between Christianity and Judaism. This was a “safe” common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this “common ground” to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, “Let’s repent, let’s have faith, let’s perform ceremonial washings,” and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

Breathed Out By God #1 – An Introduction

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra — which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 3:10 – 4:8)

Don’t you think it’s ironic that I that present seven topics that are on my list for possible next series, and then introduce something completely different? I think it is, but such is life. It is full of surprises! Yet don’t think it’s the end of that list… Please comment still on your favorite topic here.

Anyways, the reason for this series may not be so apparent, but I used the “famous” 2 Timothy 3:16 verse this last Saturday during a meeting, and spoke on Sunday with my good friend and participant of that meeting, Patricia about this verse. She wondered about the deeper meaning of this verse and its application. We did not have much time then to go deep into it, but I must admit that I too am intrigued about the depth of it. Hence, this short series.

The verse of 2 Timothy 3:16 is pretty consistent across the different translations. Let me try to summarize it: “All Scripture is [God-breathed (NIV), inspired by God (NASB), breathed out by God (ESV), given by inspiration of God (KJV)] [and is useful for (NIV), and profitable for (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [teaching (NIV, NASB, ESV), doctrine (KJV)], [rebuking (NIV), reproof (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [correcting (NIV), correction (NASB, ESV, KJV)], and [training in righteousness (NIV, NASB, ESV), instruction in righteousness (KJV)]

I prefer a combination of the ESV and KJV, which ends up like this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The apparent consistency in the different translations seems to indicate that it is clear how to translate it, but what does the verse actually mean? And how and where does it apply to our lives? This introductory post will attempt to take a look at the verse as a whole, and the first half of. And then subsequent posts will deal with the four individual aspects it is useful or profitable for.

The Big Picture
As with most, if not all, verses in the Bible, this verse should be looked at within the context it is written. Although the verse itself, apart from the context, holds true and should be adhered to, it is the context which gives insights into the reason why. The verse is pretty much right in the center of a section of Scripture going from 2 Timothy 3:10 through 2 Timothy 4:8, and deals with an exhortation from the apostle Paul to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, in contrast to the false teachers which Paul warns Timothy against in the first nine verses of chapter three. It addresses directly on how Timothy must resist the opponents and remain faithful to the gospel. It is an exhortation based on Timothy’s already established faithfulness (verse 10: “you, however, have followed my teaching…“).

So in order to fully understand this verse we need to take a look at the whole picture it is part of. In 2 Timothy 2:14-26 Paul introduces the false teaching (irreverent babble) and explains how Timothy should respond to it and be different from the false teachers. In 3:1–9 Paul describes the false teachers more extensively. Having exhorted Timothy to steadfast endurance, Paul now begins to address the problem directly. He speaks of “the last days” which according to Acts 2:17 are the days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and are thus also still the present day, and the false teachers are the people who “will be lovers of self, a lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, b disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” for they will “creep into households” and lead people “astray by various passions“. Paul commands Timothy to avoid such people (verse 5), which most likely most involves excommunication if it pertains to those who remain obstinate. Paul then goes on to explain that Scripture is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

We first need to realize that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy. Paul sent Timothy to the church in Ephesus to deal with false teachers. Both letters from Paul to Timothy deal with this aspect in various form, although the second letter seem to focus more on exhorting Timothy to persevere. False teaching is corrected by correct teaching (next to church discipline and possible excommunication), and so Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is to persevere in teaching. We should in any case combine verse 16 with 17 in order to get the actual full sentence. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” So for who is Scripture profitable? So that the man of God may be competent and equipped. Who is the man of God? This is an Old Testament phrase. For instance, Moses is called a man of God (Deuteronomy 33:1, Joshua 14:6), angels of the LORD are called a man of God (Judges 13:6;8), and prophets like Elijah (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 1) and Elisha (2 Kings 4 – 7) are called a man of God . Overall, we can say that the “man of God” is indicating a messenger of God. Both the background of the Old Testament and the context show that Paul sees Timothy as his delegate and a leader over the church. A shepherd/pastor. A preacher. Paul provides a basic framework for Timothy on how to preach. Sinclair B. Ferguson, distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas says of 2 Timothy 3:16, “Thus informed, we come to see that preaching to the heart will give expression to four things: instruction in the truth, conviction of conscience, restoration and transformation of life, and equipping for service […] Preaching, therefore, involves teaching – imparting doctrine in order to renew and transform the mind. It implies the inevitable rebuke of sin, and brings with it the healing of divine correction.” If the man of God approached the Scripture with humility, he himself will be instructed, convinced, restored, transformed and equipped in the process of preparing. If that happens, and it should, then in turn he will be able, by the Holy Spirit, to do the same when he is preaching.

Of course this is not the only application of this verse as a whole, for the Holy Spirit does not need a preacher to accomplish His work (although John 14:26 does say that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus said, hence Jesus’ words must be proclaimed first), but Paul, a preacher, is charging Timothy as a preacher, to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2) in order to overcome or correct false teaching.

All Scripture
What is considered all Scripture? First off, it seems evident that the Old Testament books are implied, but there are references in the New Testament which refer to itself as Scripture as well in two occasions. First, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” Although the command to not muzzle an ox is a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4, the command that a laborer deserves his wages is a direct quote from Luke 10:7, and Paul refers to it as Scripture. Secondly, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter says, “And count l the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” And so it seems that both Paul and Peter refer to the NT writings to be inspired by God at a very early date, considering that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy around 64–65 AD, and Peter wrote his second letter around 64-67 AD.

Breathed Out By God
Paul is using a Greek word here (theopneustos) which does not occur anywhere else in the Bible. I actually read that this word did not occur anywhere in Greek texts outside the Bible prior to this letter. That is quite remarkable to say the least! The word is a combination of “theos” (meaning: God) and “pneō” (meaning: to breath). In any case, Paul is clearly pointing to the fact that God breathed out the Scriptures, and does not point to the human authors of Scripture as inspired people.

In the next session I will attempt to unravel the word “teaching,” its implications and its applications.