Scripture: God-Breathed and Profitable

Edward J. Young

Paul is not asserting [in 2 Timothy 3:16] that Scripture is inspiring, true as that may be, nor is he declaring that something has been breathed into Scripture. What he is saying is something quite different; what Paul is maintaining is that the Scripture itself is God-breathed. That which God breathed forth from His mouth is Scripture. To put the matter in slightly different terms, Scripture is the Word, which God has spoken, the product of the divine breath.

What Paul is declaring is the divine origin of Scripture. Some apparently think that there is no need to make such an assertion at this point, but it is precisely this truth which undergirds the following truth, namely, that all Scripture is profitable. If the Bible is not divine, then we cannot be sure that all of it is profitable.

We must, however, examine this thought of the divine origin of Scripture more closely. In Genesis 1:3 God said, "Let there be light," and these words originated in the divine mouth. They were spoken of God, and it is just this thought which Paul is expressing to Timothy. By way of illustration we may also note the preface to the Ten Commandments, "And God spoke all these words saying." Here the commandments are clearly attributed to God as their author. He spoke them, and it is in this divine speaking that they found their origin.

Isaiah uses a phrase—indeed it is a characteristic of his prophecy, which sets forth the same truth, "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." We might go on through the Old Testament, pointing out how in passage after passage the content of Scripture is attributed to God's speech.

How different Paul's emphasis is from much that is stressed today! At the present time there is much stress placed upon the so-called human side of the Bible. It is being asserted, for example, that if one is to understand a passage of Scripture, he must know the life situation in which the events recorded arose. This is to concentrate attention upon the human side. Little is said today about Scripture as a divine revelation, and that little often presents a faulty picture of revelation.

As over against this modern emphasis the great Apostle turns all his attention to what modern man would minimize, namely, the divine origin of Scripture. Having once established this point he can go on, but this point must be established: All Scripture is God-breathed, the product of the divine breath, issuing from the mouth of God Himself.

Having ascertained the meaning of Paul's first predicate, we may proceed to notice the second. All too often discussion restricts itself to the word theopneustos with the result that the profound truth expressed by the second predicate is either neglected or minimized. Not only is the Scripture God-breathed, but it is also ophelimos which may be translated "profitable, useful, advantageous." The usage of the verb ophele is well known, as is also that of the noun opheleia.

When Paul asks (Rom. 3:1) "What is the use of circumcision?" he simply means, "How can circumcision aid or benefit you?" And so in this present passage he is speaking of the fact that the Scripture brings benefit or profit to those who read it. Doubtless the second predicate stands as a consequence to the first, and it would not be incorrect to reason, "Inasmuch as Scripture is God-breathed, it is also profitable." The usefulness of the Bible, in other words, derives from the fact that it is the Word of God. Were that not the case, it would be just an ordinary human book, whose usefulness could well be questioned.

What is now particularly significant to note is Paul's affirmative that all Scripture is profitable. The implications of this assertion are often overlooked or ignored but they are of far-reaching significance. The predicate which Paul employs, like the first predicate, applies to the entirety of Scripture. There is nothing which can rightly be designated Scripture which is not also profitable in the respects stated in this verse.

This truth strikes hard at the practical use which many of us make of the Bible. Our reading and study of Scripture, all too often, is merely piecemeal. We have favorite passages which we read over and over again, but large portions of the Scriptures are neglected by us. Although we may pay lip service to the teaching of Paul we do not carry it out into practice.

Far more serious, however, is another aspect of the question. It is one thing in practice to neglect certain portions of Scripture. That is bad. Far worse, however, is it when we deliberately assert that not all of Scripture is profitable. Question has been raised, for example, with respect to the book of Esther: Why is the book of Esther in the canon? Did God place it in the canon in order to teach divine providence, or inasmuch as they find it in the canon, and the question of its canonicity seems to be somewhat of a dead letter nowadays, do Christians simply assert that because the book teaches divine providence, it therefore has a right to a place in the canon? Recently Professor Dewey Beegle has suggested that both Jeremiah and Ezekiel quite clearly teach the fact of God's providential care and asks whether it is "really necessary, therefore, to contend for the unique inspiration of every word of Esther?"[1]

This type of objection requires comment with respect to several points, which we shall consider in a practical, if not necessarily a logical order. In the first place, there is the question of canonicity, and this question is not immediately germane to our purpose. That which determines the canonicity of a book is the fact that it is God-breathed. If a book is the Word of God, it is ipso facto canonical. In the course of the collection of the canonical books questions have naturally arisen concerning some books, and Esther is one of these. But is not the fact that the debate about Esther has largely died down an argument in favor of the book's inclusion in the canon?

We are fully aware of the difficulties involved in the Scriptural doctrine of the canon and have sought to discuss them elsewhere. But we believe that the church has been right in placing its approval upon this book and accepting it as a portion of the Old Testament. Despite the rabbinical discussions concerning this book, there is no sufficient warrant for not believing that when our Lord placed His approval upon the Old Testament canon of His day, the book of Esther was included in that canon.

The question of the canon is not the immediate point involved, however. What is involved is simply whether all Scripture is profitable or not. It is sometimes assumed that, if all Scripture is profitable, we should therefore at a glance be able to tell precisely how this is so. Professor Beegle mentions certain passages which he calls trivialities. Among these are listed the "Shibboleth" incident of Judges 12:5, 6; the case of Ibzan, Judges 12:8–10; and Abdon, Judges 12:14. Are not these mere trivialities which have no particular value for us today? Apparently Professor Beegle would answer this question in the affirmative, and doubtless others would agree with him.[2]

It is well to notice, however, that the human mind, apart from God's revelation, is in no position to judge as to whether each particular passage of Scripture is profitable or not. God has declared that all Scripture is profitable. Shall we believe Him or not? This is the heart of the issue. Who is to decide whether Scripture in its entirety is for our profit? This is a question which man alone cannot resolve. Professor Beegle might restrict his questions to a few passages such as those mentioned above. There are others, however, who are not as concerned about Christ's work as is Professor Beegle, and they would not hesitate to enlarge greatly the list of passages which are to be dismissed as supposedly nonprofitable.

The position of faith is the only possible position for the man who wishes to be true to his Lord. To deny that all Scripture is profitable is to deny that God has spoken the truth. We are not called upon to point out in what respect every passage of the Bible is profitable for us any more than we are required to give a final interpretation of every verse of the Bible or a final explanation of every difficulty in Scripture.

A man might conceivably list every verse of the Bible which he did not fully understand and then reject it as of little or no profit. "If we do not understand something," it might be argued, "how shall we benefit from it?" If we were to follow this procedure, it would mean the casting aside of a great deal of Scripture. Yet few would want to engage in a procedure such as this. Why then should we regard as unprofitable or why should we deny profitability to certain passages of Scripture on the grounds that we do not see how such passages can be of profit?


[1] Dewey M. Beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 93. [Beegle was a professor of Old Testament at Biblical Seminary (New York) and Wesley Theological Seminary.]

[2] Ibid., 88.

Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2007.

New Horizons: October 2007

Edward J. Young: His Contributions to the OPC

Also in this issue

Introduction: Young on Scripture

My Memories of Edward J. Young

How to Build a Doctrine of Scripture

Helps for Worship #22: Scripture Readings

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