This is slightly a take-off from:
What does it mean that all scripture is God-Breathed?

The Bible as we know it today wasn't canonized and compiled into a single volume until much later. In particular, I am concerned with the reference to all scripture being "God-breathed" (inspired) in 2 Timothy, as it was written long before (varying, based on which "canonization" we consider) any canonization.

So what was meant/intended by the authors by the term "scripture" at the time of New Testament writings?

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    related: Does Peter intend to identify the Pauline Epistles as canonical?
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 5:12
  • I think 1/2 of the commentaries take one view the other half take the other. But it is not consequential - those espousing OT only generally only mean to say that timing did not yet put the NT scriptures into the term 'scriptures'. All the Apostles...later on would have called them scriptures, its just a timing technicality that leaves an alternate view open.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 13:42
  • Pious or religious Jewish writings.
    – user46876
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 10:56

5 Answers 5


The word for "scripture" in the Greek text is (ἡ) γραφή, often occurring in the plural, (τῆς) γραφῆς, which literally means "writing(s)." The word occurs approximately 50 times in the New Testament (depending on the manuscript used it is 50 or 51) and it seems pretty clear to me from a word search that this almost exclusively refers to the Old Testament writings when used by New Testament authors.

The exception is 2 Peter 3:16, which says:

And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of these things in all his letters [(ἐπιστολαῖς, epistles)]. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures [(γραφὰς, writings)] (2 Peter 3:15-16, NET).

This verse clearly refers to Paul's writings as "scriptures." Everywhere else it refers to the Old Testament (or to specific passages from the Old Testament).

Even by the earliest dating standard for 2 Peter, all of Paul's epistles that are included in the New Testament would have been written by the time this statement was made with the possible exceptions of 2 Timothy (possibly written the same year as 2 Peter, although most likely before as 2 Peter was probably not written until at least 65 and 2 Timothy was almost certainly written in 64) and Hebrews (whose author is disputed anyways). 2 Peter is also considered to be antilegomena, although it has been widely accepted by the Church throughout history.

It is thus my opinion that St. Paul was not referring to New Testament writings when he said that all scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), but rather to Old Testament writings.

  • 1
    I updated your question to clarify it (most people probably don't know what you meant by 2T and there were some grammatical issues which obscured your question). Also, I made the question ask what you just asked me in your comment since this seems to be the direction you wanted to head anyways. That way my response will match and all the discussion won't just be in the comments. If this was not your intent then I apologize, feel free to edit the question again.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 20:17
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    It should also be noted that I approach this from a Christian tradition that has never officially adopted any canon of scripture.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 20:21
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    @H3br3wHamm3r81 that is somewhat circular logic. There are a lot of men who possess the Holy Spirit who write books but I don't consider them all to be an authority for teaching. How I sort through the issue of authority is another question altogether.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 21:34
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    @MatthewPK This website has the occurrences in each book on the right column. It's not the same tool I used but it should have the same results, that way you can see for yourself. Enjoy! biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/graphe.html
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 21:39
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    Everywhere else it refers to the Old Testament (or to specific passages from the Old Testament). -- then there's that pesky James 4:5 ;-) (I didn't come here just to bug you, really -- this popped to the top!)
    – Susan
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 9:23

An interesting line of thought on the assembly of the NT from a liberal scholar, David Trobisch. In short, his thesis is that Paul selected some of his own letters to be published to the churches (cf. "Did Paul Himself Create the First NT Canon"). Some in the early church — notably Marcion — viewed Paul as in conflict with the apostles in Jerusalem (esp. Peter and James) on the matter of grace and works, and the NT itself was assembled and arranged as a collection (in a different order from what we’re used to, with the general epistles by Peter, James, Jude, and John intentionally before Paul’s) partly to refute this disagreement and show that the apostles ultimately represent a united front.

In this regard, he suggests that several books of the NT exhibit a “canon consciousness.” In his article making the case that Polycarp, who was a direct disciple of the apostle John, was the original compiler of the NT during the mid-100s, Trobisch says of Acts:

Like no other book of the New Testament, the book of Acts offers a view into the whole collection. Being the second volume of Luke’s work, it provides a link to the Four-Gospel-Book. In its first half, Acts introduces the authors of the General Letters: Peter, John, James, and Jude; in the second half, it introduces Paul, the author of the other New Testament letter collection. In addition, Acts provides information that makes it possible to identify Luke, the author of the Gospel, as the doctor who travels with Paul and to identify Mark as someone close to Peter and Paul.

And in his book on The First Edition of the NT (which has not one but two Amazon reviews apparently by the Anne Rice, and another nice review by someone else named Tom Dykstra that gives a fairly detailed summary of the argument of the book):

When 2 Peter is read as an integrated part of the Canonical Edition of the Christian Bible, the apparent cross-references to the collection [of] units are quite astonishing. The Old Testament is quoted abundantly. Biblical prophecy is explicitly addressed, its relevance for the present time of readers id demonstrated, and it is related to a theology of divine inspiration formulated in a manner applied to other New Testament writers as well. The letter clearly refers to the canonical Gospel collection by pointing to John (Jn 21), Mark, and the synoptic account of the Transfiguration. The references to 1 Peter and Jude serve as links to the Praxapostolos. It presupposes that the readers have access to a comprehensive collection of Paul’s letters. In addition to these literary links, the treatment of Peter and Paul as equals is another trait 2 Peter shares with the editorial interest of the Canonical Edition. (David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament, 95).

Conservative NT scholar Michael Bird comments on Trobisch’s argument (emphasis mine):

I doubt Trobisch’s main contention that there was a single archtype “edition” of the NT that became exemplary for later compilations of the NT writings. Most of the inner-canonical unities that he finds look like incidental post-compilation observations, rather than deliberate editorial creations by the formulators of the first New Testament collection. That said, I think that Trobisch does show how 2 Peter gives us a virtual precis of the NT itself with interwoven OT themes, references to synoptic material, veneration of Paul’s letter collection, and incorporation of Jude.

Of course, one needn’t agree with all of Trobisch’s theories (including that Polycarp was the compiler or that the NT includes some forgeries) to find some value in what he says, and it’s nice to see a liberal giving an early date for the finished (or virtually finished) canon. An alternate theory to Trobisch's is, as mentioned above, that Paul himself was the compiler of the first NT canon.

So while it seems that Paul in 1 Timothy was primarily referring to the OT (and perhaps some subset of the gospels, maybe Luke-Acts) as "the scriptures," it is apparent from his letters he also has a high (shall we say, binding) view of apostolic authority, including his own in whatever medium. As he says in 2 Thess. 2:15: "So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." If in fact Paul assembled a collection of his own letters for the edification of the church, as suggested above, that would further solidify the collection of authoritative, apostolic documents that would become the NT.

Add to that the "virtual precis of the NT itself" along with the OT citations in 2 Peter, and you have a biblical summary of what was canonical.

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    I like the idea about mutiple links accross the cannonical books. Like 2 Peter 1:14 linking to John 21:18. Funny that even a modern liberal would see the tight linkage forming a compact body of ultimate authoritative writings.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 13:36

Peter supports any letter submitted by Paul under his ministry, past or future, as scripture. The reason why there is no detailed argument for it in scripture is because it was obvious as his writings were the writings of an Apostle, which was greater than a Prophet.

There are some things in them that are hard to understand [i.e. Paul's writings], which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:16, ESV, brackets mine)

The obvious argument is not directly from the text, nor is there to be expected a direct argument, but from the omission on can see the underlying assumption. Nowhere in the OT do we see in any book an argument that it is ‘scripture’ -- the nature of the book assumes it. In this instance we see the obvious assumption. In other words, Peter says that people twist Paul’s writings, in the same way that they twist scripture. Peter does not logically equate the two because he has no need to do that. He is not talking about canonicity. He is talking about twisting spiritual truths. Therefore, as twisting Paul’s letter or scripture is equivalent, Peter simply draws attention to it. It would be grossly irresponsible of Peter not to add a caution saying: 'I do not mean to say that Paul's writings are equal with scripture' -- if Peter actually did not assume the writings of an Apostle were less than that of a Prophet. Such an assumption would be bizarre and unexpected.

The degree in which Peter is confident that an Apostle’s letter is equal to a Prophet’s is clearly vindicated by his almost cavalier avoidance of the whole topic of canonization. True canonization had not occurred to many years later, but the idea of scripture was already settled among those letters written by prophets in the past and which were now currently being written. Canonization is simply a later formalization of what was already known. It became more important to formally do it simply because it became so very clear that no new scripture was ever to be written.

It seems then that to explore canonicity we must actually ‘look at the forest not the trees.’ We must sort out what it means to be one of the twelve Apostles or Old Testament Prophet and what that implies on their writings to the church as an infallible guide. It was obvious for early Christians that an Apostle was a messenger with the ‘word of the Lord’, even more so than a prophet. To read into the New Testament our more recent views of canonicity and even question the designation of scripture upon the very scripture of scripture, is eisegesis. Canonicity was not of large concern at the time, rather identification of who was a real Apostle was. The reason why the Devil attacked Paul’s apostleship was in part because we would love to remove his letters. Good exegesis must assume an Apostle speaks scripture, when it is written to the church as guide, just as a Prophet did in the Old Testament. There is no difference except that the Apostle is in a higher authority as builders of a superior covenant. If this assumption is not made we have the wisdom of a one eyed man among the blind, for we weaken the authority of half the Bible through our error. The New Testament endorsement of the prophets actually establishes the conclusion that the Old Testament as scripture for it records the very words of the Incarnate God in the flesh. The warning in Revelation of ‘not to add to or remove from its content’ can be argued to be a warning symbolic of the whole Old and New completed canons. If one willingly and stubbornly tries to add to or take away from the canon of scripture, their desire and intention is good evidence that they do not know the Lord or his saving grace and can expect to suffer the ‘plagues’ described in Revelation so long as they continue upon that action.

On a technical note, looking at the tree, rather than the forest; the reason why Paul said 'all scriptures' is because 'the scriptures' would probably only refer to those already settled into the canon. ‘All scripture’ includes those not yet written. The New Testament was not finished and there was no clear indication when it ever would be, therefore while ‘the scriptures’ technically refer only to those that were already settled and widely known among the entire church. There was not yet enough time to really include any New Testament letters, per se into the settled and accepted letters. On the other hand 'all scripture' implies an open-ended quantity, not just the closed and recently completed section of the Old Testament. Even the closure of the Old Testament was only realized upon the introduction of the Messiah and creation of the new office of Apostle. The Old Testament at the time of the New Testament would have been better described as 'the' scriptures, already complete and settled in the minds of men. All scripture includes those not yet written, settled among a wide audience and identified under the New Testament church.

In fact, Paul always understood his message as being the world of the Lord, no less so than any other scripture:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man 's gospel. (Galatians 1:11, ESV)

That is why the gospel as delivered by Apostles is commonly called 'the word of the Lord'. In fact this is its most common title within the book of Acts. So it is quite obvious just as Prophets used to deliver (and record in as scripture) the word of God, so did the Apostles under the New Covenant. It is not by some weird coincidence that we have our Bibles arranged the way we do; God has ensured we have his word. It is the scripture per the original Biblical meaning. The New Testament is even more useful for correcting etc., as it is a fuller revelation. However this does not make the New Testament is more 'the scriptures' for it is all of them that are from God and therefore useful.

  • To what extent, then, are we to disregard (as Paul does) the teaching of Simon to the Corinthians? If Peter values the writings of apostles equally as "scripture" rather than just those of Paul then how are we to understand them as "God Breathed" compared those the writings of Simon to the Corinthians (not canonized)?
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 18:31
  • @MatthewPK - do you have a link. I never heard of this writing. Not found here: earlychristianwritings.com. I like to read these sort of things directly rather than someone's opinion about someone.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 9:33
  • perhaps that's because I misremembered Simon when, in fact, Paul contrasts the teachings of James and he rebukes Peter for "supporting" them.
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 18:10
  • @MatthewPK - James can be misunderstood as opposing principles in Pauline letters, but the vast majority do not feel there is any actual disagreement. If there was a true disagreement and that James was promoting works as the means for justification than we would simply need to toss James out as a forgery. There is no need to do this however as James is an excellent letter fully in-line with Paul's letters. James says that only a true faith evidenced by works can justify. He knows very well that works do not justify. Faith alone apart from works justify, but not a dead unreal faith.
    – Mike
    Commented Mar 23, 2013 at 9:37

I believe Adam Clark is correct when in his commentary he says, "This sentence is not well translated; the original - πασα γραφη θεοκνευστος ωφιλιμος προς διδασκαλιαν, κ. τ. λ. should be rendered: Every writing Divinely inspired is profitable for doctrine, etc."

Notice there is no "is" between writing and Divinely inspired (or God-breathed) in any greek text and yet the greek ἐστιν ("is") appears in all other emphatic statements that I have researched. This completely changes the meaning of the sentence and it now makes sense. The "is" is not in the Wycliffe Bible (1395), Tyndale (1525) or Miles Coverdale Bible (1535). It first appears in the Bishop's Bible (1568) and is taken out in the Revised Version of 1885 which is the basis of the American Standard Version. see http://www.studylight.org/

γραφη is in context translated as "scripture" in most translations because the previous verse refers to sacred writings (ἱερὰ γράμματα). It would seem to have the same root as the modern Greek verb γράφω ("I write"). In 2 Timothy 3:16, translating it as "scripture" is misleading and does not make sense if we assume all scripture is Divinely inspired, which is probably why the non existent "is" was put in.

I don't know who made up the word "scripture" but it would not appear that the writers of any of the books of the Bible had a special word for sacred texts and γραφη, particularly in this instance, should have been left as the literal translation ("writing"), and probably in many others as well. Search 'scripture' on BibleHub and judge for yourself.

You can find Adam Clark's commentary on 2 Timothy 3 here (scroll down for verse 16).

  • 1
    Welcome! Interesting approach to this verse. But, other passages refer to "scriptures" and you don't answer the question regarding what that word means. This is a Q&A site, so the best answers deal with the entire question, not just a small part of it. I hope you'll take the tour and check out some of the other questions and answers we have here! Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 13:50
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. Though your answer focuses on the one verse (2 Timothy 3:16) referred to in the question, rather than the more general question, I think it is a worthwhile addition to the answers to this question. However, it would be much improved if you edited the answer to provide a reference for your quote from Adam Clark's commentary so that those who want to can look it up for themselves, and to add a line saying explicitly what you imply: that in this instance γραφη simply means "writing." If you did that, I'd give the answer an upvote. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 16:53
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    I would add that the missing "is" is a somewhat weak argument, since all of the Biblical languages, not to mention Latin, frequently leave out the verb "to be." Translators must determine when it is implied and when it isn't. Usually it's obvious. In this case, if Clark is right, perhaps not so much. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 16:54

A rephrase of Peter's admonition about Paul is in order.

Recall that Peter and Paul did not always agree (their public shouting at each other about circumcision, Paul insisting it is mandatory, Peter insisting it is not, is one example). Calling Paul's letters "hard to understand" was diplomatic on Peter's part, but it was definitely an alert to the problem that Paul some times got in over his head, and that third-party readers were therefore to use caution.

Peter was saying (rephrased), "Paul writes letters in which he attempts to interpret Scripture. Unstable people twist those interpretations around, just as they do with the Scriptures themselves."

It is not logical to assume that the Apostles adopted our occasionally-used modern "short-hand" for the full Bible, (inaccurately and lazily) calling the whole collection "Scripture." The full collection of books was not yet in existence in their time anyway. To them, "Scripture" meant Old Testament, nothing more, nothing less. No one would have had access to all the apostles' epistles in any sort of assemblage anyway. That was compiled hundreds of years after they died. And it's doubtful each saw all of the other's writings anyway. It was not as though mailing a carbon copy in that era was routine.

Last and not least, there was a bit of mistrust on Peter's part toward Paul -- not without good reason. It is not logical to assert that Peter would have given Paul the sort of blank check approval that conferring the title "Scripture" upon Paul's letters would carry, especially as some of them were likely sight-unseen.

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    Where's your evidence for all these assertions?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 7:42
  • It would help if you could cite which specific segment(s) you mean. For example, the disagreement between Peter and Paul about circumcision is not an "assertion," it is plainly stated in Galatians 2. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 8:08
  • Whatever you can cite in the Bible or other sources to support your statements would be helpful. Unsourced answers don't always do so well here--especially if they challenge beliefs and ideas commonly held in the major Christian groupings. Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 11:19
  • Some sources would certainly make this better. For example, saying something is logical or not does not necessarily mean you've used logic to make that point. The last paragraph stands out in this respect. Instead, if you can show that Peter did not call Paul's writings scripture in 1 Peter 3, then you can say it is logical or not. Also, "rephrasing" a verse as you've done here is no different than a personal interpretation. You need to show more; that the translation is lacking.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 19:21
  • Is there anyone who does not know that Paul, prior to his conversion, was a Jew, and in fact, a member of the leadership-hierarchy, a Pharisee? Is there anyone who is unaware that it was the Pharisees and Sadducees who conspired to murder Jesus? Therefore, my remark that there would have been distrust of Paul on the part of Peter is axiomatic. cont'd.... Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 5:10

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