(Originally posted March 2006)

I hadn’t looked at 2 Tim 3:16-17 in relation to prophecy in particular, but, thanks to a comment by Neil, over the past couple of days I have thought a little bit about it. And while I still don’t have the answers to all my questions, I cannot see how cessationists can continue to use these verses to support the cessation of prophecy.

Let me explain:

What does “All Scripture” in verse 16 refer to? Today it is totally reasonable to apply it to all of the OT and NT as we understand it. But when Paul wrote those words, what was he referring to?

He may have only referred to OT writings, but it is possible he is moving beyond the phrase “sacred writings” in v15 to include Paul’s “teaching” in v10. Therefore, Paul would have been self-consciously referring to his writings when he referred to “all Scripture”. Did the church recognise a new body of writing (including Paul’s) as Scripture at that time? Certainly Paul was not unaware of his authority, and Peter himself refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture. Whether or not Paul was intending to include many of the books we now accept as part of the New Testament, it is certain he did not have in mind Revelation, and according to this scholar, it is likely he didn’t have Jude, John, 1-3 John in mind either as they had not at that time been written.

So, if we are to take 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as cessationists would like us to with regards to prophecy, Paul was saying that we don’t need any more revelation because the Scripture-he-was-referring-to-at-that-time was all the man of God needs to be fully equipped. Hence, we do not need Jude, John, 1-3 John or the book of Revelations.

Yet, if we can accept Jude, John, 1-3 John and the book of Revelations as legitimate revelation in addition to the writings of Scripture Paul was referring to and still not threaten the doctrine of sola scriptura (and we can), then how can these verses be used to discount the continuation of prophecy – revelation of lesser value than the yet unwritten Scripture?

Historic Comments. (Since this is a re-post from years ago, I have included below comments that were made at the time).

One Salient Oversight February 27, 2006 at 2:43 pm

At issue here is essentially what constitutes “scripture”, especially the formation of the Canon by the church.

Given Peter’s attitude to Paul’s writings as being scripture, it is probably logical to assume that the Apostles knew that they were writing down the words of God. Paul asserts his apostolic authority in places like Galatians and 1 Corinthians, and basically states “What I am saying to you is what God has revealed to me.” That declaration by Paul does not negate the fact that God was also speaking through other Apostles (like Peter and John) as well as prophets at the time. Remember, Paul declared that the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, so his statement in 1 Timothy 3.17 that scripture is sufficient would probably logically mean that God’s word spoken through Apostles and Prophets is scripture (including any pronouncements made in the future after he wrote 2 Timothy), and is sufficient for the people of God.

(And by prophets I am assuming that they, too, were doing very similar work to what the apostles did, namely speaking the words of God to the people at the time, with their words being written down and, eventually, some recorded in the NT as Jude, Hebrews, Mark, Luke and Acts)

The real problem concerns the formation of the Canon. Peter, Paul and others did not give us a list of books that they thought were kosher. The church went through a period of trying to work out which texts were recognised by the early church.

Roman Catholics argue that the fact that the church determined what was in the canon shows that the church has greater authority than the New Testament, since it was the church that gave the stamp of authority. But I remember my theology lecturer at Sydney Missionary and Bible College arguing that the church did not confer special status upon these particular books, but merely recognised what was already the case.

So, in my case, I just have to trust that when the church determined the canon, that God was in their midst taking care of the final decision.

BTW sorry if my responses have been erratic – I tend to have a lot of irons in the fire. I have found your postings to be very interesting and not in the least bit adversarial considering the disagreements that have gone over this issue throughout history

Ali March 2, 2006 at 9:45 am

BTW sorry if my responses have been erratic – I tend to have a lot of irons in the fire.

No worries there – it’s not as if my posts are a regular thing, either!

Now, regards 2 Timothy 3:16-17, even if cessationists are right and prophecy ended with the completion of the NT, these verses cannot be drawn upon as proof of the fact!

My understanding of the cessationist interpretation of these verses is that Paul is saying, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Therefore, prophecy is redundant.” (NIV + Ali’s-understanding-of-the-cessationist-reading).

But obviously Paul is not saying that, because, as I mentioned above, at the very least there were still other books of the NT to be written – Revelation itself is prophecy in full flight. If Timothy could get Paul’s meaning during a period when prophecy still occurred, Paul’s meaning in these verses does not stand or fall on whether prophecy still occurs or not.

You, however, have made a more careful explanation and have (as I read it) broadened the definition of “Scripture” to include even the words of the apostles and prophets outside of what we now consider Scripture. As you know, I am not convinced that prophecy is equivalent to Scripture, but even if we accept that it is, these verses do not prove that there is no longer any prophecy; in fact, at the time of writing it is obvious Paul did not mean that prophecy has passed away. The most these verses do for cessationism is support the contention that continuing prophecy is not necessary for us to be fully equipped – quite a different thing, and something most continuationists would agree with.

There are some other points in your comments that I would like to explore at some stage because there are some angles that I think would throw a different light on your thinking.  Right now I appreciate that you bring the discussion back to the canon, because, as I understand it, that is the crux of the cessationist argument. I would say, though, that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 are not verses that can be used to support the reality of a closed canon nor the debated cessation of prophecy.

One Salient Oversight March 2, 2006 at 11:50 am

I’m glad my comment got posted – I was afraid that it had disappeared somewhere (it took about 24 hours to appear here).

Given that you are arguing that prophecy is not equivalent to scripture (both back in the 1st century and now) means that you essentially don’t see prophecy as anything divinely authoritiative. That helps narrow down the logic of the argument.

I’m not saying that the words of Apostles and Prophets that were given outside the New Testament are “equivalent to scripture” simply because in order for them to be “scriptural”, they needed to have been written down and included in the canon. I think that their words were “inspired” by the Holy Spirit, along with their writing, but that they weren’t scriptural. It’s just a matter of semantics at this point I suppose.

But I don’t think you’ve really examined the issue of how Scripture “Fully Equips” the man of God. Although he doesn’t talk about prophecy here, I think there is no doubt that he has in mind the written word of God here. IN context, yes he speaks about the OT, but when we take Peter’s take on Paul’s letters as being scripture, the only natural conclusion is the canon. And if the canon (our bibles) are able to “fully equip” us, then surely the ramifications are that “getting impressions from God” (or whatever you want to call it) are not exactly supported by these 2 verses.

I’d like to continue, but check out this article I wrote back in September 2005 about Sola Sciptura and “getting impressions from God”.

Ali March 4, 2006 at 5:01 pm

This is what happens when you aren’t regular…ly posting – you get questions that you intended to answer in your next post. My next post is intended to be about the authority of Scripture and prophecy. Essentially, I don’t think your conclusion ie. that I do not see prophecy as divinely authoritative necessarily follows. You need to have a premise that only Scripture is divinely authoritative (which was not true in NT times – taking “Scripture” as you have defined it above ie. something written down) and that there is only one level of authority. But that will need to wait until the next post.

As for your conclusion about these verses, I think you have been over this ground so many times, you are missing what I am saying…maybe not, but that is my guess. You want to bring to my attention the phrase “fully equips” because you believe that “fully” excludes the need for prophecy. But it is a big jump from These verses say that we do not need prophecy to be fully equipped to These verses push prophecy right out of the picture of our modern Christian experience.

In fact, I agree with your conclusion that:

“getting impressions from God (or whatever you want to call it) are not exactly supported by these 2 verses.”

Precisely! The verses say nothing about prophecy at all!!! Therefore, it is impossible to use these verses to negate prophecy (and my definition is more than “getting impressions from God” though those are included). We can say, “We don’t need prophecy to be fully equipped”, but we can also say, “We don’t need commentaries to be fully equipped”, or “We don’t need to know the original languages to be fully equipped”. We don’t need anything except the Scriptures to be fully equipped according to this verse, but that doesn’t mean other things are non-existent or unhelpful. You have accepted in your article that God uses “feelings” at times. To follow the logic you apply to these verses (as far as I understand it – who knows, perhaps we are talking past each other) even those “feelings” shouldn’t exist.

The point is that when Paul wrote these sentences it was true that all Scripture fully equips even while prophecy was still being exercised. Being fully equipped by Scripture does not depend on whether prophecy exists or not. If there is no prophecy today, it is true that all Scripture fully equips; if there is prophecy, it is still true that all Scripture fully equips.

This is where we come back to the definition of prophecy, I imagine. Perhaps you would argue that prophecy was like embryonic Scripture – something that developed into Scripture once written down and recognised by the church. In that case, you would argue that the “All Scripture” included the prophecy to come. But then you would have to argue that was the sole purpose of prophecy, and I don’t think that can be done. Quite apart from the fact that books like Luke and Acts were researched and written down as an orderly account – quite unlike the way prophecy functioned in the Scriptural accounts we have – I see prophecy as synonymous to the different giftings of people in a church (or any group) – some are leaders, some have other giftings. In the same way, some prophecy became Scripture, other prophecy didn’t – and in fact had another purpose.

This all needs to wait for my next post. I am sorry I am posting so infrequently – lots of stuff going on. I am on holidays now, so maybe in the next couple of days I’ll be able to put the next post up before we go away.

Your last comment was delayed because, for some reason unknown to me, it needed to be moderated and I hadn’t seen it. Usually you don’t. Hopefully it’ll let you through next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *