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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
2 Timothy 3

 

 

Verse 14-15

BIBLE TEACHING

‘Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’

2 Timothy 3:14-15

The value of Bible teaching depends upon the teacher. And, if this be so, there are two qualities we must expect and require of those who teach it.

I. The quality of reverence.—The teacher must impress the child with the conviction that when he comes to the Bible lesson he is entering holy ground. His words, his method, his very manner must suggest to the child the humility which is due to a sacred Presence. To teach, even to read, the Bible in a tone of flippancy, carelessness, or indifference, is not only to teach badly; it is to give the child from the very first an entirely wrong conception of the place which the Bible holds among the books of the world.

II. We must expect in the teacher the quality of faith.—The presence or absence of some faith in the message which the Bible brings is involved in every act of teaching. The way in which the teacher reads the Bible or allows it to be read, the very selections which he makes of the passages which are to be studied, the explanations which he gives, in themselves, and in the very tone in which they are given, reveal inevitably to the quick insight of the child whether or not the teacher speaks from a heart of faith or a heart of indifference or unbelief. Whatever faith a man has he must communicate it to his pupils through the teaching of the Bible. And we Christians cannot be content merely that a man should give the best faith that he has; we must ask for our children that the faith he gives is that faith which is the very essence of the meaning of the Holy Scriptures—faith in Christ Jesus, the Supreme Personality, God and Man. He is the Light which illuminates and gives value to every portion of the Bible. It is in Him that its history culminates; it is towards Him that its prophecies point; it is of Him that the Apostles speak and write; and therefore to teach the Bible from any other point of view than faith in the supremacy of the revelation given in Christ Jesus is to give a wrong conception of the whole meaning and character of the Bible itself. Nay, may we not go further and say that it is to give a wrong conception of the character of our Christian religion?

III. Our plea is for the honour of our Bible.—This nation is specially entrusted by the providence of God with the care of the Bible. At its very start, in the early days which seem so far remote, its typical King Alfred laid the foundations of its life by giving it, with the one hand, its body of laws, and with the other hand his translation of the Bible text; and still, at the beginning of the twentieth century, when at the Coronation our nation renewed its covenant with God through its representative the King, the Archbishop representing the Church, the guardian and keeper of Holy Writ, placed the Bible in the hands of the King with these words: ‘Our gracious King, we present you with this book, the most valuable thing that the world affords. Here is wisdom. Here is the Royal law. Here are the lively oracles of God.’ Let us be jealous with a great jealousy for this trust of the honour of the Bible which has been placed in our hands. We can only be faithful to the trust if we see to it that in the teaching of our schools the children learn to regard their Bibles as ‘sacred writings which are able to make them wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’

—Archbishop Lang.

Illustration

‘If we are asked—What is, perhaps, the greatest factor that has kept the public and private life of our nation true to God and its best ideals? we should most of us, and with justice, reply, “The Bible.” The other day I saw the Bible—the volume which had been the chosen companion through all his life—of one who had done great service to his country and his Church. There in that volume, one felt as one looked upon it—marked, as it was, by the impress of every stage in the man’s history-there was the power, the friendship, which had sustained him in sorrow, uplifted him in joy, strengthened him in temptation, inspired him to labour. Similarly, all through the story of our English nation—since, at least, it first accepted its great destiny—the Bible has been the friend and companion of the people. It carries with it into the most distant parts of the globe the most sacred memories of home, so that in his Bible the traveller in the far seas feels that he is one with his parents in the cottage among the hills of the Highlands. The Bible by a thousand of the earliest and tenderest associations has woven a chain that binds every class in English life to the one Father.’


Verse 15

THE CHILD AND THE BOOK

‘From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’

2 Timothy 3:15

This verse gives us the picture of the education of a child in a devout Jewish family. Timothy, whom St. Paul is addressing, is described in Acts 16 as the son of a certain woman who was a Jewess and believed, and in the first chapter of this Epistle he gives us the character of his mother and of his grandmother. ‘I call to remembrance,’ he said, ‘the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in that grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice.’

I. This unfeigned faith was the Jewish faith.—Timothy’s mother Eunice was converted to Christianity through St. Paul. What we see then, when St. Paul speaks of Timothy having known the Holy Scriptures from a child, is an example of the custom which prevailed in the Jewish people of diligently instructing their children in their faith, and in the Holy Scriptures which enshrined that faith. It is stated, in fact, in the principal modern authority respecting Jewish life—the Jewish Encyclopædia—that the religious and moral training of the people from childhood was regarded by the Jews, from the very beginning of their history, as one of the principal objects of life. Of Abraham we read in Genesis 18 that the Lord said, ‘I have known him, or chosen him, to the end that he may command his children,’ etc. All the festivals and ceremonies of the Jewish law are described as having for one of their objects the instruction of children in the history of the Jewish people, and of God’s dealing with them. As one of the Psalms says, ‘He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children.’ So again in Deuteronomy we read, ‘These words, which I command you this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.’

II. This was the Jewish ideal of education, which has been maintained among the Jews, in principle, from the times of Abraham and Moses down to the present day. According to the will and law of God, the first duty of fathers and mothers is to impress upon the minds of their children, in every possible way, a knowledge of what God has done for their fathers in old time, and consequently a love of God and a trust in God.

III. St. Paul shows that he regards this as an example to be followed by Christian fathers and mothers; and elsewhere he speaks of training and ruling children as one of the chief duties of Christian parents. This, then, is an essential duty of Christian parents from which nothing can excuse them. Above and before anything else, they must see that their children are trained in the knowledge and the love of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dean Wace.

Illustration

‘Anybody who has had anything to do with the education of children will know very well why Moses insisted on such incessant inculcation, and upon continual repetition of truths. First of all, the way in which children are taught all other subjects is by incessant repetition and incessant explanation, not by merely a lesson or two, once for all. But besides that, the truths of the Scriptures, and the truths of the Catechism, which are taken out of the Scriptures, may to some extent be learnt by rote, but they need incessant meditation and explanation and application, if they are to be duly understood, and if they are to be made part of a child’s, or even of a man’s, heart and life. Dr. Martin Luther, who wrote two beautiful catechisms for German people, which they still call their lay Bible, says of himself in the Preface to one of them: “This I say for myself; I also am a doctor and a preacher, as learned and experienced as any who make light of catechisms, and yet I am still like a child that is taught the Catechism, and I read it and repeat it word for word each morning, and when I have time, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Psalms; and I must still read and study daily, and cannot excel as I should like to; and I must ever remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am right willing to remain so.” That is what inspired and wise men, from the days of Abraham and Moses down to the times of Martin Luther, and of our English Reformers who wrote the Church Catechism, thought the right way, and the only effectual way, to bring children up in the true knowledge of their God and their Saviour, and under the blessed influences of that love and that truth.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

A GUIDE-BOOK FOR ETERNITY*

I. What is in this guide-book?—The Scriptures are the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament Scriptures are composed of thirty-nine little books, and the New Testament Scriptures are a collection of twenty-seven books, written at different times, in different places, for different purposes, and by many holy men. But in young Timothy’s time there was no New Testament. The Old Testament, containing the writings of prophets, psalmists, sages, and kings, was Timothy’s guide-book, for he was, partly by birth and wholly by education, a Jewish boy. How precious is this Old Book! It is a casket of jewels, a mine of wisdom, a garden of delights, a treasury of knowledge.

II. St. Paul’s description of this guide-book.—He calls the Scriptures ‘holy.’

(a) Holy, because their source is Divine. By source, we mean spring or fountain-head. The source of a great river is the little crystal well bubbling among the lush green moss that grows in the solitudes of some mighty mountain.

(b) Holy, because they are sanctifying in their influence. Holy means healthy; and a holy man is just one who is morally sound, pure in heart and in life, like ‘the Holy One of Israel.’

III. The design of this guide-book.—When we speak of the design of the Old Testament Scriptures, we speak of what they are planned for; and St. Paul tells us they are designed ‘to make us wise unto salvation.’ Nearly all other books are intended to make us wise about the world. The Old Testament is like a lighthouse. The Holy Scriptures shine like kindly lights in the gloom of a sinful and despairing world. They shine and show the voyagers on life’s dark, wandering sea the way of life and peace. They point to the harbour of refuge. To the pious Jew the Old Testament was ‘able to make wise unto salvation’ because it directed his eye of faith to the coming Saviour. Grasping Christ while looking forward he was saved, just as we are saved while glancing backward.

Illustration

‘Shortly after Sir Walter Scott returned from Italy, weary and worn and sad, he asked a friend to draw him into his library at Abbotsford, and place him near the window, that he might look on the silvery Tweed running by. Gazing on the shining river, he turned to his son-in-law, and begged him to read. “From what book shall I read?” said Lockhart. “Can you ask?” said Scott; “there is but one.” Then Lockhart read the fourteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, which has gladdened so many weary hearts; and when he had done Sir Walter said, “Well, this is a great comfort. I have followed you distinctly, and I feel as if I were to be myself again.”’


Verse 16

WHAT INSPIRATION IS NOT

‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’

2 Timothy 3:16

Can we believe the Bible? Such a question may sound childish, or something worse. But it has become necessary to discuss it.

I. The mode of inspiration is beyond human definition.—For seventeen centuries, at least, the Church of Christ deliberately refrained from defining it. And she showed her wisdom in refraining. The attempts of later days to distinguish between ‘the inspiration of superintendence,’ ‘the inspiration of elevation,’ ‘the inspiration of direct revelation’ etc., have ended as they deserved to end—in failure. The truth is we are no more qualified to pronounce upon the mystery of Inspiration than we are upon the mystery of the Incarnation. In both the Divine and the human elements are blended.

II. But though, we cannot fully say what inspiration is, we may be able to remove some misconceptions if we make clear what it is not.

(a) When we affirm the inspiration of Holy Scripture, we have in view not existing documents, but the original manuscripts only.

(b) But while we say this, we do not mean (as some appear to think we must) that Scripture is written in scientific language. It could not be so written, for the scientific language of one age differs widely from that of the next.

(c) Nor are we to be understood to contend that all parts of Scripture are necessarily of equal value.

(d) Nor do we mean that every statement therein recorded or therein described has necessarily received God’s sanction or been authorised by Him.

(e) We do not mean to exclude, as some suppose, the human element in the Scriptures; that is to say, we do not mean by plenary inspiration what some have termed a mechanical inspiration, as if the writers of the Bible were mere machines.

III. But, while this is so, it remains true that the writings of Holy Scripture, however diverse their features, and whether directly inspired or selected under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit from existing documents, did all at length receive such an imprimatur of Divine authority, not only as regards their thoughts, but their language, as constituted them for us God’s Word written.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustrations

(1) ‘“You have no idea,” said a young man in a City office to me only a few months ago, “what I have to go through. I am known to be a Christian, and I am the butt of the office, because I believe the Bible. ‘What!’ they say, ‘believe that old book! Why, it has been exploded long ago. No one believes the Bible nowadays. Who believes in Jonah and the whale, and all the rest of it? You must be a little weak, gone in the upper storey,’ etc. etc.” That young man was fighting a hard battle, and there are hundreds of others like him. They need sympathy and they need support, and too often they fail to receive it.’

(2) ‘When Dr. J. P. Thompson visited Berlin in his early manhood he met the famous Lepsius in the library of the Royal University, and when the young man told the scholar that he hoped, at some future time, to write a little book on Moses, the German professor exploded. “But, mein Gott, there never was a Moses.” That was the fashion fifty years ago. But since the discovery of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, which prove that the art of writing was practised a hundred years before Abraham, Moses has come back to stay.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

WHY WE BELIEVE IN INSPIRATION

If we believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture we must be able to say why we believe it.

I. Because Scripture itself affirms it.—Our first appeal, necessarily, must be to the Book itself, and the answer it gives us is decisive. ‘All Scripture’ says St. Paul in his famous utterance (2 Timothy 3:16), ‘is God-breathed.’ See such passages (among many others) as Acts 1:16 (‘This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake,’ etc.); Acts 3:21 (‘Which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began’); and again (where the names of writers are altogether omitted), Hebrews 3:7, ‘the Holy Ghost saith, To-day’ (the quotation being from Psalms 95.); and Hebrews 10:15, ‘The Holy Ghost is a witness to us’ (the quotation which follows being taken from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter Jeremiah 31:33-34).

II. Because the condition of mankind requires it.—Is it conceivable that a God of love should leave Himself without witness in the world that he has made? Is there to be no voice, nor any answer to His creature’s cry? It is not so. God has spoken.

III. Because the consciousness of the seeking soul responds to it.—I say ‘of the seeking soul,’ for this book is an oracle, and does not reveal its secrets to every one. This book is a living book.

IV. Because the Jews, with whom the conservation and defence of their ancient writings was a passion, and who had far better opportunities than any twentieth-century scholars, however learned, can have of knowing what were and what were not canonical writings, received as God’s Word the very same books as those with which we are now familiar as the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

V. Because the Church militant here upon earth says so.—The attack upon the truth of inspiration is comparatively of recent date. For centuries, from apostolic times downwards, the question was never raised.

VI. Because the Church triumphant in heaven says so.—‘They have Moses and the prophets,’ said Abraham, to Dives, in the parable, ‘let them hear them.’

VII. We believe the Bible to be inspired because the Christ Whom it has revealed to us says it is.—This, after all, is the kernel of the whole matter. You may rely upon it, it is impossible to maintain your faith in the infallibility of Christ if you lose your faith in the inspiration of His Word. Let it never be forgotten, this testimony of Christ to the Scripture was given not only during the period of His ‘Kenosis’ as it has been termed; it was given on the day of His Resurrection, when sin, death, and hell were captives at his feet. It is in the walk to Emmaus (St. Luke 24:44) that He once more endorses the whole Jewish canon as it is known to us, and as it was known to Him. This, surely, is decisive as to the whole question, even if it stood alone.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘It may be worth while to quote the well-known passage from Josephus in which this matter is referred to. It runs thus (Tract v. Apion, Bk. I. ch. 8): “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us disagreeing from and contradicting each other (as the Greeks have), but only twenty-two books, which contain the record of all past times, which are justly believed to be Divine. And of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind until his death. This interval of time was little less than 3000 years. But as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, King of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. How firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already elapsed no one hath been so bold as either to add anything to them, or take anything from them, or to make any change in them. But it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.”’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE

Granted that Scripture is inspired, what is inspiration? I answer that question by asking another: What is life? We know the difference between a living person and a dead body, and we know what the power and forces of life are, but that is all. And, in the same way, we may all know what inspiration is, by its influence upon ourselves and its influence upon others.

I. Nowhere in the whole of the New Testament is one word said about the nature of inspiration.—It is merely the fact that is asserted, and its results. And what are the results of inspiration? They are these: first of all, that the Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus; and next, that they are profitable for the whole education of the Christian man.

II. It is this spiritual force and power of the Scriptures on which I desire especially to insist.—It might have been supposed, starting with a theory, that God would have preserved His Word from all possibility of defect or error. It might have been supposed that He would have given us an infallible text, that He would not have left it uncertain what the original words are in which the revelation was conveyed. We might have expected that everything would have been made so clear, and plain, and easy, that even a child should understand it. But God has not so ordered His Word. It is not so delightfully simple and easy as some good people would have us believe. Neither is it perfect, in the sense in which men deem perfection. So long as the words of God are translated into any language, they must take a certain colouring from the translator. And therefore it is quite useless to insist on the inspiration of the very words of the Bible. Ought we not rather to rejoice in this than to be troubled by it? Ought it not to be a comfort for us to be able to rest assured that the translation we have is sufficient? We do not need to be Hebrew or Greek scholars, thank God, to read our Bibles with profit and edification, and to find in them food for our souls, to find them all that St. Paul declares them to be, as profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. In short, this theory of the absolute perfection of the Bible in every detail—does it not rest upon an entire mistake?

III. God would have us learn that what we men deem perfection is no necessary evidence of a Divine work. Look at Nature. Nature is God’s work. Nature shows forth His glory. Am I to deny this? Am I to say that Nature is not God’s handiwork because I see on the face of Nature many traces of imperfection? Nature has her monstrous births, and imperfect growths, and her abnormal developments; everywhere side by side with perfect loveliness there is failure, blight, and imperfection. How can we reconcile these things with our ideas of Divine order and perfection? Is the world less Divine because there is so much in it, quite apart from the ravages of sin, which baffles and perplexes us? And if I find in God’s other and greater book, that book which does not merely display the glory of God, but which reveals to me the will of God, and opens to me the gates of eternal life, through the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord—if I find there traces of apparent incompleteness and imperfection, or of what men deem imperfection, am I then to say, I give it up altogether; it is merely a human work; God is not there? No; it is God’s book, but it is a book given to us through men. Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It is God’s Word, it is God’s witness, but human hearts beat there, and human pens have conveyed the message, and on everything human there must rest in some measure—or it would cease to be human—the shadow of imperfection.

—Bishop J. J. S. Perowne.

Illustration

‘I am more and more persuaded every day I live, that the defence of the Bible is constantly put upon a wrong footing. I am more and more convinced that the attempts which are made by zealous and well-meaning persons to make claims for the Bible which it nowhere makes for itself have been a fruitful source of unbelief. We find the plainest facts denied. We find explanations given in our commentaries of difficulties which we should be ashamed to put on similar difficulties in profane authors, and which would really almost justify the taunt of some of the divines of the Church of Rome, that Scripture is a nose of wax, that with Protestant licence you can bend and twist it, and give it any shape you please. These desperate shifts can never satisfy a candid mind.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

WHY THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN

I. The Bible is a library, a collection of books gathered together ages ago by those who were competent to do so, from a large number of writings which lay before them, which ranged over centuries of time, were written by persons of very different characters and nationalities, in many different tongues and in many different parts of the world. When we realise that this was a library of books, we see, what helps us very much in our own personal life, that God taught the writers that they may teach us. God’s revelation to us is so universal that it has been given in all sorts of places, by all sorts of men, and in all sorts of tongues.

II. What brings these books all together?—Why have they for centuries been always placed together as one library? Because they do all hang together in a very remarkable way. The great connecting link is this—God, man, a Saviour. In some by anticipation, in others in poetry, in others in prophecy, in others in allusion, but always there is in the Bible something about God, about God’s views, which must be true views, concerning man, and about the need of some one to live and die for man to put man right with God. Why do we call them inspired, and what do we mean? We mean that we believe exactly what the books say about themselves.

III. Why was the Bible written?—To teach us. Above everything else, the Bible was written to save souls. The acquisition of knowledge, the knowledge of a string of facts, is of little worth, in many cases is nothing worth, if character and conduct count for nothing. A human being stored with facts and full of energy, whose character and conduct have never been trained, is something very much like a curse to the community. What is the use, when we know we shall only live in this world for a very few years, of being stored with knowledge which is of no use beyond the edge of the grave? From the beginning to the end of the Bible we have the Blessed Saviour manifested—Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; Jesus from beginning to end; Jesus the Way and the Truth and the Life.

—Rev. Dr. Springett.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/2-timothy-3.html. 1876.

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