Crossfunction: 2 Timothy 3: sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition

Monday, June 20, 2005

2 Timothy 3: sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition

The Conversion of St. Paul.  Carravaggio, 1600. Oil on cypress wood, 237 x 189 cm.  Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome.

Paul wrote to Timothy:

14 But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures, which can instruct thee to salvation, by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice,
17 That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.

This passage offers a clear view of Paul's concept of how the Gospel is transmitted: by Scripture and apostolic preaching.

Verse 14 urges Timothy to hold fast to the teachings which have been "committed" to him. On what basis? Because Timothy knows that Paul, the messenger of those teachings, is an apostle. Timothy is to "continue" in these things not because they sound good or seem plausible, but because Paul expects Timothy to recognize Paul's position as an apostle and therefore one who speaks definitively with teaching authority received from Jesus.

Verses 15-17 affirm the divine inspiration and value of Scripture in providing instruction profitable in achieving salvation. But these verses were written in the same breath, so to speak, as verse 14, and so rightly coexist with a harmonious meaning.

Paul never taught that oral tradition made Scripture unnecessary, nor did he teach the opposite. Rather, as the whole passage makes clear, Timothy is exhorted to respect and live by all the apostolic teachings he has received, whether they have been communicated to him via sacred Scripture or by authoritative apostolic preaching.

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