2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not prove Sola Scriptura
Updated: May 31, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
When St. Paul (an older leader) was writing to Timothy (a younger leader), he gave him tips on what would help him out in his ministry. One of his tips was to use Scripture. He said, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Scripture would be be profitable or helpful in Timothy's ministry of teaching.
Now, some of our Protestant brothers and sisters will say that this verse proves Sola Scriptura. They will point out that Timothy is the "man of God" who becomes "complete" with the use of Scripture. They believe that Scripture makes him equipped for all good works, even things such as doctrine. God's written Word suffices for them, as it is the only thing "inspired" by God. However, this argument has a few holes.
First off, just because Scripture is profitable to make the man of God complete, does not mean that only Scripture is profitable. Just because X makes Y complete, does not mean that only X makes Y complete, or that X solely makes Y complete.
There are other things which are profitable for making the man of God equipped for "every good work."
One such example is sanctification, which Paul speaks of in the previous chapter: "If a man cleanses himself from the latter [sinful behavior and influences], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the master and prepared to do every good work" (2 Tim 2:21). If the man of God stops sinning, he is prepared for every good work. The Greek wording for "every good work" is the same Greek as 2 Tim. 3:17. Scripture is a tool for holiness, but holiness is really God's work in our lives. So some holy person that you know (maybe an old priest friend) is complete and more ready to do every good work - compared to someone who is not.
God's grace is another thing Paul says is profitable to make the man of God complete. 2 Cor. 9:8 says, "God is able to make all grace abound toward you in order that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may abound in every good work." Grace makes the man of God sufficient or complete for every good work. If I decide to go to a food pantry and volunteer, it was Gods grace that enabled me to do that. His grace makes me complete for anything, so it is not Scripture alone that enables us to do good works.
Consider the analogy of the armor of God which Paul gave in Ephesians 6:11-18. Here, Paul speaks of the full equipping of the man of God through the armor of God, but the word of God is the sword, not the whole thing. Faith is the shield, truth is the belt, salvation is the helmet, etc. Each of these things are profitable for the man of God to be complete.
Another point that shows 2 Tim 3:16-17 would not prove Sola Scriptura is the fact that the wording could also be applied to other things. For instance, Francis Chan has written a number of Christian books. They are profitable for making us complete, ready for any good work. Or Fr. Robert Barron's books: They are profitable for making us complete.
Because Paul tells Timothy Scripture makes him, "complete, equipped for every good work," certain Protestants will argue that Scripture is sufficient. However, the Greek word for "complete" mainly means "ready, equipped, or fitted," according to Greek scholar, Dr. James Prothro. The word is related to the next word Paul uses, "equipped." The RSV-CE translates the word to be "complete," but the true sense of "complete" is not "sufficient."
Even if, for the sake of argument, 2 Timothy 3 proved that Scripture was sufficient, Catholics could accept it, as long as it meant a material sufficiency. Material sufficiency means that all of our beliefs are found within the Bible either explicitly or implicitly (with the help of Tradition). Tradition (that is, knowledge of all of the doctrines handed down throughout the Church) is the "lens" through which we can read Scripture.
Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, says that the Scriptures are formally sufficient, meaning that all doctrines have to be found explicitly within the Bible - and everyone can clearly see them. That belief would not make sense, though. For instance, many Evangelicals deny that baptism is how we are saved, whereas the Church of Christ believes baptism does, and that only their baptism does it! Who is the man of God from 2 Tim. 3 that is sufficiently equipped with the Scriptures? Evangelicals? Or the Church of Christ?
Simply having the sword does not mean that you have been trained on how to use it. Catholics have the "training" needed to interpret Scripture by seeing it through the lens of Sacred Tradition.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not prove Sola Scriptura.
P.S. If Sola Scriptura was being taught here to Timothy, how could that be the case when Scripture was still being written? The New Testament had not been compiled yet, so Sola Scriptura was not being practiced!