All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).
Years ago, I was sitting by a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention listening to a major convention address. The speaker moved the crowd with his stories, illustrations, and vocabulary. All in all, it was a better than average message from a capable leader. As the message drew to a close, the former president turned to me and said: "It cost us so much to recover the authority of the Bible. When are we going to use it?"
Most Southern Baptist pastors believe they are Bible-centered. Yet, in too many instances church leaders simply embrace contemporary models of management theory, life organization, addiction recovery, or relationship building — sometimes even putting Bible verses on these models, thus "baptizing" them into Gospel truth — all the while failing to recognize the Bible as their primary resource.
Every generation has faced the challenge of recognizing and applying the relevance of God's changeless Word in contemporary settings. Today, as much as in any other time, we need to understand the centrality and effectiveness of God's Word in bringing about life transformation.
When speaking of the nature of the Bible, we most often think of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. When speaking of the functions of the church, we think of Ephesians 4:10-12. Both texts speak to the goal of developing Christian maturity. These two texts have some important connections, and they are the focal points of this article.
Making God's People Complete: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Second Timothy 3:16-17 is a central and critical indication of both the Bible's Divine inspiration and its value to the church. Several points deserve review and consideration before comparing it to Ephesians 4:10-12. First, Paul spoke of the Scriptures. All scripture means that we possess a body of authoritative literature, a collection of various writings that form a unified Scripture. The writings designated "Scripture" form a consistent witness. Here Paul referred directly to the Old Testament, but by extension of the principle of Divine inspiration, the New Testament is included in his application.
Inspired by God modified and therefore shaped Paul's understanding of what constitutes Scripture. Contrary to much discussion of the recent past, Paul is hardly separating portions of inspired texts from the whole of the texts in which they occur. He had no concept of partial inspiration. Rather, the modifying word "inspired" refers to the body of accepted Scripture. In this, he endorsed the Divine origin of Scripture, for it is "breathed from God" (the literal meaning of theopneustos), thus inspired.
Profitable indicates the functional value of the inspired Scripture. Thus Scripture is the authority for doctrine and practice. All Christians should look to the Scriptures to determine the truthfulness of both formulations of doctrine and evaluating individual patterns of life. This means that everything we embrace as true must be either taught directly by Scripture, or must be consistent with, and not contrary to, Scripture.
A Linguistic Watershed: "That"
These verses contain one Greek sentence, which is grammatically complex. The pivotal point of the sentence is the beginning of verse 17 where Paul states: so that the man of God.... This verse begins with a purpose clause, translated usually "that," but more literally understood as "in order that." The long sentence divides into a statement section, providing a foundational truth, followed by a purpose clause, providing the intended goal of the truth contained in the earlier statement.
In that sense, the simple Greek word "that" (hina) functions as a hinge. Grammarians call purpose clauses "final." They point toward an intended end or goal that is expressed in what follows. The logic of this text, therefore, is verse 16 builds to the "that" clause, and then the remainder of verse 17 flows from it.
Scripture is Authoritative
All Scripture is "God-breathed" and "profitable." The two go together with equal weight. Naturally, if Scripture traces its origins to God, it should be both authoritative and beneficial to the recipients. So it is here. Scripture's authority is directly correlated to its Divine origin (see "The Authority of the Bible" by David Dockery in the February/March 2008 issue of SBC LIFE).
Furthermore, Scripture has a functional benefit to its recipients because of its Divine origin. God, graciously, provided an objective authority, the Bible, that really works in human life. While people often give lip service to that truth, the burden of this article is that Scripture deserves careful and consistent application to life. Scripture must become the acknowledged authority and guideline for our lives.
Given these parallel truths, Paul provides four values of Scripture: teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. These refer to understanding truth both intellectually and practically (see "The Bible-Sufficient!" by Randal Williams in the April 2008 issue of SBC LIFE).
In this text, it should also be noted that Paul indicates "all scripture." Without belaboring the point, we should note that every part of the Bible is vested with authority and profitability. Those who neglect any portion of Scripture do so at great personal harm.
Scripture is Effective
In 2 Timothy 3:17 Paul makes specific the practical reason God gave the Scriptures. Scripture shapes and matures God's people, making them adequate in their character and in their ability to fulfill God's purposes for their lives.
Significantly, two key words in the text explain God's intent in Scripture. They are built on the same Greek root (arti) which, as we will see, is also central to the Ephesians passage. The first word explains the goal of a person's growth through Scripture: "completeness" (artios). This is the only time the word occurs in the Bible, yet it is quite significant. Variously translated, it suggests the completeness that comes from "having everything in proper order." It points to the ultimate goal of a Christian's growth: "perfection," which perhaps is better understood as "ultimate completeness." Another way of describing perfection is having everything in life in proper order and every aspect of life operating at its highest and best, without any defect. Thus, Paul first points to godly character — what a person is. Following the teachings of the Bible makes a man of God complete.
The second word describes the completed character in action. Normally translated "equipped," the Greek word exartizomai contains the same root word as artios. It is a passive participle, suggesting the character attained has been given, not earned by personal effort. It comes as the result of God's blessing a life devoted to Him. It is also effective, making one capable for "every good work." Literally, the word suggests the person of God acts "out of" completeness (exartizomai begins with a preposition ek meaning to come out "from inside").The only other time the word occurs in Scripture is Acts 21:5 where Luke writes "when our time was up (completed)." It is also significant that there is a preposition built on this word root (arti) that means "now" (i.e., that this is the completed or proper time). Verse 17 teaches that the "completed" man of God addresses every work "out of that completeness (of character)" provided by the authority and profitability of all Scripture. Reading this verse literally, we suggest something like: "in order that the man of God may be together (i.e., complete or mature), attempting every good work out of his togetherness (i.e., because he was made complete or mature of character)."
Other Words on this Root
Second Timothy 3:17 builds its case on two words built on the same root, which mean "to be complete." For an adequate understanding, it will be helpful to survey other words built on this root in the New Testament. Then we will turn to Ephesians 4:10-12.
The most common word built on the root arti is katartizo, translated several different ways in Scripture. Twice the word occurs in a secular sense in parallel passages. When Jesus called two of his first four disciples they were working with their nets, "mending" them (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19). Often commentators point out that the word is used in secular Greek of a medical surgery ("setting bones") or of "straightening what is crooked." Thus, most likely they were repairing nets after a night's fishing.
Paul uses the word most often. It is usually translated "perfection" in the NIV (2 Corinthians 13:9, 11 ["maturity" and "restored" in HCSB]; 1 Thessalonians 3:10 ["complete" in HCSB]). In Galatians 6:1 Paul called the spiritual to "restore" (katartizo) one who had fallen, and in Romans 9:22 Paul used it of vessels "ready" for destruction, the only "negative" use of the word. Generally, Paul used the word in a way to suggest a process leading to completion. Whether he prayed for completeness (perfection) or restoration to completeness, his use of the word expressed the truth that Christians should endeavor to "have it together," displaying the character God intends of all His people.
Significantly, none of these additional texts specifically indicate how such completeness happens in a believer's life. Twice, Paul suggests that it may come through the agency of mature individuals. In Galatians 6:1 "the spiritual" are to rally to the cause of the fallen, and in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul expressed the hope that he would make up their lacks. But he suggests nothing more than that others encourage completeness.
The word occurs two other times. Hebrews 13:20-21 says may the God of peace ... make you perfect in every good work (KJV), or equip you with all that is good (HCSB). Similarly, 1 Peter 5:10 says But the God of all grace ... make you perfect (KJV) or restore you (HCSB). Significantly, the Hebrews text ends the way 2 Timothy 3:17 does: "perfection" is directed to good works.
Before moving on, we should summarize the main points we have made to this point. First, the Scripture is divinely inspired to make God's people complete and to enable them to serve out of that completeness. Second, Paul used two words based on the arti root to communicate his meaning: "complete" (artios) and "equipped" (exartiizo). Third, in the New Testament the more frequent word of this group is katartizo, usually translated "perfect" or "make up so as to perfect," and "restore." The contexts normally indicate that such completeness is the result of a growth process. Finally, there is little to suggest from the use of this word group, outside of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, just how one is to arrive at this specific kind of completeness.
Preparing the Saints: Ephesians 4:11-12
Ephesians 4:11-12 is used frequently as "the" text for how the church should function in its responsibility of ministry. The leaders of the church are to focus on the church's membership so that in turn members can minister to others in the body. Here in this critical passage we find a key word from the same word group in 2 Timothy 3:17.
The Origin and Function of Church Leaders
Stressing the unity of the body of Christ, Paul explained the origin of church leaders. Christ, at His ascension, gave gifts to the church. The gifts are people gifted for church leadership. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers function to prepare God's people for works of service. Christians should acknowledge that their leaders are, in fact, good gifts from the risen Christ.
Like 2 Timothy 3:16, this passage lays a foundation and suggests a purpose in ministry. God's gifted and called leaders described in the first part of the text provide the foundation. The ministry purpose of these leaders according to 4:12 is the equipping of the saints (NASB). The word katartismos from this same word group is used. The NIV refers to it as "preparing the saints," and the HCSB uses "training," but the goal is the perfection of the saints. Paul states the broader goal as unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son with the hope that all will become a mature man with a stature measured by Christ's fullness.
There are two notable differences between this passage and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. First, the 2 Timothy passage links Christian maturity to inspired Scripture, while Ephesians teaches that Jesus cares for us through gifted and called people. Second, while the same word group occurs in each passage, there are different forms. Second Timothy uses "out of completeness" (exartiizo, "equipped"), and Ephesians uses "referring to completeness" (katartizo, "prepared, perfected, or trained").
The difference in words is significant. It is correct to translate 2 Timothy 3:17 as "equip," an almost literal translation. Ephesians 4:11-12 stresses the process toward perfection. Leaders are to use their gifts and calling to encourage the perfection (or preparation) of the saints. The verses teach that God's people need to grow and that as they grow they, too, will minister to others.
Nevertheless, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Ephesians 4:11-12 have some strong common elements. First, there are teaching and discipling parallels. In 2 Timothy 3:16 the "profitability" of Scripture is identified; in Ephesians 4:11-12 "gifted people" have specific functions. Second, there is the same goal. Second Timothy 3:17 moves toward "completeness" and "being equipped" (exartizo) for "every good work." Ephesians 4:11-12 moves toward preparation and completion (katartizo) and then to "works of service" and "fullness of Christ."
Furthermore, surveying the use of the entire group of words with the root arti enables us to understand that in the New Testament the word is selectively used for growth (and restoration) into completeness of character. Because it is used so infrequently, it is entirely valid to establish patterns of use. Also, integrating the various contexts of these two passages suggests that they work together to provide understanding.
For our two main texts, this suggests that the function of the church leaders identified in Ephesians 4:12 — preparing the saints — has a direct correlation to 2 Timothy 3:17 which uses the same word root twice. Specifically, if a pastor's assignment is to help bring the members of his church to spiritual preparation and completion (Ephesians 4:12), and if the people of God are brought to completion through the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:17), then he must be faithful to the proper teaching and application of Scripture to the lives of those to whom he ministers. In short, the link between these passages demonstrates that the effective way of growing the body of Christ into maturity is to teach and apply the Bible to every facet of life.
Equipping and Perfecting: Implications
From this review of the use of the arti word group in the New Testament, we see that when these words occur, they are used in a specific way and normally in a context of developing Christian character. Furthermore, they are the significant and pivotal words of two of the most important passages used in doctrinal statements in contemporary church culture.
Based on this survey, consider these observations. First, God expects Christians to grow to maturity in Christ. He has provided two means for our growth: the divinely inspired Bible, and called and gifted Christian leaders.
Second, following the example of the writers of Scripture, we should pray that God will bring us to His intended state of completion. It is His work and it can only occur through the strength He provides.
Third, the primary instrument for the development of Christian character is the Bible. Second Timothy 3:16-17 makes this clear. The other texts using this word group provide for the ministry of exhortation, but no alternate means identified produces Christian growth.
Fourth, combining the teaching of these passages, if the means by which the man of God is complete and equipped is the Word of God, then the ministry of preparing the saints must similarly use the Word of God toward that end.
The results of this survey are compatible with general New Testament teaching. For example, 2 Peter 1:3 states that God has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. On the basis of these promises Peter exhorts his readers to embark on the process of developing the various aspects of Christian character.
There are obviously other components of Christian growth. Knowledge, proper choices, support from other Christians, suffering, and victories all contribute to Christian character. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to our lives and, without Him, all attempts at godliness fail.
But our central source for growth and all aspects of faith is the Bible. Books on management, self-actualization, Christian psychology, character development, and a plethora of other self-help theories are secondary. They are to be measured by the Scriptures. Furthermore, they can never replace the use of Scripture in a Christian's life and must always remain subservient.
Correct doctrine is essential, but it is not enough to merely articulate correct doctrine. As important as that is, it is equally important to apply the Word of God to our individual lives. God chose to inspire His truth in words so we can know and please Him. He expects nothing less than that we use the Scripture to grow and minister as He desires.
Richard R. Melick, Jr. is a member of Abiding Way Church in San Anselmo, California, and professor of New Testament Studies and director of the PhD and THM Graduate Studies Program at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California.