The King James Version of 2 Tim. 3:16 states:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

The Greek text of the Textus Receptus states:

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν πρὸς ἔλεγχον, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

Question: What was "for correction"? Is Paul speaking in terms of correcting a non-believer or is this correction of the scriptures breathed out by God?

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The Greek word ἐπανόρθωσιν is a noun declined in the accusative case; the lemma is ἐπανόρθωσις.

Lexicons

According to BDAG,1

ἐπανόρθωσις, εως, ἡ ‘correcting, restoration’ (cp. e.g. ISardGauthier 3, 1 ‘restoration’ of a city; 1 Esdr 8:52; 1 Macc 14:34) then in transf. sense improvement (Ps.-Pla., Tim. L., 104a; Heraclid. Lembus, Pol. 14 [Aristot., Fgm. 611, 14 Rose]; Plut., Mor. 22a; 46d al.—ἐ. τοῦ βίου: Polyb. 1, 35, 1; cp. the verb ἐπανορθόω Strabo 9, 1, 20; Epict. 3, 21, 15 οὕτως ὠφέλιμα γίνεται τὰ μυστήρια … , ὅτι ἐπὶ ἐπανορθώσει τ. βίου κατεστάθη πάντα … , cp. Enchir. 51, 1; Iambl., Vi. Pyth. 6, 30; 21, 96 πρὸς ἐ.; POxy 78, 29; 237 VIII, 30; EpArist 130; 283 πρὸς ἐ.; Philo, Ebr. 91 πρὸς ἐ., Conf. Lingu. 182, Leg. All. 1, 85; cp. 2 Macc 2:22) ὠφέλιμος πρὸς ἐ. useful for improvement 2 Ti 3:16.—B. 751. New Docs 2, 84. DELG s.v. ὀρθός. TW. Spicq.

According to LSJ,2

A. setting right, correcting, “τᾶς ψυχᾶς” Ti.Locr. 104b; “κόλασις εἰς - σιν φέρουσα” Jul.Or.2.80c; “ἐδεσμάτῶν” Diocl.Fr. 138; revision, νόμων Lexap.D.24.22; ἐ. ἔχειν to be capable of improvement, opp. ἀνίατον εἶναι, Arist.EN1165b18; of circumstances, amendment, Plb.1.66.12, 1.11.2, etc.

According to Thayer (translating Wilke),3

ἐπ-αν-ὁρθωσις, -εως, ἡ, (ἐπανορθόω), restoration to an upright or a right state; correction, improvement, (in Grk. writ. fr. Dem. down): of life and character, 2 Tim. 3:16 [cf. τὸν θεὸν … χρόνον γε πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν (αὐτοῖς) προσιζάνειν, Plut. de sera num. vind. 6]; with τοῦ βίου added, Polyb. 1, 35, 1; Epict. diss. 3, 21, 15; σεαυτοῦ, id. ench. 51, 1; [ἠθικὴ δὲ τὰ πρὸς ἀνθρωπίνων ἐπανόρθωσιν ἠθῶν, Philo de ebriet. § 22; cf. de confus. lingg. § 36 fin.]; (cf. ἐπανορθοῦν καὶ εἰς μετάνοιαν ἀπάγειν, Joseph. antt. 4, 6, 10).*

Composition

The noun ἐπανόρθωσις is composed of:

  • the preposition ἐπί, either implying repetition or upwards direction when prefixed to this word4
  • the prefix ἀνά, meaning “again” (like the English prefix re-)5
  • the noun ὄρθωσις, meaning “making straight.”6

The noun ὄρθωσις is related to the adjective ὀρθός, meaning “straight; erect”7, as well as the verb ὀρθόω, meaning “to set straight; straighten.”8

The noun ἐπανόρθωσις is related to the verb ἐπανορθόω,9 which LSJ defines as follows:

A.“ἐπηνώρθουν” Isoc.12.200: aor. “ἐπηνώρθωσα” Lys.1.70: pf. “ἐπηνώρθωκα” Iamb.Comm.Math.23:— Med., fut. “ἐπανορθώσομαι” Pl.La.200b, D.15.34 (but in pass. sense, D.C.73.

  1. impf. “ἐπηνωρθούμην” Pl.Tht.143a: aor. “ἐπηνωρθωσάμην” Isoc.4.165, D.7.18:—Pass., fut. “ἐπανορθωθήσομαι” Aeschin.3.177: aor. “ἐπηνωρθώθην” D.9.76: pf. “ἐπηνώρθωμαι” Id.18.311:—set up again, restore, “τὴν δύναμιν . . καίπερ πεπτωκυῖαν” Th.7.77; τὰ δυστυχηθέντα Lys.l.c.; “τὴν πολιτείαν” Isoc.7.15; “τὸ ἱππικόν” Din.1.96, etc.

  2. correct, amend, revise, “νόμους” Pl.Lg.769e; “τὰς διαθήκας” Is.1.18; τὸ ἁμ<*>ημα Pl.Prt.34od; ἐ. τινά correct one, teach him better, Ar.Lys. 528, cf. Isoc.1.3, Iamb.l.c.; “εἰς τὸ ψήφισμα τὸ πρότερον” IG12.108.49:—Med. in proper sense, correct oneself, Pl.R.361a: but more freq. trans., correct, amend, Id.Euthphr.9d. Tht.143a, Isoc.4.165, D. 1.11, etc.

  3. supply, “χρείας” Jul.Ep.89b.

Furthermore, there is also the verb ἀνορθόω which means “to make straight, erect again; rebuild (something that has fallen),”10 as well as the noun ἀνόρθωσις, meaning “restoration.”11

Other related words include:

  • ἐπανορθωμα (n.): correction
  • ἐπανόρθωσις (n.): setting right, correcting; restoration, reconstruction (of buildings)
  • ἐπανορθωτέος (adj.): to be corrected
  • ἐπανορθωτής (n.): corrector; restorer
  • ἐπανορθωτικός (adj.): corrective; restorative

Accordingly, there’s no doubt that the proper translation of ἐπανόρθωσιν is “correction,” that is, the straightening of the conduct of one who is crooked. In other words, it is the correction of misconduct or sin.

Context

Philo wrote,12

For then the diseases of the soul are truly not only difficult of cure, but even utterly incurable, when, though conviction is present to us (and this is the word of God, coming as his angel and as our guide, and removing the obstacles before our feet, so that we may travel without stumbling along the level road), we nevertheless prefer our own indiscreet opinions, to the explanations and injunctions which he is accustomed to address to us for our admonition, and for the chastening and regulating [ἐπανορθώσει] of our whole life. Translation by C. D. Yonge

τότε γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς οὐ δυσθεράπευτα μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ παντελῶς ἀνίατα γίνεται τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ἀρρωστήματα, ὅταν ἐπιστάντος ἐλέγχου λόγος δʼ ἐστὶ θεῖος, ἄγγελος ποδηγετῶν καὶ τὰ ἐν ποσὶν ἀναστέλλων, ἵνα ἄπταιστοι διὰ λεωφόρου βαίνωμεν τῆς ὁδοῦ τὰς ἀκρίτους ἑαυτῶν γνώμας πρὸ τῶν ὑφηγήσεων τάττωμεν τῶν ἐκείνου, ἃς ἐπὶ νουθεσίᾳ καὶ σωφρονισμῷ καὶ τῇ τοῦ παντὸς ἐπανορθώσει βίου συνεχῶς εἴωθε ποιεῖσθαι.

Philo’s point is that the word of God, or literally, “the divine word” (λόγος...θεῖος), is used for the “correction” (ἐπανορθώσει) of one’s “life” (βίου), i.e. how one lives. Likewise, in 2 Tim. 3:16, “all scripture is profitable for...correction” means that the Bible can be used to straighten or correct the conduct of the “crooked” (i.e., the sinner). Since non-Christians are not likely to submit themselves to the ethical and moral requirements of the Bible, it’s doubtful that the apostle Paul had non-Christians in mind when he wrote to Timothy (even if they will still be held accountable by God). Rather, he expects Timothy to use the Bible to correct the conduct of Christians in the assemblies he manages or visits.


References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.

Wilke, Christian Gottlob. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Trans. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Ed. Grimm, Carl Ludwig Wilibald. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Yonge, Charles D. The Works of Philo, Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

Footnotes

1 BDAG, p. 360
2 LSJ, p. 610
3 Thayer, p. 228
4 BDAG, p. 363; LSJ, pp. 622-623; Thayer, p. 236
5 BDAG, p. 58; LSJ, p. 98; Thayer, pp. 34-35
6 LSJ, p. 1251
7 BDAG, p. 723; LSJ, p. 1249; Thayer, p. 453
8 LSJ, p. 1250
9 LSJ, p. 652
10 LSJ, p. 147
11 LSJ, p. 148
12 On the Unchangeableness of God, §182

Question: What was "for correction"? Is Paul speaking in terms of correcting a non-believer or is this correction of the scriptures breathed out by God?

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

correction = epanorthōsis = straightening up again, that is, (figuratively) rectification (reformation): - correction.

The "straightening up" aspect could be sufficient to support a "for Christians only" perspective.

This view can also be supported by Paul's comments about the unsaved;

1 Corinthians 5:9-10 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

Also we see limited utility of the Bible with those who do not have the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

I see "correction" tied somewhat to "reproof" in that the Bible is used as the standard to which believers can be called to give an account. For example, if a believer asks another one why he cheats his employees, and the man answers that they can quit anytime they want so he is not guilty, the first man may ask him how this squares with James.

James 5:4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

I think we can see the word "profitable" as being indicative of usefulness between believers.

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