Looking at 2 Tim 3:16

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (ESV)

I was checking some commentaries and thought that "The Pastoral Epistles: Tyndale New Testament Commentary" by Guthrie made an interesting point when he says:

"Four spheres are now mentioned in which the usefulness of Scripture can be seen. The first two relate to doctrine and the other two to practice."

But can "reproof"(ἐλεγμόν) be separated so neatly from "practice"?

  • 1
    Excellent question! The simplest answer is that Guthrie is wrong. ;-) But I would like to know what Paul intended to communicate with those 4 words. Nov 25, 2011 at 18:02

2 Answers 2


First, the four words in Greek and their primary Strong' definition:

  • didaskalia <1319>: "teaching, instruction"
  • elegchos <1650>: "a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested"
  • epanorthosis <1882>: "restoration to an upright or right state"
  • paideia <3809>: "the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment) It also includes the training and care of the body"

So I think on a definitional level, Guthrie's division seems sound. The first two are about what we know and the second two are about how people come to know or behave rightly.

The NET Bible includes this note (which seems to be from Strongs, but I can't immediately place it (also, I think I need to install some Greek font to get the Greek letters for the words marked as code instead of Latin)):

epitimaw means simply to rebuke, in any sense. It may be justly or unjustly, and, if justly, the rebuke may be heeded or it may not.

elegcw, on the other hand, means to rebuke with sufficient cause, and also effectually, so as to bring the one rebuked to a confession or at least a conviction of sin. In other words, it means to convince.

A similar distinction exists between the nouns aitia and elegcov. aitia is an accusation, whether false or true. elegcov is a charge which is shown to be true, and often is so confessed by the accused. It has both a judicial and a moral meaning.

This muddies the waters a bit since ἐλεγμόν implies that a statement be convincingly true. Even so, the emphasis seems to be on the knowledge and not what we do with it.

Now Thomas Aquinas writes in the beginning of Summa Theologica:

It is written (2 Tim. 3:16): "All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice." Now Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science, which has been built up by human reason. Therefore it is useful that besides philosophical science, there should be other knowledge, i.e. inspired of God.

Aquinas uses the passage to begin to show that there is human reason and divine revelation, which come from separate sources. Remember that the verse begins with an image of God breathing out Scripture so if you go back to the definitions of the Greek you can see a sort of process of revelation. Scriptures:

  1. teach us
  2. convince us
  3. restore us
  4. train us

that the man of God [or messenger of God] may be competent, equipped for every good work.—2nd Timothy 3:17 (ESV)

Paul set up the process in verses 14 and 15 by reminding Timothy of his childhood:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

So rather than a bright line separating knowledge and practice, Paul seems to show a continuum from being a learning child to becoming an effective man of God.


Dividing between doctrine and practice seems like a valid interpretation of the text, but a better interpretation would be a process that starts with knowledge and ends in good practice with no clear divisions.

A Personal, Off-Topic Aside

Thinking about this passage, I'm struck by how, as a parent, I need to think about both my son's intellectual growth and his wisdom. He knows lying is wrong and we've told him that we value the truth, but it wasn't until we started punishing him (we have a "Lying is Costly" jar that he must put a quarter into every time he lies) that he really internalized it. The rebuke or reproof is an important part of the process, not just for raising godly children, but for becoming godly ourselves.


The methods of Sensus Plenior provide a mechanism by which such questions can be examined in more detail. This is a system for interpreting the 'dark sayings' or 'riddles' of the Bible. Such riddles interlock giving the interpreter clues from the greater context of the Bible to discern meaning in the passage being considered.

We assume the author uses the same frameworks, motifs, metaphors, etc. as are used in the Old Testament, and apply them to his words.

I have not examined this passage in detail so I will only provide initial hints and guides for further examination to demonstrate the method, and give a very tentative answer.

In sensus plenior whenever there are four things they represent aspects of the four voices of God as Prophet, Priest, King and Judge (these are determined by the interlocking of many 'riddles'). We attempt to map the four spheres mentioned by Guthrie into the four voices.

These are my initial thoughts which would guide me into the scriptures to look for validation:

Using the AV:

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

'Doctrine' or 'Teaching' of ordinances and laws, statutes and judgements is the task of the priests. The Hebrew word is also translated 'shoot' and 'archers'. The symbols of the tabernacle/temple as well as the laws are just shot out without real understanding of the particulars concerning Christ. I would look for validation of archers as teachers of doctrine in the SP pictures of the OT.

"instruction" carries the flavor of instructing children and was the task of the prophets in training Israel in it's infancy.

These two are related to instructing the mind concerning doctrine.

Reprove involves judgement concerning a behavior and represents the voice of the judge.

Correction, or recompense changes the course, as the righteous king who forgives much. In the stories of the kings, they changed the course of behavior in Israel. A righteous king would lead them righteously, and an unrighteous king would lead them in sin and destruction.

These two concern behavior.

It would initially appear that sensus plenior supports Guthrie's statement but not in the order he surmised, though there is much work to be done before giving a sure answer. A complete SP answer would tediously include cross references to the passages brought to mind above which validate each point.

The framework of the four voices gives us a starting point for a systematic examination of the question. If the framework does not eventually work out, all of sensus plenior collapses.

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer, it's much appreciated! I've not voted up your answer (despite a little debate and uncertainty in my own head about what such a vote would mean) and I'll try to explain why. As a side note, I'm not sure that one can throw in "Sensus plenoir" as a mechanism without any background. I'm not sure the term's meaning is just universally agreed. You then make reference to the "well established" four-voice approach. How "well-established" it is and its relevance to this passage is going to be highly debatable.
    – Dave Alger
    Dec 2, 2011 at 10:12
  • 3
    In terms of looking at the terms you use terms like "instruction" which I have not used, nor is it used in the translation I quote. If you're using another translation then referencing that would help. Referencing a Hebrew word (which word?) is unclear and you've not shown its relevance. Again, thank you for your input you've put some work into it. But unfortunately I think it has skirted away from the focus of the question.
    – Dave Alger
    Dec 2, 2011 at 10:17
  • 1
    Thanks for updating. It's clearer what you mean and while I don't share your hermeneutical approach I find this answer more helpful now.
    – Dave Alger
    Dec 26, 2011 at 18:29

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