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I've heard cessationist arguments quoting Paul's teaching in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, to the effect that we have everything we need in the Bible, and that nothing beyond the Bible is required, given that the canon is now complete:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

However, the same Paul, author of the Second Epistle to Timothy, was reported to have received extra-Biblical guidance from the Holy Spirit in Acts 16:6-10:

6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)

Is there a contradiction between 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Acts 16:6-10? How could Paul receive extra-Biblical guidance in his missionary work if we have everything we need to be "complete, equipped for every good work" in the Bible (as some would argue from 2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

3 Answers 3

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No contradiction here

Formal logic

This argument commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent. The classic form of this fallacy is:

  • P1: P => Q
  • P2: ~P
  • C: ~Q

This is invalid.

We can apply that reasoning to the way 2 Tim. 3:16-17 is being represented here. If inspired writing results in teaching, reproof, correction, & training ("TRCT"), and TRCT results in being complete & prepared, we can write this formally as:

  • Inspired writing => TRCT
  • TRCT => Being complete & prepared

(if we wanted to be more exhaustive we might add in stipulations about these things being used appropriately & consistently in order to be effective, but the essential inferences being drawn remain the same)

This does not, however, demonstrate that TRCT cannot be produced in any other way (the absence of inspired writing does not preclude TRCT from happening)

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Grammatical insights

It is easy to present this verse in English as saying something it does not say in Greek. Keeping in mind that γραφή simply means "writing", Paul is being specific here. In verse 15 he refers not just to γραφή in general, but to ἱερα γράμματα ("sacred writings"). In verse 16 he speaks of writing that is θεόπνευστος (inspired, God-breathed).

The passage does not say that all scripture is given (as in has already been given)--there is no verb in the phrase πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος (θεόπνευστος is an adjective describing the writings). The implied to-be verb can tell us that scripture (ie the sacred writings Paul spoke of in the prior verse) is inspired--it has that attribute--but it says nothing about it being "already given" or "done". No such verb is present or implied.

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Historical insights

If we accept that Paul wrote 2 Timothy (I do), it was very likely written no later than AD 67. Since several of the books of the New Testament were written after this time (2-3 John, Revelation, possibly John, 1 John, Jude, and others), Paul cannot be referring to "the Bible" here:

  • The compilation of 66/73/74+ books known as the Bible had not yet been assembled
  • Some of the books that would make up the Bible had not even been written

When Paul speaks of the "sacred writings" (scripture), he's referring to the Jewish scriptures: the Tanakh/Septuagint. If Paul's statement is understood to mean we need nothing but these sacred writings, that would be an argument for discarding most/all of the New Testament.

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Conclusion

Paul was open to any means by which God communicated, including sacred writings, visions, guidance from the Holy Ghost, etc.

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    "When Paul speaks of the "sacred writings" (scripture), he's referring to the Jewish scriptures: the Tanakh/Septuagint" Precisely! Believe it or not, I only realized this fact last year. I'd always thought that Paul was referring to the 66 books we have in our Bibles today, but of course, that's not possible, since the complete number of 66 books we have in our Bibles today did not even exist at the time Paul was writing this. +1 :)
    – Rajesh
    Apr 30, 2022 at 17:07
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There is no contradiction. In the passage of the epistle to Timothy, Paul says that all scripture has an Origin in God and that it is good for different purposes, giving the the men of God (those who follow Him) guidance to be well-prepared to do good. The Greek word artios means "ready", "prepared" rather than "complete". It refers to the believer, not to the scriptures.

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  • I think you didn't understand the question. I'm asking about the apparent contradiction between two apparent facts: 1) A person has everything they need in Scripture and 2) A person does not have everything they need in Scripture (they also need the extra-Biblical guidance of the Holy Spirit).
    – user38524
    Apr 30, 2022 at 14:32
  • Where do you read that Paul says that everything is in the scriptures?
    – Jeschu
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:01
  • That's how some interpret 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that in scripture you have everything you need in order to "be complete, equipped for every good work".
    – user38524
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:03
  • Only Sadducees might have agreed. When Paul wrote the epistle, neither the Gospel nor the Mishnah had been written, and Paul was a Christian and a Pharisee.
    – Jeschu
    Apr 30, 2022 at 15:08
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I agree that the canon of scripture as we now have it, is complete as suggested (but not conclusively) by 2 Tim 3:16. Actually, the completeness of Scripture as we now have it is not really defined anywhere in the Bible - the closest we get is perhaps Rev 22:18 - but that really only applies to the book of Revelation.

Different parts of the Christian world have different definitions of the Canon:

  • The Catholic Church includes the apocrypha or deutero-canonical books (whose composition is not fully settled)
  • The Evangelical Protestant world insists upon the 66 books
  • The Ethiopian Church includes a few extra works
  • Some smaller parts of Christianity
  • etc, etc.

Therefore, the completeness of Scripture in its current form (about which there is not universal agreement) is not explicit to the "Bible" but an agreement among some parts of Christianity. However, let us place this aside and assume that for the purpose of this question, the Canon of Scripture is complete (which I accept).

However, that in no way excludes the necessity of the Holy Spirit for several extra tasks. Jesus bequeathed the Gift of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4) to His church for several reasons:

  1. To produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22 & 23, see especially v24-26) and so to sanctify (make distinct) the church members.
  2. The above changed life is to be a distinguishing sign or seal of God’s ownership of our lives and a guarantee of better things to come (Eph 1:13, 4:30). See Seal of God.
  3. To provide specific guidance for the church (John 16:7-12, 14:17, 15:26 – see also Ecclesiology, namely
  • Convict of sin
  • Instruct in Righteous (= right doing)
  • Convict of judgement to come
  1. To build up the church with spiritual (supernatural) gifts and abilities, 1 Cor 12:7, 14:12, and to influence/teach others John 7:37-39. See Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30, Eph 4:11, 1 Peter 4:10, 11, 1 Tim 4:14, Ex 35:30-33, etc.
  2. To strengthen the members in their daily walk to live the Christian ideals, Eph 3:16, 17, Heb 2:4, and maintain unity in the Christian community (Eph 4:3-6). The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of a Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18). In short, the Holy Spirit is the only way we can know God, 1 Cor 2:10, 11, 14, John 16:13.
  3. To teach the church more of the character and work of Jesus and thus, imitate Jesus, John 7:38, 39, 15:26, 16:12-15, Rom 8:4, 11, Eph 3:17, 18, 4:3-6, 1 Thess 1:6, 4:8, 1 Cor 2:14.
  4. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets to write Scripture, and explains such spiritual truths to us. John 14:16, 17, 15:26, 1 Cor 2:6-16, Eph 1:17-19, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Tim 3:15, 16, 1 Thess 1:5, Heb 9:8, 1 Peter 1:12, Ps 119:18.

From this survey, it is plain that the Holy Spirit is essential for the on-going functioning of the Christian church in all its various forms and duties. Indeed, the last point above says that we cannot even understand the inspired Scriptures without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Further, the Holy Spirit is essential in distributing supernatural gifts for the governance of the church, eg, the gift of administration, etc. The example of Paul being guided by the Spirit in where he traveled in Asia, quoted by the OP, is perfect example of this.

Lastly, the NT lists numerous prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, whose works were correctly never included in the Canon of Scripture. Their inspired messages were local messages, presumably for the guidance of the church or the interpretation of Scripture, and clearly show that many prophets can function without contributing to the Canon. These included:

  • John the Baptist, Matt 11:9, Luke 7:26 - the "greatest prophet"
  • Acts 11:27 - a "group of prophets"
  • Acts 13:1 - prophets in the church at Antioch
  • Acts 15:32 - Judas and Silas were prophets
  • Acts 21:10 - the prophet Agabus
  • 1 Cor 12:28 - prophets were promised to the church generally. See also 1 Cor 14;29, 32, 37, Eph 4:11.

Thus, the Holy Spirit's gift of prophecy to the church was to be an on-going gift for the functioning of the church without the need for any further extensions of the Canon of Scripture.

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