“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to these verses ever since we began studying 2 Timothy. The last few verses of chapter three and the first few verses of chapter four are considered by many to be the magnus opus for expository preaching. As I’ve wrestled with this text throughout the week, I’m convinced that I cannot, in my flesh, do them justice. But if I am to even come close to mining the depths of truth contained here, I’m going to have to take at least two swings. All of that to say, we’re not going to make much progress this week. Before we begin, let’s consider the context.
Remember Where We’ve Been
These verses complete the paragraph that was begun in v. 10. Paul uses the final 8 verses of chapter 3 (vv. 10-17) to first encourage (vv. 10-13) and then exhort (vv. 14-17) Timothy in how he must respond to the growing threat of heresy (vv. 6-9) and hedonism (vv. 1-5) within the church.
When we examined vv. 10-13, we noticed that Paul gave no command nor used any imperative. His tone was that of commendation as he encouraged Timothy by reciting his historic faithfulness to the ministry. His faithfulness was objectively seen and built upon the accurate expectation that faithfulness is accompanied by suffering. Here we see a change from encouragement to exhortation.
Look Where We’re Going
As one reads this letter as a whole, we should feel the momentum picking up. Paul is building towards a final and profound exhortation; namely, preach the Word (4:2). We should also note that by 4:9, Paul’s exhortations are complete with the final 20+ verses functioning as a thorough conclusion. We are nearing the climax of this letter and we dare not breeze over this summit. All that Paul has been building up to comes down to this.
Understand Where We Are
It may not be obvious in all English translations, but Paul begins this second portion of his argument in the same way. In v. 10 Paul begins with the contrast (δὲ - but) as he pits Timothy’s faithful adherence to Paul’s teaching and example against those who opposed him. Here, in v. 14, Paul uses the same contrast (δὲ - but); this time to contrast the following command with the ever-growing deception of false teachers. False teachers may grow in influence and in the magnitude of their deception, but Timothy must remain in the things he has learned and become convinced of.
The NASB translates the Greek imperative μένε as continue. The idea is that Timothy is being commanded to persist/remain/last in the things that he has both learned and been convinced of. But what is it that Timothy has learned and become convinced of? By taking this text as a whole we can generally say that “the things” which Timothy is to “continue in” refers to the Scriptures. These verses, to include vv. 16-17, assume and proclaim the sufficiency of Scripture. There are many things that Scripture is sufficient to accomplish, but we will content ourselves to examine only three.
Scripture is Sufficient to Convince (v. 14)
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them;”
I want to circle back to those first few words. Paul commands Timothy to continue or to stand fast in what he has learned. The command by no means suggests that Timothy is or has been tempted to waver from these things. Just a few short verses before (v. 10) Paul commended Timothy in that he has followed Paul’s teaching. This is simply a command for him to continue doing what he has always done. Timothy, maintain that standard of faithfulness.
But Paul so tactfully and beautifully describes the things that Timothy is to stand fast in as what he has learned, but also what he has been convinced of. The term learned (ἔμαθες) describes the role of a pupil, student, or disciple. It is the disciple’s job and obligation to take, understand, and put into practice all that his master or teacher gives him. But this does not indicate that the disciple embraces or even agrees with this material. Paul is not commanding Timothy to be only a parrot of traditionalism. He also commands him to stand fast in what he has been convinced of.
This English phrase translates a single Greek verb (ἐπιστώθης). This term expresses a high degree of confidence, reliability, and certainty. But Paul is not stating that Timothy expresses confidence or that he himself is reliable. The verb is passive, meaning that an outside agent acted upon Timothy to convince him, create confidence, or prove to be trustworthy.
The gospel is not merely an intellectual exercise to be agreed with or learned so as to parrot it back. Scripture is not a textbook to be studied and memorized in preparation for some sort of test; after which the material can be forgotten. Scripture is self-attesting and convinces the heart of man as to its truthfulness and dependability. Psalm 19:7-8 speaks clearly as it describes God’s Word as the means by which the soul is revived, the simple-minded are made wise, the heart made pure, and the eyes enlightened. Timothy knows what it means for God to have convinced him of the trustworthiness of Scripture. The command is for Timothy to remain firm in what he has learned, but also in what he has been convinced of.
There is a decision we must make in the last line in v. 14; is Paul referring to human agents who taught Timothy, or to the divine source of what was taught? The NASB reads: knowing from whom you have learned them. The idea seems to be that Timothy is to remain, stand, continue believing and proclaiming Scripture (1) because that is what was taught to him, (2) because that is what convinced him, and (3) because of who taught it to him. But a better translation may be: “knowing from what you learned.” The pronoun τίνων (who?/what?/why?) does not point to human agents who taught and convinced Timothy, but to the very source that was taught and in of itself convinced Timothy.
Allow me to summarize v. 14 in this way. Paul commands Timothy to stand fast upon the bedrock of Scripture. Scripture was the content of Timothy’s training and learning. Scripture is what convinced and convicted Timothy. This command is given because Timothy knows the very source of Scripture is not human intelligence, but divine revelation.
Scripture is Sufficient to Prepare (v. 15a)
“and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings.”
This verse begins by explaining more fully what Paul has just said. Paul takes Timothy all the way back to Timothy’s earliest days as proof that Scripture is sufficient to stand upon. The word childhood reflects the Greek βρέφος which describes an infant or even a fetus. When Paul points back to the beginning, he points all the way back. Since Timothy’s infancy, he has known the sacred writings.
Much discussion has cropped up surrounding this term. This is the only time the phrase ἱερὰ γράμματα or sacred/holy writings appears in the NT. Yet through history we know that ever since Alexander the Great sought to Hellenize his empire (300+ years before Paul) most of the western world began using Greek as the Lingua Franca. Also, by looking at other ancient documents we see that Greek speaking Jews commonly used this term, sacred writings, to refer to the Old Testament canon. Paul is specifically referring to the Old Testament and the fact that Timothy has drank in these holy writings, as it were, along with his mother’s milk.
The Jews began formally training their children in the Scriptures around age 5, usually beginning with Leviticus and working their way through Torah (the first five books of the Bible). This training would be in depth and would require a fundamental understanding of Scripture’s big picture. By age 5, every Jewish child already had a big picture understanding of the Bible.
We know that Timothy was half Jewish and that his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were largely responsible for Timothy’s theological education before he began following Paul. It was this firm foundation in the Old Testament promise and prophecies that prepared Timothy to hear, receive, and believe the gospel; the good news that the promised and prophesied One, Jesus Christ, had come.
Scripture is Sufficient to Save
“which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”
What Paul says here must be read slowly and digested fully. Timothy’s early immersion in the Old Testament was profoundly important because the Old Testament was able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation.
We’ve seen that word “able” used many times in this letter. Δύναμαι literally means powerful and in the context of 2 Timothy is used either of God’s power/ability (1:7, 8, 12; 2:13) or the complete lack of man’s power/ability (3:7). The Old Testament is powerful to make Timothy wise (from σοφίζω, meaning to develop one’s understanding). This wisdom leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. The entire Old Testament looks forward to and anticipates the coming of God’s Messiah, the One who will undo and reverse the curse. The sacred writings of the Old Testament made Timothy wise, or developed his understanding, so that he would respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith.
Warning: Pastor’s Theological Rant
Do not misunderstand or underestimate the Old Testament Scripture.
It is the Old Testament that makes clear who God is: the creator and owner of everything to whom we owe allegiance (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 24:1), He is infinitely holy (Ex. 19:5), and demands to be treated as holy (Lev. 10:1-7).
The Old Testament is clear when it tells us who and what man is: rebellious sinners (Gen. 3:1-19), with murderous hearts (Gen. 4:1-5), under God’s curse (Gen. 5:3-31), who will continue in unbelief unless God acts (Deut. 29:4).
The Old Testament makes clear what man needs: a new heart (Deut. 29:4; Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 11:19; 36:26), and to repent (Joel 2:12-17).
And the Old Testament makes so very clear how a holy God can be reconciled to His rebellious creation: through the promised seed (Gen. 3:15), who will give rest from the curse (Gen. 5:29), who will reign as God’s righteous King (Ps. 2; 72; 2 Sam. 7; Hos. 3:5), and suffer for the sins of God’s people (Is. 53; Ps. 22; 102).
These are the things that Timothy learned since infancy that led him to place his trust in the specific individual of Christ Jesus, His atoning death, and His glorious resurrection.
The object and means of salvation from sin and death has never changed. The saints of the Old Testament believed, trusted, and had faith (πίστις) in the promised One to come. As New Testament saints we believe, trust, and have faith (πίστις) in the One who has come and will come again; namely, Christ Jesus. Timothy is here stated to have been led by the Old Testament text to faith (πίστις) in promised Messiah, revealed by Paul as Jesus Christ.
An important thing to remember is that our faith does not save us. Only Christ saves. But our faith (a gracious gift from God – Eph. 2:8) is the vehicle through which Christ saves. Scripture is sufficient to point and lead us to the only One who saves and convince us to place our trust in Him. To put it more simply, the possession of faith is meaningless unless the object of faith can actually save.
This text is one of the final steps before the summit, which will come in chapter 4. We have one final step ahead of us in vv. 16-17, but first we must understand the point that Paul is driving at. In contrast to the false teachers who will only increase in their deceptions, Timothy is commanded to stand fast upon the Scriptures as they alone are sufficient to lead to salvation.
The implications from this text are legion and reach into every Christian home and church. There are implications for child rearing; that we must provide our children with the foundation of Scripture, because that is the only tool God will use to draw and call them to repentance and faith. Parents need no guide other than God’s Word to train their children, no law other than God’s law, and no wisdom other than God’s wisdom. Secular psychological advice will at best only confuse the issue and at worst contradict what God has already said. We train children as disciples and so they must hear the Master’s voice.
There are implications for our preaching: that we must preach only the Scriptures, because that is the only tool God will use to draw and call the sheep to repentance and faith. Any church that spends most of its time doing anything other than reading, studying, and explaining the Scriptures is a gathering that follows men and not God. Any church that attempts to attract unbelievers through means that appeal to unbelievers uses worldly devices to attract worldly people. Rather than standing upon the solid foundation of what they have been taught, they cater to these hedonistic devils.
There are implications for our evangelism; that we must avoid any discussion that is not proclaiming the Scriptures, because that is the only tool God will use to draw and call them to repentance and faith. The objective is to convert souls, not win the argument. If they are unable to please God because of their darkened and depraved mind, then we must cease debating and provide the only substance that is powerful to make them wise – the Word of God!
How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said to you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled. O that the church would sing again that great hymn!
Timothy needs no grand argument nor any worldly strategy. Persecution is coming. Apostates are already here. Yet Paul simply commands him to stand fast upon the sufficiency of God’s sacred Word. Soli Deo Gloria!