What are the different effects of the Word of God in 2 Timothy 3:16.
Second Timothy 3:16 reads
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
The original question that prompted this post was: “What is the difference between ‘teaching’, ‘reproof’, ‘correction’, and ‘training’ in 2 Timothy 3:16.” So, we have very similar terms, yet they must reflect important differences. We believe God’s Word to be authoritative, inerrant, and free of superfluous detail. So, this is an important question.
Various modern translations are largely in agreement regarding the actual words. With a question such as this, it is important to first check a few translations to see if translators had difficulty translating the original Greek text into English. In this case, all agree with the words used with the possible exception of “reproof” which NIV translates as “for rebuking”. The difference seems to be inconsequential.
Teaching is the communication of knowledge. In the case of Scripture, it should have the effect of increasing our knowledge of all aspects of what God has for us. Scripture teaches by example as well as precept. The experience of David and his affair with Bathsheba shows many practical lessons regarding carelessness, self-deception, moral blindness, as well as God’s mercy and forgiveness. Much of the Old Testament provides examples to teach us about ourselves and God.
Scripture also makes very profound statements that are very direct. First John 1:5 tells us that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” John 3:16 tells us very directly of God’s love for mankind and His provision for our ruin.
Although Ephesians 4:11–16 speaks of gifts other than teaching the effects listed there are well worth thinking about. That passage gives important and proper results of seriously considering the words of Scripture.
Prophecy also has very important lessons which many miss because of our natural fascination with knowing future events.
Finally, anyone using Scripture to teach others, must be certain that they have understood what they are trying to teach. Matthew 5:19 warns “whoever relaxes (or breaks, or annuls) one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” James similarly warns “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (Jas. 3:1)
Reproof, or “rebuking” (NIV), implies that some mistake has been made that needs correction. So, this is similar to the next word in the list but assumes a more negative circumstance. Like David in the case with Bathsheba, we can become desensitized to our moral or spiritual failures. So, it is extremely important that we pray (Ps. 139:23) and resolve to read Scripture with a sensitive conscience.
The warnings given above regarding those who teach are even more important here. There is a natural (fleshly) gratification that can come from telling someone else that they are mistaken. We must diligently guard against using the failure of others to boost our own self-esteem (1 Cor. 13:6; Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3; etc.).
Correction may seem similar to “reproof” but does not presume a course of action or settled belief. We all make mistakes. In this case, we need to remember the Apostle’s word to the Corinthian believers “for now we see in a mirror dimly” or as some translations give it “in an enigma” or “through a dim window obscurely.” (1 Cor. 13:12) We naturally have a strong tendency toward “confirmation bias.” This is a fault in thinking (“a fallacy”) where we read (or hear) something and interpret it to support our previous perception when in fact it does not support that perception at all. Proverbs 18:17 presents this error in the context of receiving testimony: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” This verse also provides a remedy. It is important to be willing to have our thoughts judged by others. Once again, true humility and very careful reading of Scripture is necessary for our thinking to be corrected.
Reading Scripture carefully and prayerfully cannot be over-emphasized. Two common mistakes are missing the real significance of a passage and reading into a passage what is really not there. The latter error is particularly seductive because it appeals to our natural pride in thinking we have understood what others have missed. This is dangerous. “Secret knowledge” was the currency of the ancient mystics and is like an addictive candy. It should be obvious that both of these errors come very close to true interpretation, because often we do in fact miss what is there and we do in fact understand a point of truth that others have truly missed. Only self-judgment and true humility and the mercy of the Lord can deliver us from these errors.
Training in righteousness
Like “teaching” we now return to what is truly positive. But this goes much beyond what we said above about “teaching.” God is righteous. So, here is where we gain the very mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). The difficulty of learning righteousness is that it requires “training”. The writer of Hebrews links this with discipline, which sometimes is not very pleasant. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
It is often easier to learn from other people’s experiences than your own. So, the Scripture contains many warnings and examples. We already mentioned David, but Scripture contains many lessons. For example, the book of Proverbs contains much wisdom regarding our behavior and attitudes and the consequences of these. The real question is how well we are listening. The Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees on more than one occasion, “have you not read.” Of course, they had “read”, but what they read had had no real effect on their heart and conscience.
It may also be helpful to consider the context of this verse. In verse 15, Paul writes, [the Scriptures] are able to “make you wise for [or unto] salvation.” Salvation here refers to the full enjoyment of fellowship with God and so we might say that this is “the complete package” with respect to our present spiritual life. The verse following (v. 17) says that the purpose or desired outcome of Scripture being profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness is so that the godly believer may be “complete, [fully] equipped for every good work.”
May God be pleased to equip us through the Scriptures for His service. May we also study Scripture to obtain endurance and encouragement (Rom. 15:4), comfort and hope (Ps. 119:49-50).
1. This blog question focuses on the differences between the words in 2 Timothy 3:16. A good study of teaching itself could take up the nine times in Psalm 119 the psalmist asks the Lord to “teach” him.