I found an internet discussion surrounding a post that’s been generating some discussion and I find the post to be filled with a lot of things I want to respond to but don’t know if I have all the time to go through everything. So I begin with a quote:
There are also times that Paul gave dated instructions in his letters, which we have to admit are not the inerrant words of God (2 Tim 4:13)!
According to this individual if one read 2 Timothy 4:13 we would have to admit that this is an example of a passage in Paul’s epistle that is not the inerrant words of God. 2 Timothy 4:13 is suppose to be an example of a passage that contradict the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The case is suppose to be so obvious that “we have to admit are not the inerrant words of God.”
Whenever people engage in doctrinal disputes it is imperative of Christians to think biblically and think through logically the arguments presented. Sometimes that careful look at a verse require us to avoid rabbit trail and thus this post will narrow it’s scope only to the passage of 2 Timothy 4:13 and the examination of the logic of the immediate argument at hand. So let’s take a prayerful closer look.
This is what 2 Timothy 4:13 states in the New American Standard Bible:
When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
- We need to understand this verse in its context. Contextually this verse is in a letter written by Paul (2 Timothy 1:1) and addressed to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:2). 2 Timothy 4:13 is part of the conclusion of Paul’s epistle/letter in which Paul brought up some personal concern. This specific portion begins in 2 Timothy 4:9 and ends in 2 Timothy 4:22.
- In discussing about the merit of biblical inerrancy, whether for or against, it is important that the term “biblical inerrancy” is clearly defined. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy should be consulted, not that it is Scripture itself, but because it is the clearest document formulated by those who believe in inerrancy who worked hard for many years in articulating carefully what they believed. Even detractors should interact with this document if only to make sure that they are not misrepresenting the other side.
- What is the definition of inerrancy? Note the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy Short statement four, which defines the essence of biblical inerrancy: “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”
- Our friend’s argument against Biblical inerrancy from 2 Timothy 4:13 is that “Paul gave dated instructions in his letters.” This we agree, since as we established earlier the context of this verse is a personal instruction from Paul to Timothy. But logically a passage merely with “dated instructions” does not logically refute the definition of inerrancy. Our friend is making a categorical fallacy.
- Actually Biblical inerrancy and 2 Timothy 4:13 are compatible. If Biblical inerrancy believes the Scripture is without or error or fault “about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God,” then it was true that Paul at one time in history did asked Timothy to bring to him a cloak, books and parchments. This does indicate the literary origins of the epistle, its sitz im leben if you will.
- In terms of reading 2 Timothy 4:13 for some people it might seem awkward to focus primarily on the truth value of 2 Timothy 4:13. While the verse does present us a proposition/truth claim, it is doing more than that. If I can invoke a bit of speech acts theory, Paul’s point in 2 Timothy 4:13 isn’t merely to tell us a truth (though it does presupposes that) but to do something with his words: namely, requesting for something. This observation that communication does more than merely stating truth doesn’t go against the doctrine of inerrancy, for words including the Word of God is used to do something. Even those who’s not interested in speech acts theory have the intuition to recognize that one doesn’t listen to the Word of God for academic head knowledge alone but that there should be proper application of God’s truth.
- Finally I want to say that just because there are some commands in the Bible that are weightier than others or are no longer applicable or very specific to a situation (like our immediate passage) that does not logically mean that it contradicts the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Again, that’s making a categorical fallacy.