“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NASV)
The following specific objection against Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone”) is also fairly common among Catholic apologists:
ARGUMENT #5 – THE PHRASE “EVERY GOOD WORK” IN 2 TIMOTHY 3:17 DOESN’T PROVE SUFFICIENCY. THERE ARE OTHER THINGS PROFITABLE FOR “EVERY GOOD WORK,” NOT JUST SCRIPTURE. FOR EXAMPLE, JAMES 1:4 SAYS THAT PATIENCE / PERSEVERANCE WILL EQUIP A PERSON FOR EVERY GOOD WORK, MAKING US “PERFECT AND ENTIRE, LACKING NOTHING.” SO, ACCORDING TO PROTESTANT LOGIC, WOULDN’T THAT MEAN THAT PERSEVERANCE WOULD ALSO BE SUFFICIENT, AS A RULE OF FAITH?
This is just a variation of the “proves too much” argument (as in Part 4). But this argument fails also, as we will soon see.
Those who are against Sola Scriptura (Catholics and others) will also point to verses like:
“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)
They’ll say, “You see! Here Paul is saying that avoiding certain things will make you prepared for every good work! So it’s not just Scripture that is sufficient.”
But there is a major difference between verses like these and 2 Timothy 3:16-17. And that difference is CONTEXT. The context of 2 Timothy 3 is about a God-breathed Rule of Faith that we can turn to in times of trouble and spiritual deception. Paul, knowing that he would soon be killed for his faith (4:6), is giving Timothy critical information before his departure, and he wanted to leave no doubt as to where to turn in the troubling days that surely lay ahead. The Holy Spirit is pointing to a time of great apostasy (i.e., falling away from the faith), emphasizing the approaching deception in the church (3:13), growing worse and worse. So, Paul is describing to Timothy the purpose and nature of the one Source he could count on after he’s gone… that which is inspired by God… Sacred Scripture. While this passage is establishing an infallible Rule of Faith, verses like James 1:4 and 2 Timothy 2:21 are not.
Catholics are confusing Paul’s pointing to the infallible guide itself (in 2 Timothy 3) with the application of principles within the guide in these other passages. In other words, 2 Timothy 3 is saying, “This is the Ultimate Standard, the Rule of Faith,” and the other passages are saying, “Here’s how to apply it.” Two different contexts.
But what if someone wants to argue that these other verses are also in the context of a rule of faith? What then? Remember, the Catholic claims that his rule of faith is a “three-legged stool,” that is, Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. But does any Catholic want to add “perseverance” (James 1:4) or “purging oneself” (2 Timothy 2:21) as a fourth leg to his three-legged stool? If those contexts really are about a rule of faith, as some may claim, then Catholics would necessarily have to add these things to their own rule of faith. And this addition would have to mean that the Catholic’s own rule of faith (the “three-legged stool”) is not sufficient.
Either way, this argument doesn’t hold water.