(Investigator 138, 2011 May)

"All Scripture is inspired by God…" (II Timothy 3:16)  What is all Scripture?

The Lion Handbook to the Bible (1973) says:
Josephus, the first-century AD historian, acknowledged 22 books; the Apocalypse of Ezra (about AD 100) acknowledged 24. If Josephus included Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah the two agree. The 24 books of the Hebrew canon are equivalent to the 39 books of the Greek canon (since Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and the twelve minor prophets counted as only one book each in the Hebrew list). Most of the books in our own Old Testament are quoted in the New Testament, which suggests that the Old Testament canon which Jesus used was identical to that generally used among the Jews and known to Josephus. (pp 71-72)
The Qumran library (Dead Sea Scrolls) includes all the Old Testament books (or commentaries about them) except Esther. Geza Vermes (2004) in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English supplies an English translation.

Paul's letters and the rest of the New Testament (NT) quote or refer to the Old Testament (OT) about 300 times. "All Scripture" therefore includes all the cited books.

Many NT quotations come direct from the Septuagint — the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek completed about 150 BCE and used in synagogues and Christian churches throughout the Greek/Roman world.

The Septuagint sometimes differs from the Hebrew. The principle here is that Christians use the translation available to them. Using the best available in one's own language is better than nothing. If the available version has known errors and a verse crucial to a doctrine is mistranslated then the erroneous bit should be omitted or rephrased.

According to the OT Moses regularly wrote in a "book". (Exodus 24:4, 7; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:24; Joshua 8:30-33; 23:6) Copies of the book were regularly made (Deuteronomy 17:18), successors of Moses added material (Joshua 24:26; I Samuel 10:25), and the book became known as "the law of Moses" and "book of the law". (I Kings 2:3; II Kings 22:8; II Chronicles 17:9; 25:4; Nehemiah 8:8; 13:1; Daniel 9:11)

OT references to "The Book of the Law" refer to the original version kept in the Temple.

This original version went missing when the Temple was destroyed and what remained were hand-written copies. Similarly with other OT books — the original versions or autographs went missing and eventually there were only copies of copies.

In the strict sense only the original is "All Scripture" but in the practical, useful sense the copies to hand are "All Scripture".

Until the autographs are found, Bible translators have to translate from later manuscripts. To establish as correctly as possible the wording of the autographs is the work of textual critics, the guys who compare all surviving ancient manuscripts. (See "Scripture Transmission" debate #96-101 and  #107)

Whether the Jewish scholars/priests who decided which books belong in the Hebrew Canon chose the proper books is a separate question. I discussed that point in connection with the NT in #127, and similar criteria would apply with the OT.

When Paul wrote of "All Scripture" the NT was not finalized but some of what had already been written was considered "Scripture" by Christians:
 "There are some things in them [in Paul's letters] hard to under stand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." (II Peter 3:15-16)
The phrase "the other scriptures" implies that Paul's letters were regarded as Scripture.

What Paul himself meant by "All Scripture" however, in II Timothy, is the OT books accepted by most Jews as "inspired".


"Biblical Literature", Britannica Macropedia;
"Canon of the Old Testament", New Bible Dictionary 2nd edition.