When we consider the purpose of the letter of 2 Timothy, two main reasons for the letter emerge:
- Paul wrote to encourage Timothy to come see Paul before Paul was put to death. In 2 Timothy 1:4, Paul talked about how he longed to see Timothy. After alluding to his impending death in 4:6-8, Paul urged Timothy to come to him quickly (4:9) before winter (4:21). Paul had experienced desertion, and others of his co-workers had left to go to other places (4:10), so Paul longed to see Timothy, his dear child (1:2) and his true child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2).
- Paul also wrote to encourage Timothy to press on in his commitment to the calling God had placed on Timothy’s life. In 2 Timothy 1:6-8, Timothy was to fan into flame the gift of God in him, he was to have a spirit of love and power and self-discipline instead of fear, and he was not to be ashamed of Paul and his imprisonment nor was he to be ashamed of the gospel. Instead, Timothy was to share in suffering for the gospel. In 3:10, Paul reminded Timothy of how Timothy had followed the example of Paul, and in 3:14, Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned. We get the impression that Timothy had grown weary in doing good, and Paul was forced to remind Timothy to persevere in fighting the good fight of the faith.
So how does the purpose of 2 Timothy help us understand 2 Timothy 3:14-17?
Some have argued that as Paul approached his death, he was preparing Timothy to continue the ministry Paul had begun. At the very least, Paul was encouraging Timothy to press on in Timothy’s own ministry calling. In this passage, Paul is both encouraging Timothy to press on, and he is reminding Timothy of what pressing on would look like. Pressing on involved a commitment to the Scriptures that he had learned and of which he had been convinced. In 2 Timothy 4:2-3, Paul would go on to command Timothy to preach the word in the midst of a time when many would turn away from sound teaching. So this passage is not only a call to persevere in the work of the ministry, but it is a reminder of what must be the grounds and the content of that ministry, the “holy writings” or “all Scripture.”