Question: "What did Paul mean by the "Holy Scriptures" in 2 Timothy 3:15?"

Answer: Second Timothy 3:15 is part of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to reject false teaching and apostasy by adhering to sound doctrine, which Timothy had learned from childhood. In verse 14, Paul urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” This leads to Paul’s reminder in verse 15 that “how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

In the book of Acts, Luke introduces Timothy as a resident of the city of Lystra. Timothy had a Greek father and Jewish mother (Acts 16:1). So it was in Asia Minor where he likely received training in the Holy Scriptures. Paul recognizes Timothy’s mother and grandmother as his earliest influences in the faith (2 Timothy 1:5), implying that they instructed him in the Scriptures. Since there was no New Testament canon at that time, Paul referred to the Old Testament books, from the Torah to the Prophets. In other words, the Holy Scripture were the Old Testament books, which comprised the entire Bible at the time Timothy was a child.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of the apostles in the New Testament contribute to becoming “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” indicating that they lead to saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. Interestingly, only the Old Testament achieved this for Timothy. This supports Jesus’ assertion that the Law and Prophets speak of Him (Luke 24:25–27; John 5:39). After all, Philip evangelized to the Ethiopian eunuch using the book of Isaiah (Acts 8:26–39; cf. Isaiah 53), and Stephen’s speech before the religious leaders covered Old Testament events (Acts 7:1–60). Paul’s remark here about the Holy Scriptures providing Timothy knowledge of salvation underscores that Jesus is the hero of the whole Bible.

Timothy’s background emphasizes the importance of establishing a solid foundation through the Holy Scriptures. Despite his comparative youth, Timothy became a pastor in the church of Ephesus. Parents and grandparents can be encouraged and challenged by this. We shouldn’t simply raise our children to be moral (though that’s important); we should also introduce them to their Creator and Redeemer. The best gift to give our children is Jesus.

Additionally, 2 Timothy 3:15 upholds Scripture as holy, challenging Christians to consider its significance. The Holy Scriptures (or “Sacred Writings,” ESV) are readily accessible, even on our phones today. How well do we know the Bible? Paul describes it as “God-breathed” and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Living for God involves knowing the Holy Scriptures and humbly allowing the Word to change our lives.