The importance of context when discussing biblical passages is certainly nothing new, but it’s important to constantly remind ourselves of this. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 is often cited, appropriately, as one of the biblical sources we have for the sufficiency of Scripture. You really can’t talk about sola Scriptura without citing it. And yet, many defenders of this biblical doctrine don’t often see the overall context of 2 Timothy itself which makes the argument for Scripture’s sufficiency all the more powerful.
As the Apostle Paul is writing this, he knows that he will soon taste death and that this epistle will likely be his last. In this situation, he gives Timothy essential instructions regarding the ministry of the church. These commands are perpetual to the church in all ages. As James White states on page 46 of his book, Scripture Alone:
Paul gives Timothy no indication that God will someday banish false teachers from disturbing the saints, at least not until that final day when the bride will be presented to her husband “having no spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). So what is Timothy to do, now that Paul will no longer be there to give him guidance? If ever there was a point where the apostle would refer to some kind of extra-biblical source of sufficiency, it would be here. If Paul believed we should look to a papacy, or to some Spirit-led prophet, or to some group of leaders, or to some new source of revelation, this would be the place to delineate this all-important source of aid for his beloved Timothy. What he does instead is perfectly in line with the teaching of Moses, the prophets, the Psalter, and, most important, the Lord Jesus Christ: He directs Timothy to the God-breathed Scriptures as the never-changing, always sufficient source of truth…
That is by far one of the best expositions (albeit brief) of 2. Tim. 3:16-17 I’ve ever read. Apostolic teaching on this issue is certainly clear. Not only is Scripture alone unique in its God-breathed attributes, but the church itself cannot stand without it. After all, it is the preaching of Scripture which produces the church (Rom. 10:17), not the other way around–sustaining the church from generation to generation.