The popular rendering of the first few words of verse 16 is, "All Scripture is inspired by God..." What is little known about the first two words is that in Greek the terms used actually poses a serious problem for the SS advocate. Well respected and conservative Protestant scholar A.T. Robertson explains this discrepancy in his famous commentary Word Pictures of the New Testament (the bold text are Greek terms):
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable (pasa graph qeopneusto kai wpelimo). There are two matters of doubt in this clause. One is the absence of the article h before graph, whether that makes it mean "every scripture" or "all scripture" as of necessity if present. Unfortunately, there are examples both ways with both pa and graph. Twice we find graph in the singular without the article and yet definite ( 1 Peter 2:6 ; 2 Peter 1:20 ). We have pa Israhl (Romans 11:26 ) for all Israel (Robertson, Grammar, p. 772). So far as the grammatical usage goes, one can render here either "all scripture" or "every scripture."Given the first term can mean "every" and that Scripture here is in the singular, the phrase is validly rendered "every [individual] Scripture." This is fatal to the Sola Scriptura cause, for the classical Protestant interpretation of verses 16-17 is of the form "all Scripture (as a whole) is sufficient." The 'alternate' rendering (i.e. "every Scripture") would result in a meaning of "every individual book or passage of Scripture is sufficient" - which directly undermines the notion of a collection of books being sufficient.*
It should also be noted that when "Scripture" (Greek: graphe, singular 31, plural 20) is used in the NT, it almost always is in reference to the OT (the only clear exception is 2 Pt. 3:16). When it occurs in the plural, with little doubt, it is speaking of the entire OT. When it occurs in the singular, as it does in 2 Timothy 3:16, there is the opposite trend, usually referring to individual OT passages, but there are a few questionable verses which could be in reference to either a single passage or the OT as a whole.
Some might object that "every Scripture" is merely a possibility, and thus not proof 'against' the Protestant claim. But this fails because the fact "every Scripture" is a possibility (and thus a valid rendering) means the Protestant must approach the text with a bias - and no foundational doctrine can be built upon an assumption! Thus, with one simple argument, the Protestant loses their most important verse, 2 Timothy 3:16f, at which point SS will soon have to be abandoned all together.
All that said, for the sake of argument, if Paul is saying "all Scripture" as in "Scripture as a whole is sufficient" - meaning anything less than the full canon is insufficient - then the Protestant is still in a bind, for they must prove two things: (1) that "Scripture" here includes the NT books, and (2) that all the NT had been completed (else Paul would be giving Timothy an impossible command in 3:16f). These two Protestant objectives will now be briefly examined.
(1) What "Scripture" Paul is talking about in this case is not easy to determine, the standard options include: (a) the OT, (b) individual books or passages, (c) the OT and NT. While there is considerable evidence for options (a) and (b), based on context (e.g. 2 Tim 3:15) as well as how graphe is used elsewhere in the NT, there isn't much for (c), yet this is the only option which will allow the Protestant any hope. The only clear example of writings other than the OT being regarded as "Scripture" is 2 Peter 3:16, speaking directly of Paul's Epistles. But even this is simply a general statement, and doesn't indicate which of Paul's Epistles are specifically included. Did it include Paul's Letters to Titus and Timothy, which were technically private correspondence? Or what about the 'lost letters' of Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 5:9; Col 4:16) which either were uninspired (yet obviously of some worth) or are speaking of some other NT work? Such lack of specific information ultimately doesn't help the Protestant cause. The only other NT book which comes close to being regarded as "Scripture" is the Gospel of Luke via 1 Timothy 5:18 - but even this isn't sure, for folks like John Calvin (here) and A.T. Robertson (here), among others, argue Paul isn't necessarily quoting Luke's Gospel but rather an authoritative oral statement of Christ, and they appeal to the parallel account in 1 Cor 9:9-14. All in all, the Protestant has an impossible burden on their shoulders, surely a burden which wouldn't exist had Christ and His Apostles intended to convey SS.
(2) Catholics have long pointed out that there is no Biblical evidence the Apostolic Christians practiced Sola Scriptura, one major reason is the fact the NT had not been fully written at the time. Protestant apologist James White agrees with this and explains the situation (here):
The main element of [Catholic apologist] Mr. Ray's misrepresentation of sola scriptura can be seen in just this: the doctrine speaks of a rule of faith that exists. What do I mean by this? One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, "There has never been a time when God's Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally." You will never find anyone saying, "During times of enscripturation—that is, when new revelation was being given—sola scriptura was operational." Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is "sufficient." It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, "See, sola scriptura doesn't work there!" Of course it doesn't. Who said it did?As many Catholics have noted, James White has effectively conceded Sola Scriptura (especially via 2 Timothy 3:16f) is false - the very doctrine he strongly defends. This is because texts like 2 Timothy 3:16f applied during a "time of enscripturation," it couldn't have been teaching SS without falling into the fallacy of anachronism (that is, reading back into a text a historically impossible detail). The truth is, the Protestant can only speculate as to when the last NT book was written and when. Many NT Scholars actually say Revelation was the last book to be written.
Now, an important disclaimer, should anyone misunderstand my intent with what I say in this essay: Catholics fully accept the inspiration of all 73 Books of Scripture and hold all Scripture in the highest regard (even above Protestants, who actually violate it by their errors). The point in all this is that Catholics don't come to such conclusions on the basis of Scripture alone.
To conclude, while a Catholic would have little problem accepting any one of these variations (for they generally won't negatively affect any Catholic doctrine), the Protestant position only survives if a very specific understanding of the passage is accepted, though as was shown is unprovable by exegesis alone.
*End Note: The term applied to Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 is actually "profitable," not sufficient (which is a much stronger term). I use the term "sufficient" in this article simply to show the Protestant take on this passage doesn't work. Protestants typically misread Paul's point here, thinking that verses 16-17 are saying 'Scripture is sufficient to fully equip the Man of God'. The truth is, the passage is to be taken in two parts: (v16) Scripture is *profitable* towards Four Ends (i.e. teaching, correcting, rebuking, righteousness), and (v17) these Four Ends equip Man of God.
They are falsely jumping to conclusions, saying Scripture fully equips Man of God. Consider this example: Water is profitable towards muscle growth, good metabolism, and healthy blood, so that the athlete will be fully quipped for every sport. To take this as saying "water fully equips the athlete" is not only false scientifically, it's misreading the passage. It is a good metabolism, strong muscles, and healthy blood that equip the athlete, and water is "profitable" towards those three factors. It's false to say water is sufficient for muscle growth, good metabolism, and healthy blood, just as it's false to read the text as saying Scripture is sufficient towards those Four Ends.
UPDATE: Oct 22, 2010I came across some information very relevant to this topic a while back, but have not gotten around to appending it to this article. One of the most popular and highly respected Bible study resources available today is the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Some of it is available for preview on Google Books, which is where I came across the Dictionary's entry on the term "graphe" (Volume 1, page 130) - here is the relevant portion:
3. graphe for a Single book. There are no NT instances except perhaps 2 Tim. 3:16, though contemporary parallels suggest that this means "every passage."This confirms the original point of this article, coming directly from the words of some of the most trustworthy Greek scholars.
Another important find is from the New English Translation (edited by scholars such as Dr Daniel Wallace), which says this in the footnote of 2 Timothy 3:16,
There is very little difference in sense between every scripture (emphasizing the individual portions) and “all scripture” (emphasizing the composite whole). The former option is preferred, because it fits the normal use of the word “all/every” in Greek (πᾶς, pas) as well as Paul’s normal sense for the word “scripture” in the singular without the article, as here. So every scripture means “every individual portion of scripture.”This very honest footnote is also very devastating to any appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16f, because the terms more accurately do mean "every individual portion".