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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
There’s much discussion on my university campus about the inspiration of the Bible. Some say that the word “inspiration” isn’t biblical. Is this true? Is the English translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 correct?
Don’t allow theological discussions to upset or confuse you. The Lord can use such controversies to bring us back to the Bible in order to understand it better.
The passage you refer to is a very important one in any discussion of the nature and authority of the Scriptures, and it needs careful analysis. Let me make some comments on the passage.
1. The Extent of Inspiration. The phrase “all scripture” defines the sphere where “inspiration,” whatever it may mean, is operative. The word “scripture” is consistently used in the New Testament to refer to all biblical literature. The singular “scripture” is often used in the New Testament to designate a specific portion of the Old Testament (Luke 4:21; John 19:37), but there are many cases in which it simply means the Scriptures as a whole (Gal. 3:22; James 4:5).
That this passage refers to the totality of Scripture is reinforced by the use of “all.” The absence of the definite article has led some to conclude that it should be translated “every scripture”; that is, each portion of the Scriptures instead of “all/the totality of Scripture.” Indeed, both translations are possible, and the meaning is basically the same. If each individual part of the Scriptures is inspired, then its totality is inspired also.
2. The Connection Between Inspiration and Scripture. The Greek term translated “is inspired” is theopneustos, and this is the only place in the New Testament where it is used. It’s not a verb, but an adjective formed by the combination of two Greek words, theos (“God”) and pneo (“breathe”), to which a verbal adjective ending was added (tos).
It can be translated in two ways, conveying the meanings (a) “breathing God” ( that is, provoking thoughts about God, filled with God’s breath) or (b) “God-breathed” (indicating that Scripture is the result of God’s breath). Most commentators accept the second rendering as the proper one because the particular ending attached to the Greek term (tos indicates a passive meaning).
The relationship between this term and the previous phrase “all scripture” is debated by some scholars. Again, there are two possible ways of describing the relationship in English: (a) “All scripture inspired by God” or (b) “All scripture is inspired by God.” The first one may give the idea that some parts of the Scriptures are not inspired by God, while the second states that all of Scripture is inspired by God. The argument is based on technicalities related to the Greek word order. Most scholars believe that the word order supports the second translation.
More important is the context. It suggests that the apostle has no interest at all in introducing a distinction between what is inspired by God in the Bible and what is not. Such a distinction is foreign to the New Testament, and this verse denies its validity.
3. The Meaning of Inspiration. The phrase “all scripture is God-breathed” means that it was “inspired” by God. The English verb “to inspire” comes from the Latin inspirare, “to blow, to breathe into.” The Scriptures are the result of God’s breath! It was through God’s breath that Adam came into existence (Gen. 2:7) and the universe was created (Ps. 33:6). That same divine power brought the Scriptures into existence.
Our passage says that the phenomenon of Scripture is the exclusive result of God’s wonderful and unfathomable work. This makes the Bible unique in nature and authority. God used humans, but the apostle is telling us that the Scriptures cannot be credited to them, but to God. Since all of it found its origin in Him, it is endowed with reliability and trustworthiness.
4. The Function of Scripture. The passage ends with a definition of the Bible’s purpose. We are not invited to argue about the details of inspiration, but rather to submit to its authority. It’s from the Bible that our teachings or doctrines come; it’s through the Bible that the power of the Spirit rebukes, corrects, and trains us in proper ethical conduct. Any definition of inspiration that undermines, modifies, or limits the nature, function, and authority of Scripture is to be shunned; for indeed, “all Scripture is inspired by God.”