by Al Maxey

Issue #444 ------- June 11, 2010
In the midst of our applauding the feats of civilization,
the Bible flings itself like a knife slashing our complacency,
reminding us that God, too, has a voice in history.

Abraham Joshua Heschel {1907-1972}
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

All Scripture is God-Breathed
A Reflective Study of 2 Timothy 3:16a

Inspiration is a well-known and widely used term encountered frequently within "the discussion of the nature of the canon of Scripture that concerns the influence of the Spirit of God upon the biblical writers to produce a divinely authoritative Scripture. If God is viewed as the Author of Scripture, a natural corollary of a doctrine of inspiration is the concept of the infallibility of Scripture" [ISBE, vol. 2, p. 839]. Most of us within the One Body today are very likely strongly convicted that the OT and NT writings, as they appear in our current canon, are both inspired and infallible (at least with respect to the autographs -- i.e., the original writings themselves). Although thousands of errors of many types and various degrees of severity have crept into the biblical text over the centuries (some intentional, some through human neglect and carelessness), nevertheless very few scholars doubt the absolute reliability of these documents, in their present form, to fully convey to us authorial intent. God's Truth may still be perceived in all its power, and the intended result of that message may still be achieved -- a restored relationship with the Father through the Son, which, in turn, assures us of life everlasting.

Our English word "inspire," at least in its technical and theological sense, comes to us from the use of the Latin terms "inspiro" and "inspiratio" in Jerome's Vulgate, which terms Jerome employed in a number of OT and NT locations (including 2 Tim. 3:16). The Greek word used by Paul in this particular passage, however, is "theopneustos," a word that appears only here in all of Scripture. It is actually a combination of two Greek words -- "God" and "to breathe/blow." Thus, the term signifies that which is breathed out by God --- "God-breathed." Although many versions choose to interpret the term --- the KJV reads "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" and the NASB reads "All Scripture is inspired by God" --- it is probably better to render it more literally, as per the example of the NIV --- "All Scripture is God-breathed." The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) makes the following point: "The important Greek word in this passage is not correctly translated. 'Inspired by God' is the rendering of the Latin 'divinitus inspirata' ... of the Vulgate. The Greek word does not even mean, as the KJV has translated it, 'given by inspiration of God.' ... The Greek term has nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration; it speaks only of 'aspiring' or 'aspiration'" [vol. 2, p. 840]. In other words, what the apostle Paul here asserts is that all Scripture has its origin in God; it comes directly from the Almighty. He breathes it out. What this passage does not say, however, is that God breathes Scripture into any particular person(s), nor how He might actually accomplish such a thing. Such may perhaps be derived from other passages, but is not derived from this one. "In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them" [ibid]. The vital point to be made at this juncture is: "Scripture has its origin in God, not in man. The creative breath of God Himself gave us Scripture" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 290]. Albert Barnes, in his classic Notes on the Bible, observes, "In regard to the manner of inspiration, and to the various questions which have been started as to its nature, nothing can be learned from the use of this word." Barnes correctly points out that this unique term employed by Paul simply "asserts a fact." And that fact is -- All Scripture comes from God!! "Here in 2 Timothy 3:16 we have the fact simply and plainly stated; the process of inspiration is not dealt with" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 409].

The actual process of taking this divinely breathed product (His eternal message) and channeling it through men and onto paper (parchment, papyrus, vellum, etc.) has been greatly, and even heatedly, debated for many centuries, as have various questions concerning the preservation and transmission of these many writings. That God did so is hardly questioned by believers; how He did so is another matter. Theories of inspiration abound in the world of theology; absolute certainties are far fewer! It is not really within the scope of this present reflective study to examine and critique all the numerous theories of inspiration, but let me just mention several of the more prevalent. The Verbal Inspiration Theory, which promotes the view that the Holy Spirit of God in some way caused the writers of Scripture to choose each and every word of the text. This is almost identical to the Mechanical Dictation Theory, in which our God actually, in some way, dictated every single word to these writers, who simply wrote down what they were being told. They were "passive instruments" in the hand of God. The Dynamic Inspiration Theory, in which the Holy Spirit guided the writers so that the message was in keeping with objective, eternal Truth, but God's Spirit allowed each of the writers to express this divinely given Truth in their own words and writing styles, thus reflecting their own personalities. The Partial Inspiration Theory asserts that only certain vital parts of Scripture were under the guiding control of the Spirit ("inspiration"), whereas other parts were merely the spiritual insights of the writer himself. For example, was Paul's request for books and a cloak (2 Tim. 4:13) really "God-breathed" and part of "Eternal Truth"? Some point out that Paul clearly makes a distinction in 1 Cor. 7 between some things that are prescribed by the Lord, and some things that are not from the Lord, but which Paul classifies as merely being his own opinion. Would Paul have asserted such a thing, they argue, if his every word was dictated by God? The Natural Intuition Theory states that God has written His message upon the hearts of men, and that some of these men were specially called and gifted to convey these intuitive truths unto others via their own writings. In the same way, one could characterize the writings of some disciples today as "inspired," in that these writers have a way of conveying eternal truths in a dynamic way in the language of their day. Is not God's Spirit guiding these writers, they would ask, in much the same way He guided the early writers?

There are other theories that could be examined, but these few give you an idea of the nature of the debate that has been waged for centuries. Perhaps one of the most helpful passages within the New Covenant writings on this subject is found in 2 Peter 1:20-21. The apostle Peter declared, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." I will reserve a much fuller examination of this passage for a future Reflections, but suffice it to say that, once again, Scripture is NOT a product of the human mind or will -- it is produced by God. It is God-breathed, not man-breathed!! That is the primary point Paul sought to convey in the 2 Tim. 3:16a passage. But, there are other questions and concerns associated with this passage that need to be addressed as well.

First of all, there are a couple of ways of rendering the first phrase within this passage, both of which are grammatically legitimate. The NASB, for example, reads, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for ..." (2 Tim. 3:16a). However, it gives a footnote that provides the alternate reading: "Every Scripture inspired by God is also profitable for ..." The meaning is clearly changed by where one places the word "is" in this phrase, with some scholars favoring one reading, and other scholars favoring the other. The textual difficulty here is that the word "is" does not exist in the text!! It has been added by translators to make the reading smoother. The problem, of course, is where to place the word "is." Dr. Archibald T. Robertson points out that this is a "matter of doubt in this clause" [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. He states, "There is no copula (estin = 'is') in the Greek" [ibid], thus the placement of the added "is" is purely subjective on the part of the translator. The Greek word "pas" is also no real help, for it can be translated as either "all" or "every," depending on the context, with either being possible within this particular passage. Thus, in the first case we are being told that all Scripture is God-breathed, and by that fact is profitable for the purposes for which it is given. The second case implies that not everything classified as "Scripture" is really God-breathed, but those written documents that ARE are thereby profitable by virtue of having their origin in Him rather than in men. Either assertion, of course, is true, thus making it all the more difficult to determine the apostle's meaning. "The verb of being is often left out, as it is here, and the reader or translator must then supply it" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 150]. This lack of the copula is not really that uncommon in Greek, but it does at times pose a challenge to those seeking to understand a passage, the present text being a good case in point. "There is room for some difference of opinion as to the exact construction of this declaration" [ISBE, vol. 2, p. 840]. I would say that sums it up well.

Whichever position one may choose to embrace, the major assertion of the apostle Paul remains the same: Scripture is God-breathed. "In both cases, these sacred Scriptures are declared to owe their value to their divine origin" [ibid]. "The one is just as correct as the other as far as the Greek is concerned" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, p. 840], for, again, both assert the same basic truth about the origin of these documents. There's also some lively debate as to specifically what constitutes "Scripture" here in the mind of Paul. Is he referring to the canon as we have it today? In other words, was he looking prophetically forward to our current 66 books of the OT and NT canon (which, at the time he made this statement, would include a number of NT books yet to be written)? Or, as most believe, did he have in mind the writings of the Old Covenant canon? The immediate context (2 Tim. 3:15 --- "from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures") would certainly suggest that it was the Law and the Prophets (as well as the historic and poetic books) to which Timothy had been exposed as a child. None of the New Covenant writings would have then been available to the young Timothy (or anyone else). However, in principle, one can certainly make the argument that ANY writing that is truly "God-breathed" should be considered as "holy Scripture." The challenge, of course, is in determining which writings are, and which writings are not. The formation of the biblical canon is a study in itself, and a fascinating one, and I would urge each of you to pursue further study in this area. Suffice it to say, at this point, that even the apostle Peter had come to view Paul's epistles as "Scripture," thus he and others were perceiving the "hand of God" in the production of these sacred writings --- "Our dear brother Paul wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. ... His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16). At the very least, both Paul and Peter sought to make a very clear distinction between the many religious writings of mere men, which abounded at the time (and still do), and those writings which were to be regarded as originating from God. Thus, in 2 Tim. 3:16a Paul affirms the provenance of all true Scripture, although he makes no comment on its process of production. He has declared the aspiration of all Scripture, but has not detailed the inspiration of it.

"The apostle does not stop here to tell us either what particular books enter into the collection which he calls sacred Scriptures, or by what precise operations God has produced them. It was the value of these Scriptures, and the source of that value in their divine origin, which he asserts, leaving to other occasions any further facts concerning them" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 840]. Being "God-breathed," they are thereby profitable for all who will invest the time to learn from them. They are especially useful to those who have devoted their lives to being "spokesmen of God," for it is HIS words ... HIS message ... that we must declare, not our own. "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God" (1 Peter 4:11). Also, by the authority of the Standard of His Will, as revealed through His Words, we rebuke and correct; we teach and train (2 Tim. 3:16b), so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for the fulfilling of their divine calling (vs. 17).

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Order from Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

Special Book Offer --- Many of you, who have studied my writings for a number of years, are aware of my views on the "Available Light" doctrine. I have dealt with it in some depth in Reflections #158 --- Grace and the Caveman: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light. I believe this to be one of the fundamental, and foundational, doctrines regarding the nature of our God's marvelous grace. Thus, I am pleased to announce, and to actively promote and endorse, a powerful new book by a longtime supporter of my work and teaching. The book is by Dr. Stanley W. Paher, a university professor, and also an author and a publisher, who has written a number of previous books. The book is titled --- Natural Law: Universal in Scope, Moral in Design -- The Biblical Doctrine of Available Light. It is 128 pages, and an easy, though very scholarly and enlightening, read. Stanley graciously sent me a free copy of the book, and then made this offer: "If anyone wants a copy of this book, I will mail it to them for only $6 (postage paid)." That is a bargain, and I would encourage you all to order a copy immediately. You can contact Stanley at 4135 Badger Circle, Reno, NV 89519. You can also call him at (775) 747-0800 or write him at

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I would like to be added to your Reflections mailing list. Your writings have been helping me to gain a new perspective on things I am not sure I agree with anymore. I have been in the "conservative" Church of Christ for about 15 years, and I am questioning many of the things they teach and practice. Thank you.

From an Airline Pilot in Mississippi:

Bro. Al, I wanted to thank you for your writings. I was a member of the most legalistic branch of the Churches of Christ for many years. I have found your articles, debates and sermons very enlightening and liberating!! For many years I had felt that something was wrong with what I was being taught, so your writings have been like a breath of fresh air for me. I am so thankful for the work that you do. May God continue to bless you.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, Having spoken to you briefly in person as my family and I were leaving Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO a few days ago, I would like to once again say "Thank you!" for all your Reflections articles, and for all the time and effort you put forth in bringing them to us. They have caused me to think and rethink many issues that tend to crystallize into tradition. I hope that you and Shelly and your family had a great vacation!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I have a good friend who sends me your Reflections quite often. My family and I just left the Churches of Christ in search of much freer pastures. It's good to know that there are open-minded folks like you still left in that fellowship! Keep up the fantastic work, brother!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Al, I am very appreciative of your excellent Reflections essays. I think you are gifted by God as an excellent teacher. I know many people who seem to be gifted by God's grace in various ways. I realize that if one is truly gifted by God then I should not be surprised when the results are outstanding, but I still cannot help but marvel, and also thank God, for the effectiveness and productivity of people like you who love and serve God so powerfully. Thank you for your work, and for sharing it so generously with all of us.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I sincerely hope you had a very refreshing vacation! To be perfectly truthful, many of us are not serving as Ministers simply because we don't believe we could handle the constant demands, criticisms, etc. Some members expect the preacher to perform all their Christian duties for them -- visiting the sick, encouraging the faint-hearted, etc. After all, this man is the one they pay to do it for them, right? I am surprised they don't expect him to sweep up afterward! Al, I pray that you will come back from vacation with at least the same determination with which you left -- to continue helping others find Freedom in Christ.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, I agree completely about the need for rest away from those we serve. I once worked as a minister with an eldership that understood this truth. I was at the office one time on my day off (doing some research) and one of the elders happened to drive by and saw my car in the parking lot. He came into the office, and with love and kindness, chastised me for working on my day off. He explained, much as you did in your article, that rest and quiet time for the minister is absolutely essential. Another eldership with which I served, however, was just the opposite -- they saw no need whatsoever for time away from the crowd for quiet reflection and renewal. An older preacher/mentor told me this years ago: "If you keep going to the well without filling it up again, it will eventually go dry. Don't let that happen to your spirit." I hope you had a good time away with Shelly. I know it was much needed.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, So, the Contending for the Faith's ever-shrinking group believes you are a "lunatic"? Well, then, count me in the lunatic sect, too! I guess we are just crazy enough to believe in freedom, and in the free, unmerited grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don't write you often, but I love and admire you for your efforts at patiently pulling away the undergrowth of arcane legalism from the pure and powerful gospel of Christ. Enjoy your time away, friend.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for your Reflections, and for your stand for God's Truth!! I no longer receive Contending for the Faith magazine. I have no time for such nonsense!! Most of what is contained in such "journals" is just a rehash of the same negative, introverted material that their pulpits are filled with week after week. They hope to earn their salvation by their faithfulness to their "old paths," and by their zealous defense of their pattern theology. Yet, when the end is staring them in the face, they confront it with fear, wondering if what they've attempted to earn by their works was enough. Deep within, they know it was not. Thus, they hope that God will "make up" (grace?) what they failed to "earn" by their own effort. This is why so many of them have so little hope!! As long as they depend upon themselves to be their very own savior, with God playing the minor role, there will always be a lack of hope and assurance within their lives. How sad. I really love you, brother. May you and your precious wife get some wonderful R&R during your time away!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, I hope you had time to recharge! I know it was great to see the family and to get away! Just wanted you to know -- we are suffering from Reflections withdrawal here!!

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Bro. Al, Welcome back! I trust you had a restful and rejuvenating vacation. Please know that you were missed! I am reading a book that you may be interested in (if you are not already aware of it). It is titled "All People, All Times: Rethinking Biblical Authority in Churches of Christ," and is by Jeffery S. Stevenson. Published by Xulon Press. I recently met Jeff where he has recently assumed the pulpit in Belpry, Ohio. He is an excellent speaker. Again, welcome home!

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