Approaching Scripture, part 2
Note: This post is part two of a six-part series.
- Part One – Introduction
- Part Two – Inspired
- Part Three – Inerrant and Infallible
- Part Four – Authoritative
- Part Five – Sufficient
- Part Six – Clear and Unified
We’re looking at the attributes of Scripture, and our topic for this week is the biblical truth that God’s Word is inspired. That’s a phrase that we hear often, a phrase that comes from Scripture, and a phrase that is often, unfortunately, misunderstood.
That it comes from Scripture is clear. The verse in question is 2 Timothy 3:16. It’s translated in the New American Standard as “All Scripture is inspired by God.” The King James Version translates it, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”
But what does that mean, “given by inspiration” or “inspired by God”?
What comes to mind when you hear the word, “inspired”?
The Beijing Olympics concluded this past weekend. If you watched the coverage of the games, you likely heard the word “inspirational” or “inspired” multiple times. Sports broadcasters love phrases like “that was an inspirational performance” to describe a exceptionally hard-fought athletic competition, or (especially in the Olympics) while giving the personal stories of athletes, describing how they were inspired by athletes or family members who went before them.
Or perhaps some of us are more artistic, and the words “inspired” or “inspiration” make you think of a particularly beautiful sunset that you’ve seen, maybe in the mountains or over the ocean or at a place like the Grand Canyon, that inspired you to paint the scene or to write a poem. Musicians speak of the inspiration for their songs, whether that be a broken heart or a new-found love.
Did God inspire the authors of Scripture in the same way? Were they deeply impressed and encouraged by something—something supernatural even—and then they wrote, like a poet writes a poem? Was the actual writing process completely their own and only a response to something they experienced, or was God more involved than that?
The truth is, in our way of speaking today there is a better word than “inspired” to describe the source of Scripture. Scripture is not just inspired (at least, in how we commonly think of that word today); Scripture is God-breathed.
The word in question is the Greek word theopneustos. It is a word that was apparently coined by the apostle Paul specifically to describe the authorship of Scripture, and he formed it by combining the Greek word for God (theos) and their word for breathing (pneo). What Paul is making known to us with the word theopneustos is that Scripture, “all Scripture,” finds its source directly from God, it comes out of him like our breath comes out of our lungs.
That’s why the English Standard Version translates 2 Timothy 3:16 in this way: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (emphasis mine). Similarly, the NIV says that “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
Inspiration is a good term, but a term that may be more easily misunderstood with its common use today. God-breathed, however, perhaps more clearly communicates the source of Scripture.
That Scripture is “God-breathed” does not mean that God dropped down fully written texts from heaven. “God-breathed” doesn’t negate the fact that God still used human authors in the process.
Peter tells us that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.
Peter is affirming (certainly what Paul also affirmed) the dual authorship of Scripture. Every word is a word of God, and every word was penned by man. “Men spoke” (and wrote), but they did so “from God, as they were carried along by the Spirit.”
What we’re upholding here is the belief that “God breathed out” what man was writing down. What this means is that we should expect to notice the differences in styles and word choices between Peter and Paul and John and James, but all their words in Scripture are sourced from God. Scripture is God’s Word through man.
This is perhaps the foundational belief for our doctrine of Scripture. All Scripture is breathed out by God. We’ll see over the next few weeks how this affects everything else. This is the foundational reason why we believe that Scripture is inerrant and infallible, authoritative and sufficient, clear and unified—because Scripture is God’s Word.
For now, I’ll just affirm what Wayne Grudem wrote in his Systematic Theology. Grudem writes,
“All the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (1995), p.73
If these are purely the words of man, then they are optional. But if they are the words of God, they are binding. To disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture would be to disbelieve or disobey God.
Is that the controlling thought in your mind as you approach Scripture?
It should be. We should approach Scripture with the unshakeable belief that what we’re hearing is the very word of God, and the unshakeable conviction that the only proper response is faith-filled obedience to His Word.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.