the inspiration of scripture
Most of us are familiar with the passage in Paul's letter to Timothy,
- All Scripture is written by the inspiration of GOD. . .
Oops, did I misquote it? But isn't that what we all think it means? We have been taught that GOD told men what to write and then they wrote all scripture, thus, the entire Bible is the word of GOD, every jot and every tittle being free from any error. But is that what Paul intended, because that is certainly not what he wrote.
- 2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Let us first consider the context of the letter. What were Paul's intentions, his purposes and reasons for writing Timothy? Paul had went to Jerusalem in what might be his last desperate attempt to wake his nation up to the reality of the heavenly judgment which was fast approaching (ACTS 21). Luke tells us that Paul's attempt failed miserably. The apostle was nearly killed, evidently persuading none of his fellow Jews as to the truth of the gospel. Under threat of assassination, two Roman centurions hurried him off to Caesarea, where he sat in confinement for two long years.
As he had been repeatedly warned not to go up to Jerusalem (ACTS 21:4,10-12), evidently many fellow Christians turned a cold shoulder to him after the complete failure of the mission (1:15). In the face of this setback, Paul sends this letter to one of his most trusted lieutenants, which is intended to admonish and encourage Timothy to not become disheartened or dismayed because of the unfortunate turn of events (1:6-8). For a more detailed account on when Paul wrote this epistle, see the Study, Paul's Prison Epistles.
Throughout the epistle, Paul reminded Timothy that their lives and ministries were bound up in the reality of Christ's return, and their then being resurrected together with Him (2:11). This was the promise of life referred to in the opening passage of the epistle. He further reminded Timothy that Yeshua (Jesus) had abolished death (1:10), and therefore they should not become entangled with the things of this life, but if they were to be rewarded at their resurrection, then they must abide by the rules of the competition within which they competed (2:4-5). Paul exclaimed that Yeshua would judge every individual at His appearing (4:1), and even though he remained a prisoner of the Romans, Paul was still confident that on that Day, that he himself would receive a crown of righteousness (4:8), being safely brought into the heavenly kingdom (ESV 4:18).
As such, when Paul wrote the passage about all scripture being given by the inspiration of GOD (3:16), it was with the intent of driving home to Timothy the importance of knowing and trusting the scriptures. He was in essence telling Timothy, Don't be too concerned with what looks like human failures, but instead anchor yourself in the scriptures. The man of GOD must have confidence and trust the inspired scriptures. He must be able to wield this sword of the spirit effectively, disabling the arguments of his adversaries. He must know the word of GOD, and study and rightly divide it so as to not be put to shame when he is trying to instruct others (2:15, 25).
Having examined the context of the epistle, let us now search and see whether or not the important passage which we are considering is telling us that every word and letter in our Bible was written by GOD? Perhaps there is another perspective we would do well to ponder.
In his book The Life and Work of St. Paul, F. W. Farrar renders this passage as, "every Scripture inspired by God is also profitable for teaching" (page 849), suggesting that Paul was not intending to say that every Scripture was inspired by GOD, but rather that every inspired Scripture was profitable for teaching. In other words, if any scripture was given by the inspiration of GOD, then that scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof and correction, which is instruction in righteousness. But on the other hand, there are evidently other scriptures which may very well not have been inspired by GOD.
Let us review in more depth this phrase given by the inspiration of GOD. Paul wrote here to Timothy that scripture was given by the inspiration of GOD, or better, GOD breathed, or blown. The entire phrase, "given by the inspiration of GOD" is from the one Greek word theopneustos, only used this one time in the Bible. The word theo means GOD and the word pneustos is translated by the phrase "given by the inspiration of", or as others render it, "breathed out by" GOD. This word pneustos is most probably from the Greek word pneo, which in the Bible always means blow.
Below is every occasion in the Christian writings where the word pneo is found.
- MATTHEW 7:25-27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew [pneo], and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.....And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew [pneo], and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
- LUKE 12:55 And when ye see the south wind blow [pneo], ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass.
- JOHN 3:8 The wind bloweth [pneo] where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
- JOHN 6:18 And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew [pneo].
- ACTS 27:40 And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind [pneo], and made toward shore.
- REVELATION 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow [pneo] on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
Clearly, pneo means more than simply to breathe. Linking the occurrence of pneo in ACTS with our passage in 2 TIMOTHY gives us a vivid mind picture of GOD blowing or puffing into an individual's mental sail so as to push them some distance, then letting them drift along on their own. Connecting this also with the interesting occurrence by Yeshua in His discussion with Nicodemus in JOHN 3 gives us excellent insight into how inspiration works. GOD blows or puffs into one's ear some particular thought, then HE is gone. We know not where the thought came from, or when another such breeze might come our way again. If we rush to write it down we can build upon it, otherwise it will likely evaporate and be forgotten like a mist or a vapor.
We should keep in mind throughout this Study that inspiration is not revelation, and revelation is not inspiration. Revelation is indeed where GOD tells HIS servant precisely what HE wants said or written. But inspiration, by which scripture is given, is an entirely different vehicle of communication than is revelation.
Thus, scripture may indeed have been inspired by GOD, but it was not necessarily always written by GOD. "Given by the inspiration of" GOD and "written by" GOD are two entirely different things. GOD does of course have the ability to write scripture for HE wrote the two tables of testimony for Moses (EXODUS 31:18) and HE wrote upon a wall for Belshazzar (DANIEL5:24-28). Howbeit, no where are we told that all scripture was written by GOD, nor that after GOD inspired it, that some individual wrote down precisely all which HE had inspired. That is a common assumption which cannot be substantiated from the Bible. Scripture was GOD breathed, not GOD written; it was inspired, not dictated.
Another important passage for us to consider is in Peter's second epistle.
- RSV 2 PETER 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Notice that Peter didn't say that these men who were moved by the holy spirit wrote the Bible, but rather that they spoke from GOD. Of course a prophet could at times have written down the words of GOD as he received them by revelation [EXODUS 24:4 JEREMIAH30:2], but that is not what Peter said in this verse. Peter was endeavoring to explain to his readers that the prophetic word (RSV 2 PETER 1:19) came not by the impulse of man but rather by the impulse of GOD. GOD initiated it, not man.
Oftentimes, somebody took the words which were spoken by the prophet and wrote them down in a book or manuscript. Howbeit, the specific words which were given by GOD and then spoken by the prophet, only these were the words of GOD. Sometimes they may have been accurately written down, but then at other times just the jest of what was spoken was written down. Afterwards, those words then would have been translated into different languages where they may have lost their original intent as first given to the prophet.
Thus, even though GOD might have inspired scripture, that does not necessarily mean that HE is responsible for all which men wrote on the page afterwards. I think this becomes evident when we consider and ponder certain passages which various commentators have expounded as being the infallible word of GOD. One telling example of that theology is this quote from Charles Welch in his book Dispensational Truth, page 13.
- If the written Word is God-breathed, there can be no possibility of human error creeping into "that which is written for our learning"....it is "dictation", not "composition".
Only if all scripture was written by the inspiration of GOD could Welch's statement be true; but that is not at all what Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy. He plainly said that scripture was given, not written; it was inspired, not dictated. Consider some of the following passages in the Christian writings where one has to do quite a song and dance to maintain the argument that they were written or dictated by GOD; that they are all GOD's word.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 1:14-16 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
As Paul was dictating this letter he noted that he had baptized only Crispus and Gaius, but then he evidently recalled how he had also baptized the household of Stephanas. Then suddenly realizing that there may also have been others which he had forgotten that he had baptized, he restated that he could only claim that at the time of writing the epistle, he remembered no others. Now if Paul was writing by revelation and GOD was telling him exactly, word for word what to write, would GOD be forgetting and then remembering like this? Of course not.
Here is another example from this same epistle.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. [see also 2 CORINTHIANS 8:8]
Thus, Paul is careful to explain that what he was writing was his own opinion and not necessarily a commandment from the Lord. Sometimes what Paul wrote was no doubt the words of GOD, but then at other times what he wrote were not the words of GOD but simply his own perspective on a subject.
In 1 CORINTHIANS 14:6 Paul intimates that when he speaks to the believers, it could be "either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine". Thus he was not always speaking (or writing) only by revelation. Sometimes Paul was just speaking to them according to what he had himself learned, his own knowledge (gnosis) or perspective on a subject. Yet at other times he may speak to them by inspired prophecy (propheteia, inspiration), but then at other times he might be teaching them doctrine (didache, training them as one might an apprentice).
It is only natural then that we should look for and find all four of these methods of teaching and preaching, not only in Paul's writings but also throughout much of the rest of the Christian writings.
Here is another interesting verse where Paul affirmed that he had indeed written the commandments of the Lord.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
What things? Surely not everything, for he had just written as noted above that some things are simply his own opinion. Here Paul was assuring his readers at Corinth that the spiritual person will indeed acknowledge that the things which he had just written were commands from the Lord, but obviously not everything he had ever written were commands of the Lord.
He writes the believers in Thessalonica along the same vein.
- 1 THESSALONIANS 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
Surely Paul was not saying that everything which he and his associates ever told the Thessalonians were words of GOD; but rather he was stating that whatever was indeed the word of GOD they did well to receive it as such. If we also are to believe effectually, we likewise must differentiate between the words of men and the words of GOD. Just because Paul wrote an epistle, that doesn't mean that every word or verse in that epistle was word for word revelation from GOD.
Likewise, just because some other disciple spoke or wrote, that doesn't necessarily mean that everything he wrote was always words direct from GOD. Here is a good example from Mark's gospel.
- ESV MARK 1:2-3 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
Contrary to what Mark wrote, this quote is not from ISAIAH. The second portion of the passage is from ISAIAH but the first portion is from the prophet Malachi.
- MALACHI 3:1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me...
Then, after quoting Malachi's prophecy, Mark attached to it a quote from the prophet Isaiah.
- ISAIAH 40:3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Even though Mark may have been writing that which someone else (perhaps Peter) was dictating, the fact that he misquoted the source of this prophecy is well attested by scholars. Again, if what Mark was writing was by revelation from GOD, would GOD have directed him to misquote the passage? I think not.
Here is a passage from one of Paul's epistles which is too often used to mean something which Paul never intended.
- GALATIANS 1:11-12 But I certify [guarantee] you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Thus we have been taught that everything which Paul wrote was by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Howbeit, on page 87 of his book Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Frederick Bruce has an enlightening comment concerning this passage from Paul's letter.
- The genitive "of Jesus Christ" is objective: the reference is to the conversion-experience in which, as he said, God "was pleased to reveal his Son in me" (Galatians 1:16).
This revelation which Paul was referring to was concerning his commissioning, which came to him at his conversion as recorded in ACTS 9, 22 & 26. Paul did indeed receive by the revelation of Jesus Christ his commission to preach the gospel to the uncircumcision (RSV GALATIANS 2:7), that ministry entrusted to him to preach among the Gentiles (GALATIANS 2:2), but he never suggested that every word which he was to thereafter write was by revelation. Paul himself even affirmed this when he later declared that his preaching consisted of nothing but what "the prophets and Moses said would come to pass" (ACTS 26:22).
Consider another relevant passage;
- 1 CORINTHIANS 7:25-26 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
Paul wrote concerning marriage, that he had no commandment of the Lord, but that he supposes that it is good for a person to remain as he was. Does GOD suppose? Does this sound like revelation from GOD? Not likely, for Paul explicitly stated that this was not a commandment from the Lord. It was rather Paul giving his good judgment, his own opinion and perspective on this particular subject during those turbulent times in which they lived.
Let us consider the writings of Paul's companion Luke. There is no evidence that Luke was a disciple at the time of Christ's resurrection, much less a follower throughout Yeshua's earthly ministry. Even so, in his Gospel he rendered for us a detailed narrative of the birth, ministry and resurrection of Christ. Then, following his Gospel account, Luke gave further details and recollections throughout ACTS of important incidents ranging from Christ's ascension all the way through to Paul's imprisonment in Rome around A.D. 64. Did he write by revelation? Did he sit down at his desk and GOD told him word for word what to write? Not according to his own testimony.
- ESV LUKE 1:1-4 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for sometime past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
In his Gospel, Luke gathered together that which certain eyewitnesses had reported, and afterwards he wrote an orderly account of the narrative. Then in his second volume entitled ACTS, he continued this orderly report of the early days of the Christian movement (ACTS1:1). Where did he get his information?
The early chapters of ACTS he most likely received from personal interviews with witnesses of the actual events. From Peter he could have gotten most of the first eleven chapters, with Barnabas contributing 11:22-25. The disciple Manaen (ACTS 13:1) would have disclosed chapter twelve and then of course Paul had knowledge of most of the rest.
Luke himself was a witness during his many travels with Paul. On their excursions they often stayed with believers, such as Philip (ACTS 21:8) who would have shared with them his experiences in chapter eight; and then there was Mnason (ACTS 21:16) who was described as an early disciple. It would be most natural for Luke to collect vital and detailed accounts from these individuals for both of his manuscripts.
To say and teach that the entire Bible is a word for word rendering from GOD is to go beyond what the Bible says of itself. We may appear to be passionate and even zealous as we declare with boldness that the Bible is the revealed word and will of GOD, that every word, even every jot and tittle is written by the finger of GOD, all with a mathematical exactness and a scientific precision, but we base our affirmations on nothing that can be substantiated from the Bible.
This is well framed for us by F. W. Farrar in his work, The Early Days of Christianity.
- "The inspiration of the Holy Spirit was not a mechanical dictation, which makes a man the pen rather than the penman of sacred utterance, and obliterates the plainest landmarks of human idiosyncrasy." (page 182)
Scripture never claimed to give a literal exactness of an event or happening. Rather, it presents us with an impression of what GOD wanted related. If we required the original literal words to have GOD's revelation, then tragically they are lost to time. Every Bible which we possess today is a copy of somebody's version or translation. We have no originals.
Besides, many Aramaic, and Hebrew and even Greek words have no exact English equivalent. What Yeshua taught in Aramaic and what Paul wrote in Greek, cannot always be accurately and precisely translated into an English passage. Often, only the gist of what they meant can be given.
Another interesting example of scripture not always being revelation direct from GOD, is the passage where Yeshua was pointing out that even Moses wrote his own perspective, concerning marriage and divorce.
- MARK 10:2-9 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
- And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Yeshua asked, What did Moses command? and then He affirmed that Moses did indeed write this precept (DEUTERONOMY 24:1), nevertheless, GOD's will (and word, GENESIS 2:24) was wholly different. Some try to get around this passage by imagining that GOD has several wills, HIS primary will and then HIS secondary will and so on. Thus, HIS primary will was that they not divorce but HIS secondary will allowed for it. Howbeit, that is not at all what Yeshua said here. He explicitly declared that Moses wrote his own judgment, perhaps for good reason, but GOD's will was that they were not to divorce.
We might also consider an occasion where an evil man, an unbeliever of the vilest kind, spoke prophecy.
- JOHN 11:49-51 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation.
Thus, we should understand that GOD can blow into the ear of even the most corrupt individuals so as to have HIS word spoken. Caiaphas most likely wasn't even aware that his words were prophecy, words inspired by GOD, but still he spoke. It should be noted that these important words concerning Yeshua being given as a ransom for His nation, is the last and final prophecy ever spoken by a leader of the nation of Israel.
Our efforts here to demonstrate that men of GOD on occasion inserted their own opinions and perspectives into what they wrote, should in no way belittle or lesson the greatness of the Bible. As Paul noted in his letter to Timothy, that which was given is for one's profit; inspired scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof and for correction so that the man of GOD might be instructed in righteousness (2TIMOTHY 3:16-17). We require scripture so as to be completely outfitted for our various functions and ministries. Without the scriptures we would surely be blind as bats when it comes to the things of GOD.
The problem arises when we try to make the Bible into something which it was never intended to be. I've heard people teach that if you hold the Bible over someone and then read it, that it will magically heal them and even cast devil spirits out of them. They believe that every word and even every letter has some spiritual significance, to such a degree that they count the words and devise some mystical meaning from their numerology.
But then someone comes along and shows them an obvious discrepancy or contradiction, and they either stick their heads in the sand and refuse to see what is plain as day, or else they chuck the whole things into the trash, never picking it up again. But have we only two choices? Must we either reject the inspiration of the Bible or else blindly accept everything written as the word and will of GOD? Is there no middle ground? There must be.
Consider some of the other things that scripture claims it is of vital necessity for.
- JOHN 5:46-47 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
Moses' writings prepared the ground, so to speak for Yeshua's words to be received. If those in Yeshua's audience did not believe what GOD revealed in the Hebrew Bible, they most likely were not going to believe those things which Yeshua taught.
- ROMANS 4:23-24 Now it [the record in GENESIS concerning Abraham] was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.
- ROMANS 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
That which was written aforetime, the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, were written for the learning of later believers, for their hope. Scripture has a purpose and a function. It was given by the inspiration of GOD so as to fulfill HIS purposes. But all scripture was not given by revelation from GOD. No where in the Bible can this assumption be substantiated.
If GOD inspired one of HIS servants to write words of exhortation and encouragement to certain believers because they were about to enter into troubling times, once we take those words out of the context in which they were given and try to apply them to ourselves, we of course no longer have the words of GOD.
For example, when GOD told Moses to lead the nation of Israel across the Red Sea, that instruction was for them; it was for their specific situation, and not for one in which we might find ourselves. That was the word of GOD given for them to believe. It was not given to us. Likewise are the other scriptures. They were given for a purpose, and once we remove that scripture out of the context in which it was given, we no longer have the word of GOD. Of course we can forever learn from the experiences of previous believers, but we dare not take the word of GOD given to them and try and make it apply to ourselves or our peculiar situation.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 9:9-10 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 10:11 Now all these things [the wilderness experiences recorded in EXODUS] happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [era] are come.
Paul lived and wrote in a unique time in the history of man. It was the end of that era. Yeshua's return was close upon them and all of the loose ends of the previous age were being wound up. Thus, many of the things written in the Hebrew Bible were for the express purpose of giving those first century believers pertinent examples for their admonition and exhortation.
So what of us? Are these scriptures still profitable for us today? If they aren't we are in a most sorry state. If we are to find that fellowship with our Creator, if we are to discover the truth concerning our salvation and resurrection, we must have something we can trust. We must be able to come to the lofty summit where we can finally see and realize that the gospel is truth. We must find and unearth that hidden treasure and thus reap to ourselves the fruits of righteousness. This magnificent Bible is the way. This astounding book leads us along the path of discovery straight to the heart of GOD. This is the purpose of GOD's word, to go before HIM, to accomplish HIS purposes, to make HIM evident. Let us rejoice together that we today can easily enter into this word and build our lives upon it. Let us continue to grow and develop into the men and women GOD would have us to be.
We must be careful not to let difficult passages which may be un-inspired portions of scripture diminish for us the vital importance of the Bible itself. Yeshua declared that whomsoever receives those whom He sends, is receiving Him; and further that whomsoever receives Him is receiving GOD who sent Him (JOHN 13:20). And again, Yeshua affirmed that He had given His disciples the words which GOD had given Him (JOHN 17:8). Thus, as the Bible is the sole receptacle of Yeshua's words, as well as the words of His disciples, then according to Yeshua the Bible is the only source we can trust to contain the words of GOD.