“Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos in Context

As I mentioned in a post last week, last Sunday I preached the first in a series of sermons on Bibliology (the study of what the Scriptures are, and how they came to us).  I’ve titled the series “That Book in Your Hand”.  These posts are based loosely on that series.

Yesterday, I posted “Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos, Etymology, and hapax legomenon.  This post builds on that one, so if you haven’t read it, click the link and go read it.  It sounds a little technical, and it is, but I tried to explain things in layman’s terms.  The Scriptures belong to the layman as much as the professional theologian, so I hope you’ll dig in, gird up the loins of your mind, and get a handle on this.  Sometimes very simple concepts are dressed up in complicated words.

I’m using the technical words intentionally, but I am writing for the man and woman in the pew, even for those who haven’t been privileged with a good education.  The academicians may not find my explanations precise enough for their purposes, but they’ll hopefully be adequate for normal usage.  With these posts, or any other for that matter, if I don’t explain anything well enough, send me a message with the Contact link at the top of the page, and I’ll go back and explain it again.  If I didn’t explain well enough for you, then undoubtedly others didn’t get it, either, so I need to do better.

So Far….

I’ll hit just a few summary points.  We’re looking at inspiration from II Timothy 3:16, and in the last post we saw that a single Greek word, theopneustos, is the source of the words “given by inspiration of God” in our KJV translation.  We don’t have as many clues to the meaning of this word as we do for many Greek words, because it only occurs once in the New Testament, it isn’t a word we see commonly (if at all) in the Greek literature of the day, and it might even be a word that Paul, being moved by the Holy Spirit, invented especially for this purpose.

I looked at the etymology of the word (the components from which it is derived) and concluded with this:

We can’t entirely trust the way a word was derived to tell us its meaning, but it probably (in this case) provides strong clues. Based on derivation, the Greek word theopneustos (“given by inspiration of God”) has a meaning related to “breathed by God.” It is indicating something about the divine origin of the Scriptures — they came from God. To discover if there is more than “from God” to its meaning in II Timothy 3:16, we’ll have to look for other clues, which we’ll do in my next post.

The Big Picture in II Timothy 3

As we look at theopneustos (“inspiration”) in II Timothy 3:16, we need to make sure we don’t miss the forest by looking at one tree in isolation.  This is especially true when we need the forest (context) to help us figure out what the tree actually is.  This is “clue #4” from yesterday’s post — the way theopneustos is used in context.  Since we don’t have clues #1-3, we need to be especially careful in evaluating clues #4 & 5.  I had originally included this as a section in the next post, but it is both important enough (and long enough) to be a separate post.

We’ll be looking at two different aspects of “context” in this discussion.  The first (which I’ll deal with in this post) deals with what I’ll call “content context”.  The focus here is on seeing theopneustos within the meaning of the verse, the broader passage, and the book in which it appears.  Later, we’ll look at “grammatical context”, the structure of the sentence in which it appears.

II Timothy 3:10-4:8

3:10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,
11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

4:1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

 Broad Context

For those who don’t know II Timothy well, this was Paul’s final letter (as far as we know) before his martyrdom.  He knew he was about to die (see 4:6 above, and again later in chapter four).  Earlier in the letter, Paul exhorted Timothy to be bold and stand strong in the Lord, and to continue faithful in the ministry which was committed to him.  These themes (Paul’s imprisonment and impending death, Timothy’s responsibility in light of that) run throughout the book, and are very strongly in view in this passage.

The central part of this passage, 3:14-4:5, is Paul’s last instructions to Timothy, bookended by references to the persecution he was suffering (3:10-13, 4:6-8).  This is the closing plea of a man (who expects to be dead very soon) to his “own son in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2).  He exhorts Timothy to hold fast to the Scriptures, to preach the Word, to endure afflictions, and to make full proof of his ministry.  This is the broader context in which we have Paul’s statement that Scripture is “given by inspiration of God” — in the Greek, theopneustos.

I want to emphasise that the chapter break was not present when Paul wrote.  The command to “preach the Word” (and the rest of 4:2 especially) is directly in the context here.  There is a clear parallel, an unmistakable connection, between 4:2 (“reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”) and the second half of 3:16 (“for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”).

It would be doing violence to the text, then, figuratively tearing it in half, if we did not understand 3:14-17 as providing the basis or foundation for the exhortation of 4:1-5.  The truths of 3:14-17 lead to the practice Paul is prescribing in 4:1-5.  The Scripture of which Paul speaks in 3:14-17 (including his use of the word theopneustos) is the Scripture which Timothy is to preach and use to “reprove, rebuke, exhort.”

Narrower Context

As we focus in more narrowly on 3:14-17, if we were to sum up these verses in a single sentence, we might say, “The Scriptures are full equipment for the things I’m about to exhort you to do.”  Let’s look at the characteristics of Scripture laid out for us in these verses.  I’ll call these the trees in the forest:

  • They give confidence (verse 14)
  • They are holy (verse 15)
  • They are understandable (verse 15 — a child can learn from them)
  • They are powerful/able (verse 15, Greek dunamai)
  • They give the wisdom of salvation (verse 15)
  • They teach faith (verse 15)
  • They are “inspired” (verse 16) — theopneustos
  • They are profitable (verse 16) for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness
  • They provide complete equipping for all good works (verse 17)

As we look at this single “tree” of inspiration, we need to see it is part of a “forest of facts” about the Scriptures.  These verses describe the Scriptures as a powerful and effective weapon with which Timothy is fully equipped to “preach the Word” and “make full proof of thy ministry.”

“Content Context” — Summary

As we seek to understand what God meant by theopneustos, the definition that we attribute to the word has to be firmly anchored in this context.  Paul’s purpose here is pastoral.  He is not engaging in an abstract theological discussion.  He is about to die, which as Samuel Johnson famously said, “Concentrates the mind wonderfully.” 

Paul has a practical focus, and urgently exhorts Timothy to trust and use “That Book in His Hands”, the one that Timothy will use to preach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort.  This is the point of theopneustos (“inspiration”), to strengthen Timothy’s faith that the Book he held, read, studied, obeyed, and preached was worthy of those activities.  Any definition of theopneustos that doesn’t do that misses the mark.

Update:  Next in series — “Given by Inspiration” — The Connotations of theopneustos
Meaning of theopneustos.
Main article: The Scriptures — Inspired or Expired?

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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