The Inspiration of Scripture — Summary

This is a summary (for the menu) of a series of posts on the meaning of the Greek word theopneustos (translated “given by inspiration of God”) in II Timothy 3:16.  It is part of a much longer series on Bibliology (the doctrine of Scriptures) based on a series of sermons I preached called “That Book in Your Hand.”

I dealt with Inspiration at length because of its importance and because well-known theologians (led by Benjamin Warfield) caused confusion, redefining the word away from Biblical and historical usage.  This was not for nefarious purposes (Warfield said exactly what he was doing), but most theologians have uncritically adopted his usage, and modern translations such as the ESV have unfortunately followed him in translating this verse.

“Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos, etymology, and hapax legomenon — An introduction to the word theopneustos, its derivation (etymology), and an explanation of the term hapax legomenon and how it applies to the study of this word.

“Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos in Context — Paul’s use of the word theopneustos is intended to strengthen his exhortation to Timothy to believe and preach the Book in his hand.  Paul is not making an abstract theological point, he is making a strong practical / pastoral appeal with the urgency of a man about to die.  We need to understand “given by inspiration of God” in this context.

“Given by Inspiration” — the Connotations of theopneustos — A look at the Scriptural connotations of the breath of God.  The Bible says the Word is living, life-giving, and life-changing, and the connotations of theopneustos match those characteristics.  Thus, historically translators used “inspired” / “inspiration” to reflect those connotations — it refers to God’s living and life-giving breath being in the Scriptures.  The common modern definition of theopneustos as “God-breathed” or “breathed out by God” is accurate but incomplete — it ignores the connotations which any Scripturally-literate person, such as Timothy, would have immediately recognised.

“Given by Inspiration” — Three Useful Terms — Defining three useful terms:  Revelation (God making Himself known), Inscripturation (the process of revelation being recorded in the Scriptures), and Immediate Inspiration (the Holy Spirit directing Inscripturation so the words of Scripture are the very words of God).  Historically, theologians (including the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions) drew a distinction between Inspiration and Immediate Inspiration.

“Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos, Context Revisited — The context clearly shows that theopneustos is NOT referring to Immediate Inspiration, the act by which God gave the original Scripture manuscripts (“autographs”).  It primarily refers to the living, Divine quality of the Scriptures, which exists even in accurate copies and translations — such as Timothy’s Book-in-hand in Ephesus.  Immediate Inspiration may well be limited to the original autographs, but theopneustos as used in II Timothy 3:16 obviously is not.

The Meaning of theopneustos — This article summarised the above articles, and additionally looked at the grammatical context of the word and the history of how believers have understood the word.

Until about 1880, the theological consensus was broad….  The word theopneustos should be translated “inspired” or “given by inspiration,” often with the explicit recognition that it was with the sense of “in-breathing.”

Warfield’s Redefinition of Inspiration — In the late 19th century, Benjamin Warfield and A.A. Hodge adopted a new, narrower definition of theopneustos.  They limited it to a technical term describing the act of giving the Scriptures — previously called “immediate inspiration”.  They now said “inspiration” (theopneustos) only applied to the original autographs, and was a technical historical term about the giving of the Scriptures rather than a pastoral term about the current value of “That Book in Your Hand.”

The Scriptures — Inspired or Expired? — Why it matters:  most theologians today (and many pastors) say only the original autographs are inspired.  They say your Book-in-hand is not inspired.  By their redefinition, they are right, but to accept their definition is to steal II Timothy 3:16 from the man in the pew — it only talks about what God did millenia ago, not about what you hold in your hand.  They are wrong.  The verse is saying that your Book-in-hand (just like Timothy’s IS G0d-inspired (divine in nature), living and life-giving, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Supplementary post later:

Theopneustos Again — A good point from a correspondent about Matthew 4:4 emphasising the living nature of the Scriptures, which fits with the Biblical and historical understanding of theopneustos rather than with the modern redefined view.

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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