“All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16)
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts his young colleague to be devoted to the truth. Specifically, he calls him to stand against the error and heresy which were infecting the church. He tells him that in the last days the church will be faced with many deceptions and he will need to take a firm stand for the truthfulness of the Bible and its message of salvation through Christ alone. But how? By knowing and understanding the sacred Scriptures. It is only by studying the Scripture that we become “wise for salvation through Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 3:15).
But you may ask, “Why do the Scriptures have this special status? What makes the Bible different from, say, the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita?” Paul tells us that it is the doctrine of divine inspiration. “All Scripture is inspired by God.”
This statement is one of the most important in the Bible. Here Paul reminds us that the ‘sacred letters’ – hiera grammata (v 15), which the NIV translates as ‘holy Scriptures’, are one and the same as ‘all Scripture’ – pasa graphe (v 16), which is God-breathed – theopneustos (v 16). These are the writings which Timothy’s mother and grandmother have taught him from infancy. And Paul says that what makes the Scriptures so important is that they are ‘God-breathed’.
Now the term, ‘all Scripture’ (pasa graphe), is slightly ambiguous. It could mean ‘every Scripture’, referring to individual passages or books, or it could refer to the totality of Scripture, meaning all the collective parts as whole. Whichever sense Paul has in mind, the practical outcome of either is the same. Every part of the Bible, as well as the Bible as a whole, is ‘God-breathed.
Now what does it mean to say that the Bible is ‘God-breathed’ or ‘inspired by God’? ‘Inspired’ is a rather poor word to use to describe the Greek word, theopneustos. The word, ‘inspire’, comes from a Latin root which means ‘to bring in’. However, theopneustos means something different; it means ‘God breathed-out.’ It would be better translated, “All Scripture is expired from God.” It isn’t that God breathes into a writer and he writes. It means that God breathes out the word and the writer is caused to write it down. It is the words or writing which is ‘breathed out’. This is why the Bible is authoritative.
Does this inspiration of Scripture apply to the very words of the Bible? The short answer is, ‘Yes’. Jesus, when He resisted the temptation of the devil, said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The inspiration of the Bible is an important doctrine because it reminds us that God’s word, in all its parts, is trustworthy and true. And when we are dealing with matters of life and death, truthfulness is what we need.