Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
God-Breathed; Breathed Out By God; theopneustos
01/03/2006 - James WhiteIn our working on the key text in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we wish to add in this second week the Greek term qeo,pneustoj (theopneustos, thay-AH-noo-stos, or, if you are really picky and like spitting on folks, thay-AHP-noo-stos). I highly recommend memorizing the term so that you can explain why it does not, in fact, mean "inspired" in the common usage of that term. Here is what I mean.
"Inspired" comes from a Latin term that means "to breathe into." This is specifically not what Paul is talking about. He is not saying that the Scriptures are human words into which God has "breathed" something special, something "beyond" the norm. Neither is he saying that God did something special to the writers of Scripture, though this is a common usage of the term today as well. We all have slipped once in a while and said, "Paul was inspired to write..." or something like that. While all of that is true (holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit, 2 Pet. 1:21), that is not the meaning of the term here. As the NIV and ESV rightly handle the term, it means "God breathed" or "breathed out by God." As Warfield concluded in the article I linked last week:
The traditional translation of the word by the Latin inspiratus a Deo is no doubt also discredited, it we are to take it at the foot of the letter. It does not express a breathing into the Scriptures by God. But the ordinary conception attached to it, whether among the Fathers or the Dognaticians, is in general vindicated. What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.And this is why I have so strongly emphasized this passage, for every single apologetic concern I have ever engaged has, in its final analysis, come down to this issue: has God spoken, and has He spoken with clarity? The number of those who continue to believe what Paul said here without qualification is relatively small, as far as I can tell, today. He is right, however, to say that "all the high attributes of Scripture are built" upon this divine truth, one reflected in the views of Jesus and His apostles. How odd it is that so many who claim to be following "apostolic authority" do not follow the Apostles' example in their view of Scripture; further, so many who claim to follow Christ seem to think they know better than He when it comes to the nature of the Word. How very odd indeed.
So I would suggest presenting this information in this fashion; upon citing the passage, you quickly add, "Now, it is common for folks to misunderstand what Paul is saying here, as if he is simply saying that the Scriptures exist on a slightly higher plane than the 'normal' words of men; that is not what he taught. He used the Greek term theopneustos, which means 'God-breathed' or 'breathed out by God,' and this tells us that the very Scriptures themselves are the creation of God, reflecting His very breath, His very speaking."