–2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)
Is given by inspiration of God – All this is expressed in the original by one word – Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired – from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Genesis 2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans. Plutarch ed. R. 9:p. 583. 9. τοὺς ὀνείρους τοὺς θεοπνεύστους tous oneirous tous theopneustous. Phocylid. 121. τῆς δὲ θεοπνεύστου σοφίης λόγος ἐστὶν ἄριστος tēs de theopnoustou sophiēs logos estin aristos.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible for
2 Timothy 3:16
You may be wondering how this connects to my ongoing discussion with Pastor Randy about D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. The answer is, “not much.” Frankly, we started our discussion last night with trying to clarify his thoughts on Divine Election (Pastor has a paper he wants to loan me that describes all of the various positions), but then moved to how we can understand the Bible (Pastor has some reservations relative to how Lancaster derives certain conclusions in his book from the Galatians text). We addressed Sermon Four of the book eventually, but it didn’t occupy the significant portion of our time together, nor was it the most compelling topic upon which we touched.
Going back to “God-breathed,” Pastor said that the Greek word used has the implication of wind filling a sail and pushing the boat along (Correction, according to Pastor Randy’s comment below, “the phrase about ‘the wind filling a sail’ has to do with the II Peter 1:21 passage and the meaning of men being ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.” See the following quote). He told me he believes that as God gave His inspiration to the human writers of the Bible, the authors did not say anything, at least as originally given in their manuscripts, that contradicted what God intended.
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
–2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)
People, that is, prophets and those people who have written the Word of God we have in our Bible, did not hear something from God and then interpret what it meant through their own intellect and emotions. God used their personalities, their vocabulary, their style of writing, their perceptions to craft His message, but the message was and is His message, not the prophets’, and the message “carried them along” as it was first given and recorded in the original documents, and the message was and is exactly what God meant to say and meant to carry us along as well.
But then we have a problem.
We don’t have the original documents…any of them.
Also, Bible reading and translation is an enormously complex task.
According to Pastor Randy, and I agree with him, we have to start with what the text literally says. We also have to apply the immediate context of the scripture, not taking it out and making it stand on its own. Beyond that, we have to consider the history, the culture, and the circumstances in which the scripture was written. On top of that, we have to connect the scripture to the larger context of the entire Bible, including other times when similar circumstances were mentioned and similar or identical wording was used. If, for instance, in describing the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, in understanding the Matthew 22 passage, we must also take into consideration the context, history, culture, and circumstances in which Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 take place, including the author and his personality, vocabulary, style of writing, and personal experiences. We cannot separate what Jesus was trying to say from what Moses was trying to say, however Jesus and all that was in play when he was talking may modify the original meaning, giving it a somewhat different shape, color, and texture.
Oh, and let’s not forget the intended audience. Moses may not have been aware that what he was writing was ultimately intended for the entire world, but we realize that God has a greater scope. Jesus may well have understood that his words would eventually be consumed by all of humanity across time, but his immediate audience, like Moses’ was the Jewish people or more specifically in Jesus’ case, the Pharisee he was addressing at that particular moment.
We must take all that into consideration when reading the Bible and seriously attempting to understand its message.
And we must constantly remind ourselves that it is all God-breathed.
Pastor Randy and I spent most of our time together exploring how to understand the Bible, with the promises and pitfalls built into such an effort. We discussed how we don’t necessarily have to “reinvent the wheel,” since many people have read and observed the literal meaning of the text from a variety of perspectives, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard their work and rely only on our own. Pastor described how he approaches understanding texts looking at those who came before him. He reads a variety of expert analyses and takes into consideration what the scholars they did and didn’t take into consideration.
For instance, a particular writer may have a good grasp of the original language but not sufficiently address the history involved, or another writer may have a good handle on the historical context, but not the cultural context. Pastor said he looks at the various scholarly opinions in that manner and ultimately settles on which one he…wait for it…
…which one he likes best.
Pastor Randy is a literalist, an educator, a scholar, a linguist, and is very serious about pursuing as accurate an understanding of the Bible as he can achieve, but after much discussion we agreed that even under the best of circumstances and intentions, there will always be this little, fuzzy, grey, area in the middle of our understanding where we fill in the blanks with our own personalities.
Geordi La Forge (played by Levar Burton): I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
Data (played by Brent Spiner): Your gut?
Geordi: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You’re right, sometimes they do.
Data: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.
-from the Star Trek: the Next Generation Episode
The Defector (original air date 30 Dec. 1989)
In the scene from which I just quoted, Data concludes that in any meaningful analysis, the observer must fill in whatever blanks there are in the facts and other available information with their personality. In Data’s case, he was in a bind because effectively, he had no personality. All he had were the facts. By the way, it turns out Geordi’s “gut” was wrong. The defector in question had been fed disinformation by his superiors to mislead the Enterprise and ultimately to provoke a war. Fortunately, Picard’s “gut” proved to be more accurate and the ruse was exposed.
All this doesn’t mean that we can never understand the Bible or that we should always equivocate on its meaning, but we should be a little less than one-hundred percent certain that we always know what everything in the Bible means all of the time.
It also means that when we realize we’ve made a mistake based on subsequent study and analysis, we should admit it.
Pastor Randy says that’s one thing he admires about Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). When Boaz and the organization came to the conclusion, several years ago, that they had made a significant error in understanding what the Bible said in relation to Jewish and Gentile covenant responsibilities to God, after much prayer and soul-searching, he announced that FFOZ was making a major shift in its theological and doctrinal position. Boaz knew it would cost FFOZ much of its income and might even result in the organization collapsing completely. Thank Hashem that the latter did not occur, but many sacrifices had to be made. Sadly, to this day, Boaz and his group continue to be severely criticized and harangued by their detractors as a consequence.
That’s the price of integrity and following God where He calls you to go. That’s also part of the ongoing struggle of understanding God through His Word and maturing as people of Spirit and of faith.
I tried to get Pastor Randy to say that you can have a room full of people with equal intelligence, equal qualifications, all people of good character, and they could still disagree with each other on what parts of the Bible mean, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said that we’re all human and we’re all capable, not just of making mistakes, but of following our own human desires. We all can and do sin.
Does that mean there is only one right person (or close-knit group of people) who understands the Bible correctly and it is because he or she is the best person morally and ethically that their understanding is right? Does that mean all of this person’s critics are liars and haters who purposely want to bring the “right” person down in order to elevate their own agendas?
I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that you can gather a group of people together who are of good will and intent who will disagree. Sure, some of the people in that room will be liars and haters, but they should be easily spotted by their lack of integrity and good character (their fruits) in how they treat others and how they walk with God. Even the best of us can allow our personal, pet theories and biases affect our judgment. We all want to be right and to be admired and respected.
But at the end of the day, the best of us (and I’m hardly saying I’m among the best) will put all that aside, suck it up, and make the hard call, even if it costs them, because that’s just what God’s true servants do. Once we realize that the evidence is solid about some piece of scripture, even if it’s not what we want it to mean, we’ll go forward and accept it and embrace it, because that’s part of who we are if we are disciples of our Master. We’ll also continue to study, to learn, and to mature, because God continually breathes in us.
For a ninety minute conversation, last night’s talk with Pastor Randy inspired a lot in me that I could write about…and maybe I will, but I won’t try to cram it all into a single “meditation” today.
But I do want to be a sail. And I do want to be available to the wind. And I do want to let my sail conform to the wind, to the shape it causes me to manifest, to the direction it drives me, toward the destination to which it guides me.
I don’t know yet what distant and alien shore God has planned for my future, but I can feel His hand on me. Do I have the integrity and courage to let Him take me where He wants me to go? I hope so. I pray to possess those qualities that I may serve Him…even in something as “simple” as reading the Bible.
Pastor will be out of the country for the rest of April so naturally, we won’t be meeting each Wednesday evening for the next several weeks. We’ll revisit Lancaster’s Galatians next month and reformulate our study plan for the book…I promise.
In the meantime, I’ll try to continue writing in the spirit of what my Pastor, and ultimately God, provokes in my mind and heart, and move forward with integrity and purpose. Unfurling my sail and setting my course for uncharted seas as the wind sends me forth.