God breathed?

       Just how did the information recorded in this collection of documents we call the Bible come to be? 

       Many believe what Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about Scripture being “inspired” or “God breathed” is evidence that all Biblical Scripture came to be as a result of God directly orchestrating and managing the thoughts of Scriptural authors.

       2 Timothy 3:16: All scripture (Greek: graphē) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (KJV).

      The phrase "is given" is not in the Greek text. There is no verb in this passage. The word "and" (Greek conjunction καὶ ) following the word God is missing from older Greek and Latin texts according to the Adam Clark Commentary. Clark, a Greek, Hebrew and Latin scholar, writes that the Greek conjunction καὶ  "certainly does not agree well with the text." The word "is" before the word profitable is not in the Greek text. The NIV and ASV render 2 Timothy 3:16 in the following manner.

       All scripture is God-breathed (Greek: theopneustos) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. "God-breathed" appears to be the correct rendering of theopneustos as opposed to "inspired."  More on this below.

       Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.

      The 1526 William Tyndale translation of this passage is: For all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable to teach, to improve, to inform, and to instruct in righteousness. This was the first English translation taken wholly from a Greek text. Note that there is no word "is" before the phrase "given by inspiration of God." 

       Pasa graphe theopneustos kai ophelimos pros didaskalian pros elegchen pros epanorthosin pros paideian ten en dikaiosune" (Greek text transliterated).

       As mentioned above, the word "is" does not appear in the Greek text before "God breathed" (theopneustos).  That is why some translations, such as the ASV and the Tyndale do not include the word "is" in their translation. They simply speak of all scripture that is God breathed is profitable for various purposes. Does this mean that some scripture is not God breathed?   If this should be the case, is it only "God-breathed" Scripture that is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

       If not all Scripture is "God breathed," how does one distinguish between Scripture that is "God breathed" and Scripture that is not?  Is non-God breathed Scripture not as useful as God breathed Scripture?  What does it mean to say Scripture is "God breathed"?  We will discuss these issues going forward in this essay.

       The English word scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 is from the Latin scriptura which means "to write or a thing written."  Scriptura translates the Greek word graphē which in the Greek means "writings or a thing written."  Scripture simply means something written. Graphē, in its various tenses, appears 51 times in the NT and by context can be seen to mostly refer to the OT Scripture. In 2 Timothy 3:15 we find the Greek word gramma translated as scripture. This word is similar in meaning to graphē. It means “that which has been written.” It appears 15 times in the NT and by context can be seen as mostly referring to OT writings. In 1 Timothy 5:18 it appears to refer to both an OT writing and a NT writing.

       1 Timothy 5:18: For the Scripture (graphē) says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."

       While the statement about muzzling the ox is taken from Deuteronomy 25:4, the statement about the worker deserving his wages is not found in the OT but is found in Luke 10:7 where Jesus is recorded as saying "for the worker deserves his wages."  This indicates the Gospel of Luke was already written when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy.

        The word scripture, whether it be translated from scriptura, graphē or gramma, does not in and of itself have any intrinsic meaning of being sacred or holy.  This word can be applied to any written document and is so done in Greek literature. Biblical Scripture (Biblical writings) came to be identified as writing worthy of reverence, having authority and instructive of the things of God.  Paul refers to the OT narrative as the Holy Scriptures. The English word “holy” is translated from several Greek words that have the general meaning of something dedicated or consecrated to God and worthy of reverence. 

       2 Timothy 3:15: and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures (Greek: gramma), which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

       Romans 1:1-2: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures (graphais).

       We see Jesus relating to the OT Scriptures as presenting truthful history.  We see Jesus making a number of statements that show He believed in the reality of what the OT Scriptures were saying. He cites Jonah in the belly of the great fish, alludes to the creation of Adam and Eve, the Cain and Able event and Noah and the flood.

       Matthew 12:40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

       Matthew 19:4-5: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ?

       Matthew 23:35: And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah....

       Luke 17:26:27:  "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

       Luke 20:37: But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord `the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'

         It is obvious that Jesus believed the OT Scriptures to be truthful narrative. Did Jesus  view all OT Scripture as God breathed?  When Jesus was being tempted by Satan to make stones into bread, He responded with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3. "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Did Jesus, in saying, "every word that comes from the mouth of God" see every word of the OT Scripture as being words coming from the mouth of God?   


       What does Paul mean by saying Scripture is God breathed?  The word translated “God breathed” or “inspired,” is taken from the Greek word Theopneustos. Theopneustos is a compound word consisting of Theos which means God and pneuma which is the Greek word translated as spirit, breathe and wind in the NT.  So how are we to understand this word? 

       Translation involves determination of how a word in one language can best be understood in another language.  Translators often rely on how the word is used in the context of other literature of the time and/or how it is used in other parts of the literature being translated.  In the case of Theopneustos, it appears only this once in the NT and is not found in other Greek literature of the first century.  There is no equivalent word in the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, it has been difficult to determine exactly what Theopneustos means. 

       There has been considerable scholarly discussion as to the grammatical construction of Theopneustos and the entire Greek phrase, pasa graphē theopneustos which the NIV and some other translations render as “All scripture is God-breathed.”  The Latin Vulgate translates the Greek Theopneustos into the Latin divinitus inspirita which is translated into the English as “divinely inspired.” It appears some renderings, such as the KJV, used the Latin translation of Theopneustos.  Bullinger, in his ”Companion Bible,” footnotes “inspired,” pointing out that this English word means to breathe in and not breathe out as readers often assume. Most scholars feel “God breathed” is the proper translation of Theopneustos and have avoided the Latin rendering. Modern translations of the Greek Scriptures render theopneustos "God breathed."

       Some scholars see pasa graphē theopneustos as denoting how Scripture is received by those who hear it rather than how it came to be. This approach is supported by no less an authority than Professor Hermann Cremer, author of “Biblico-theological Lexicon.”  Professor Cremer has concluded that Theopneustos does not relate to the origin of Scripture but to how it is received by the reader and how it affects the reader.

       Some feel this view is more harmonious with the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy.  In verse 14 and 15, Paul admonishes Timothy to continue in those things he has learned (taken in) and how from his youth he has known the Holy Scriptures.  In verse 16 he tells Timothy the Scriptures he has received from his youth are profitable.  In this whole section of Paul’s letter, he appears to be dealing with the receiving of Scripture and not how it came to be written.  

        Paul writes that Scriptures Timothy has known from infancy are holy and able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). Since there was no NT Scripture extant when Timothy was growing up, Paul is obviously referring to OT Scripture.  An examination of the great amount of research done on 2 Timothy 3:16 has led me to conclude that the proper rendering of the Greek of this passage is "Every (or All) scripture God breathed is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

       Paul is not telling Timothy that all Scripture is God breathed as is commonly believed within the Christian community. He is simply telling Timothy that it is God breathed Scripture, Scripture that results from words actually spoken by God, that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. There is a distinction being made here between all Biblical Scripture and that Scripture that is God breathed. The belief that Paul is saying all Scripture is God breathed has been largely promulgated by the insertion of the verb "is" before Theopneustos in the translation of this passage.  As discussed above, "is" does not appear before Theopneustos in the Greek text of this passage.                

       In Paul telling Timothy to give heed to Scripture that is God breathed, he is telling Timothy to give heed to Scripture that came to be as a direct result of the Spirit of God speaking through human agents.  As discussed above, Theopneustos is a compound word consisting of Theos which means God and pneuma which is the Greek word translated as spirit, breathe and wind in the NT. When Paul writes of Scripture being God breathed (Theopneustos), he is talking about Scripture that directly reflects the involvement of the Spirit of God.  It is Scripture that records God directly speaking through human agents or directly influencing their thoughts.  Prophecy is a good example of this.   

         In 2 Pet 1:21, Peter says, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  What does it mean to be carried along by the Holy Spirit?   Peter is dealing specifically with prophecy (the Greek implies predictive utterances) in this passage. In the OT Books of Exodus through Deuteronomy we see a great deal of instruction directly given by God to Moses. In the OT there are over 400 passages of Scripture that contain the phrase "thus saith the Lord." There are hundreds of additional OT passages where by context it can be seen that it is the word of God being recorded. This is God breathed Scripture. The Book of Revelation is another example of what is recorded being God breathed.

       Is all Biblical Scripture God breathed?  Is all Biblical Scripture the result of God directly providing the thoughts that resulted in written narrative? No, it is not. When reading the Biblical Scriptures, it becomes apparent that while there is a good amount of narrative that can be directly attributed to God speaking (God breathed), there is also a great deal of narrative where this is not the case as will be seen as we move forward with this discussion.

       This being said, it should be understood that by saying "Every scripture God breathed is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" Paul is not saying Scripture that is not God breathed can't be useful for these purposes as well. Paul is simply making an observational statement that God breathed Scripture is useful in this way. We must be careful not to read more into Paul's statement than is there. In reading the Scriptures, it should be obvious we can glean useful information from both narrative that is seen as directly provided by God and narrative that is not.  

       Paul says that every God breathed Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."  Righteousness is seen in Scripture as simply doing what is right in the sight of God. It is largely seen as being obedient to what God commands. It should be obvious there is much Scripture that has nothing to do with  "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."  This should clearly tell us that Paul is not saying to Timothy that "All Scripture is God breathed" (a common rendering of 2 Timothy 3:16) and because of this all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness.  As simply reading the Scriptures will reveal, not all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. A lot of Scripture records routine activities of various individuals that have nothing to do with training in righteousness. 

       Let us again consider the question of just how it was that the Scriptures came to be. Did God directly manage the thoughts of Scriptural writers so that what they wrote inerrantly reflected the mind of God?  If that is the case, what about writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas that were considered God breathed Scripture by many early Christians and some church leaders?  These documents were later excluded from that group of documents that came to be recognized as canonical.  When such documents became excluded from the canon, was it because such documents were determined not to be God breathed after all?  Can non-canonical documents be considered God breathed? 

       For example, are the additional canonical books of the Catholic Bible, referred to as the apocrypha, God breathed writings?  Catholics certainly think so. Is the book of Enoch presently found in the Ethiopian cannon a God breathed document?  Ethiopian Christians certainly think so.  

      The answer to this apparent dilemma may be in seeing many Scriptural writings (canonized and non-canonized) as coming to be not through God directly placing thoughts into the heads of Scriptural authors (God breathed) as is true in the case of prophecy, but instead Scriptural authors responding to experiencing the things of God in a variety of ways and recording their experience in writing. 

       If we are to believe that all Scripture is God breathed, we are faced with some serious problems. For example, Matthew quotes Jesus as using the phrase "kingdom of heaven" 31 times in his Gospel.  Yet when you look at these same quotes of Jesus in the Gospel's of Mark, Luke and John, these authors have Jesus saying "kingdom of God."  So, what did Jesus say? Was it kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God?  Since only Matthew, among the NT authors, uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" in his quotes of Jesus, it would appear Jesus used the phrase "kingdom of God" and Matthew had some personal reason for substituting the phrase "kingdom of heaven" for "kingdom of God." 

       If this is the case, isn't Matthew, by using the phrase "kingdom of heaven," putting words in Jesus' month?  Was Matthew "inspired" to quote Jesus as saying "kingdom of heaven" while the other Gospel writers were "inspired" to quote Jesus as saying "Kingdom of God"?  I don't think Jesus was talking out of two sides of His mouth. The dilemma presented here for the traditional view that all Scripture is God breathed should be apparent. In Part Four of this series, we will look at a number of recorded events where there is inconsistency between authors who report on these same events. It will become obvious that not all Biblical Scripture is God breathed which means not all Biblical Scripture is the word of God. The issue of the Bible being the "word of God" is discussed in Part Five of this series. 

       As we have seen, there is some question as to whether Theopneustos has to do with how the Scriptures are given or has to do with how they are received. The Latin's interpreted Theopneustos as “inspired.” This word is commonly associated with our response to what we experience.  Inspire literally means to breathe in. We are inspired by a beautiful sunrise or sunset. We are inspired by a musical composition or a piece of fine art.  We are inspired by beautiful flowers or a star lit night.  When we say we are inspired, what we are saying is that we are experiencing certain awe and reverence toward that which we are taking in.     

         Luke 1:1-3:  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.  

       Luke says that many had undertaken to draw up an account of the Christ event.  We have only four accounts that became part of the Bible.  We call them the “Gospels.”  Luke implies, however, that there were many accounts drawn up regarding the Christ event. Were these accounts God breathed or where they simply written response by authors who were inspired by the Christ event (I am here, and going forward in this essay, using the word “inspired” to describe a human response to what is observed and not “inspired by God” as seen in some translations of Theopneustos).         

        Luke says information about the Christ event was handed down by those who were eyewitnesses, individuals who apparently had spent time with Jesus.  Luke shows he carefully investigated everything from the beginning and then proceeded to write a report to his friend Theophilus.  There is nothing here to suggest what Luke wrote was supernaturally poured into his head. There is no indication given that God was micromanaging the research Luke did or directly influencing what he choose to write.  All indications are that Luke simply gathered information, examined it for validity and wrote it down as a report to his friend Theophilus.

        Can we say Luke was inspired?  Yes, we can.  What he discovered in his research inspired him greatly.  All indications are that inspiration involves our taking in of the things of God and reacting to them with great reverence and then ordering our lives accordingly.  Much of the information in Biblical Scripture is simply the recorded responses of what the writers of such information experienced.          

       The approach of Luke in writing an account of the Christ event for his friend Theophilus is very instructive in providing us with insight as to how the writing of much of the Biblical Scriptures was produced.  Much of Scripture involves the recording of past events.  The recording of past events is historical writing.  What Luke did is precisely what any historian does. A historian gathers information by first talking to eyewitness if available.  He then talks to others who are familiar with the events he is writing about.  He studies the works of others who have written about the same events. He then puts it all together and proceeds to write his own account.  Luke simply took information available to him and wrote his own history. 

       Does this mean that nothing Luke wrote is God breathed?  Of course not.  When Luke quotes OT prophecy or quotes the teachings of Jesus, he is writing God breathed material. The teachings of Jesus can be seen as God breathed because Jesus plainly said that what he taught was from the Father.  

       John 7:15-16: The Jews were amazed and asked, "How did this man get such learning without having studied?"Jesus answered, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.  

       Does this mean that everything Jesus said was God breathed? Of course not. Jesus engaged in everyday conversation just as we all do. Such conversation was not God breathed. When we see such conversation recorded in the Gospels it is not the word of God but simply a record of what Jesus said in routine conversation. When Luke, as well as Matthew, Mark and John, record day to day travel and interactional activity, there is no reason to believe this material is God breathed.  Such material is not the word of God as such but the word of man about events and activities associated with the word of God.

       Much of both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures is historical writing. In the OT we have the written history of many events that relate to the nation of Israel. We especially see this in Joshua, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Chronicles and 1st and 2nd Kings. In the NT Gospels we see narrative providing information as to the travels of Jesus and the Apostles and their interactions with the religious leaders of their day. In the Book of Acts we find much narrative describing the events that shaped the development and growth of the Christian Church. The same can be said for the contents of the letters (epistles) that make up a good portion of the NT.  This is not God breathed material but simply a documentation of events and activities that relate to the development of Christianity.

       What about doctrinal material seen in the letters of Paul and other of the Apostles?  Is this God breathed material?  Some of this material involves quotations of the prophets and Jesus which is God breathed material. There is a lot of teaching, especially by Paul, concerning salvation theology. Much of this can be seen as reflective of what Jesus taught and so is reflective of what God the Father gave to Jesus (God breathed). We know that Paul and the other NT writers had the Spirit of God dwelling in them which guided them in their thought processes. While having the Spirit of God does not guarantee complete accuracy, it does engender confidence that what is said/written is valid information         

       As already discussed, when Luke wrote his Gospel, God was not micromanaging his thoughts as to what to write and not write?  Even though Luke had the Spirit of God dwelling in him this doesn't mean everything Luke wrote was God breathed. God breathed material is where the word of God is directly disseminated to a human agent who speaks/records what he hears from God. This does not appear to be the way Luke came to write his Gospel or the Book of Acts.

       It appears much more reasonable to conclude the Spirit of God was stirred up in Luke  which led him to gather information about the Christ event and the development of  Christianity and share this information in written form with his friend.  When Luke wrote the Book of Acts, he was writing a history of the development and growth of the Christian community.  Luke provides information about the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Saul/Paul, interactions between Paul, Peter, Barnabas and Silas and events associated with Paul's missionary journeys. It would not appear God was "breathing" this information into Luke's brain.  He was simple recording information he had gathered much as he had done in writing his Gospel. 

       There is indication that some of what Paul wrote in his letters is information received in much the same way Luke received his information. Here is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians as recorded in 1st Corinthians 15:3-8.

      For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.

       From where did Paul receive this information?  It could be argued that he received it directly from God (God breathed). On the other hand, he could have had it handed down to him from others just as Luke did. The fact that Paul reflected on his own encounter with Jesus (probably the event on the road to Damascus) would indicate that the rest of what he said in this passage reflected matter of fact observations of others that were handed down to Paul.     

       This being said, when we see Paul teaching things that directly pertain to the message of the gospel, it may be more accurate to see such teaching to reflect a direct revelation from God delivered through Jesus.

       In 1st Corinthians 11:23-25 it is recorded that Paul said, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."

       What does Paul mean in saying he received this information from the Lord?  Did Paul receive it in some kind of direct revelation from Jesus?  Was it received from the Lord indirectly by it being handed down to Paul in the same manner Luke records information being handed down to him?  Luke records the same event in his Gospel that Paul speaks of in 1st Corinthians 11 (Luke 22:19-20).  Matthew and Mark also record this event in their Gospels in pretty much the same manner.  Matthew, being one of the twelve, would have been an eye witness to this event. Did Mark and Luke receive this information from Matthew and Paul subsequently received it from one of them or possibly from Matthew? 

       In Galatians 1:24 Paul is recorded as saying “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."

       How is “revelation from Jesus” to be understood? Some believe Jesus personally instructed Paul while he was in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). However, Paul says nothing in Galatians 1:17 about being taught by Jesus while in Arabia. For a comprehensive discussion of Paul's journey to Arabia go to Part 16 of my sermon series on the Book of Acts. 

      In the Galatians 1:24 passage, Paul specifically identifies that it is the gospel that he received from Jesus. The gospel is the good news of salvation through the Christ event which Scripture shows includes information about the dynamics that pertain to the Kingdom of God.  Since the gospel is the very foundation of the Christian theological system, it is very likely Jesus revealed information about the gospel in a very direct way to Paul.

       In his defense before King Agrippa, Paul quotes Jesus as telling him "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you" (Acts 26:16). The phrase “what I will show you” indicates Jesus would provide Paul with additional revelation.  Jesus did say that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). The night before He was crucified, Jesus said the Spirit would teach and remind the disciples of all things Jesus said.  This would certainly include the gospel message. Therefore, it should be apparent that when Paul tells the Galatians that the gospel he preached to them came by revelation of Jesus Christ, it did indeed come through Jesus Christ by the power of the promised Holy Spirit.

       As discussed earlier, there is every reason to believe that the authors of NT documents are the authors of record.  These authors wrote their material in close proximity to the events and issues they write about.  The Gospels and Acts were written shortly after the events they report.  The Epistles and the Revelation are addressed to first century congregations and Christians at large of the developing Christian community. There is every reason to believe these documents were written in the first century as previously discussed.

       Much of Scripture is historical in nature and is a written reflection of how events were perceived by the writer and/or a reflection of the material the writer used to produce his document. In recording the basic events of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, the NT writers are in agreement.  When it comes to some of the details of these events, there is some variation in what is reported.  This variation in detail can be found throughout the Scriptures and must be accounted for on the basis of the human element that’s involved in the writing of these documents. This variation in detail also provides greater attestation to the events reported as it reflects the perspective of different authors who are not in collusion as to detail.

       When writers of Scripture wrote their letters, gospels, prophecies and historical accounts, there is nothing to indicate that these writers foresaw that someday their writings were going to be collected, canonized and considered inerrant, infallible documents.  When Peter referred to some letters of Paul as Scripture, did Peter believe what Paul wrote was inerrant, infallible divinely orchestrated statements?

       2 Peter 3:15-16:  Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, (Greek: graphē) to their own destruction.

       Did Peter believe God directly implanted in Paul’s mind what to write in these letters and therefore they were of inerrant divine origin and authority?   He says Paul wrote things hard to understand.  Was God manipulating the thoughts of Paul to write things hard to understand?  There is nothing in the context of this passage to show that Peter is treating Paul’s letters as robotically written as God poured information into Paul’s head including things hard to understand.  Instead, we see Peter saying that Paul wrote “with the wisdom that God gave Him.” 

       The Scriptures clearly show that God, through His Spirit, provides wisdom, understanding and knowledge.  The Scriptures do not show God micromanaging our thoughts through His Spirit. As Christians, our thoughts are influenced by the Spirit of God.  What we do with that influence is up to us.  Biblical authors were influenced by the Spirit of God as they wrote what they wrote.  But their own thought processes were much involved with what they wrote.

       When Peter writes that Paul writes things hard to understand this wasn’t because God breathed into Paul things hard to understand.  Paul was a well trained scholar and at times wrote like one.  Yet because Paul was in tune with the things of God, we can be assured what Paul wrote reflected the mind of God.  This does not mean that everything Paul wrote reflected the absolute will of God for all time. 

       For example, Christians often look at Paul’s letters in the NT and conclude that what is written in these letters is God speaking to us today.  In reality, Paul is often dealing with issues and problems pertinent to his contemporaries and pertinent to first century culture with little if any direct relevance to us today.  We must remember that when we read letters written to Paul’s contemporaries, we are not reading letters addressed to us. We are reading someone else’s mail.

        For example, eating meats sacrificed to idols is not an issue today.  It was a major issue in the NT church.  Paul had to deal with it. Paul initially dealt with it one way and later dealt with it a different way.  Initially Paul instructed it was not proper to eat meat sacrificed to idols and later He indicated it didn’t really matter.  Was God telling Paul to change his thinking or was Paul simply responding to circumstances and a change in understanding relative to this issue.

        Paul’s instructions relative to whether people should or should not marry were tied to the coming war with Rome and Nero’s persecution of the church, dynamics that are not a factor today.  Even such things as women speaking in the church was tied to customs that came out of Jewish law which would not be applicable to the church today but were a big issue in the first century church which was in the process of moving from the Old to the New Covenant. 

        Apostle Paul was very adamant about women not speaking in church (See 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy: 2:11-12).  Today women are involved in leadership and speaking roles in many Christian fellowships.  Does this mean that all these fellowships are in violation of God’s will?  Is it still a shame for a man to have long hair?  Paul taught that it was in the first century (1 Corinthians 11:14).  Is a man today in violation of God’s will if he has long hair?  Was he in violation of God’s will by having long hair in the first century or was this just something that was an issue in Paul’s mind because of certain circumstances in Paul’s day?

        A careful reading of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth shows that at times Paul is reflecting the teachings of Christ and at other times he is speaking his own mind on an issue.

       I Corinthians 7:10-12: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.’

       Paul continues in this chapter to make a variety of recommendations relative to marriage involving believers and unbelievers, those engaged to be married and virgins.

        Some may argue that even when Paul is speaking his own mind, he is still being led by God’s Spirit and therefore it is really God speaking.  Paul concludes his comments about marriage in this chapter by saying he felt he had the Spirit of God (verse 40).  Having the Holy Spirit does provide guidance in arriving at decisions pertaining to specific circumstances extant at the time.  Many Christians believe the Spirit of God leads them in decision making.  This does not guarantee their decision making is perfect as experience clearly shows.  Many other dynamics play a role in making a decision. 

       When reading through the entire seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, it is apparent Paul made the recommendations about marriage he did because of the troubled times in which they were living and the anticipated Roman persecution and calamity upon Israel.  While what Paul said to the Corinthians about marriage may provide guidelines for Christians today, his recommendations would not necessarily be applicable in the same way today because the social, cultural and political climate is different from what was true during the time of the first century Roman Empire. It is critical that when we read Scripture, we always consider the context.

       While it is true we can learn much from history, it isn’t true that what has happened in the past should necessarily be used to make decisions in the present. New circumstances and dynamics must always be taken into consideration.  Scriptural context must be very carefully evaluated to determine what is still applicable and what may only have been applicable to the time in which a letter or a historical document was written.  It is necessary to examine the cultural, social, political and religious dynamics extant at the time Scriptural documents were written and from there determine whether what is written in such documents has application in the here and now. 

       Audience relevance must always be considered when reading the Scriptures. We must always ask who was being addressed and what meaning did what was said and written have to those hearing or reading what was presented. We must then determine if what was presented has relevance only to those receiving the information at the time or whether such information has relevance to us as well.  Let's now conclude Part Three of this series with an example of God breathed versus man breathed.

God breathed or David breathed?

       When David wrote the Psalms extolling the creative works of God, was he writing these things because God was directly manipulating his thoughts?  This is very unlikely.  If it was God speaking through David when David is seen as extolling God’s creative works, this would be tantamount to God extolling His own works. I would think God would be interested in how David viewed the creation. It should be apparent that David was simply responding to the inspiration he received from seeing the creation all around him and putting that response into writing? 

       David is often seen as praising the Law of God and encouraging his readers to obey it.  David is inspired by the Law of God and writes eloquently about its application to life. Was God pouring into David’s brain what to say about His law or was David simply responding to what he felt about the Law of God no different than we may express how we feel about God’s Law. It makes no sense to believe God is praising His own Law in that He is placing in David’s mind the words David is to write about His Law.  It is David who is praising God’s Law because he is inspired by it and responding to it accordingly.  These are the words of David, not the words of God. David is seen in dozens of his Psalms writing in the first person and offering praises to God.  Here are just a few examples. 

       Psalm 9:1-2: I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.       

       Psalm 54:6b-7: I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

       Psalm 57:9-11: I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

       Psalm 63:3-4: Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.

       Psalm 86:12: Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.

       These are the words of David.  These are not the words of God.  God is not praising Himself through David. God is hearing David praising Him out of David's own heart.  That is why God called David a man after His (God's) own heart (Acts 13:22). There are multiple dozens of Psalms where David is seen as reflecting on the goodness of God and giving God credit for giving him the strength to go on. These are the words of David, not the words of God.

       Some will argue that God inspired David to write what he wrote. Those who argue this use the word inspire as an equivalent to "God breathed." It is believed God facilitated (inspired/God breathed) the thoughts David records in the Psalms. If this is the case, then it is God's thoughts and not David's thoughts we are reading. It isn't David responding to what God is doing in David's life but God responding to what He is doing in David's life. The absurdity of this should be apparent.

       The reality is that David was inspired by God, not in the sense that God poured words of praise and gratitude into David's head but in that David was moved emotionally by what God did for him and responded accordingly. As discussed above, to inspire is to literally breath in air.  This word is used metaphorically to describe being moved in a positive way by what someone else does. David was inspired in that he mentally took in what he was experiencing and responded to it by writing psalms.          

       It is evident that Scriptural writers often expressed their own personal thoughts in writing what they wrote. David wrote Psalms where he expressed his personal feelings. At times he expressed his concerns about being persecuted by his enemies and at times he even expressed thoughts about being abandoned by God.  Was God infusing these thoughts into David’s mind and David was simply recording them. When David is seen as questioning God’s presence in his life are we to believe this questioning is God speaking through David? Such a conclusion is ludicrous.  It should be evident that when David expressed thoughts about God not being there for him or when David expressed anguish over being pursued by his enemies, these were his thoughts not God’s thoughts.   

       While it is evident that some of the Psalms David wrote are prophetic and can therefore be seen as God breathe, it is also evident that many of David's Psalms and Psalms written by others are not the word of God but the word of their human authors. Even where it appears David is writing material that can be seen as being fulfilled in Jesus, we must consider whether this is prophecy being fulfilled or whether David is writing things about himself which have a greater fulfillment in Jesus

       In view of the foregoing discussion, when can it be rightly said that Biblical Scriptures are the word of God and when is it more valid to view Biblical Scripture as the word of man about things associated with God but not the word of God as such?  This issue will be addressed in Part Five of this series.

        In Part Four of this series, we will deal with the issue of Scriptural inerrancy.