Revisiting θεόπνευστος

I am preparing notes for a theology course on the Bible that I will be teaching at the newly formed Grace Bible Institute in Frederick, MD. Paul declares in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (NASB). The next verse goes on to give the purpose (ἱνα plus a subjunctive verb) for having such Scripture but nothing Paul describes about the Scriptures in verses 16 or 17 is significant unless the Scriptures are authoritative. And what really makes the Scriptures authoritative is that they are the product of God.

The difficulty in rendering θεόπνευστος into English is the fact that the term isn’t found anywhere: not in Classical Greek, not in the LXX, and only here in the New Testament. All the evidence points to the fact that Paul created the term himself, from a combination of two Greek words: θεός (theos) meaning “God” and πνέω (pneō) meaning “to breath out.”

Versions that render the term as “inspired” (NASB, RSV, NRSV, NET) or “given by inspiration” (KJV, NKJV) view the adjective θεόπνευστος as highlighting more what happened to Scripture: it was infused or inspired by God.  Other versions render θεόπνευστος as “God-breathed” (NIV) or “breathed out by God” (ESV). In this sense, these versions are stating that the Scriptures are the product of the creative breath of God. Both are saying the same thing. What makes this challenging still is that the phrase has no verb which then must be supplied. It simply reads

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος

In this phrase we have an adjective + noun + adjective construction with the equative verb “is” (εἴμι) needing to be supplied. A helpful article dealing with the relationship of γραφή to θεόπνευστος is by Daniel Wallace.

But back to the issue at hand: which way of rendering θεόπνευστος is best: “inspired” or “God-breathed”? The lexical evidence, though admittedly scant, does provide us some help. At a strictly diachronic level, I believe the idea of “God-breathed” is best. In other words, the Scriptures are the product of the Divine breath of God. This is because “breathed out” is more illustrative of the compound adjective θεόπνευστος: God breathed out the Scriptures. The term “inspired” has more the idea of breathing in and that really can’t be supported lexically. Some might argue that God “breathed out” and the result was that the Scriptures were the object of his breath and therefore are “inspired” or filled up by the breath of God. That is likely how older versions understood the entire construction which led to their rendering of the term.

B. B. Warfield has done the best theological and exegetical work on θεόπνευστος and so it seems fitting to close with a quotation from him on the 100th anniversary of an article he wrote titled “Inspiration” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia in 1915.  He stated,

For the Greek word in this passage—θεοπνευστος, theopneustos—very distinctly does not mean “inspired of God.” This phrase is rather the rendering of the Latin, divinitus inspirata, restored from the Wyclif (“Al Scripture of God ynspyrid is ….”) and Rhemish (“All Scripture inspired of God is ….”) versions of the Vulgate. The Greek word does not even mean, as the King James Version translates it, “given by inspiration of God,” although that rendering (inherited from Tyndale: “All Scripture given by inspiration of God is ….” and its successors; cf. Geneva: “The whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is ….”) has at least to say for itself that it is a somewhat clumsy, perhaps, but not misleading, paraphrase of the Greek term in the theological language of the day. The Greek term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of a “spiring” or “spiration.” What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them. No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the Divine production of Scripture than that which is here employed. The “breath of God” is in Scripture just the symbol of His almighty power, the bearer of His creative word. “By the word of the LORD,” we read in the significant parallel of Psalm 33:6 “were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” And it is particularly where the operations of God are energetic that this term (whether רוח, ruach, or נשמה, neshamah) is employed to designate them—God’s breath is the irresistible outflow of His power. When Paul declares, then, that “every scripture” or “all scripture” is the product of the Divine breath, “is God-breathed,” he asserts with as much energy as he could employ that Scripture is the product of a specifically Divine operation.

So the Scriptures are authoritative. They are profitable as we see in verse 16 for many things: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” And all this has a purpose as we see in verse 17, “that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

The Scriptures are from God and as a result, they are life-changing.

Categories: B. B. Warfield, Bible, Grace Bible Institute, Greek, Inspiration, θεόπνευστος, Scripture

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