The Bible: Inspired Scripture?

July 24, 2008

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, 2Ti 3:16, the key verse that Fundamentalists use to claim that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God could not possibly mean that New Testament scripture is inspired (see New Testament: Inspired Scripture?”). Now, I will show that the English translations for this verse are not accurate, and that the verse does not even mean that the Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) is inspired! The explanation will get a bit technical, but I will provide examples along the way. Note that I’ve provided the Greek here for reference – but you will not need any previous understanding of Greek to understand this post. So just stay with me and just take it slow.

To my knowledge, the original Greek text for 2Ti 3:16 is not disputed and is recorded in the Stephanus Textus Receptus as:

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν πρὸς ἔλεγχον, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

An English transliteration of the above Greek is:

pasa graphē theopneustos kai ōphelimos pros didaskalian pros elegmon pros epanorthōsin pros paideian tēn en dikaiosunē

For convenience, I’ll use the transliteration from here on out when I want to talk about the original Greek. The NIV translates this verse as:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

But that’s not the best translation of the verse. The literal word-for-word translation of the beginning of this verse is (we only care about the beginning – the rest is undisputed):

each writing God-breathed also profitable for…

Note absence of the verb, “is”, which is not used in the Greek. The question is: where should “is” go in the English translation? Should it go in this location?

Option 1: “each God-breathed writing is also profitable…”

If so, then the verse simply states that ‘writing which happens to be God-breathed is profitable’ – it does not state that ‘all writing is God-breathed and is therefore profitable.’

Or should the verb, “is”, go in this location:

Option 2: “each writing is God-breathed also profitable…”

If it goes here, then the verse really does make the claim that ‘all writing is God breathed. ‘ Note that the order of “writing” and “God-breathed” are different in the 2 options – more on this in the Example 2 below. So which translation is correct?

It depends on whether the verb, theopneustos (God-breathed, or “inspired”), is used in the passive form or the active form. The word was originally known only in the passive verbal form and it was most likely used in the passive form here too, though this is disputed – see this technical discussion for the history of the debate and why the passive form is more likely).

Example 1: Active vs. Passive verbs

In the sentence, “the dog bit the boy”, the verb “bit” is active because there is a subject (the dog) that acts upon an object (the boy) and that particular action is described by the verb (bit). However in the sentence, “the bitten boy cried”, the verb bitten is passive because it does not describe an action between a subject and object, and it is used as an adjective because it describes the state (bitten) of the subject (the boy). In English, the passive and active forms, “bit” and “bitten” are written differently. In Greek, theopneustos would be written the same way whether used in the active form or the passive form. In the passive form, theopneustos likewise serves as an adjective because it modifies the word, “writing” – it tells you it is not talking about just any writing, it is talking specifically about God-breathed writing.

Example 2: “writing God-breathed” – or – “God-breathed writing”?

In English, the adjective comes before the noun as in big (adjective) house (noun). In Greek, the adjective comes after the noun, as it does in many other languages – like Spanish for example. To say “big house” in Spanish, you would say “casa grande”, not “grande casa”. So in the Greek phrase, “graphē theopneustos”, since theopneustos is used as an adjective as we’ve discussed above, it is translated into English as “God-breathed writing” as in Option 1 above (not “writing God-breathed” as in Option 2 above).

Now, with the correct translation for graphē theopneustos as “God-breathed writing“, there is only one place to put the auxiliary verb, “is”:

each God-breathed writing is also profitable…

One final note, the word “graphē” does not mean scripture or sacred writing, it means any “writing”. It is the same word used for financial ledgers for example. Then it makes no sense to claim that all writing is inspired since financial ledgers are probably not. It would make better sense to talk about certain inspired writings – which is exactly the case when “graphē theopneustos” is correctly translated as “God-breathed writing”.

The Gift of Interpretation of Tongues

July 9, 2008

Are tongues and the interpretation of tongues really spiritual gifts? The Bible says that they are:

1Co 12:8-10; For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

What do you suppose would happen if we put the gift to the test? What do you suppose would happen if two people with the gift of interpretation of tongues were to interpret the same utterance from someone who had the gift of tongues? A test would be easy to set up: get someone with the gift of tongues to speak in tongues into a microphone. Put two people with the gift of interpretation of tongues in different rooms and let them hear the utterance of tongues over headphones. Let them interpret the utterance while someone else records the interpretations. Compare the interpretations; they should be identical or nearly so.

If the interpretations are not identical, it could simply mean that at least one of the two interpreters was a phony; if the speaker of tongues was a phony, then neither interpreter should be able to interpret at all. To be fair, in the off chance that the interpretations don’t match, repeat the test with new interpreters. If the interpretations are still not identical, it could mean the at least one of the two new interpreters is also a phony. Try it again. And again.

The real test is this: how many interpreters would you test before you would admit that the bible is wrong: there is no such thing as the gift of interpretation of tongues?

New Testament: Inspired Scripture?

July 7, 2008

The majority of bible scholars agree that 2 Timothy, one of the 3 Pastorals (along with 1 Timothy and Titus), was written between 100-150 ce. and that Paul was not the author, despite the epistle’s own claim that it was from Paul to Timothy:

2Ti 1:1-2 (NIV translation); Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Fundamentalist Evangelical scholars hold that since Paul died in 67 ce and since 2 Timothy claims to be written by Paul, then it must have been written no later than 67 ce (see an example of this claim).

No matter which group of scholars is right, the Bible could not be the inerrant Word of God. In other words, if the majority of bible scholars are correct, that 2 Timothy was written between 100-150 ce, then it is a forgery claiming to be written by Paul when in fact it was not. Thus the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God since it includes a forgery. However if the evangelical scholars are right, that Paul really wrote 2 Timothy cerca 67 ce, then the Bible is still not the inerrant Word of God. Here’s why:

The essential verse that fundamentalists cite to support their claim of the Bible’s divine inspiration is 2Ti 3:16 which states (NIV translation):

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Ignoring the obvious logical problem of why we should accept that 2Ti 3:16 is itself inspired, let’s get a bit more technical. “Scripture” in 2Ti 3:16 must mean the Hebrew Scriptures, since the preceding verse, 2Ti 3:15, says (NIV translation):

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures…

If we presume that a reasonable average age for Paul’s audience was 30 years old, then the “scripture” in 2Ti 3:15 must have been considered scripture 30 years earlier; that is, around 27 ce (67 ce – 30 years) – which means that the “scripture” in verses 2Ti 3:15-16 must have been written much earlier than 27 ce to be considered scripture. The earliest New-Testament scriptures were written in 50 ce, long after the “scripture” which was referenced in 2Ti 3:15. Then 2Ti 3:16 could not possibly be referring to New-Testament writings; it must be referring to Old-Testament writings (Hebrew Scriptures). If 2Ti 3:16 is referring to Hebrew writings, then there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests specifically that any New-Testament writings are divinely inspired.

The Gift of Faith

July 5, 2008

I recently wrote about a spiritual gift test I had taken online. Besides being amused that fundamentalist Christians seem to believe that ordinary talents that we all possess are somehow supernatural gifts, I was struck by one gift in particular: the gift of faith. I thought about this when J.D., another poster on this blog, took the test and came out with a score of 0 (that’s zero: zilch! nichts! nada! zippo!) for his gift-of-faith score. According to, the saved receive their spiritual gifts, including the gift of faith, upon salvation. They justify their claim with the following verses:

1Co 12:4-10; Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

Rom 12:3; …God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

But wait a minute – isn’t faith required for salvation? Then how is faith one of the gifts that one receives after salvation?

It gets worse. If our faith is a gift from God, and if salvation requires faith, then those who are saved were chosen by God to be saved (just as Calvin thought). Then those of us who do not believe were not meant to believe. If God created us and we were not meant to be saved, then it was clearly God’s plan to create us for the purpose of torturing us throughout eternity for our unbelief.

One popular (if inane) chorus that Christians often chant is that it takes too much faith to be an atheist. Rather than respond with reason which all to often falls on deaf ears and sluggish intellects, we should simply quote 1Co 12:4-10 and respond: “it’s a gift from God.”

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