New Testament: Inspired Scripture?

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.

19 Responses to New Testament: Inspired Scripture?

  1. Kevin Bussey says:

    A3,

    What majority believe this? Curious.

  2. The Atheist says:

    Kevin,

    Glad to have you back! :)

    To my knowledge, pseudo-pauline authorship between 80ce and 100ce is accepted by virtually all technically trained biblical scholars – except for a subgroup of Evangelicals (fundamentalist Evangelicals) – and is taught in virtually all accredited universities that have New-Testament studies programs – except for a subgroup of Evangelical (fundamentalist Evangelical) universities. Please correct me if you find out otherwise.

    By “biblical scholar”, I mean professional researchers who are recognized by their peers (proponents and opponents alike) for their high degree of expertise in their specialized fields of textual criticism of the Bible. They make frequent contributions to the field, submit and respond satisfactorily to peer review, and their peers frequently reference their work in technical articles (as support for the article).

    What did you think of the main point of the post – if the fundamentalist position, that 2 Timothy was indeed written by Paul around 67ce is correct, then 2Ti 3:16 could not be referring to New-Testament writings?

  3. Damian says:

    Playing God’s advocate here:

    If the author of 2 Timothy was referring to scripture as a body of writings that were still being added to this would take the wind out of this argument. Just as Solomon could have said “All scripture is God-breathed” even though there was more to come.

  4. The Atheist says:

    Damian,

    If so, then the Qur’an and Mormon texts for example could be the inerrant Word of God as well. Of course we should have a reason for presuming that “Paul” was talking about future writings since there is no indication in the text that he meant that. If our only reason for the presumption is that he didn’t specify which writings he meant, then we could claim, based on the same presumptions, that all writings of all religions (even non-canonical ones) are God-breathed. But then we would also have to conclude that God is just screwing with us ;)

  5. Damian says:

    Believe me, I’m not arguing that there even is such a thing as God-breathed scripture.

    But if a person makes a circular statement that “all scripture is God-breathed” (i.e. it wouldn’t be ‘scripture’ if it weren’t God-breathed) then no matter where they find themselves on this forking tree of apparent God-breathed-ness they will be correct.

    If you are a Muslim you can confidently state that Abraham could have said that “all scripture is God-breathed” and that he was also covering the later inclusion of the Qu’ran. Likewise, if you are Christian you can say the same of Paul even though Paul might not have had a bound copy of the Bible in front of him.

    In essence, if Paul did in fact write 2 Timothy back in 67CE (contrary to the opinions of most historians) then it is possible to say that he was affirming the scriptures that were published before him and whatever you choose to call scripture after him.

  6. The Atheist says:

    I knew you weren’t genuinely arguing in favor of God-breathed scripture, Since you were playing God’s advocate, I took the side of “the Devil” :) I was just answering the argument, irrespective of it’s originator.

    If one takes the (baseless) position that “Paul” might have meant future scripture, even though he didn’t say that he did, and the position is based solely on the fact that he didn’t specifically say that he didn’t mean future scripture, then you have no basis to refute claims that he also meant extra-biblical writings (like the Qur’an, Book of Morman, etc), since he didn’t specifically say he didn’t mean those.

    If you are a Muslim you can confidently state that Abraham could have said that “all scripture is God-breathed” and that he was also covering the later inclusion of the Qu’ran. Likewise, if you are Christian you can say the same of Paul even though Paul might not have had a bound copy of the Bible in front of him.

    One point of fact: there is no claim that Abraham said that scripture was God-breathed. In any case, where you run into problems is showing why your (i.e., the Christian) claim is valid and other claims are not. If you affirm that Paul indeed meant future scripture because he didn’t explicitly deny it, you find yourself in the bind of having to accept that he could have also meant that “other scripture” is God-breathed, including writings which might conflict with the canonical writings of the Bible.

    BTW, I LOL’ed at the term, “God-breathed-ness”! :)) Good one!

  7. […] 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 […]

  8. Errancy says:

    I think Damian’s correct that 2 Timothy 3:16 needn’t refer to a closed canon of scripture, but could refer to a type of document that has been written in the past and may be written in the future. However, it does seem likely, particularly given the “from childhood” in 3:15, that the author had a different idea of what counted than Christians do today.

  9. The Atheist says:

    Errancy,

    Like you say, I think the “from childhood” phrase is telling. I suppose it is possible that 2Ti was referring to non-canonical material, but it doesn’t seem very likely. At the time 2Ti was penned (probably mid to late 2nd century ce), the Hebrew canon would have been considered ancient since it would have been around for hundreds of years. The Torah was considered canon as early as 400 bce, Prophets were incorporated into the canon around 200 bce, and the Writings around 100 ce.

    Since 2Ti doesn’t promote any particular extra-canonical writing in his discourse, it seems more reasonable to conclude that he meant writings which were already accepted as part of the canon and needed no further introduction. That is, he presumes that his readers will automatically know which “writings” he is referring to. On the other hand, if 2Ti was talking about writings which were controversial by virtue of the fact that they were not yet considered canonical, then we would expect him to inform his readers as to which “writings” he means. And of course, he does not.

  10. Dale says:

    happy 09 gentlemen,
    1 – A3, I’d advise being a bit more careful with talk of ‘the majority of biblical scholars’. That’s the latest date for 2Tim I’ve EVER seen. Polycarp’s quotations from 2Tim around 110 AD demonstrate (unless you think he was the first one to quote it!) it had been around long enough to be both familiar and authoritative. Also, any scholar that I would trust would have a wide/inclusive enough dating window to include the possibility of Pauline authorship (those interesting personal details at the end of the letter don’t look like it’s some collection of sermons from later pauline disciples!). In short, the 100-150 window (not to mention the ‘majority’ claim) is very, very shaky…
    2 – Any NT scholar worth his/her salt (which includes many – oh dear!!! – ‘evangelical’ scholars) knows that when a NT author is talking about ‘scripture’, they are referring to the writings that we (broadly) call the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh or ‘Old Testament’ (‘Torah’, ‘Prophets’ and ‘Writings’). So no, there is no explicit reference within the NT declaring any other NT writings to be ‘inspired’; nor did they (of course) know that they were writing what would become scripture.
    3 – It would be helpful for the fundies you (yet again) are targeting and for you to make a much-needed distinction between the notion of ‘inspired’ writings and the notion of the Bible as the ‘inerrant Word [capital ‘W’, of course!] of God’

  11. Lisa Bee says:

    Hi Atheist and Dale: I trust every one had ‘happy holidays’. The main problem I have with both sides (as a lay person) is that they generally take one verse of scripture and turn it around to mean whatever they choose. This is the main reason for the various religions.
    Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church has done this since the beginning of their ‘creation’ and for some unknown reason to me they were escepially rampant during the 3-4 century when they created their doctrines–none of which are Biblically sound and all were taken from one verse.
    For years I have been taught by various churches that 2 Timothy 3:16 included the new Testament because it contained the word ALL Now if they had said this was only the old Testament because of verse 15 the scripture of of youth–it would not have made any difference in my belief of God. It would, however, made my teaching of my ‘Sunday School’ slight different and more accurate.
    I take some of the blame for not understanding verse 15 better, it is only a shame that The Atheist has to point it out to a Christian. I guess this is why I like you so much–you are teaching me some things

  12. anodos says:

    Thank you for the interesting read!
    The Strongest Strong’s Concordance lists 32 instances of the word ‘scripture’ and 21 for ‘scriptures’; out of these 53 occurances, only one (Daniel 10:21) is not from a New Testament verse. Except for 2Peter 3:16, which seems a little vague to me, every other ‘scripture’ or ‘scriptures’ clearly refers to the Old Testament, and I don’t know why 2 Timothy 3:16 should be different.

  13. The Atheist says:

    anodo,

    Welcome to the blog! Good points. Could 2Pe 3:16 mean the Gnostics’ treatment of other “writings” like those of Paul (here, using the term to mean “writing in general” and not necessarily “holy scripture”)?

    Lisa and Dale,

    Happy yea year! Great to see you both back!

    Dale,

    Polycarp’s quotations from 2Tim around 110 AD demonstrate (unless you think he was the first one to quote it!) it had been around long enough to be both familiar and authoritative.

    Wallace notwithstanding, the theory that Polycarp quoted from the Pastorals is controversial – there is no certain quotation of these epistles before Irenaeus c. 170 CE. In any case, an earlier date for 2Ti means that New Testament books written after the early date could not possibly have been the subject of 3:15-16.

    Any NT scholar worth his/her salt (which includes many – oh dear!!! – ‘evangelical’ scholars) knows that when a NT author is talking about ’scripture’, they are referring to the writings that we (broadly) call the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh or ‘Old Testament’ (’Torah’, ‘Prophets’ and ‘Writings’).

    You might be surprised. Southern Baptist Scholars (especially the SBC variety) are virtually unanimous in their consensus that 2Ti 3:16 includes all of the books in the New Testament. Various Holiness sects are also virtually unanimous in this consensus.

    It would be helpful for the fundies you (yet again) are targeting and for you to make a much-needed distinction between the notion of ‘inspired’ writings and the notion of the Bible as the ‘inerrant Word [capital ‘W’, of course!] of God’

    My reaction to claims that the Bible is inspired depends on what is meant by “inspired”. For example, I think teachers can inspire students, and I think that certain works of art are “inspired”, and I think certain parts of the Bible are inspired in that sense. While I think that the fundamentalist concept of “inspiration” is inseparable from the concept of inerrancy, I don’t think that all concepts of inspiration are necessarily entangled with inerrancy. However, claims of inerrancy are by no means the only problem with claims of divine inspiration.

  14. A3,

    the theory that Polycarp quoted from the Pastorals is controversial

    I’m not sure ‘controversial’ is the right word at all. :) 6 quotations (fairly clear phraseological parallels) for the Timothean letters alone is a fair bit of evidence. Quite compelling, actually. What scholars find the Polycarp quotations ‘controversial’?

    n any case, an earlier date for 2Ti means that New Testament books written after the early date could not possibly have been the subject of 3:15-16.

    I’m in full agreement with you there

    Southern Baptist Scholars (especially the SBC variety)

    ‘scholars’ that have published articles in biblical journals other than the ones from their respective seminaries? Like I said, “any NT scholar worth his/her salt…”

  15. The Atheist says:

    Cheers, Dale

    I’m not sure ‘controversial’ is the right word at all. :) 6 quotations (fairly clear phraseological parallels) for the Timothean letters alone is a fair bit of evidence. Quite compelling, actually. What scholars find the Polycarp quotations ‘controversial’?

    Thanks for the link to that most excellent site! I hadn’t seen that one before.

    The controversy is not that Polycarp’s 3 phrases might be quotes from 2nd Timothy, the controversy is that the phrases are not distinctive enough to serve as a certain upper bound for 2Ti without other corroborating evidence. Irenaeus’ quotes are more distinctive and provide a more certain upper bound on their own. Some objections to an earlier date are 2Ti’s knowledge of later church order, and his use of language.

    ’scholars’ that have published articles in biblical journals other than the ones from their respective seminaries? Like I said, “any NT scholar worth his/her salt…”

    I’ve had countless discussions with evangelicals who insist that their “scholars” are legitimate. They claim that these scholars are not printed in established journals because the editors are a coterie of biased liberals who dismiss the evangelical view out of hand. While I’m sure that you and I will agree with respect to which scholars are “legitimate”, I’m curious how you would respond to evangelical challenges that evangelical “scholars” are legitimate scholars.

  16. A3,

    Thanks for the link to that most excellent site! I hadn’t seen that one before.

    Thanks – it’s a useful site (esp. for a quick web reference), though (as it says at one of the main pages) it’s based off of only two books which are less then cutting edge :) There’s a massive wealth of biblical scholarship out there. That was my main concern about your use of ‘most scholars’.

    Irenaeus’ quotes are more distinctive and provide a more certain upper bound on their own. Some objections to an earlier date are 2Ti’s knowledge of later church order, and his use of language.

    I’ve never seen the phrase ‘upper bound’ used in terms of biblical studies. As for those two objections…
    2Ti’s knowledge of a ‘later’ church order is based on the assumption (with shaky ground) that it took more than 40 years for there to be any recognisable order in the church. Galatians (one of Paul’s earlier letters – hardly-if-ever disputed) talks about James, Peter and John seeming to be ‘pillars'(leaders), and Acts (admittedly written later) confirms this (i.e. Peter’s very early leadership in the very early church, and ch 15 and the ‘Jerusalem Council’ reflect an organically emerging order from very early on. The use of language (I’m assuming you’re referring to the style of Greek in 2Tim) is not significantly different either, and there are abundant reasons why style would vary (pastoral rather than general epistle, different issues addressed, fluidity in Paul’s own thought, etc.)

    While I’m sure that you and I will agree with respect to which scholars are “legitimate”, I’m curious how you would respond to evangelical challenges that evangelical “scholars” are legitimate scholars.

    Like I’ve said, just because a scholar is ‘evangelical’ doesn’t at all mean he/she is illegitimate. There are many evangelical scholars who are very sound (i.e. Ben Witherington III, Craig Blomberg, Kevin Vanhoozer, etc.). If I met such an ‘evangelical challenge’, I’d make the same distinction with them.

  17. […] The New Testament: Is it Inspired Scripture? […]

  18. Paul S says:

    Yes, given the interpretation that God is inerrant that inerrant God “God-breathed” said documents. Otherwise no. Why else?

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