The Bible: Inspired Scripture?

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”.

22 Responses to The Bible: Inspired Scripture?

  1. I have Bell’s Palsy and enjoy your blog very much. First time I’ve commented, but have been reading here and there.
    Great blog. I enjoy reading it every chance I get and value your opinions!

  2. The Atheist says:

    Welcome to the blog, Disabled Chat!

  3. bruce says:

    the hate must be eating you up inside.

  4. The Atheist says:

    Hi, bruce. Thanks for stopping by! Could you elaborate a bit: what gives you the impression that I am consumed by hate?

  5. bruce says:

    I don’t need to tell you its obvious and you already know. Take a step back and look at the sole focus of your website.

  6. The Reverend says:

    As I see it, the sole focus of ‘Ask An Atheist’ is to, oh, ask an atheist. To satisfy curiosity or maybe get a grasp of atheist viewpoints. I certainly don’t see any hate.

    As my understanding of Hebrew, Greek and Latin are weak (non-existent) I use this site as a source for reference material. I find it quite enlightening and sometimes humorous.

    That’ll be 2 cents, please.

  7. The Atheist says:

    bruce,

    What’s obvious to you might not always be as obvious to others. Could you tell me what about the focus of the site would make you believe that I’m consumed with hate? I’m very curious to know why you might get that impression since I don’t feel hateful at all.

  8. Lisa Bee says:

    William Tyndale’s (c. 1494-1536) interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 For all scripture geve by inspiracion of god is proffitable to teache to improve to amende and to instruct in rightewesnes
    17 yt ye man of god maye be perfect and prepared vnto all good workes.

    This gentleman was strangled and burned at the stake because he stood up to the Roman Catholic Church for transcribing the Bible into English. The Roman Catholic Church decreed that mankind was to ignorant to understand the Bible as written, and had the books destroyed and made it almost impossible to own one.

    I, myself, cannot read Hebrew, Greek, Latin and basically have to rely on translations of modern man and pray to God that the Holy Spirit will guide me in the correct meaning of scripture. Lisa (Bee) Ransdell

  9. The Atheist says:

    Lisa,

    I, myself, cannot read Hebrew, Greek, Latin and basically have to rely on translations of modern man and pray to God that the Holy Spirit will guide me in the correct meaning of scripture.

    Oh, that is starting to make sense! So some of your statements on a few other threads on this blog, like for example that the Hebrew word, “SME”, in Mal 1:3 really means “not chosen”, or that “Father Abraham” in Luk 16 is really Jesus, are the results of revelations to you by the Holy Spirit?

  10. Lisa Bee says:

    Yes: especially through much studying. Bare in mind that I am not a very good writer at this time, but am still learning how to convey my thoughts.
    To jump ahead on how I know there is a Holy Spirit, God, and Jesus? I was raised in the church as a child, but it took one night filled dreaming of demons and a cry out to Jesus to save me, and my whole life changed from that moment. Demons are real friend and only Jesus can save you from them.

  11. The Atheist says:

    Lisa,

    it took one night filled dreaming of demons and a cry out to Jesus to save me, and my whole life changed from that moment.

    So you are saying your entire faith is ultimately built on the experience you had – while dreaming?

    Demons are real friend and only Jesus can save you from them.

    I hope one day I’ll have the fortune to see one myself. So far, nada. I would even settle for other credible evidence that they exist. Again, nada.

    But tell me – even if you feel that the demons in your dream were real, how do you know as a result of seeing those demons that God as described in the Bible is real? I may be that demons are just creatures of a natural universe, just like you and I are. It may also be that, say Brahma, is the real creator and the demons you saw were evidence of Brahma’s existence. Your thoughts?

  12. lisa bee says:

    Nope! My faith is not built upon this one experience–that would make for a faulty foundation. Demons appear in many form, most often they are “familiar” to us because that is the easiest way to get to a person. Some have appeared as angels to a friend of mine saying “they will help her to ascend” after many long hours of talking with her on this subject (and to no avail), I finally told her to ask these entities about Jesus, tell them he is your personal savior and then see their response. Although, she has never talked about the outcome, she has not talked about these entities either.

    All other religions are false to me, and even some parts of mine own I have problems with (like Jesus descent into hell) so no demons will not come to me by that way–they have tried through family members, but have been unsuccessful in that area, so they only avenue left for them to get to me is through dreams, because I have no way of controlling the outcome of the dream.

    Do I believe that you will see one, Yes: they have not bothered you in the past because there was no need. I believe that you will meet one or two because you know to much scripture and its meaning and have the eloquence of sharing that knowledge without offending anyone. Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.

    How do I know that the God of the Bible exists–How do you know he doesn’t. Does the Big Bang theory prove he doesn’t. How does one prove this theory is accurate? What about evolution–does that prove God does not exist? What if we are not evolving but merely adapting to our environment? Why is it difficult to believe in God, but people are ready to believe in the myth of Atlantis? Why do people want to equate ignorance to religion, when some of the most brilliant minds of all times believed in the God of the Bible–Sir Isaac Newton was one of these people. Do we really want to argue with semantics of who saw who first,who wrote what first or when it was written, or whether Paul saw a resurrected Jesus in physical form or spiritual form? If all that really matters, then tell me why you do not believe in God.

  13. The Atheist says:

    Lisa,

    Some have appeared as angels to a friend of mine saying “they will help her to ascend”…

    I have been corresponding for quite some time with a person who, though she denies it when asked directly about it, keeps coming back to an experience she had seeing a ghost as the basis of her faith. At first, I have to admit that if I took a completely objective view of her claims, and if I ignored all of my past experience speaking to others about their supernatural experiences, her stories sure sounded real! But the more the conversation progressed, the more the actual facts were revealed, the more it became apparent to me that her story was not credible. I still believe this person is quite sincere in her beliefs, but it has become increasingly clear over the course of our conversation that she is all too willing to embrace supernatural explanations for events that seem quite natural.

    I would love to talk to your friend about her experiences.

    so they only avenue left for them to get to me is through dreams, because I have no way of controlling the outcome of the dream.

    I know many people that regularly have nightmares. I don’t know from personal experience but I can imagine how tough it is to go to sleep every night, expecting a terrible experience. I understand that it is possible to learn to recognize that you are dreaming, while you are in the middle of a dream. Do some research on “lucid dreaming”.

    Do I believe that you will see one, Yes…Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it.

    Interestingly enough, the person I was talking about that had seen ghosts is equally sure that I will see a ghost. In any case, I remain hopeful (though not expectant) that I will be proven wrong – that the supernatural does not exist. So far, all of the evidence I know of points to a completely natural universe.

    How do I know that the God of the Bible exists–How do you know he doesn’t. Does the Big Bang theory prove he doesn’t.

    That’s not a very good answer to my question – unless your answer is that you have nothing to offer in the way of reason or evidence.

    The Big Bang theory and evolution proves that certain Gods do not exist – for example, those Gods who are believed to have created the universe and its inhabitants in one way or the other which is inconsistent with the evidence that underlies the Big Bang theory and evolution. It proves for example that the God of the fundamentalist Christians (the ones that believe that God created the universe, and all that live therein, in 6 days – and that he is not deceitful so he would not have created misleading evidence about the origin of the universe). It does not disprove that a God of unknown description created the universe via the process of the Big Bang.

    But that’s not why I believe that there is no God. I believe that there is no God because there is no evidence that there is a God. If I told you that a teapot was orbiting our Sun would you believe it? You certainly couldn’t disprove it! But you would not believe it because (1) there is no reason to suspect that there is a teapot orbiting our Sun and (2) the claim that there is a teapot is orbiting our Sun is an egregious claim. Those are some of the reasons I don’t believe that God exists.

    Another reason that I believe that God does not exist is that the reasons that people believe in a God seem to be bad reasons. If those reasons are not sound, and if there is no other reason to believe in God, then the most reasonable thing is to conclude that God does not exist

    What if we are not evolving but merely adapting to our environment?

    Evolution is by definition the way that species adapt to their environment.

    Why is it difficult to believe in God, but people are ready to believe in the myth of Atlantis?

    People have all sorts of irrational beliefs. I think the belief in God is one of those irrational beliefs.

    Why do people want to equate ignorance to religion, when some of the most brilliant minds of all times believed in the God of the Bible–Sir Isaac Newton was one of these people.

    Not all beliefs in the supernatural are ignorant (though I think they are wrong). But most, including fundamentalist beliefs, are based not only in ignorance, but willful ignorance – the reluctance to consider all evidence when forming one’s beliefs.

    If their are brilliant minds that believe in God, there are also brilliant minds who don’t. So intelligence doesn’t seem to be the deciding factor. However, I would submit that it would be rare indeed for people like Newton for example, whom you would consider brilliant, to subscribe to a fundamentalist view of religion. In fact, Newton was considered a heretic by many in his day.

    Do we really want to argue with semantics of who saw who first,who wrote what first or when it was written, or whether Paul saw a resurrected Jesus in physical form or spiritual form? If all that really matters, then tell me why you do not believe in God.

    I think those are important questions that any subscriber to fundamentalist theologies should ask himself or herself. The discrepancies that you cite are not merely discrepancies of semantics, but bona fide contradictions in an already dubious story. That said, I don’t think those questions are imperative to the faith of those who are not fundamentalists. Yet even to those who are not inclined toward fundamentalism, I think those are important questions worthy of consideration if one desires to understand what really happened 2000 years ago.

    To me, those things matter because I am fascinated with important events that have shaped world history, and my society in particular. I am fascinated with the origins of religion, and also with the fundamentalist mentality. I guess I am fascinated in the same way that many Jews of European origin are fascinated with the history of Hitler, and the factors that produced an authoritarian society that made his rise to power possible.

  14. Bobby, says:

    Hey Bro/Sis,

    This is Brahama’s Dominion! :) No, I just wanted to comment on two things 1st off thats a great point what if the supernatural was indeed a product of this entity?! Say, their composition is mainly electricity, it is prevalent throughout this universe. In any case the existance of the “supernatural” says what? Unless it is witnessed as an overide to the laws of nature then it must be presented as such: 1st of all there must be some thorough research done, by yourself (you are wondering about something aren’t you?) that is. Then the hypothesis that you arrive from the research must be tested: if true; through mostly expierments, not five or fifteen times hundreds of times! (some see where I’m going) From there you arrive at the final conclusion and present it. This is what science does before it establishes anything. And also you should be able to make predictions based on your conclusions such as we can predict eclipses years from now, we can tell when and where a storm is going to hit, we can tell wherther its a boy and/or a girl or both:) Can a religios script make predictions as such, not nessecarily exactly like these you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t know. So if one expirences the supernatural they must present it as such to convince a human mind. I mean if you (bro/sis) remember my home seemed “haunted” but like I said, I didn’t achive conclusive evidence even though.

    Secondly front page of this site has praying to God equal as praying to a container of liquid. Let me say this, praying is not necessarily done for the reason of placing a request or an order, or to touch bases on a request or an order. It gives one a connection to an entity at a minimal level such as two humans in connection of any sort, they could be distances appart but that still wouldn’t “elongate” the connection. And no, its not because communication makes that possible, no. All one needs to know that if the other person is living no matter how far they are appart, only that knowledge will sustain the “connection”. But now we are talking about a supposedly divine entity, I mean forget about it! The connection cannot be presenetd in merely earth languages; Maybe someone in Andromeda….I don’t know?:) So I would much rather be praying to a human mind, than a container filed with liquid! That I’m sorry is kind of an insult to a person.

    Okay we need to find out if animals believe in a God, there in lies the answer :)

    And please do pardon me for keeping minimal correspondence, nevertheless I am here typing these words and its a connection that keeps me here.

    Love,

    Your brother

  15. franklinmonroe says:

    Your stated goals were to “show that the English translations for this verse are not accurate” and that 2 Timothy 3:16 “does not even mean that the Hebrew Bible (known to Christians as the Old Testament) is inspired!” I believe you have failed on both counts.

    I suppose you argue endlessly that some English translations of this verse are not precisely literal. Often to make sensible English requires that translations are not always strictly word-for-word in correspondence with the source language. Your example is a little confusing because the NIV actually has two “is” (one before “… given by inspiration of God, and …” and another one after); yet you only address the one position.

    But this seems to be merely semantic quibbling. Whether it is “the boy that was bit by the dog” or “the dog-bitten boy” neither structure changes the essence of the meaning. Likewise, I don’t see that it matters that the verse is rendered as “each writing [that is] God-breathed” (by adding some English words) or “each God-breathed writing” (by altering the original Greek word order). I don’t see that you have proved that the NIV or any other English version with a similar translation is truly inaccurate, and certainly they are not obscuring the primary point.

    Second, I don’t see how you think you have proved that this verse doesn’t support a “God-breathed” Old Testament. Clearly in this context the word graphē does mean a sacred writing (Scripture), not just any old “writing”. Graphē is THE standard word used throughout the NT by its’ various writers to refer to the Jewish Tanakh. It may be defined as “writing” in outside Greek literature, but in the NT graphē always refers to the Old Testament (about 50 occurrences, across about 3 Gospels, Acts, and 8 Epistles [written by at least 6 different writers: Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and James]).

    Theopneustos is even better represented as “expiration” (breathing outwardly) than “inspired” (breathing inwardly). Scripture originates out of the mouth of God (figuratively speaking). So 2 Timothy 3:16 states exactly the sense intended: God ‘breathed out’ the words of the Bible; the writings that are not in the Bible were not ‘breathed out’ by Him. But that becomes an issue of canonization.

  16. The Atheist says:

    franklinmonroe,

    I don’t see that it matters that the verse is rendered as “each writing [that is] God-breathed” (by adding some English words) or “each God-breathed writing”

    In both cases, the adjectival phrase describes the list of writings that is the object of discussion. But the 2 adjectival phrases do not mean the same thing. “each writing is God-breathed” communicates that a preconceived list of writings all have the attribute, God-breathed. In other words the attribute, God-breathed, does not serve here to limit which writings are included in the list, but rather describes a quality possessed by each item, by virtue of its a priori inclusion in the list.

    On the other hand, “each God-breathed writing” specifies only those writings which have the attribute, God-breathed. Here, God-breathed is the determiner for which items belong in the list.

    Second, I don’t see how you think you have proved that this verse doesn’t support a “God-breathed” Old Testament.

    The verse does not specify which writings it considers God-breathed. I agree with you that the writer means writings from the Hebrew Bible, however I don’t see any reason to presume that he means every book in the Tanakkh. We know from extra-biblical sources that some Hebrew scriptures were revered more than others. If this is the case, then the most we can say is that according to the author of 2 Timothy, certain books from the Hebrew Bible are God-breathed, but we can’t say that of the Hebrew Bible as a unit.

    So 2 Timothy 3:16 states exactly the sense intended: God ‘breathed out’ the words of the Bible;

    If we translate it correctly, it says that God-breathed (or if you prefer: God-exhaled) writings are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, etc. It does not say that all writings are God-breathed (or if you prefer: God-exhaled) and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, etc.

  17. Paul S says:

    I think it is explicit that the writer to Timothy, was referring to the OT when he was a young man (2 Timothy 3:15.) And was not saying “all writings” are “God-breathed” but that “God-breathed” writings were of that sort (2 Timothy 3:16, 17.) The writer in an earlier letter seems to have cited Luke (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18) equating that NT gospel account with OT holy scripture (Deuteronomy 25:4.)

  18. […] The Bible: Is it Inspired Scripture? […]

    • 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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