What, Exactly, Did God Breathe?

My post on Adam and Christ generated the range of predictable responses, from, “Thank God someone is saying what I’ve thought for a long time,” to “How on earth can anyone believe what Paul says about the resurrection of Jesus if he flubbed so badly on the existence of Adam?!”

To the latter question I address this post.

More the point, I address this post to the question of why I acknowledge the errors in the Bible, the ways that ancient cultures influenced the biblical writers to say things that we cannot agree with, and the like.

No, I’ve not quite said it right yet–I want to address how the Bible, precisely as the word of God can be so varied in its witness, and so reflective of both the strengths and shortcomings of its writers.

My confidence in scripture as the word of God, comes from the great source of “there can’t be any errors” itself–2 Tim 3.

The part of 2 Tim 3 that everyone likes to quote and that becomes the bedrock of their doctrines of scripture is, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction…”

Scripture is God-breathed. Yes!

But wait! There’s more!

Or, perhaps better put–wait, you forgot a part!

The verse before this presents a significant qualification: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Did you see it?

Scripture isn’t just “good.” Full stop. It is good for a particular purpose. That purpose is Christological. Scripture is not rightly read as scripture when it is given its historical, scientific, or critical meaning. It is not rightly read as scripture until it is read as a witness to, or cultivating a wisdom that inclines us toward, the crucified and risen Christ.

In Romans, Paul says similar things: the righteousness of God (in the crucified and risen Christ) is borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets; Christ is the end/goal of the Law.

Paul is faithful in what he says about Adam, not because he rightly identifies Adam as the biological precursor of all subsequent humanity, but because he sees in Adam a way to understand how the crucified and risen Christ is the beginning of God’s plan for a new humanity at the acme of new creation.

What did God breathe? Words of wisdom. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation through faith in Christ.

If we read and find only words of science or dogma or ethics or history, the Bible has not yet become for us the living and active and inspired word of God.

27 thoughts on “What, Exactly, Did God Breathe?”

  1. Yes! I stopped simply referring to “2 Timothy 3:16″ some time ago, and instead reference at least 2 Timothy 3:15-17, if not even 3:14-17, when I speak of “inspiration.” Verse 14 also includes a much-needed dimension to this faith-through-Scripture, a faith-through-faithful-people.

  2. Maybe we need a Hebrew bible person here too. I’m wondering whether God “breathes” His word or words in the Hebrew scriptures. I get God breathing the breath of life. I get God (or the prophets) speaking/declaring/announcing His word/s. But “breathing” words? I wonder: Why “breathed” here in 2 Tim. 3? Why not “All scripture is God’s word/s and…”?

    1. Matt:

      The Greek is theopneustos in 2 Tim 3:16. Hence, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (we used to use the word inspired, but breathing is about expiring out). The Scripture has God’s breathing out on it, just as the Adam account tells us of God breathing out into him, just as we have Jesus breathing out upon the disciples at the end of John. God breathed and Adam awoke, came alive, became a living being. God’s breath upon Scripture makes it alive, living & active.

      So, to translate it as “All Scripture is God’s word and…” would not be the most helpful. Rather, it’s “All Scripture is God-breathed and…”

      1. Precisely what I had in mind Scott. Thanks! Just to clarify, are you saying that the Greek does NOT say that the Scripture in question IS breathed out itself by God? Rather, it is breathed UPON by God?

        1. Matt -

          If I understand your question correctly, it’s a good question: Is Scripture itself the product of God’s breathing (spiriting) out or did God breathe out upon Scripture? One points to Scripture being the direct product and one points to a product to which God subsequently breathed out upon. I don’t know much of anything about Greek. I’ve simply looked at that word theopneustos. Perhaps Daniel could share some thoughts?

        2. Matt -

          Good question. I don’t have any great understanding of Greek. That should come more in the 2013-2014 academic year when I take up Greek. All I know is that the word we translate as God-breathed (or ‘inspired’ in older versions) is theopneustos. I’m not exactly sure if it means a) that Scripture is the direct product of God’s breathing (spiriting) out or b) that God breathed out upon Scripture to give it it’s life-giving character. I suppose that I would lean towards option B, since that seems to be what happened as we read the account of God breathing out into Adam and Jesus breathing out upon the disciples. They already ‘existed’, but the life-giving spirit came upon them subsequently. So, with Scripture, it was written and (as Kenton Sparks argues) God breathed upon it to adopt it as his life-giving text.

          But it’s only just some theo-philosophising. :)

  3. Thanks for the article (last post) and this follow-up post. I like both of them. Is this second one an official return to posting on Storied Theology? I hope so!

  4. Most historical/textual NT scholars regard Second Timothy as pseudepigraphy. Breathed by someone other than Paul, but claiming to be Paul.

  5. I am still experiencing mild discomfort at the notion that Paul misinterpreted the Adam story, believing it to be historically factual. I am not convinced that this line of interpretation does not impinge on Paul’s Christology. I had problems with it in Enns’s ‘Evolution of Adam’ and I still have problems with it. I think there is a better way, which doesn’t involve Paul being wrong, nor does it involve a historical Adam. At the moment I am not quite able to articulate that way to my own satisfaction, but I’m working on it.

    However, despite my misgivings on this, I am content to be ignorant–a big change from my former Reformed/Evangelical days–and I am content to acknowledge that Paul was an ‘ancient man’ with ancient, and therefore scientifically incorrect cosmological views. The 3-storey universe is a case in point, but it doesn’t carry the same weight of theological freight that is the case with Adam.

    Perhaps more from me later. Perhaps not…

  6. You wrote “I address this post to the question of why I acknowledge the errors in the Bible, the ways that ancient cultures influenced the biblical writers to say things that we cannot agree with, and the like.

    Except that it hasn’t been proven the existence of Adam is an error. All historical reconstruction is a fabrication, based upon presuppositions and supposed probabilities. Fact is we don’t know if there was an Adam or not.

    We know there was a ‘Y chromosomal Adam‘, some man from whom we all descended. Was this ‘Adam’? Was the biblical Adam something else?

    The point is that you cannot say you are acknowledging errors in the bible if you haven’t proven them to be errors. What you should say is that you can accept the idea of errors in the bible, or your world view does not require the bible to be without errors. As you’ve stated it however, you’ve stated something beyond the evidence.

  7. This is why I love the doctrine of the Church of the Nazarene. If you read through their doctrinal statements, you’ll find that they affirm the inerrency of the Bible…so long as it concerns what’s necessary for salvation. Everything else is up for debate.

  8. @William T. You didn’t ask me, but may I suggest a problem with your proposal? Paul’s Adam was responsible for the entry of death into the world, but any ‘Y chromosomal Adam’–a primaeval man–entering the creation at some point in the evolutionary process would be coming into a world in which death was already present. I suggest that a historical Adam must bring with him a historical reading of Genesis 1/2 (even though those chapters are mutually inconsistent. I think the answer lies elsewhere.

  9. Also to William T.

    There is also a “Mitochondrial Eve,” the source of every living human being’s mitochondrial DNA. Unfortunately, statistical estimates put Y Chromosomal Adam at 200,000 years ago or less and Mitochondrial Eve at 237,000 years ago or more. These are cute names for these two ancestors, but I don’t think their existence has any theological significance.

  10. Daniel -

    Sorry I’m a bit late with this question. I like what you have stated here. If I understand correctly, you are saying the God-breathed nature of Scripture comes in it’s soteriological focus in Jesus Christ. But what I hear many evangelicals argue, especially to highlight the aspect of inerrancy, is that Scripture makes such statements:

    Ps 12:6 – the words of the Lord are flawless
    Ps 18:30 – As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless (connecting God’s way & word as both perfect & flawless)
    Prov 30:5 – Every word of God is flawless

    The argument goes something like this: Scripture is the word of God and God’s word is perfect/flawless. Therefore every jot & tittle of Scripture is perfect & flawless.

    I have some thoughts on this, but was interested in your thoughts.

  11. Apparently no one told Jesus that Scripture is God-breathed (and therefore accurate?) only in regards to soteriology. “Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?” (Matt. 19.4). No soteriology here, indeed remarkably enough a reference to what appears to be a historical Adam and Eve. But of course Jesus lived before all of the super-intelligent scientists could properly explain things to him.

  12. Daniel,

    Interesting thoughts on this familiar passage. However, I’m wondering where the bifurcation between history and theology enters the text? The combination in verse 15 of the adjective ιερα (holy) attached to γραμματα (writings) implies an interchange of spiritual and material, transcendant and historical. At what point to theology and history intersect, and at what point do they depart, and how as interpreters of the scriptures are we to know the difference?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.