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2 Timothy

Inspiration

2 Timothy  3:14-17

Lesson audio

Your method of interpreting the Scriptures very much depends upon your view of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Let’s look at the innocent little passage that has caused modern Christianity so much trouble:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

(2Ti 3:14-17 NASB)

The authenticity of the Scriptures

(This section is taken from an earlier lesson, for which I make no apologies. Haven’t changed my mind, and I still like the look of it).

The myth goes something like this: “well, the Bible was never written down until several centuries after the time of Christ. He probably did some cool things—but how can we know which parts are authentic and which aren’t?”

Great sounding statement; only one problem—it’s false. Let’s take this problem in three easy steps:

·         How do I know the original documents of the Bible are trustworthy? In particular, how do I know they’re old enough that the eyewitnesses to Jesus read them?

·         Given that I have a good original, how do I know that all those monks didn’t mess up the copies?

·         And given those two, how do I know I have a good translation?

Let’s consider the original documents first. If the original documents date from the time of the Apostles, you know that they’re likely to be correct. If they don’t, then who knows what errors might have crept in, right? So what about those documents? A few facts:

·         The time we are concerned about runs up to about AD 70—when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. St. Paul died in AD 64, so we would be looking for indications that the originals existed in Jerusalem before AD 70. Is there any such indication?

·         The myth says there’s nothing there. But—by way of example—there is an almost complete copy of the Gospel of John (one of the later books—which has been carbon dated to AD 120. It was found in a monastery in Egypt. That means that it’s not the original, and that the original must have been copied several times before this copy was made.

·         There is also the internal evidence of the book itself. Look at the book of Acts, for example. There are dozens of place names and ruler names—minor rulers whose names would have been forgotten after a few years (can you tell me who was mayor of Los Angeles in 1933?). That book ends with Paul still living. We know from history that he died in AD 64. Acts is either an extremely well researched hoax—or it’s genuine.

·         There are other witnesses, too. The enemies of Christianity—mostly Roman—quoted the Gospels extensively during the second century AD. Their quotations track quite nicely with the Gospels. This evidence tells us that the Gospels were well known by about AD 100.

·         Other evidence is found in the fact that complete translations of the New Testament into other languages show up starting about AD 120.

·         Iraneus—a Christian writer—gives us a summary of the Gospels. The undisputed date for this is AD 170.

With all this evidence, why is there such a myth? Simple. Until the 4th century AD, the New Testament was available only in pieces—book by book. When Constantine—the first Roman emperor who was a Christian—took over, he commissioned an Imperial set of copies of the New Testament. This was about AD 325. One of those copies is still in existence. But making official copies is very different from writing down the legends.

Now, let’s take up the “Xerox problem” - how do we know we have good copies? There are two answers to that:

·         First, there are something like 15,000 manuscripts of the New Testament (or parts thereof) which date before AD 1000. Just in sheer numbers alone this dwarfs the copies of any other ancient book. (The Odyssey of Homer is second—with less than two hundred).

·         More to the point, have you every considered how people know there are thousands of mistakes in the Bible? It’s because scholars have been able to trace the origins of these mistakes from copier to copier. If you know how many mistakes there are, you must have a pretty good idea of the correct answer.

One other thing: most of the earliest copies were not made by monks, but by professional copiers. You went down to the local scriptorum and asked for a copy to be made. The slaves who did it checked their work by adding all the letters in the rows, and in the columns—and checking those totals against the originals. Some of those tallies can still be seen in manuscripts today.

One last: how do I know I have a good translation? Since the time of the King James we’ve known how to do that. James (the king, not the apostle) had a problem—all the existing English translations were riddled with someone’s bias. He had a kingdom to unite. So he commissioned two groups of scholars to work on the translation. A scholar would translate the work to start with; his work would be reviewed by a small group; their work would be reviewed by the entire company. When finished, the two companies got together to hash out the differences.

The result was the King James Bible—the standard of the English speaking peoples for almost 300 years. The method was so successful that it is still used for modern translations.

Theories of Inspiration

Let us dispense with one thing first. Entire denominations who call themselves Christians do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The most notorious example of this is the “Jesus Seminar,” much beloved by the press. I believe they are now down to one authentic verse in the Gospels; the rest being hand me down and myth. That’s why we started with the authenticity.

Those who believe in the inspiration generally fall into two camps:

  • There are those who believe that inspiration comes by a filling or gift of the Holy Spirit. This view is quite compatible with the statements in the Scriptures.[1] The difficulty with this view is that anyone who is (or thinks they are) filled with the Spirit can now, in theory, write Scripture. Despite the warning at the end of Revelation, this remains a temptation.
  • The other view is what is called “autonomic writing.” In this, the author is supposed to go into a trance while God moves the pen. This has some real difficulties in the stylistic differences of the New Testament. We therefore hear of “God moving the mind that moves the pen.”

The difficulty in picking between these views is simply that the Apostles left us very little to go on. Perhaps that was intentional.

The differences over inspiration are, however, trivial compared to the differences of interpretation.

Just what do you mean, inspired?

There are four primary views of inspiration, each with its own virtues and drawbacks:

  • Inspiration. “I believe what the Bible says about the Bible,” as one professor[2] put it. It means just what the word in the English language means. This interpretation allows for a great deal of room in viewing various parts of the Bible. It is the easiest position to defend, and the hardest to use as a basis for agreement. Its most popular exponent is C. S. Lewis.[3]
  • Inerrancy. This version assumes that God has (providentially) preserved the Scriptures for (which is unsupported in Scripture). If you ask for proof text for this, you get 2 Timothy 3:16. This is a mild form of the remaining two, but it evidences one of the problems of going beyond inspiration: there is only one possible right answer. This tends to lead to the idea that we need only the Bible, and we can and should throw away the thinking of anyone earlier than us.
  • Infallibility. To the phrase, “without error” we now add, “without contradiction.[4] (This is the official position of Eastside Christian Church). It is a position which has its good points (the Bible is now a rule book) and bad (suppose Paul did tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach?) It tends to be accompanied by a “proof text” methodology.
  • Literal Infallibility. Usually found among those who are vigorously opposed to evolution, it is also associated with 6-day creationists and King James only churches. It tends to develop a very legalistic structure, and has some obvious difficulties in interpreting metaphoric parts of the Scripture.

My personal view

Filling versus autonomic

In this matter it is my personal view that filling is greatly superior (as a working hypothesis) to autonomic writing. Here’s why:

  • A variety of texts tell us of the different ways of how the Scripture was created. Clearly, the Ten Commandments given by the finger of God represent a different method. There is no text I can find which supports the autonomic writing theory.[5]
  • The autonomic writing theory is a late invention; the early church never thought of it.
  • It is very difficult to explain the differences in writing style with autonomic writing.
Inspiration vs. inerrancy and infallibility

We must first unveil here a major difficulty in translating this verse:

(ALT) All Scripture [is] God-breathed and [is] beneficial for teaching [or, doctrine], for verification [or, reproof], for correcting faults, for instruction in righteousness [or, the behavior that God requires],

(ASV) Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.

(BBE) Every holy Writing which comes from God is of profit for teaching, for training, for guiding, for education in righteousness:

(CEV) Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.

(Darby) Every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;

(DRB) All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice:

(EMTV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

(ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

(GNB) All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living,

(GW) Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God's approval.

(HCSB) All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,

(HNV) Every writing inspired by God is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction which is in righteousness,

(ISV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

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

(LITV) All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

(MKJV) All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

(MSG) Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another--showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way.

(NASB) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

(TS98) All Scripture is breathed by Elohim and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for setting straight, for instruction in righteousness,

(WEB) Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,

As you can see, there is a great deal of variety in the translation. The primary difficulty, which is unsolved in the Greek, is that the first half the verse can be translated with equal accuracy in two ways:

  • Every Scripture is inspired by God, or
  • Every Scripture which is inspired by God.

So, it may be that Paul is trying to tell Timothy to watch out for things which are false Scripture. When the question of the canon of the New Testament arose, Athanasius turned the verse around and asked if the candidate for Scripture met the tests in the second half the verse. We may not have infallibility here so much as the test for knowing what’s Scripture and what’s not.

To this question I add some additional difficulties:

  • Can anything touched by human beings truly be inerrant, let alone infallible? (This question is the primary reason behind the autonomic writing theory).
  • There is a difference between translation and transliteration. When you see “Every Scripture is God-breathed” that is NOT a translation; it’s a transliteration. It is poor scholarship to do so.
  • Finally, inerrancy itself adds to the difficulties of evangelizing the serious, thinking person.

How so that last? Take a look at Mark 2:26. Mark names the High Priest who was killed after aiding David in his flight from Saul. Mark says it’s Abiathar; the Old Testament says it was his father, Abimilech. To those who believe in infallibility, the solution is simple – the father had two names. To those who hold to inspiration, we think it likely that Mark got his High Priests mixed up – as Abiathar is the High Priest most associated with David. It’s the kind of mistake someone might make when relying on his memory from school days; it’s a normal slip up. Which tells me that this is not a carefully constructed fraud – they would have caught that – but the eyewitness who was standing there listening to Jesus.

How important is all this?

I give you the test: what would you do differently if you were shown to be wrong? If you hold to inspiration only, it causes you to search the Scripture more, not less. If you hold to filling of the Spirit, you know that what you are reading came through men whose differences in style did not affect the truth contained therein – and that means that its meaning is open to all. To hold to inspiration only is more work; but the results are the same in general.

The test is this: does the Scripture do what Paul says it does? If it is NOT “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”

you are doing it wrong.

The weight of the Scriptures is far greater than the arguments about inspiration. They are not just instructional, they lead to salvation (read verse 15 again).

May I have one last thought for you? The word translated “inspired” does not actually transliterate into “God breathed.” It correctly transliterates into “God breathed into.” That phrase is one you’ve heard before. I submit that as God breathed the breath of life into Adam, He has breathed the Scriptures into the church, and they are as the breath of life to us.


[1] See, for example, Revelation 1:10-11, Luke 12:11-12, Exodus 19:6

[2] At Pacific Christian College, whose name I have forgotten.

[3] See his Mere Christianity, especially the chapter “Myth Become Fact.”

[4] But do read Proverbs 26:4-5 on this (and there are several more like this).

[5] Which is why autonomic writing is much in favor by those who believe in literal infallibility.

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