Thursday, 15 September 2005

The inspiration of Scripture

Christian theology has long spoken of the “inspiration” of Scripture. The term is adopted from the Vulgate’s translation of 2 Timothy 3:16: “omnis scriptura divinitus inspirata.” Literally of course, the term θεοπνευστος means “breathed by a god,” so that “God-breathed” is a better term than “divinely inspired.”

According to the writer of 2 Timothy, then, “all Scripture is God-breathed.” This has often been interpreted as a technical statement about the origin of Scripture, as though the biblical texts exist because of a miraculous event of divine authorship. But such an interpretation is really impossible in the context of 2 Timothy 3. For the author is not concerned at all with the origin of the γραφαι, but only with the function and usefulness of these writings within the Christian community. The concern here is not with an event of “inspired authorship” at a specific moment in the past, but rather with the fact that the biblical writings, right here and now among us, are “God-breathed.”

This means that the concept of θεοπνευστος should not be interpreted formally, as a statement about the unique textual character of the biblical writings. It should rather be interpreted materially, as a statement about the unique power and function of these writings.

Let me offer this theological formulation then: when we say that Scripture is “inspired,” we mean that God himself breathes out the message of Scripture. The message of Scripture comes to us here and now by the very breath of God. This has nothing to do with a static concept of how Scripture originated in the past, but it has everything to do with how Scripture functions among us in the present.

Let me make this theological formulation more explicit: in Holy Scripture, God himself speaks (or “breathes”) the gospel. This is the inspiration of Scripture.

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