Is All Scripture God-Breathed?

Is the inspiration of Scripture taught in Scripture?

Maybe… Maybe not…

The primary text in Scripture used to support the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16.

All Scripture is Inspired God Breathed

The key phrase of this verse is most often translated as following:

All Scripture is inspired…

Seems pretty clear, right? So I guess that settles it. Scripture must be inspired.

Except that it’s not quite that easy.

The phrase is notoriously difficult to translate, and even more difficult to understand.

Translating 2 Timothy 3:16

First, the word “inspired” is a translation of the Greek word, theopneustos. The most literal translation might be “God-breathed” which is reflected in some translations. But even then, what does this mean? That Scripture is the breath of God? That Scripture was spoken by God? Even when translations use the word “inspired” what does that mean? How does it differ from being inspired by a beautiful sunset or piece of music?

Some note that the root of pneustos is pneuma, which is the word for wind, breath, or spirit. Based on this, some think of theopneustos as having something to do with God’s Spirit. In this way, Scripture is “God-Spirited.” But again, what does that mean?

As I indicated previously, this is the only time this word is used in Scripture, and is also quite rare in other Greek literature from that time, and so it is difficult to know exactly what Paul had in mind when he was wrote it.

Greek New Testament

A second translation issue is that the word theopneustos is an adjective, and so there is some question as to where in the verse to put the adjective, and how the adjective is being used.

As you probably know form English, there are numerous ways of using adjectives. It gets rather complex, but there are three main uses of adjectives. They can be used as adverbs, nouns, or to modify a noun. I am not going to try to explain all three, but there are translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 which reflect all three different uses of the adjective (See Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel Wallace, pp. 291-314). I will point out some of these below.

Thirdly, there is the issue of the word “all.” This is the Greek word, pasa, which can also be translated “every.” So is Paul referring to all Scripture as in “Scripture in it’s entirety” or every Scripture as in “each, individual passage, verse, sentence, and word”?

Finally, there are translation issues with the word “Scripture” itself. The word is graphē which literally means “a writing” (singular). What “writing” is Paul referring to? In the immediately preceding verse (2 Tim 3:15), Paul has used the word grammata, which also means “writings.” Are the two synonymous or is Paul referring to something different with each word?

So, in the space of just three Greek words, we have four serious translation issues:

  1. What does the word theopneustos mean?
  2. As an adjective, how is it being used?
  3. How should we understand pasa in relation to Scripture?
  4. What is Paul referring to when he uses the word graphē?

Various Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16

Below are some of the ways the verse has been translated, with a few notes of my own following each translation, which explain what the translators seems to have been trying to say. (I recommend BibleWorks to get all of these versions and many more).

Bible Versions

NAS / NLT / NRS – All Scripture is inspired by God

These translations seem to indicate a belief that Scripture in it’s entirety is inspired.

NIV – All Scripture is God-breathed

The NIV has translated theopneustos more literally.

KJV / NKJ – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God

It is interesting that the KJV and the NKJ add the phrase “given by.” It seems the translators were trying place extra emphasis on the divine origin of Scripture.

NET – Every Scripture is inspired by God

The NET translators apparently wanted to clarify that it is not just Scripture in it’s entirety that is inspired, but every individual part of Scripture as well.

ESV – Every Scripture is breathed out by God

The ESV also want to emphasize that individual Scriptures are inspired as well, and also tries to clarify that each Scripture was breathed out by God. Maybe they believed it was spoken by God?

ASV – Every Scripture inspired of God

Here is an example of a translation that seems to imply that some Scripture might not be inspired, and therefore, the uninspired Scriptures are not profitable. But how to know which is which?

NEB – Every inspired Scripture

As with the ASV, this translation seems to indicate that not all Scriptures are inspired.

YLT – Every writing is God-breathed

Here is an example of a translation that used “writing” instead of “Scripture” and also goes with “God-breathed.” The translator leaves it up to the reader to determine which writings are in view, and what “God-breathed” means.

What do you think?

Tomorrow we will dig in to 2 Timothy 3:16 a little deeper, and I will present a translation which I think fits the context better than any of the above and helps make much more sense of the text. This translation will pave the way for looking at other passages in the Bible which also seem to speak to the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture.

Until then, what are your thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:16? Do you have a preferred translation above? Why? Do you have your own translation which is not reflected above (or can you guess what mine might be)?


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