What Does It Mean for Scripture to be “Inspired” or “God-Breathed”?

Theopneustos, “God-breathed.” The term theopneustos is built from the words theos (“God” or”god”) and pneō (“to blow,” “to breathe out”) and is not a common word in Greek literature. (Some interpreters contest the derivation from pneō, preferring the closely related verb empneō as the source verb.) Theopneustos was first used regarding wisdom in general and then later in reference to dreams. The sense was that the gods inspired wisdom and dreams for people to provide them with guidance or insight. Within the NT, theopneustos occurs only in 2 Tim 3:16a (“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for …”; ESV). When Paul applies theopneustos to Scripture (graphē), he is introducing an unusual category for texts, which were not usually thought of as having religious authority in the Hellenistic world.

While we cannot be certain of Paul’s intention with theopneustos, there are three possible foci for the term in 2 Tim 3:16. First, Paul may be focusing on God as the source of Scripture. Second, Paul may be focusing on the connection with God as defining the nature of Scripture (i.e., its historical reliability or factual accuracy). Third, Paul may be mentioning theopneustos in an effort to support the following list about the function of Scripture, which seems to be his primary agenda (i.e., Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”; 2 Tim 3:16b ESV). Of these options, determining the nature of Scripture from its source in God seems problematic because it reveals more about our ideas of God than the nature of Scripture.

Because of our present interest in controversies regarding the nature of Scripture, the word theopneustos has been overloaded beyond what the term can tell us. Paul was not addressing the intense scrutiny of the historical reliability of the Scriptures that began in modern times. Theopneustos does not have enough precision to go beyond the basic idea that the Scriptures came from God.

* * *

Adapted from the Lexham Bible Guide: 2 Timothy. Through July, get this volume for 15% off as part of our Lexham Summer Sale. Or you can get the whole Paul’s Letters Collection for 20% off!

And if you really want to get the best deal, you can pick up the entire 30-volume New Testament Studies Bundle for a whopping 40% off! It includes all the Lexham Bible Guides from the Paul’s letters collection, plus the Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament, the High Definition New Testament, three volumes of the High Definition Commentary, and much more!

Enhance your New Testament studies today!