For many years as a Christian, I glossed over 2 Timothy3:16. Particularly during my Charismatic days, it did not seem to have much bearing. In fact, it was a yawn. We we looking for a fresh move of God after all. What significance did was this passage anyway? I had always known the Bible as God’s word, but there did seem to be something so much more to get. Even after I went through a theological paradigm shift towards a more reformed baptistic position, 2 Timothy 3:16 continued to be a glossed over passage. All Scripture is inspired, says the NASB. All Scripture is God-breathed, says the NIV. Lovely. What’s next?
It was not until I began a study of theology proper, that I began to understand the significance of this verse. The NIV, I believe captures this significance better than the NASB, since it translates theopneustos as God breathed, rather than inspired. The english word for inspired can create confusion as we assign our contemporary meaning that as something that happens from within us, that motivates a particular action. But that does not quite capture the meaning of theopneustos, which the greek-english lexicon renders as inspired by God. Therefore it is something that comes from God rather than us. So 2 Timothy 3:16 is the proclamation that Scripture, the divinely sacred writings, are motivated by God and breathed out by Him for us.
But what was God’s motivation? Scripture is replete with the idea that God had something to communicate, which I believe is succinctly demonstrated with Hebrews 1:1-2,
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
God speaking references His self-disclosure otherwise known as revelation. God wished to reveal Himself to His creation, which we see unfold progressively starting with Adam and consummating with the return of Christ. I hear the word revelation tossed around so frequently in Christian circles, but I think it does a disservice to God’s revelation, since it is all about His disclosure and not our comprehension. Yet clearly, what He has revealed is meant for us to understand (Deuteronomy 29:29).
This verse also demonstrates that God has spoken through specific channels, most notably recognized in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “…No prophecy is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Prior to Christ, it was through the prophets. But His revelation in Christ, the testimony of Christ was transmitted through apostolic authority, hence the significance of why the apostle Paul was always trying to defend his. Holy men being moved by God also gives credence to the fact that God not only spoke, but superintended the entire process concerning transmission of His revelation. It is also important to note that the authority of Scripture rests on God’s approved mechanisms, which is why redaction theories are destructive to Scriptural authority.
So this gets to what the inspiration process is; God breathing out His authoritative word, through the prophetic and apostolic agency to communicate His revelation. There have been various theories proposed of the specific mechanics of inspiration to explain how this happened. For the sake of brevity, I am going to assume the verbal plenary model, since I believe it is consistent with Scriptural formulation concerning God’s communication, that does indeed produce inspired, or God-breathed writings. I think Lewis Sperry Chafer sums it up nicely
By verbal inspiration is meant that, in the original writings, the Spirit guided in the choice of words used. However, the human authorship was respected to the extent that the writer’s characteristics are preserved, and their style and vocabulary are employed, but without the intrusion of error. By plenary inspiration is meant that the accuracy which verbal inspiration secures, is extended to every portion of the Bible so that it is in all its parts both infallible as to truth and final as to divine authority. (Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pg 71).
This stresses the significance of language, that God’s authoritative communication concerning Himself, would be transmitted in a propositional format to disclose Himself and His intentions. I believe this is further supported by Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, where he is emphasizing that the process of divine communication in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 by which he received divine inspiration so that spiritual thoughts could be transmitted into spiritual words (vs. 13). This also points to the fact that God was very intentional concerning the accuracy of His communication, so that we could understand what He wished to reveal.
The determination of how writings were determined to be inspired to incorporate them into a single tome, is a rather lengthy discussion and for the sake of brevity, will not be discussed here. However, I think it is significant to note that canonicity involved the discovery of what God had already determined, thus ascribing the compilation of books to the inspiration of God rather than the efforts of men. But this too, I believe is essential for bibliology curriculum.
So we get to why I think this process should be taught in every church. Because it explains how we got our Bibles; it is bibliology 101. I find it interesting that we would engage the discipleship process and tell people to read God’s word without an understanding of why and how exactly it is God’s word. I personally think we do a great disservice to God’s precious word by telling people to read it and do what its says without a fundamental knowledge of what exactly we are reading or why we are reading it.
Moreover, I believe that engaging this topic in churches would prevent the magic book syndrome that I believe is so common amongst Christians today. The Bible did not just fall out of the sky or so neatly packaged, delivered to us all at once so that all we have to do is just open it up and let it work its magic. I think that without an understanding of how we got the Bible can promote a reader response hermeneutic to apply whatever passages speak to us personally to whatever situations we deem reasonable. It can promote the ‘what does this passage mean to you’ philosophy that does not do justice to a thorough and adequate understanding of what we are reading, or moreover God’s intentions for why we are reading what we reading.
This does in fact speak to hermeneutics, in how we read and interpret Scripture. If we understand Scripture in terms of the process and God’s motivation of self-disclosure, certain distinctions will be much clearer, such as Israel’s history vs Old Testament prophecy, the gospels vs. the New Testament letters and generally how God has revealed Himself progressively throughout Scripture. I especially believe that the way we read the gospels particularly hinges on the identification of God’s self-disclosure. John aptly points to this in his opening words “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,2,14). Jesus was showing God to us and came to initiate a new way that people would relate to God. So all of his words and works have to be considered in context of this revelation. Outside of this context, the tendency will be to employ Jesus’ words and actions as models for individual actions as the infamous WWJD without reconciling them in context of His redemptive purpose. It is why I believe you get extreme teachings that rest soley on Jesus’ words, indicating that we can do exactly as Jesus did, blowing John 14:12 out of proportion and out of context.
Therefore, an understanding of the inspiration process will promote the necessity for Scriptural reconciliation. It helps us to recognize that as God breathed out his word through the pens of 40 authors, there was something He had in mind. And what He had in mind was conveyed in various literary styles and according to the author’s personality. So when the authors wrote, they had something they wished to convey as they were moved by the Spirit and they did this in a complete literary device, that must be understood in its historical, grammatical, and cultural context. I can’t imagine that there is anything more grievious to God, who condescended to reveal Himself to us, seeing fit to inscribe this revelation through the compilation of 66 books, than for us to rip meaning, words, and intents out of their proper context. We would hate for somebody to do that us. Why would we not think it doesn’t matter to God.
In conclusion, I think it was quite unfortunate that I did not gain this understanding in church and why this topic is reserved for the study of theology proper. I am aware that there are some churches who incorporate basic bibliology into their Christian education curriculum, such as the class called You and Your Bible that a good friend of mine used to teach and was required for membership at his church. But overall, I would say it is a fairly untaught and unrecognized topic amongst discipleship training. And the tragedy is that without a good understanding of why God’s word is God’s word, we might want to read it any kind of way we want that ignores the very intentions behind God and the authors He spoke through. But if our hearts passion is to know God and love Him with all of our hearts and souls and minds, it seems to me that we would first start with how He has communicated Himself to us. And that is why I think the inspiration process should be taught in every church.
 According to A.T.B. McGowan, Divine Authenticity of Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16 indicates that Scripture was inspired, but not the agency, which I affirm. However, I reject his assertion that the product of divine inspiration must be separated from the agency since 2 Peter 2:20-21 indicates this is the mechanism through which divine speech is communicated.