Wednesday, May 22, 2013

All Scripture is God-breathed

The part of 2 Tim 3 that everyone likes to quote and that becomes the bedrock of their doctrines of scripture is, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction…”

Scripture is God-breathed. Yes!

But wait! There’s more!

Or, perhaps better put–wait, you forgot a part!

The verse before this presents a significant qualification: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Did you see it?

Scripture isn’t just “good.” Full stop. It is good for a particular purpose. That purpose is Christological. Scripture is not rightly read as scripture when it is given its historical, scientific, or critical meaning. It is not rightly read as scripture until it is read as a witness to, or cultivating a wisdom that inclines us toward, the crucified and risen Christ.

In Romans, Paul says similar things: the righteousness of God (in the crucified and risen Christ) is borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets; Christ is the end/goal of the Law.

Paul is faithful in what he says about Adam, not because he rightly identifies Adam as the biological precursor of all subsequent humanity, but because he sees in Adam a way to understand how the crucified and risen Christ is the beginning of God’s plan for a new humanity at the acme of new creation.

What did God breathe? Words of wisdom. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation. Words of wisdom that lead to salvation through faith in Christ.

If we read and find only words of science or dogma or ethics or history, the Bible has not yet become for us the living and active and inspired word of God.

Before commenting on the specifics, I’d like to make some general observations about 2 Tim 3:15-16:

i) It’s often thought that because v15 refers to the OT, v16 must have the same referent. However, there may be a progression in Paul’s argument, where v16 is more general than v15.

ii) Apropos (i), Paul evidently uses “Scripture” in 1 Tim 5:18 to designate a saying from the Gospel of Luke. Moreover, Paul regards his own teaching as divinely inspired and divinely authoritative (e.g. 1 Cor 2:13; 14:37; 1 Thes 4:2). Therefore, there’s no reason to think Paul is restricting Scripture in v16 to OT Scripture.

iii) Of course, liberals generally deny the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals (Luke Timothy Johnson is a notable exception). But that creates a dilemma for the liberal. If the Pastorals weren’t written by Paul, but by a later author, then wouldn’t that be even more reason to think v16 might include NT writings as Scripture? After all, the liberal argument is that the Pastorals, being so much later, reflect a more advanced ecclesiastical and/or theological outlook. So that would fit with a retrospective canonical consciousness.

If, on the one hand, Paul wrote the Pastorals, then we know Paul regarded his own Gospel as direct divine revelation (e.g. Gal 1). But if (ex hypothesi), on the other hand, Paul didn’t write the Pastorals, then these would reflect further theological development–in which case there would be nothing anachronistic about the author treating NT writings as Scripture.

iv) There’s a question about whether pasa should be rendered as “all” or “every.” But it makes no ultimate difference whether Paul is attributing inspiration to Scripture collectively or distributively, for it amounts to the same thing.

v) There’s a question as to whether the clause should be rendered “Every Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for…” or “Every Scripture that is God-breathed is useful for…”

Major commentators like Mounce, Marshall, and Towner argue for the former construction.

vi) What does Paul mean by the compound “God-breathed”? I can think of two related reasons:

a) It triggers associations with the Spirit of God as the agent of revelation and inspiration.

b) It evokes Scripture as divine speech. The spoken word, committed to writing.

As for Daniel Kirk’s contentions:

i) To say that Scripture is useful for leading readers to salvation is not to say that Scripture is only good for that particular purpose. It’s not an exclusive or contrastive claim.

ii) The doctrine of the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture isn’t confined to a single prooftext like 1 Tim 3:16. Rather, it’s a theological construct, with many lines of evidence.

iii) The fact that in the Pastorals, Paul appeals to historical precedents like the Exodus, the life of Abraham, and Korah’s rebellion, explodes Kirk’s false dichotomy between historical knowledge and soteriological knowledge.

iv) Paul sets his teaching in contrast to his opponents, who retail in “myths” (1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14). As Towner explains:

The term “myth” has a long history of use prior to the NT, through which it comes to mean a fable or far-fetched story, often about the gods; most importantly, it can stand as a category meaning essentially falsehood (109).

So it would run counter to the polemical perspective of the Pastorals to treat the account of Adam as a fictional story.

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