Understanding the word as being God breathed.

I have been thinking a fair bit about what does the Bible mean as being God’s word. And what do we mean by the Bible being inerrant. Within this context, I have been thinking about how can the Bible be the word while Christ is THE WORD!

Often Paul’s injunction to Timothy that all Scripture is God breathed is proof texted by many to state that all of Scripture is God’s word. While I totally believe that the Bible is God’s word, we have to be careful as to how we understand it as God’s word and what it means for us today.

Firstly , we need to acknowledge that Paul is talking about the Old Testament. There is little to no evidence to prove that he considered any of the NT writings to be Scripture, including his own. Secondly we have to also understand just what  the Scriptures are that Paul is saying are God breathed. To do this, we have to ask the question; “Does Paul understand all of the OT as being God breathed?”

And it is here where I will depart from the majority of evangelicalism to say that I don’t believe that Paul does believe that all of the OT is God breathed. While we ourselves will state with great conviction that all of the Scriptures including the New Testament are firmly inerrant and God breathed; we need to also acknowledge that Paul states that one of his instructions to the Corinthians was of himself and not coming direct from God, though he commended himself to them as being a Godly person, who was worthy of making such a statement.

Paul also turned away from the law, clearly stating that cursed are those who follow the law. Therefore can we so confidently state that the law of Moses was indeed God breathed. Now we are faced with a quandary. Just what did Paul mean by Scripture being God breathed. And to answer this, we have to ask who was central to Paul’s faith?

God inspired many over the eons to speak of the coming Christ. And its within these  we find the inspirational breath of God in Scripture.  The  Apostle John begins his Gospel account by calling Christ, “THE WORD” of God. And its within this context that we can build the framework of what Paul means by God breathed. He is talking about the Scriptures that point to Christ. For here we we find the true breath of life. For it is Christ who is THE inerrant word. It is Christ who is perfect and without any impurity of any kind. And it is in Christ whom we will find life. Pure life. Eternal life.Perfect life.

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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23 Responses to Understanding the word as being God breathed.

    • Craig Benno says:

      Hi David. That is a good read. However,I struggle in that he is a little too reductionistic as he doesn’t grapple with the issue of what is human words and God’s word in the Scriptures.

      For instance, when Peter says he didn’t know Christ, was Peter telling the truth? Was God inspiring Peter to say what he did?

      Or was God inspiring Paul to utter the blasphemous things he said as he went about persecuting the early church. No, of course not. But we also have a record in Acts where the high priest did speak forth a prophetic word about the early church leaders, and we can deduce that those words were indeed God’s breathed words.

    • Craig Benno says:

      But I did enjoy how he said that as we read the Scriptures the Holy Spirit breathes them into life making them God breathed – sounds like he is influenced by Barth on that particular understanding.

  1. David McKay says:

    There is at least one more equally good post by John Woodhouse on the topic of inerrancy at the same site.

    I don’t see Woodhouse’s understanding of inerrancy as being Barthian.

    When Paul gives advice and says it is from him, not the Lord, I’ve been led to believe that he had no direct words of Jesus on that issue, not that he meant he was saying that what he said wasn’t from God, but that it wasn’t directly from Jesus’ earthly ministry. I think quite a few commentaries give a similar explanation.

    I’m confident Paul means to say that the Old Testament Scriptures are God-breathed: all of them.

    Have you read Peter Adam’s Written For Us? I’ve listened to the talks and read part of the book. I enjoyed the talks, though the sound quality wasn’t always good. He sounds a bit like David Marr at times. [Hope that wouldn’t horrify him.]



  2. Sara says:

    Can you please support with Scripture the passages that say Paul said ‘cursed are they that follow the law’, since I need to see context.

  3. Hi Craig,

    While I remain unconvinced that “inerrant” is a helpful label (it’s too easily misunderstood), I have some problems with your understanding:

    1. While it is true that Paul is referring to the OT when using the term “Scripture,” it is not so clear that Paul’s writings were not also accorded similar authority. For example, in 2Pet 3:14–16, Peter refers to Paul’s writings and the rest of the Scriptures—implying that he considered Paul’s writings (difficult as they are) as standing alongside the other Scriptures.

    2. Without specifically identifying the scope of “all Scripture,” Paul clearly relies on shared knowledge of the referent with his audience. In late second temple Judaism it seems probable that “Scripture” had a specific reference to something quite close to what we identify as the Old Testament, not a subset of it. That much is apparent from the time of Sirach and possibly earlier. The debate over the extent of the canon among Jews at Javneh in the first century reflected a time when most of the canonical books of the Hebrew Bible were settled. Consequently, unless Paul makes explicit that he is referring to a subset of the canon, the natural inference drawn by his readers would be that he is referring to the entire Hebrew Bible.

    3. It is worth reading Paul’s comments regarding marriage and divorce in 1Cor 7 carefully to see what he does and does not say (I believe this is what you’re referring to when you say “Paul states that one of his instructions to the Corinthians was of himself and not coming direct from God”). What Paul is telling his readers is that, for some of his comments, he is drawing on words Jesus spoke while walking the Earth (words which can be found in the gospels). At some points, however, he has to offer his own advice (“I, not the Lord”). Paul nonetheless expects his words to be heeded. If only quotations from Jesus can be classified as Scripture, we need only the red parts of red-letter Bibles!

    4. Paul does quote Deut 27:26 to assert that all who do not keep the words of the Law are cursed (Gal 3:10). That doesn’t mean that the Law was not inspired! Indeed, Paul argues that the Law served God’s purposes (see Rom 7, particularly vv. 7, 12 — “so then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good”). The Law is a reflection of God’s character and requirements. Now that’s bad for us because it only shows how far short we fall, but that doesn’t make it any less God-breathed—quite the reverse!

    There are numerous other considerations here which I think undermine your claim. John 16 seems to be included to endorse the Apostles as authorised witnesses to Jesus and his teaching so that we feel able to trust their testimony as authoritative. If that’s accurate, then those eye-witnesses may well have been aware that their writings were themselves Scripture.

    • Craig Benno says:

      Hi Martin. Thanks for your considered reply, which as always is well thought through and well written.

      Firstly I want to say that I do believe the Scriptures are authoritative and within this sense, I believe the writers of the New Testament also believed their writings were authoritative. However, I doubt if they would have considered their writings equal to the word of God in the same way as they would a prophet who stood up and said, “Thus sayeth the Lord!” For instance, would Luke have considered his writings to be the word of God in the same way that he considered the words that Agabus said to Paul when he wrapped his belt around his wrists?

      So therefore within Scripture, we see there is a subset of the word verses word. Now here is the crux of the matter. Are the Scriptures equal to Christ himself. Are they equal to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Or perhaps as authoritative as they are – the words are also limited in explaining fully the majesty of Christ – who is THE WORD became flesh. If we say they are equal to the full majesty of God – we have a quandary as to how then do those who cannot read and understand the Scriptures for what ever reason it may be, experience the majesty of God? Is it possible for the intellectually disabled to experience God? Is it possible for the physically disabled to experience God if they can’t read the Scriptures themselves?

      I will say that they are fully able to experience the fullness of God and his majestic working in them, because that working is the work of the Holy Spirit of whom we are informed about by the Scriptures; but whom we also experience outside of the Scriptures.

    • Hi Craig,

      It’s difficult to know what the biblical authors thought about the status of their own words. Agabus is an interesting example: he warned Paul but Paul ignored him and proceeded to Jerusalem anyway. Furthermore, some of the details he conveyed seem incorrect. The way Paul speaks of prophecy also suggests that neither he nor others invested the words of most prophets with as much authority as the Scriptures. That’s also the way in the OT—if the words of the prophet contradict the Law, the prophet is false! In light of John 16, it seems quite possible that those disciples there could have considered their knowledge of Jesus to have carried greater authority than a prophet who arrived and made claims which contradicted them!

      Moreover, it seems to me that you’re connecting two ideas that need not be connected. No-one I know of says that the Scriptures are equal to Christ or the Father, but it is through them that God has chosen to preserve the authoritative details of his revelation to us. I’m questioning your claim that only some parts of Scripture are “God-breathed,” not the idea that we can only experience God through the Scriptures. Yet, as Moses taught, if our experience contradicts Scripture, we are being deceived.

      So I don’t doubt that an intellectually disabled person can experience God. I don’t really see what this has to do with the question of how much of Scripture is God-breathed!

      • Craig Benno says:

        Martin, its how we understand them to be God breathed that is my concern. As you know, I straddle a divide between Pentecostalism and Conservative Evangelicalism. Within this circle I find many who interpret the scriptures with a literal point of view as if God said it, that settles it. Many within this camp are those of the Chicago statement of which they state the Bible is inerrant. Within these ranks you will find a fundamentalism that puts the scriptures on par with Jesus.

        Now that gets me rile up big time. However..that’s going on a tangent. I believe that the real breathe of God is Christ the word who become flesh. What are the Scriptures where God pointed towards Christ. They certainly are not the ones where Peter denies Christ – and they certainly are not the ones of the devil tempting Jesus in the desert. When John and Jame (I think james) wanted to call fire and brimstone on a town that rejected them, Jesus told them that they didn’t know which spirit it was that was prompting them to say what they did.. in other words, it wasn’t God prompting them to say it..

        So now we have a dilemma. We find a subset within Scripture where God didn’t say a thing. It’s either demonic or sinful reasoning. Are those Scriptures authoritative.. yes they are, because they record what was said and done. But, they are not the words of God and we cannot truthfully say they were God breathed.

      • Hi Craig,

        I think I understand what you’re saying, but since Paul says all Scripture is God-breathed, and that encompassed at least the OT, then that description must include parts of the OT which don’t fit your definition, and so I think your definition is inadequate. So when Paul makes this claim I understand him to be saying that we can rely on the authority of the message of the Bible as though God were actually speaking (breathing out) the words.

        So when you read the words of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness, they are God-breathed in that they are accorded a status equivalent to what they would have if you were sitting in God’s presence and he were relating the account directly to you with words he spoke. It is not making God responsible for the words of the devil, it is making him responsible for the authority of the message the story conveys. At that level they are no different from any other part of Scripture, and they are God-breathed.

        At least that’s my take on the matter!

      • Craig Benno says:


        That is a real circular proof texting argument. Was Paul really talking about his own writings being God breathed, or was at that moment he was talking about the OT and within his linguistic meaning, was he literally talking about all the OT or that which supported the case for Christ.

        Just because sometime later we decided to include all of the Scriptures as being God breathed, and dont forget that some of Christianity believes that of the Apocrapha and other writings – does that really make it so?

        I will clearly say that the Scriptures are fully authoritative, and informative about God the Father, Son and Spirit, as well as his creation. Yet, Paul also speaks of all of creation speaking of the wonders of God and therefore we can say that creation is God breathed also.

      • Hi Craig,

        I think I’ll stick with Paul’s claim that all Scripture is God-breathed, and since he doesn’t offer qualifications, I’ll infer that he means at least all that was called Scripture in the first century (not excluding, for example, the serpent’s words in the garden, etc.). Given that Peter classifies Paul’s letters as Scripture, I would include those as well. Unless your definition of “God-breathed” can accommodate this, it clearly doesn’t correspond with what Paul meant by the expression.

        So yes, there are questions over what constitutes Scripture, but rarely at the level of including/excluding verses because God was not literally speaking at that point.

        This is not to say that all speech about God is God-breathed (where does Paul say that creation “speaks”?) because Paul is specifically identifying Scripture as such. I just see no warrant for excluding various parts of (say) the OT when Paul explicitly includes it all. This suggests that you mean something different to what Paul means.

      • Craig Benno says:


        Lets look at the actual passage here.

        But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

        Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the Scriptures since infancy. Clearly he is not talking about his own writings within this sentence. The crux here is that its useful, for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness – as well as making us wise for Salvation through faith in Christ. Within the framework of Scripture, Jesus states that because of hardness of hearts, Moses allowed divorce. He then goes on to say that “Divorce” was never part of God’s plans for his people. So was Moses truly inspired by God to allow divorce?

        Or does the context of Timothy show us that the crux of Paul’s meaning about ‘God Breathed’ is centred around Christ and him crucified?

      • Hi Craig,

        I would say both the record of Moses concession allowing divorce and Jesus’ words indicating why it was allowed are God-breathed as part of Scripture.

        Do you exclude Deut 24:1–4 from Scripture?

      • Craig Benno says:

        Martin, I think perhaps I haven’t made myself clear and you have misunderstood what I’m trying to say.

        I do believe that all Scripture is authoritative. Therefore I am not saying that any of the verses in the Bible isn’t Scripture. I am however concerned that we truly understand what it is that Paul is saying and the context in what he is saying it. In verse 15 he acknowledges to Timothy that he is well versed in the Holy Scriptures since birth, which have made him wise in Christ. Every commentary I have visited acknowledges Timothy’s Jewish ancestry on his mothers side. And that because of the Jewish influence, the term “Holy Scriptures” refers to the OT – which could have been either the Pentetuech or included the Prophets

        I find there is a little difficulty in explaining the translation of the Greek terms into “Holy Scripture, even though the passages are easy enough. Paul uses ιερα γραμματαπασα in verse 15 its is translated as Holy Scripture. In the next verse he uses a very different term to the one he used before. This signifies he is now talking about a different set of writings to that of Holy Scripture. The term he uses is πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος και ωφελιμος η and is translated as saying “All writing God breathed / inspired is useful for… I found it interesting that William Barclay also translated the Greek in the same way.

        This raises questions as to what are the inspired writings that Paul is talking about which are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, if they are different to that of the Holy Scriptures which point to Christ.

      • Hi Craig,

        I think you’ve got it backwards. The term γραφὴ (2Tim 3:16) is used elsewhere by Paul (and everyone else in the NT) to refer to Scripture (cf. Rom 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Cor 15:3–4; Gal 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim 5:18). What is unusual is the expression τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα, “[the] sacred writings” which appears only here in the Bible. So if you’re going to question the referent for any of these terms, you could ask what sacred writings Timothy had been versed in, although I doubt many commentators would suggest that these were anything other than the OT Scriptures as well.

      • Craig Benno says:

        I agree that elsewhere Graphe is used as Scripture when its warranted. But it is also a generic term which is commonly used for write, writings, letter etc. Because of its uniqueness, I believe that Paul is deliberate in using “the sacred writings” to refer to Scripture and is setting them apart from his next use of writings. Within this context, I believe its also worthy to look at the context of his usage of ωφελιμος which is only found 4 times in the NT. Once in Titus 3:8 which is translated as ‘profitable,’ twice in 1 Tim 4:8 which is translated as ‘Value’ and here in 3:16 which is translated as ‘useful.

        Because of the unique nature of these word, 25% of them is used to describe the function of what Paul means in this particular passage and that the four uses of them are contained within the Titus / Timothy corpus, I will hypothesis at this point in time that their content will play a major part in deciphering this passage within its contextual meaning.

      • Hi Craig,

        I think you face an up-hill battle. Not only is γραφή “used for Scripture when it is warranted,” rather every (other) instance in the NT of this term is understood to mean “Scripture.” This suggests that its meaning has shifted from the generic “writing” of earlier Greek literature so that (at least in a Jewish/Christian context) it defaults to mean “Scripture.” Given that this appears to have become normative, unambiguous references to writings other than Scripture would probably be made using other terms (e.g. γράμμα).

        On your reading, Paul uses an unusual phrase to refer to Scripture so that he can use the normal term for Scripture to mean something other than Scripture. That seems like a formula designed to confuse his readers!

  4. John Modra says:

    Not a greek scholar but perhaps thats a good thing because “the problem ” may be a open question ; a language limit thing – a greek language framing limit in particular . In hearing Sachs talk i was reminded of how close his talking about the authority of scripture as a jew was to the lutheran view .(lutherans do lots of hebrew study)
    – It seems to me as an “old lutheran” that my confidence in scripture is as much about the sense of a established and growing consistency of OT and NT and not apparent inconsistencies in either ( something Sachs addresses quite well)

    I was so affected by my growing sense of consistency and confidence( cf use of the word “inerrancy”–which to a pedant like me,, sound pretty “greek “) in the agreed ist century scriptural summaries that i started this blog http://thinkhebrew.blogspot.com

  5. David McKay says:

    Has Kevin Vanhoozer’s article been mentioned? Worth reading the whole thing.

    And the old Chicago statement also clears away a lot of what is not implied in affirming the Bible’s inerrancy [despite what many think is being said].

    • Craig Benno says:

      David, while there are things I like about this statement, I I really struggle with the Chicago Statement. Take the preamble of point 4 for instance.

      Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual live

      It’s this kind of language which distorts Scripture and how we perceive it as if God dictated it all….

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