What Does “Inspiration” Mean in 2 Timothy 3:16?
In the church we have a doctrine called “inspiration.” And the English translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 that I just read, uses the term inspiration. But I think that we must make a distinction between the use of the term inspiration here, and the way it’s used theologically in the history of the church. Because, as Dr. B.B. Warfield once pointed out so eloquently, the real meaning of this text here in 2 Timothy 3:16 has to do not so much with the way in which God communicated His information to us through the human writers, but rather the emphasis in this text is on the source of that information. What Paul is saying, he uses the word Theopneust (I’ll write that out in English) in the Greek here when he says “all scripture is given by inspiration.” Literally what this word means is God-breathed. And it means that which God has breathed out, rather than that which God breathes in.
Now, I was just ready to give my next sentence after finishing that sentence and I noticed that in between that last sentence and the next sentence I had to pause…and take a breath. Because in order for me to speak I have to have breath in my lungs, and while I’m speaking, if I continue to speak and don’t take a breath while I continue to speak pretty soon I start squeaking like a mouse and I run out of breath…I have to breathe, because when I speak I’m breathing out, and in order to breathe out I must first breathe in. Now the force of what Paul is saying here is that he is saying that all of Scripture is breathed out from God.
Now when we breathe out that means we are involved in expiration, not in the sense of dying, but we expire at death because we breathe out for the last time, and we don’t breathe in anymore. But to breathe out is expiration, whereas to breathe in is inspiration. So really, if we were getting real technical here, we should translate this phrase that all scripture is given by expiration.
Now, so what? What’s the difference between an expiration and inspiration here? Again, the point that I’m jealous to make here, is that what Paul is saying when he insists that all of the Scripture has been breathed out by God, he is saying that it’s ultimate origin is in Him. It is His word. It is His speech. He is the One who is the source of these writings. And so when we talk about the doctrine of inspiration, we’re talking about the way in which God superintends the writing of sacred Scripture. That God does not just act, and let people respond with their own insight, and their own imagination to set forth their view of what God has done, but that God is working by the Holy Spirit to superintend that record to make sure that the record that is written is His Word.