God-breathed: Did God author the Scriptures?

February 9, 2023

brown wooden rolling pin on white textile

It was a dark time, with his quill being dipped in ink, his eyes careful to look at the scroll in front of him, a copyist pens the words 'God and Savior, Jesus Christ' in koine Greek. He did so not knowing if he will be arrested for what he was doing, or if his copy will survive his lifetime. Little did he know, that his copy will still exist 1,800 years later for the world to see.

Papyri 72, or P72 as it is known in New Testament manuscript studies, contains 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude and was a manuscript copy produced by one such copyist. We do not know his name, but we know somewhat when he copied the manuscripts in front of him. The year: around Ad 175-200. The reason for hand-copying a large number of texts: there were no printing press nor photocopies to produce a copy of a handwritten manuscript. The way it was copied: the text shows a somewhat rushed copying, where the copyist was writing without caring if the lines of his sentences were straight. Despite such criticism, what made this copyist take the time to copy the writings of Peter and Jude? We probably believed with his whole heart, that the text before him was worth preserving and passing on, for to him, it was probably of divine origin.

P72 - or papyri 72 - early manuscript copy of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude. In this image is the end of 1st Peter on the left, and the beginning of 2 Peter on the right.

The Scriptures today have been under attack by numerous groups in our society. From scholars of prestigious universities to Tiktokkers and bloggers, the Scripture has been treated and accused as being obsolete, mythological, written by men who wished to stay in power over other religions, ethnicities, and genders. Even the translations we have has been ascertained by these scholars as not reflecting the original writings, as being edited to fit the narratives of those who are in power, from Constantine until the British Empire and Western Colonizers. Yet why has the Scripture continue to exist and be with us? The answer: We believe it is God-breathed, inspired and authored by God.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (emphasis mine).

All Scripture is theopneustos, or God-breathed. What we mean by God-breathed is not that he breathed life into this words that were written. No, it means that the Word came to existence as God breathed out these words. God by speaking, brought forth His Word, and the human writers put it on paper. In short, God spoke, and what He spoke, He wrote through human authors. Yet, is this how we tend to understand how Scripture was written? For many, it is not the way they think about God's authorship, and for some this has led to doubts about God being the author of Scripture. This is because of three reasons: the word inspiration, the notion of what authorship means, and the presence of so-called errors.

First, many understand God's authorship as mainly through the inspiration of authors. Yes, this doctrine of Scripture is what we call the inspiration of the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God. However, at present it may not be the best word to use to describe God's authorship of Scripture. Today we understand the word 'inspired' a little different. We tend to think that God inspired the human authors by merely giving them ideas on what to write, leaving them to choose and decide which words will be present in what we call Scripture today. Yet, that is not what the word theopneustos intended to communicate. The reason we use the word inspiration is because Jerome's Latin Vulgate translated the word as inspirata. Back then this may not be a questionable use of the word, yet today, due to the evolution of language, we tend to think of inspiration in today's understanding, that of giving suggestions or ideas that quicken the mind.

Second, people tend to think that for Scriptures to be authored by God, He has to either write it Himself in a scroll, or book, or stone, and give it to us. Yet we know that such logic will not hold even today. Countless authors are attributed as authors even if they have secretaries or writers for them. The important point of authorship is: who is the source of the words written. Are they originating from the writers, or from God? if they are originating from God who intends to give it to a particular group of people to communicate His message to them, then it is safe to assert that He is the author of such writing. This is what we believe about the Scriptures, that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation... no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit..." (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The third objection is the presence of so called errors. Scholars and theologians in the 1960s began to introduce the notion that the Bible is infallible yet errs. What they mean is that only words relating to faith and practice were authored by God. Yet historical events, phenomenological perspectives, and other non-faith details could be erroneous, and therefore not authored by God. However such notions are problematic for a couple of reasons. One, 2 Timothy states that ALL Scripture, or all graphe (writing) is God-breathed. Unless the words that are not faith-related are not written, the passage clearly affirms the inspiration of ALL writing. Even Christ affirms such notion, emphasizing that the Word of God will not pass away, even mentioning that not one dot or iota will pass away (Matthew 5:18). Two, it is problematic to consider them not inspired just because we have a different standard of what we consider as error, especially pertaining to non-faith details. Augustine has wise words for one who may consider that the Scripture's authorship is in doubt due to error:

If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.

Augustine

Yet, all of these are merely responses to objections, not affirmations of truths stated. What does it mean that All Scripture is God-breathed?

It means that that All WORDS of Scripture are authored by God. Yes, it was the human authors who put pen on papyri. Yes, each author's personality, background, skill was evident in those writings. God did not divinely controlled the hand of the authors to pen words that they do not know nor words that they do not comprehend. They wrote as they wrote. Yet it was God who carried them in their writing, ensuring that every word that they put on papyri, were the words that God had purposed for them to put, not overriding their agency, but working through it.

It also means that ALL words of Scripture are authored by God. Yes, including the weird sounding names in the genealogies in Numbers, the measurements of the Temple in Ezekiel, the prophecies about the ten-headed dragon in Revelation - yes, ALL words. Our tendency is to consider inspired only that which proved meaningful to us in our present reading. Yet, such notions are dangerous, for to base inspiration on our emotions or intuition is foolhardy, as most of us respond to passages of Scripture differently. Yet some of you may ask, what is the use of the genealogies and the measurements of the temple? Why would the Lord inspire such of it were not to be useful to His people in the long run?

To answer, we have to remember that the Scripture was written by God first and foremost - for a specific, original, intended audience in history. Most of the things in Scripture irrelevant for us today were largely relevant to those who were first hearing or reading the Word of God. Yes, cultural differences between two cultures in different space and time may render some aspects of the Scripture seem irrelevant, yet the intention, and the instruction behind it is universal in its application, regardless of culture. For example, the genealogies in the book of Numbers itself honestly seem irrelevant to us today. Of course, what use will we have with the difficult-to-pronounce names? We surely won't go to it for reference of what our babies' names will be. We won't read it in a devotional manner and expect God to unveil a supernatural code in it. Yet why did God include the genealogies in the book of Numbers? From Numbers 1 we can see that His intention was to organize the people of Israel. This was their second year away from Egypt. They were about to get into the promise-land. The Lord was not going to just simply bring them in and let them be, like how a deist would think God will operate. No, He who has saved them from slavery, is now building them into a holy nation. For a nation to be built, leaders should be elected. Leaders over the whole, over groups of thousands, over groups of hundreds, over groups of tens. What better way to organize them, then by clan, and by family. The census of the book of Numbers did that. It showed a God who cared for Israel as a nation, but also Israelites as individuals. The census ensured that they will not be lost or neglected, that they belong to the people of God. What lesson is being taught to us about God? If God would not dare neglect His people Israel up to the individual, ensuring that his name be included in the census, and recorded for eternity - how much more would he dare to neglect the name of his sheep, you, the reader. Years in the future, your name may be forgotten, ignored, yet, He who knows you by name, will not do so. He remembers you. He puts it in writing. Not in the book on this side of the world, no, in the Book of Life He writes your name, along with countless names you have never heard of, names of His people, His sheep who have been called by His name. Oh, what a glorious truth Thy Scripture teaches. Oh, what amazing grace!

The Bible that you and I hold today - it is a sacred work, not because it has wonderful, reverential language, nor because it merely touches the lives of those who read it. No, it is a sacred work, meant to be read and meditated, because God - in His sovereign grace and mercy - has chosen to reveal Himself to you through His sacred work - His God-breathed work. All Scripture. Oh saint, read it today! Read it once again! Read it with your heart awakened to the beauty and majesty of the God who gave you graciously His Word. Read it and be judged by the God who sees your heart with all its thoughts and intent. Read it and be humbled that you who deserve all the curses of the book, will instead receive all the promised blessings, for He who gave you this book, also gave you His only begotten Son - Christ Jesus - who is key in understanding what this book reveals about God.

Read it oh saint, Read it! All Scripture is God-breathed.


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