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In 2 Tim 3:16, Paul writes

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (NIV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (ESV)

Does this mean that all scripture (the whole Bible) is from God and of equal importance, or are there some parts of the bible which we need to take more seriously than others?

For example, are Jesus' words more important than Paul's?

I'm looking for a Protestant/Evangelical point of view, but I'm interested in others too.

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Seems like a good question, but you do know that "inspired" $5.00 word translation right? en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/inspire#section_1 –  Peter Turner Dec 11 '12 at 12:19
@PeterTurner I don't know what you meant by $5.00 word translation, but I don't think that makes a difference to my question. I've edited the original question to try and make it clearer –  Greg Dec 11 '12 at 19:28
no it's fine I was confused because I've never read "God-Breathed" as a translation for "Inspired" before. I just remember teaching my CCD kids that "Inspired" means that and I figured the answer would be obvious given the religious definition of inspired. –  Peter Turner Dec 11 '12 at 19:39
In response to BAzzle: That the Pentateuch was "indeed written wholly by Moses" is as theoretical as the Documentary Hypothesis. Truth is often a subjective thing. –  gpence Nov 11 '14 at 22:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The phrase "God-breathed" is a translation of the etymological roots of the Greek θεόπνευστος. Most English versions of the Bible translate this Greek word as "inspired by God". ("Inspire" is derived from the Latin word inspiratio, which like πνευστος, originally denoted breath or spirit.)

There is no consensus on what it means to say that all Scripture is inspired, even among Evangelical Protestants. In an essay titled How Can The Bible Be Authoritative? Evangelical Anglican scholar N.T. Wright dispenses with the notion of the Bible as a collection of "timeless truths", in which each verse is authoritative on its own.

A regular response to these problems is to say that the Bible is a repository of timeless truth. There are some senses in which that is true. But the sense in which it is normally meant is certainly not true. The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is culturally conditioned. It is all written in the language of particular times, and evokes the cultures in which it came to birth. It seems, when we get close up to it, as though, if we grant for a moment that in some sense or other God has indeed inspired this book, he has not wanted to give us an abstract set of truths unrelated to space and time. He has wanted to give us something rather different, which is not (in our post-enlightenment world) nearly so easy to handle as such a set of truths might seem to be.

Rather, Wright recommends reading each Bible book as a book, rather than a set of verses. Only in this way can we understand the context of what God has to say to us.

In private reading, and in informal group meetings, we need again to experiment with new ways of reading scripture. Anyone who has heard an entire biblical book read, or even acted (think of Alec McCown on Mark, or Paul Alexander on John; I have heard the same done with Galatians, and very impressive it was, too) will realize that such things as chapter-divisions, or almost any divisions at all, can be simply unhelpful. We need to recapture a sense of scripture as a whole, telling and retelling stories as wholes. Only when you read Exodus as a whole (for example) do you realize the awful irony whereby the making of the golden calf is a parody of what God wanted the people to do with their gold and jewels . . . and only by reading Mark as a whole might you realize that, when the disciples ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand, they are indeed asking for something they do not understand.

Wright argues that thinking of inspiration in terms of inerrancy or infallibility can lead us into traps, but that we can avoid these traps by taking the Bible seriously as a whole.

If we really engage with the Bible in this serious way we will find, I believe, that we will be set free from (among other things) some of the small-scale evangelical paranoia which goes on about scripture. We won’t be forced into awkward corners, answering impossible questions of the ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ variety about whether scripture is exactly this or exactly that. Of course the Bible is inspired, and if you’re using it like this there won’t be any question in your mind that the Bible is inspired. But, you will be set free to explore ways of articulating that belief which do not fall into the old rationalist traps of 18th or 19th or 20th century. Actually using the Bible in this way is a far sounder thing than mouthing lots of words beginning with ‘in—’ but still imprisoning the Bible within evangelical tradition (which is what some of those ‘in—’ words seem almost designed to do).

But rather than giving a single answer about how God speaks to us through Scripture, Wright insists that whenever we truly engage with the Bible and seek to understand what God has to say to us, we find that God not only speaks to us but transforms our lives.

The Bible, clearly, is also to be used in a thousand different ways within the pastoral work of the church, the caring and building up of all its members. Again, there is much that I could say here, but little space. Suffice it to note that the individual world-views and God-views of Christians, as much as anybody else, need to be constantly adjusted and straightened out in the light of the story which is told in scripture. But this is not to say that there is one, or even that there are twenty-one, ‘right’ ways of this being done. To be sure, the regular use of scripture in private and public worship is a regular medicine for many of the ills that beset us. But there are many methods of meditation, of imaginative reading, ways of soaking oneself in a book or a text, ways of allowing the story to become one’s own story in all sorts of intimate ways, that can with profit be recommended by a pastor, or engaged in within the context of pastoral ministry itself. Here, too, we discover the authority of the Bible at work: God’s own authority, exercised not to give true information about wholeness but to give wholeness itself, by judging and remaking the thoughts and intentions, the imaginations and rememberings, of men, women and children.

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Completely agree with you that the bible needs to be read in the context it was given, and that reading the whole of a book is very important to understand each part of the book in context of the whole story/argument. But it doesn't really answer the question of the importance of scripture. Is all scripture equally God's word, or are some parts (such as Jesus talking) more important? –  Greg Dec 11 '12 at 19:34
@Greg: What Wright is saying (as I understand him) is that the Bible as a collection of books is God's word. We can't slice it up into parts and say this part is God's word or that part is God's word in itself. God's word is the whole collection. –  Bruce Alderman Dec 11 '12 at 20:08

As covered in From a Fundamentalist standpoint, what does the phrase "Inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God" mean?

Definition of the term "Inspired": The doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible means that the Bible in the original documents is God-breathed, that it is a divine product, and, because it is divine, the original documents are inerrant.

  • "inspired" does not mean "inspired" in the common sense, as in an artist is inspired to produce a great work, or a football team is inspired to perform better than normal die to a very motivational speech. In the doctrine of Divine Inspiration, the term carries the connotation that the words are the actual words of God.

  • Many cite [2 Timothy 3:16][1] as the source for the term "inspired". The term "God Breathed" is translated from the Greek word "Theopneustos", which conveys the idea of God directly filled the writer with the necessary knowledge - the God breathed the knowledge into the writer.

  • From Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, we get two possible meanings for the idea of how this worked:

    1. That every thought and word were inspired by God, and that the writer did nothing but merely write as the Spirit dictated.
    2. That God gave the whole matter, leaving the inspired writers to their own language; and hence the great variety of style and different modes of expression. (This is the understanding that is most common in Baptist Churches in particular, and in most Fundamentalist Churches in my admittedly limited experience.) This is known as Plenary Inspiration.

    More possible meanings are available at http://www.theopedia.com/Inspiration_of_the_Bible

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Thanks David. Great explanation for Inspired. For the 2nd part of the question, does that mean that some parts of scripture are more important than others e.g. If Jesus is God then Jesus' words ARE God's words, where as Paul's words are his own but he was given the idea by God. So Paul's words are not as important? –  Greg Dec 11 '12 at 19:17
I'm not sure if my original question was clear enough so I've re-woreded it slightly –  Greg Dec 11 '12 at 19:28

I don't know how I got to this board really, but ill answer your second question directly since that seems to be what's missing. In my opinion all scripture has incredible value, equal value, in that it all gives a piece of the picture of God's nature, who he is, the depths of his character. So if you neglect one part of scripture, you're working with a less than compete view of God. However, in terms of importance, there are certain parts of scripture, like the words Jesus says about the most important command or Paul's summation of the gospel, that you could essentially base your entire life off of and so I believe they are "more important." Neglect of the rest of scripture, though, could lead you to an ignorance that causes you to misuse the knowledge you do have (for example if you read the gospel but fail to read that the gospel is intended for everyone or that we are being sent to share it). Hope this helps in some way..better late than never. God bless.

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Welcome to the site! This doesn't really have much to do with your answer, but I find that sharing the following tends to help new visitors avoid mistaking the purpose of this site. I do hope to see more from you! When you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Apr 25 '14 at 19:47

I think i see it a bit differently. The scripture Jesus is talking about was the Torah. There was no NT for 300 years after Jesus was killed. When you see the term "scripture" in your NT, know that it refers to Torah and not the NT. The NT is a collection of writings attributed to the authors' name but in reality we dont know who wrote them. So my answer would be if its scripture your after, the OT trumps the NT hands down.

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But lots of the Old Testament is either anonymous or of disputed authorship too. And this doesn't really make a lot of sense overall... the question is about Paul not Jesus, and why would you think scripture only meant the law, not the whole OT? –  curiousdannii Oct 13 '14 at 4:56
Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Here are some meta posts about this site to help you learn how we do it here: What this site is about and How this site is different. This post is okay but really could be much better. You need to make a better case for your assertion. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Oct 13 '14 at 5:08
Awww, im minus one already. –  BAzzle Oct 14 '14 at 3:30
Awww, im minus one already. Thanks for your reply. The Torah was indeed written wholly by Moses. The prophets are attributed as being the authors of their respectively named books. We know precisely who wrote the Tanakh. We have no evidence to suggest that the Gospel writers authored their named books. It was custom at the time for others to write a gospel/book and attribute it to someone else, but thats another story. The word scrpture does represent the whole Tanakh, but is mostly quoted and applied to Torah observance. Read paulandjesus.com –  BAzzle Oct 14 '14 at 3:46

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