2 Timothy 3:14-4:5New International Version (NIV)
14 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 may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
There was a very interesting archeological find this week. Most people believe that Jesus was employed as a carpenter, but it turns out that he may have had a different occupation altogether. Some people now claim that Jesus was really a rancher, a cattleman. Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. We don’t know if he had any female cattle or not, but there is reason to believe that he had at least two male cattle. This should really come to us as no surprise, because the Bible is always talking about Jesus and his parables (pair of bulls).
We are not talking about parables today, but we are talking about the Bible. This sermon is going to be a little different from what you might be used to, because usually we talk about a passage from the Bible, but today we are going to spend most of our time talking about the Bible itself.
I’m going to say this up front, just to make sure that you know where I stand. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I believe God guided the authors of the text, and I believe that God guided the process through which the books of the Bible were selected. I also think that far too many churches today fight over what it means for the Bible to be inspired by God. We actually have a church in our conference that is voting today whether or not to remain a part of our denomination, in large part because our denomination’s Confession of Faith does not use certain words to describe how the Bible is inspired. And because our denomination does not, by their approximation, have as high of a view of the Bible as they do, I fully expect them to vote to leave. All because our Confession of Faith doesn’t use two words to describe the Bible; two words that the Bible itself doesn’t use to describe the Bible.
Again, I do believe that the Christian Bible is inspired by God and that will be our topic for today. But if we have a simplistic understanding of what that means, spending five minutes with an angry atheist will do one of two things. It will make you look like you have never actually taken any time to study the book that you claim to be so important in your life, or it will make you lose or at least question your faith. Perhaps even both.
So what I hope to do today is to show you why I believe in the inspiration of Scripture by first deconstructing some arguments, showing you why they aren’t good arguments, and then we will build up a new way of understanding inspiration.
I sat down this week and did a quick Google search to find some resources on the inspiration of Scripture. Many articles referenced our text for this morning from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
More than one article said something along the lines of “The Bible is true because it says that it is true.” For someone who already believes in the truthfulness or inspiration of the Bible, that may be enough. But good luck trying to convince someone else with that logic! That’s what we sometimes call “circular reasoning,” or “circular logic.” You can prove that something is true because it says that it is true. That’s like saying that chocolate ice cream is the best because I said it is. If you already think that chocolate ice cream is the best, you might offer a hearty “amen.” But if you are one of those people who likes butter pecan, you probably aren’t convinced.
But even worse, what does 2 Timothy 3:16 actually say? It says that all scripture is God-breathed. When this text was written, what was that a reference to, what did Paul have in mind? This was a reference to the Hebrew Bible because much of the New Testament had not even been written yet. By the time 2 Timothy was written, the only books of the New Testament that were in existence were a few of Paul’s letters. And Paul probably didn’t expect that his letters would one day be a part of our Bible, because Paul seems to think that Jesus was coming back in his lifetime.
Paul had to be referring to the Hebrew Bible alone when he wrote this. Some will argue that Paul anticipated the New Testament, and that is what he means when he says “all scripture.” I don’t think we can make that assumption. All scripture is a reference to all scripture in existence. Think about it like this. I don’t believe that the Book of Mormon, for instance, is inspired by God, even though Mormons will claim that it is scripture. We know that other gospels were written, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter. These books are not included in our Bible because they paint a different picture of Jesus, and I don’t believe that they are inspired by God. No, “all scripture” is a reference to the known scripture in the Hebrew tradition.
Okay, so when Paul says that all Scripture is inspired by God, he doesn’t mean all of the scriptures in the world, or even all of the scriptures in our Christian Bible. Now I’m really going to mess with you. When Paul says all Scripture is inspired by God, not only is he only referring to part of our Bible, he is also referring to parts that aren’t in our Bible. Paul would have included the text that we know as the Apocrypha as scripture. This is somewhat debated, but what we do know is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are some of the oldest Hebrew texts in existence, some dating 400 BC, included Apocryphal text. The Apocrypha includes stories about the Maccabees, the rededication of the Jewish Temple, and the celebration of Hanukah.
Quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 to an atheist will not prove anything other than that the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 believed what he considered to be scripture was from God. In fact, nothing can be proven about God at all! And while what we do have may not sound like a rock-solid base upon which to build one’s religious belief, it was good enough for Paul. It was good enough for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What we have is faith.
Now don’t downplay the power of faith. Jesus says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. So now that I have deconstructed one way to look at the Bible, let’s look at what this text really says and let’s build up our faith in this text together. We are nearing the end of this book of the Bible, which again is Paul’s letter to his young mentee, Timothy. Paul often closes with a few encouraging words, kind of like going to a pep rally before the big game. Paul wants to send him off with some energy. So he closes with 9 points. I’ll touch on a few of them here.
Paul says in verses 14-15, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is affirming what Timothy has been taught since a young age. Was Paul there to hear all of the teaching that Timothy received throughout his lifetime? No, of course not. So how does Paul know that Timothy’s teaching has been sound? Because Paul knows who has been teaching Timothy.
Remember that in last week’s passage, Paul praised Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother Eunice, for their faith and for passing that on to Timothy. Paul trusts that Timothy is going down the right track because he values these women and their faith. Paul believes that Timothy’s faith is genuine because Eunice and Lois’s faith was genuine.
I think that this is helpful for our discussion today on the inspiration of the Bible. How do we know that the Bible is steering us down the right path? One, I know where it came from. I got my first Bible from my parents, and I trust them. I have to believe that they wouldn’t intentionally steer me down the wrong path. But that alone isn’t convincing. On a larger level, I trust people like Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And I trust the people that helped them write our New Testament. Peter is often given credit for sharing the stories recorded by Mark. Look at the first four verses of Luke, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
I believe the Bible is true because I trust not only my parents, but because they got it from their parents, and they got it from their parents. And we can trace our Christian lineage, either genetically or theologically, back to the first Christians. Back to those who wrote the books and formed our Christian Bible. I trust the eye witnesses, those who spent time with Jesus when he was here in the flesh. I don’t think they just made these stories up, because you don’t give your life for a story that you made up.
I’ve been known to make up a few stories in my days. When I was a little boy and I told a story that didn’t quite seem logical, my father would say one of two things. He would say, “I think your nose is growing,” an obvious reference to Pinocchio, or he would ask, “Did I ever tell you the story of the little boy who cried wolf?” So sure, I would tell the story of how I won the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics at the age of eight. But when my father pushed me on it, I would admit that I had made the story up. It didn’t take much, he just needed to let me know that he didn’t believe me, and I would drop it.
Now imagine I was making up a story, and someone said that it wasn’t true. But I was promising them up and down that it was true, even though I knew that it was made up. If that person threatened my life, I would come out and admit to them that the whole thing was made up. Even if the story was true and someone threatened my life, I would probably lie to save my own skin!
Of those people who I mentioned who formed the New Testament, either through writing or dictating their stories to those who did write them, many died for their faith. Of the eleven remaining apostles, after Judas left, and Paul, we are told that most if not all of them were killed for their faith, killed for telling this story. If Peter was telling the story of Jesus and someone threatened him by saying “Stop saying that or we will kill you,” he would probably stop if he was making it up! But he was crucified, upside down.
So when Paul tells Timothy to continue in the faith because of those from whom he learned it, it may sound silly. But it is quite profound. Timothy learned from those he trusted, his mother and grandmother. And they learned from the first disciples. Timothy learned from those who learned from those who were willing to die for this message.
Let’s move to verses 16-17, the crux of this passage, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Some versions say that all scripture is “God-breathed,” others say “inspired by God.” The word here is θεόπνευστος, theopneustos, which is a compound word combining theos (God) and a form of pneuma. Pneuma is again the Greek word for breath, wind, and spirit.
To say that the scriptures are “inspired” or “God-breathed” is not to say that they descended from heaven on a cloud, or that God took over the hand of the person who wrote these books. It means that God filled these books with his very life-breath, just as God breathed life into a lump of clay, just as Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Without the divine breath, this is just a story, a biography, a history book, some papers bound together with glue and string. To say that the scriptures are God-breathed means that God has given life to an otherwise lifeless book.
There are a number of arguments for why the Bible should be understood to be true. Some people claim that the unity of the Bible shows that God was guiding this process because many people over hundreds of years wrote this text. And yet in spite of those factors, the Bible depicts a relatively uniform story of fall and redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Those who argue against this say that it really isn’t that surprising because all of the newer author had the work of their predecessors to build upon. Jeremiah had the book of Exodus; John had Jeremiah.
Others argue for the inspiration of the Bible based on archeological finds that confirm the stories, particularly of the Old Testament. For years people claimed that there was no archeological proof for a major group found in the Old Testament known as the Hittites. But archeologists in the 20th century found proof of the existence of these people. And today even the strongest of doubters have to admit that the Old Testament is highly accurate in depicting historical events. But being historically correct doesn’t prove that the Bible is divinely inspired. It just shows that it is accurate.
When we get down to it, I think that the most compelling argument for the authenticity of the Bible is its ability to change lives. And yes, other holy books can offer the same claim. And I am also well aware that people have used the Bible for bad things, like slavery and genocide, as well. But I know that my life has been changed by the text, especially the words written in red, the words attributed to Jesus himself.
The strongest reason that I have to believe that this book, from Genesis to Revelation, is inspired by God is not because the book itself says so. I believe this book is filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with the very breath of God, because I’ve experienced the life-changing, transformative power of God through these pages.
I’ve seen drunks and addicts find a power stronger than the needle or the bottle. I’ve seen husbands and wives reconcile and rededicate their lives to one another. I’ve seen violent people turn into peacemakers. I’ve seen the power of the Gospel to transform lives, to breathe the very breath of God into lifeless lumps of clay.
How do I know that Bible is the inspired word of God? Because I continue to be inspired by it every day.