Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s 60% Cacao Mint Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Before we tie a bow on the Timothies, I wanted to revisit one last pair of verses that we haven’t properly examined. I expect most of you will recognize the first of these verses, and you may even have memorized it if you were ever involved in scripture memory programs as a child. It’s one of Paul’s most-quoted lines: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I memorized it in fourth or fifth grade as part of my church’s after-school program, R.A.D. (Radically Awesome Disciples). It was the 90s.
But I remember while I was in college, my dad told me that the original text literally said, “All writing is God-breathed…” That was my first indication that this verse is kind of weird.
The Greek word in question is γραφή, graphe, and it means simply “a writing” or “a written thing.” It’s the word we get “pictograph” from, Now, I’m a fan of context, so when Paul says in the previous verse, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings” (15), I think it’s reasonable to infer that he’s not saying that everything anyone has ever inscribed on anything is divinely inspired. Timothy’s mother and grandmother were devout Jews, and from an early age he would have been exposed to the Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew scriptures. In all likelihood, those are the “scriptures” Paul is referring to. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he doesn’t mean “every single text ever” any more than we mean “the entire population of the world” when we ask, “Is everybody ready to go?”
There’s an interesting implication there, though. The New Testament as a collection of documents didn’t exist at that point; the letters from Paul that we have today hadn’t been gathered into a single collection, and while some of the gospels may have been written down by this point, in all probability John hadn’t yet put pen to paper. Paul often writes with authority, and in many parts of his letters you can see a clear conviction that he’s right about the matters he’s speaking to, but even so, I don’t think he would include his own epistles in the category of “sacred writings” that he’s speaking about here. Would he say that God is inspiring him to write? Certainly, insofar as he would aim to be inspired by God in all of his actions, his travels, his speech, his attitude toward his fellow man. But Paul’s writing his letters to guide the early church, not to compose something on par with the Torah.
Which brings us to the phrase “inspired by God.” Paul uses a single Greek word here, θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), and it means “God-breathed.” Over the centuries, theologians have formulated several ideas about what it means for scripture to be “God-breathed” (and how the term can be extended to the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, but that’s a rabbit hole for another day–one rabbit hole at a time, please). The scriptures exist “so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (17). Paul is plainly saying that they’re divinely inspired, a crucial part of God’s story for humanity here on planet earth, to be studied for guidance, training, and growth in God’s will. But can we go further in stating their reliability? Does Paul go further?
There are two ways to go further. And there are two related terms for them: Biblical infallibility and Biblical inerrancy. Some people use them interchangeably, but I think it can be useful to preserve the distinction between them. “Infallibility” indicates that the Bible does not fail in God’s purpose for it, that it is a reliable, trustworthy revelation from God, teaching us the truth about salvation and faith. The operative verse for infallibility is “[My word] will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). “Inerrancy” goes a step further, asserting that the Bible is entirely truthful, without error concerning every subject to which it speaks. Needless to say, both of these ideas open up their own cans of worms in interpreting the Bible, such as what exactly God intends to convey by the creation accounts in Genesis, but we’re not going to get into those cans today.
Regardless of your position on infallibility, inerrancy, and the divine inspiration of scripture, Chocolate Book is about this verse. Reading the Bible daily is a profitable discipline. The Bible can teach you about God, the world, and what it means to be human. It can bring your errors to your attention and correct you where you’ve developed blind spots. It can train you to become more fair and just. God can communicate to you through it–and it’s not a quick or easy process, but it’s worth undertaking.