Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
Inspiration of Scripture
There is trouble in Ephesus. Paul’s prophecy in Acts 21 had come true. The leadership in the church had gone bad. The wolves were attacking the sheep, the behavior of these elders was reprehensible, and their teaching was heretical. So Paul sends Timothy to Ephesus to try to deal with the problem. Eventually he writes his first letter to Timothy to give him more instruction and then he writes his second letter to Timothy, again to help him with the troubles in Ephesus and asks him to come see him. In the course of 2 Timothy, specifically in chapter 3, Paul is describing the godlessness that Timothy is experiencing. In Chapter 3:14, Paul says to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ” In the midst of the turmoil in Ephesus, in the midst of all the false teaching that is going on, Paul encourages Timothy to hang on to Scripture, to make it central to his ministry. Verse 16 is the primary biblical passage for what we call the “Doctrine of Inspiration;” what we think about Scripture.
All Scripture is breathed out by God. All of Scripture, all of the Bible comes from the very mouth of God; each and every last little bit from cover to cover is from the mouth of God. That is our doctrine of inspiration. When we say that we believe all of Scripture is from God, that includes the easy parts and the hard parts to believe. There are many easy parts of Scripture to believe that they come from God and are true; those parts that tell us that God loves us, that God cares for us, that His grace sustains us. These are the easy parts, usually, in Scripture that we can easily believe come from God. But when we say that all of Scripture is from God, that includes the hard parts too. Perhaps in your situation in life believing that God cares about you is very, very difficult. Yet we believe that all of Scripture is from God. But there are also many other hard parts. Hard parts like the claims of Scripture that appear to conflict with science and history. And we are asked to believe, in the face of everything that we are taught in school, that Genesis 1 is from God and is true, that God created the heavens and the earth and Adam and Eve. Difficult parts like Scripture's claims that God works in the midst of evil to accomplish His good, that in the midst of turmoil you and I are supposed to “rejoice.” These are hard parts of Scripture to believe, are they not? Yet we believe that all of Scripture is from the mouth of God. We believe that man is the head of the marriage and the head of the family even when everything in society is trying to neuter every male and portray them as weak and stupid. I saw an ad on TV last night that was the most offensive one I have ever seen. The man could not even remember his children’s names. The man could not even remember their favorite hobbies. And so if they get a cell phone they will stay in touch and can then remember his children’s names. That is what the world says about you, men, that you are removed from the family. Scripture says you are strong, the head of your house, and the head of your marriage. These are the hard parts, but we still believe that all Scripture is true, don’t we? The easy and the hard parts.
All of Scripture is from the mouth of God. What does Paul mean by “Scripture?” It is not quite apparent at first. In verse 15, Paul is talking about “sacred writings;” that Timothy has known the sacred writings since he was a child. We know that Timothy’s father was Greek but his mom and his grandmother were Jewish. Evidently, Timothy was raised as a good Jewish boy. So certainly the sacred writings would include what we consider the Old Testament. But notice how Paul continues, “you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” That is the message of Jesus; that is the message of the apostolic ministry; that is the witness of what you and I today call the “New Testament,” even though not all of it was written when Paul said this. So when we say that we believe that all of Scripture is from the mouth of God, it is all of the Old and all of the New is divinely inspired.
“Breathed out by God”
If you are not familiar with the ESV, the next phrase probably struck you as kind of strange; that we believe that all of Scripture is “breathed out by God.” The older translations use words like “inspired,” that Scripture was given by inspiration. The problem is that the meaning of the English word “inspired” has changed and it does not mean what it meant in the King James’ day, and it certainly does not mean what the Greek says. Today we talk about a lot of things being inspiring, don’t we? My nine-year old son is “inspired” by Garfield. He loves Garfield with a passion. His walls are covered with Garfield cartoons. He reads every Garfield book there is. His bookshelves are littered with Garfield books and, in fact, Hayden learned to read by reading Garfield. Hayden loves Garfield. He is inspired by him, but that is not what Paul is saying. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Scripture is unique and how we got it is unique. There is not a word in Greek or in English that adequately describes it. So Paul does what Paul often does, he makes up words. Paul makes up words all over the place. We cannot do that quite so much in English, but you can do it all over the place in Greek. So Paul stuck together the word for “God” and the word for “breathe" and said all Scripture is “theopneustos.” All of Scripture is “God-breathe.” All of Scripture is breathed out by God. Peter says it a little differently in the second most important verse on inspiration, 2 Peter 1:20-21, where Peter says, “…that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This is the doctrine of the “Inspiration of Scripture;” that God is the source of Scripture; that he breathed it out; that it came from His very mouth; that it is from God. In other words, there is no difference between me standing here and reading a verse to you than Jesus appearing and saying those exact same words. There is no difference in terms of the truthfulness of the words. That is the doctrine of inspiration; that what we have here comes from the very mouth of God.
Two Implicit Points
Now, there are two assumed points that are implicit in this discussion, but I want to make sure they are clear.
Number one: Because Scripture comes from the mouth of God it is true. He does not say it, but it is the assumption of the passage. God is true and therefore what He says is true.
Secondly, because Scripture comes from the mouth of God it is also authoritative. Because Scripture comes from the mouth of God it carries the authority of God. Scripture has the authority and right to determine our theology and our behavior. That is one of the implications that Paul is going to deal with later on in the passage. Because Scripture comes from the mouth of God it is true and it is authoritative. I know in our hearts that we are saying “Amen!” and, “Yes, that’s what I believe.” But I always find myself wondering if we really, truly, always believe it. Do we really believe that all of Scripture comes from the very mouth of the God who creates and sustains and saves all things? When I hear a preacher preach his own ideas; when I hear a preacher take his ideas and put them at the same level as God’s ideas, the only assumption that I can draw is that he is a blasphemer. That he does not believe that God’s Word, Scripture, is from the mouth of God because if you truly believe that Scripture comes from the mouth of God the you are not going to put your ideas on a level par with it. You are not going to mix your ideas with His. You are not going to say, “Thus saith the Lord” and what comes out is “Thus saith Bill.” Certainly there are times that pastors have to give opinions and we state them as such if we are honest. There are times in which we have to make an interpretation and when we make a mistake in interpretation we ask for forgiveness, because it is serious. But I can only conclude that they are blasphemers when they preach their own ideas.
They are blasphemers and do not truly believe that Scripture comes from God. It is not just pastors, though. When I hear people say, “Oh, I believe Scripture is from God” and then they believe something that is contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture I have to scratch my head and say, “Do they really?” The Bible says that there should not even by a hint of sexual immorality, not a hint. (Ephesians 5:3) But what so often happens? We find that legalistic line; we want to know, “Well how far can I go?” They decide to flirt with the line instead of running away from it. When I see that, I have to say, “Do they really believe in scripture?” Do we really believe that Ephesians 5:3, for example, is from the very mouth of God who gave me life and can take it whenever he chooses. He says let there not even be a hint of sexual immorality. Do we really believe that all of Scripture is from the very mouth of God?
Do You Really Believe This
I think this is an incredibly important question to ask ourselves, “Do you believe this? Do your children, if you have them, believe this?” Really? Why? One of the most disconcerting things that happened to me as a professor was during the graduation of a student named Matt. I had Matt four years earlier in an Introduction to New Testament class where we had talked about inspiration. I hadn’t seen him for the next four years, but this particular graduation was his. We had sat all morning in those stupid black robes with those stupid black hats on in the Southern California sun, cheering students we could barely remember. I was burning hot. I hate heat. When it was finally over, I wanted to get out of there and start my summer as quick as possible; I ran back to my office, replaced my robe and hat in their box, and started to head out. Matt showed up at the door and he obviously wanted to talk. I obviously did not want to talk, but I did. A flood of questions poured out of his mouth, all ending in, “Now tell me again why I believe Scripture is from God?” All I could think of was, “Matt, why didn’t you ask this question four years ago when you had teachers and friends around you that could help you think through this teaching?” But something had happened in graduation, knowing that he was going out into the real world and basic fundamental assumptions of his life were starting to be challenged and he was desperate and scared. He did not know why he believed the Bible is true. I wish every one of us would ask that question. This is a common experience. It is in fact a necessary and a healthy question. Why did Timothy, why do I believe that Scripture is from the very mouth of God? Because if you do not raise this question for yourself, if you do not come to your own conclusions then you will never really believe that Scripture is true and, most importantly, you will never fully trust Scripture. You cannot inherit the faith and the convictions of your parents and your Sunday School teachers or those whom the Lord used to draw you to Himself. Why do you think that Scripture is true? Well, this passage has some of the best answers to that question. One answers is found when Paul reminds Timothy that he learned the truth of the gospel from the time he was a child and was taught it by people he trusted.
One reason I believe Scripture is true is because I trust the people who taught me that the Bible is true. Timothy had a great mom, a great grandma and a great spiritual father in Paul. These were people that he trusted, so he believed them when they said that the sacred writings are from the very mouth of God. I remember talking to my daughter, Kiersten, when she was about 10. Kiersten I were talking once and I asked, “Kiersten, why do you believe the Bible is true?” And she looked at me without blinking an eye and said, “Because you and mom do.” And I thought it was a great answer; what an incredibly deep and profound answer for a ten-year old. Because that is one of the reasons we believe, is it not? Several months ago Tyler came and we were chatting, Tyler is 15 now, and he just brought up the point saying, “You know, I became a Christian because I trusted you and mom. And this is the family I was raised in and it made good sense and I trusted my folks.” But he said, “I really need to go through the step of being sure that the faith is my faith. And I just don’t simply believe something because you told me to.” I went, “Wow! That’s exactly right Tyler. It’s exactly right.” What a profound statement for a 15-year old to make. That is the first reason why Timothy and I believe that Scripture is true, but in somewhat of a guarded sense. We believe that it is true because we trust the people that taught us Scripture yet it is a great answer for a child, not an adult. But Paul gives a second reason why Timothy believes that Scripture is from the very mouth of God. It is hidden in the English phrase, “firmly believed.” Paul is telling Timothy that “you have become fully convinced in the course of life’s experiences that Scripture is true; that you have lived out the truths expressed in the Bible and experience has confirmed that what Scripture says is true.” In other words, Scripture validates itself. It is being done by the power of the Holy Spirit. But it is like Jesus tells the Jews, “If you can’t believe this, believe on the basis of my works.” In other words, there is self-validation going on in Scripture. It is the idea that as you go through life and as you take what you read in this marvelous Book and put it into practice, even if it does not make sense to you, it comes full circle and you realize “you know what, I kind of thought it was wrong but it has proven itself in the experiences in my life that it is true.” That is how you and I become fully convinced that Scripture is true. In my own personal experience, Scripture has never let me down, ever. I know that there are still some truths that are going to take more time to work through, especially in those passages of Scripture that when you first read them you go, “Now there’s just no way.” But I believe Scripture is true, so I will believe these hard sayings and put them into practice. I have seen that those things have always come full circle and the message of Scripture has validated itself. For example, James 1:2. For a long time my Bible went from James 1:1 to James 1:3 or 1:4 because James 1:2 is a stupid verse. “Count it all joy my brethren when you meet various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its complete and perfect result that you may be complete, lacking in nothing.” Oh yeah right James, like you’ve been around the block a couple of times? Rejoice in the midst of sorrow? Yeah. Right. Try to have two daughters die and then read that verse and believe it’s true. But 17 years since Rachel's death and 18 year after Rose's, I understand that James is true; even though it is the stupidest verse of the Bible. It self-validates itself in the experiences of life. There is no other book that does that, none at all.
In my experience, Scripture has never let me down, even though I still have much to learn. We have to take this and put it against all the other claims to truth that are out there. When you try to live out what the world says is true it continues to fail. and the claims the world makes always look wrong in retrospect. You would think we would get it after a while, wouldn't you? I engaged in a cross-cultural ministry yesterday. I went to the mall. Wow! I like church. Safe. The world weird! I sat down and a poster caught my eye. I whipped my head away because it was pure pornography. Last time I go to the mall. In your experience of looking at pornography, have you ever been fully deeply satisfied? The answer is “no.” That is why the Bible says, “Don’t even let there be a hint of sexual immorality.” And in the experiences of life, pornography is a lie. And the Bible is true, that is why I believe it. It validates itself in the experiences of life. There are many other reasons and I’m going to put in a number three and this is personal, this is opinion, and this is not Scriptural. But I thought it was important to say this. There’s another reason that I believe Scripture is true, that it comes from the very mouth of God and that is it makes sense. It is more rational to believe the message of Scripture than it is rational to believe the lies of this world. Look at some of the major questions of life. Look at the questions of origins and where we come from. You can go the Big Bang Theory all you want, but the Big Bang had to start with something. What did it start with? Where did we come from? How do you explain our origins? How do you explain the appearance of design in this world when you look at pictures of galaxies, cells, or the beauty of the trees on the mountain. How can you process the notion that there are concepts of good and beauty? How do you explain these things? Scripture’s explanation just makes sense to me. God did it. God put in me an understanding of that which is good. He put in me an understanding of that which is beautiful. He put in me a desire to worship Him. Why does music move the human soul? God put in my heart the ability to respond to music because without it I would not have a vehicle to praise as I ought. These are the answers of Scripture and they simply makes more sense than anything else. Scripture is historically accurate, internally consistent, and full of fulfilled prophecy. It just makes sense to me. Tied up with all this is the fact that Jesus makes better sense to me than Muhammad. Jesus makes better sense to me than Joseph Smith. Jesus makes better sense to me than Mary Baker Eddy. Scripture is the story of this Jesus who makes sense to me.
So a third reason I believe Scripture is that it just makes sense and I cannot find anything close to it. Number four of why I believe is also implicit in the passage: because Timothy believes it. Ultimately, Timothy believes that what Paul is saying is true. Ultimately, Timothy believes that Scripture comes from the mouth of God and ultimately, I, and my children, and my family believe that Scripture comes from God. We believe that we hear God's voice when we read the Bible. Now please hear this carefully, this is true of any and all belief systems: It is impossible to prove the significance of ultimate reality. No matter who you talk to, theists or atheists, secularists or spiritual people, ultimately, all of us make a “faith” decision because you cannot proof any of this. It is impossible to please God without faith. God does not want to be proven. He wants to be believed. Materialists are people who say that there is nothing outside the world of sense; that for every effect that we see, the cause of that effect is itself within the sense world. There is nothing that is spiritual at all. How can you prove that? Prove that there is nothing outside of the world to sense. They cannot do it because it is a “faith” position. Evolution and their religion surrounding it give answers to ultimate reality, but the answers are based solely on faith. They will deny it, but ask them where the proof is that over a two million year period a piece of grass that goes up to six inches high can decide for the sake of survival to become a ten-foot tree? Evolution is a faith-based system. Materialism is a faith-based system. Secularism is a faith-based system. Humanism is a faith-based system. So the question of life is “which faith-based system best explains reality?” And frankly, I do not have enough faith to be atheist. I cannot believe that this world created itself with systematic evolution and built into itself a sense of meaning and purpose and ultimate destiny because a bunch of acids got together in a slime pool. I only have enough faith to be a Christian. I am thankful that I do not have to put my brain on a shelf. I am thankful that there are supporting arguments, but ultimately Timothy and I believe that Scripture is from the very mouth of God. And I make no apologies for it.
Because Scripture is from God, it is therefore “profitable”
Paul continues in this important verse and he says that Scripture is from God and is therefore “profitable.” This is the authoritative part of the doctrine of inspiration. It’s profitable on one hand for theology, for determining what we teach and how we reprove. Scripture demands to be the basis for determining what we believe and rebuking those who believe differently. The world preaches pluralism, that there are many ways to God, whatever you make him/her/it/she to be. The Bible says, “I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life, and no one comes to Father but by Me.” Scripture is the basis of reproving theological errors. There are people within the church who likewise teach error, who teach that you have to be baptized to get to heaven. Scripture is our authority for our teaching and our reproof and we say that is not true. “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves but it is a gift of God, not as a result of works, lest anyone boast.” Scripture is profitable for what we teach and how we reprove people who believe incorrectly. But Scripture is also profitable for behavior; “for correction and training in righteousness.” It is profitable in confronting unbiblical behavior and encouraging us towards righteous behavior. The world says, “Fit in.” The world says, “Do what we do. Come to the mall.” Paul says, “Be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15) The world says, “touch.” The world says, “taste.” The world says, “Stick your head in a garbage can.” The Bible says, “Whatever is lovely and honorable and pure and excellent then set your mind on these things.” Because Scripture comes from the mouth of God it not only is true but also authoritative for what we believe and how we behave.
Ultimate Result and Applications
What is the ultimate result of all this? Paul concludes in verse 17: “…that the man of God may be competent and equipped for every good work.” “Man of God” is an Old Testament expression for a messenger of God. Here Paul is specifically thinking of Timothy as a man of God, as a messenger of God, yet by the very way he says it he is saying, by implication, that this is true for all Christians, men and women alike. Scripture makes us competent by equipping us for every good work. Scripture may not tell us every last little thing we could ever want to know because there are the mysteries of God that are meant to stay mysteries, Deuteronomy 29:29. Yet Scripture is sufficient for salvation; it teaches us how we are to be saved. Scripture is sufficient for sanctification; it shows us what good works we are to do and then enables us to do that.
There are many applications that could come out of this passage, obviously, but there are two I want to close with this morning. 1. I, like Timothy, have no choice but to preach the gospel. Chapter 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out.” I simply do not have the option of preaching my ideas. In one sense, sermon preparation is the simplest thing I do because the whole point of my week is not to figure out what I think; the whole point of the week is to figure out what God meant by what He said. Sermon preparation is easy for me. To the best of my spirit-enabled ability, I will preach the Word. I will not put my ideas on the same level as God’s. I may express my opinions at times, but I will state them as such. When I err I ask for God’s forgiveness. That is my commitment to you and the commitment of anyone who stands before you behind this pulpit. If they fail, you need to get rid of them because this is a non-negotiable. My commitment is to preach the Word of God, but to preach it all the time, in season and out of season. Whether I want to say it or not, I have no choice because they are not my words. I do not like talking about pornography. It is sickening and disgusting, and I feel dirty even saying it, but I know that I have to because the call for sexual purity is one of the primary ethical thrusts in Scripture and it is a problem that pervades throughout the evangelical church. I have seen the numbers and I am not stupid. I do not like saying it but I have to because “thus saith the Lord.” But “in season and out of season” also applies to you. I have to preach the Word whether you want to hear it or not, because my goal is not to please you. My goal is not to tickle your ears and to say the kinds of things that you want to hear. My job is to speak the very words of God and what you do with it is between you and Him. That is my commitment to you. I would like to make a separate second application specifically to men. I understand that “men of God” refers to men and women, and I am delighted at the course of the women’s ministries in this church. I wish you could be here on Tuesday morning and see what happens in this room. There is always room for growth in any ministry, but I want to specifically challenge men. 2. Men: I challenge you to preach the Word. Men of God, preach the Word. You are called to be the head of your home and you must preach the Word to your family. That is where discipleship starts. At dinner I challenge you to declare the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Are you doing that at the dinner table? Am I doing that at the dinner table? Are you letting your children see your devotions? Are you letting your children hear your prayers? Are you preaching the Word in whatever context you find yourself, men of God? Earlier in chapter 2, verse 2 Paul writes, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” God is still looking for faithful men to whom He can entrust the proclamation of the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel in their home, the proclamation of the gospel in children’s Sunday School. We have so few men teaching Sunday School. Why? Men of God, proclaim the Word at Flight School. Men of God, proclaim the Word in adult Connection Classes; do it in men’s ministries; do it on your one-to-one discipleship. Who will accept the challenge? Who will make the commitment to mentor our new brothers in Christ? We have them coming. We have men becoming Christians. Who is there that will preach the Word, men of God, to our new young brothers? Many of you men have been silent for too long. I challenge you: Preach the Word.
“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 competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- What parts of Scripture are easy for you to believe, and which ones are difficult?
- How would you explain the origin of Scripture to a non-Christian? In other words, how would you describe “breathed out by God”?
- Are there any personal actions, beliefs, or attitudes that might suggest you really don’t believe all the Bible is from God?
- Is it possible to believe the Bible comes from God and not let it be the authority in your life?
- Why do you believe the Bible comes from the very mouth of God? Do you? What do you think about these four reasons?
- Who we learned it from
- Convinced through life’s experiences
- Makes better sense than the alternatives
- I simply believe it
- Men, will you rise to the biblical challenge and preach the word? What might this look like in your situation?