Lecture 8: Special Revelation; Inspiration
Course: Systematic Theology I
Lecture: Special Revelation; Inspiration
A. The Concept of Revelation
B. Forms of Revelation
1. Special Revelation
Special revelation is distinguished from general revelation in two ways: Scope and Substance. Special revelation is specialized in scope. So only some people at some times received special revelation. Whereas, everyone all of the time, from the moment there were human beings to witness creation, witness general revelation; it has been available to all people. All people have this a conscience, a moral sensibility built within. Romans 2 says the law is written on their hearts. So general revelation is general in scope, and special revelation is special. When God appeared to Moses in the wilderness at the burning bush, how many people received that revelation? One person received that revelation. As it gets recorded for us in Scripture, we receive it second hand. But at that moment when God spoke to Moses, that is special revelation to one person at one point in history. Is was revelation that hadn't been known before. It was given only to this one person. So it is specialized revelation in scope and also in substance. Moses asks, who shall I say sent me? If he goes back to Israel in the land of Egypt and tells them God appeared to me and he told me to come back and let you know that he was going to deliver you, and they say, who was this God that appeared to you, what shall I tell them? And God says, tell them I AM sent you (Ex 3). So here we have the revelation of God's name, Yahweh. You can't get that from looking at the starry heavens or beautiful scenery. This has to be told to us. So special revelation is special in substance, in the actual content of what it reveals. So it is special in scope and special in substance.
a. Avenues of Special Revelation
1) Personal Encounter
This is a category of special revelation that some evangelicals are uncomfortable with, but it is an altogether viable legitimate biblical category. The reason some have felt uncomfortable with it is because people, like Barth and Brunner even more so, in the Neo-Orthodox tradition turned most of the revelation into this category. You have a personal encounter with God so that you read the Bible as a witness to revelation, and as you read the Bible then God works through the Bible to come to you in personal encounter. For Brunner, in particular, in was a crisis experience that he talked about. So to distance ourselves from Neo-Orthodoxy, some in the evangelical tradition have been very reluctant to talk about this category. But it is all over the Bible. Just the example I used a moment ago: Moses. Isn't it a personal encounter? Moses is walking along minding his own business, looks over to the side, and here is this bush on fire and what catches his eye is not only that this bush is on fire (that is remarkable enough), but the bush is not being consumed. So he stops and looks and tries to figure this out. We know what is happening here; God is present in this revelation of himself in this burning bush and then he speaks to Moses; he makes himself known. This is a personal encounter with Moses. You read through the Bible and you find repeated experiences. Abraham and Jacob, you can just name them off, people who had personal encounters with God. These are recorded in Scripture for us. They really did happen and we need to understand this as one way God has chosen through the Scriptures to make himself known. Think of Paul on the road to Damascus, going there to persecute Christians. What happens to him? Blinding light from heaven, and he claimed later that Christ actually revealed himself to him at that moment. That is what is recorded for us in Acts. So personal encounter is a vivid way in which God makes himself known.
This personal encounter can include the kind of thing that happened with Moses, the voice heard, and a conversation takes place. Can you imagine talking with God in that way, where you ask God a question and he answers. Moses asks, what shall I tell them when they ask me who sent me? And God says, tell them such and such. That is incredible. Here you have this very real, direct conversation; it is revelation that takes place.
There is also a kind of personal encounter that we see all through the Bible in dreams and visions as well. Think of the dreams that Daniel received, or think of Joseph, the dreams that God gave to Joseph. Of visions, Paul talks about being caught up into the higher sphere and how he doesn't even know for sure where he was, or whether he was in a trance or not during this vision that he had. Think of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation and the visions that were given to John. So dreams and visions may also be avenues by which God makes himself known.
It is a whole other question whether or not those kinds of things may continue. I am of the mind that God is free to do whatever God wants to do whenever God wants to do it. I don't think that we have clear warrant to say, he no longer uses dreams or visions or that sort of thing. I do think that we have to be careful though. Here is where I stand with many, many conservative evangelicals. We have to be careful in being open to that kind of more direct revelation from God. It is up to him whether he does it or not. We don't want to in any way threaten the absolute authority of the Bible. This is one of the things I fear happens pragmatically in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. The notion of personal encounters, dreams, visions, God speaking words of knowledge and that sort of thing becomes prominent. And then there is a tendency to think of the Bible as that old book over there where God spoke in the past, but what we want is to hear God speak now. There are many conservative Pentecostals and conservative Charismatics who may be just as insistent as I am that we not do that. Wayne Grudem, who is a very good friend of mine, would be every bit as instant, although he holds a charismatic view on the gifts. One of the gifts that he is most famous for defending is the ongoing gift of prophecy. I don't agree with him. I did at one time; he had me convinced for a couple of years, but I have changed my mind on that again. I am back to where I was before. However, I know that Doctor Grudem is just insistent on not ever seeing the gift of prophecy in any way jeopardizing the absolute authority of Scripture, where alone God speaks inerrantly. We can't say that of human prophecies, as he understands them. Whether or not these continue is a good question, a valid question. But I just want you to know in answering the question of how God has revealed himself that we have got to say that personal encounter is a legitimate category, whether it is theophany, direct revelation of God, a dream, or a vision.
2) Mighty Act
The distinction between a personal encounter and a mighty act is in a mighty act you may not hear God speak; there may not be a demonstration of his own person in speaking or making some truth known, but God manifests himself through some kind of powerful demonstration. To cite an example, in a personal encounter, God tells Moses I will deliver the people; go back and tell them that I have heard their cry, and I have seen their affliction; I have come down, and I will deliver them. Remember that is the way Exodus 2 ends. So Moses then goes back, they come out of Egypt after the plagues, and then God opens up the Red Sea. This is a mighty act. Have you ever put yourself in that moment, where on one side of you are thousands of Egyptian soldiers in chariots and armor and spears, and on this side of you is a sea that is uncrossable. There you are, caught, stuck. You can't move, and what does God do? He says just sleep on it; just wait through the night, and in the morning you will see a great deliverance. In the morning, they see the waters parted, walls of water on their left and their right as they walk across on dry ground. Then they get to the other side and the enemy is pursuing and they think, oh no we have been delivered just to be killed anyway. Here they are, coming after us, and what does God do? He brings the waters back down. Every single Egyptian soldier is killed by the flood of water that comes upon them. They see bodies floating on the water. And it says at the end of that chapter that they bowed and worshiped God. This is mighty act.
Or think of another moment. Just recently I was thinking about when Hezekiah received the letter from Sennacherib that boasted of Assyria's prowess and its ability and how Sennacherib was going to come and wipe out Jerusalem. How does your God compare to all of the other gods we have destroyed, says Sennacherib? This was huge mistake. So Sennacherib sends his soldiers and Hezekiah prays. Remember how he spreads the letter out before the Lord. He pleads with God, for your name's sake, oh God, show yourself to be God over the nations. In the night, an angel comes. Think of this, an angel, just one. How many of God's force do you need to lick 185,000 soldiers? Just one. In that night 185,000 Assyrian soldiers are killed. At that time, the whole walled city of Jerusalem was a little bit larger than the larger boundaries of Southern Baptist Seminary's campus. It is a little bit bigger than that, not a whole lot bigger. Can you imagine waking up that morning and going over and peering over the wall wondering if you are going to get shot with a spear or an arrow or something and what do you see? 185,000 corpses. In Jerusalem at the time, there were probably 20,000 to 30,000 people who lived there, at the most. They were no match for this army and the Assyrian were all dead. This is mighty act.
What about the empty tomb? Mighty act. You see God making himself known in demonstrations of his power throughout the Scriptures.
3) Propositional Revelation
This category, just because of the name given to it, is sometimes misunderstood. It does not mean that this is revelation that comes in the form of didactic propositions, as opposed to other kinds of speech. Straight forward statements, propositional statements, is not what this is. The term is a bit misleading. Actually what it simply means is revelation that comes in human language. It probably ought to be called "linguistic revelation" instead of propositional. But that is the term we have traditionally been using. Propositional revelation is just revelation that comes in human language. So when God speaks, this is propositional revelation. When Jesus speaks this is propositional revelation. When the prophets speak the word of the Lord, that is propositional revelation. When the apostles write under the inspiration, that is propositional revelation. Propositional revelation is larger than Scripture in the sense that all of Scripture is propositional revelation, but you can't reverse that statement; not all of propositional revelation is Scripture. Do we have every word that Jesus spoke? No, we know we don't because John even told us so. "There are many more things that he he did and if we tried to write them all down, all the books in world could not contain them" (Jn 21:25). Do we have every word that Jesus spoke? No. Then we don't have all of the propositional revelation that he gave. Everything he spoke, he spoke as God in human form. In all of Scripture do we have everything that every prophet spoke to the people that God sent them to speak to? No, we have sort of summary records by inspiration that get their messages to the people that are recorded for us. But we don't have every word that was spoken. So, propositional revelation is larger than Scripture. It is revelation every time God, whether directly or through one of his agents, a prophet or Apostle, speaks or writes what is the Word of God. If it is the Word of God in human language, that is propositional revelation. All of the Bible is that because, all Scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
There is a sense in which it is right to distinguish this category from the others, although it includes all three of the previous ones. In Christ, isn't this personal encounter par excellence? Think of John 1:18, "No one has seen God at anytime, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father." Guess what? He has made him known. Jesus, appearing in human flesh, manifesting the invisible God, tabernacling among is personal encounter big time. Are mighty acts demonstrated in Jesus? Think of his miracles. Think of all of the ways in which (in the Gospel of John, for example) the signs of Jesus are so important. Jesus even said in chapter John 10:25, "If you don't believe my words, the words that I say to you, believe on account of the works that I do." He is referring to his miracles. Look at the works and ask yourself this question, how can he do this? Who is able to do this? Is Jesus' revelation propositional revelation? Well of course. He is giving discourses: the Sermon on the Mount, woes to the Pharisees, parables. All of these revelations of Jesus in language are propositional revelation. I suppose you could say, well that does it doesn't it? Well it doesn't. We have to have a separate category, even though incarnation involves all three of the previous ones. Hebrews 1 marks off the revelation in Christ as something unique and distinctive that ought to be noted specially.
Heb 1:1 God, after he spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
So yes, God has spoken; we have had revelation for thousands of years. He has spoken through lots of different prophets at lots of different times. We are not short on revelation; we have had a lot of it but,
Heb 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in his Son,
So you have this sense of light and heavy, preliminary and full in the contrast the writer of Hebrews is making.
Heb 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the world.
Heb 1:3 And he is the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power.
We have this exalted portrayal of Jesus as the one who is exactly representing God and who, according to Hebrews, now makes God known.
A similar kind of theology comes out of the prologue of John's Gospel.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father,
Do you want to know what the Father looks like, look at Jesus.
John 1:14 ... full of grace and truth. I have a sermon I preach on this, and I am tempted to stop right now and preach it to you, but I won't. If you notice in that prologue of John grace and truth is used twice. The point of that is that when John says, "We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father," you could stop right there and ask the question, in what ways did Jesus manifest the glory of the Father? How is Jesus like his Father? There are many ways Jesus is like the Father, but John wants us to see a pair of items in particular: grace and truth. In Hebrew ''Chesed vah 'emeth'' is loving kindness, mercy, grace and truth now in Jesus. These two qualities are made known. It is very interesting that you can find in the Hebrew Bible these key references to God as being the God who abounds in lovingkindness and truth. I think Exodus 34:6 is one of those references, and through the Psalms you find it over and over again. So John wants us to see, in particular that this is the Father manifest in Jesus, full of grace and truth. I think the point is that as we read the Gospel of John we have in mind, all the way through, how does Jesus manifest simultaneously grace and truth? With his mother in chapter 2, with Nicodemus in chapter 3, with the Samaritan woman chapter 4; how does Jesus manifest grace and truth? How should we live? It has been one the most practical challenges in my adult life as a believer and as someone who represents the Christian faith, in certain contexts (of course, I do all the time and so do you, but there are certain public formats in which I feel the weight of representing Christ). And I think of this and pray that God would enable me to be like Jesus who is full of grace and truth. It is a remarkable thing because usually we think of one canceling out the other or compromising the other. Very gracious people are kind of weak on truth. Very truthful people are harsh often times and they cut with truth; they hit with truth; they destroy with truth, they are not gracious. Grace and truth are in the incarnation. The fullest manifestation of God that has ever been made is in Jesus.
One more comment on this and I will make this short. In Christ we have the fullest revelation of God that has been known, but don't confuse that with a corresponding doctrine that we have to put alongside of it to balance things out to get a healthy Christology, and that is the Kenosis. That is, when Christ took on human flesh, he laid aside something; he poured himself out. It is very important to realize that Jesus lived his life as a man, and therefore certain things that would be true of his nature as God are not necessarily allowed expression. How else do you explain Mark 13:32 concerning the Second Coming? Jesus says that no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, or the Son of Man. Does God know the hour of the Second Coming? Yes. Did Jesus say that he (Jesus) doesn't? Yes. In fact that was a text that Arius used to support his denial of the deity of Christ. You can see why, can't you? It is very clear God is omniscient, but Jesus says that he doesn't know this, ergo Jesus is not God, according to Arius.
We don't want to say when we are looking at Jesus that everything about God is fully manifest. This was Moltmann's big error in the crucified God. When Christ was hanging on the cross, Moltmann said, we see weakness, God in weakness, feeling our pain. Now wait a minute. Besides the God-man who was hanging on the cross, we have the Father God reigning supreme over sin and death as he brings to an end all that stands against him through his son. This is power. It just won't do to say, in the cross we see weakness. This is a faulty picture, so we've got to be careful in seeing in Christ the fullest expression of God that we have ever known but not confuse that with the fact that he purposely concealed aspects of deity to live like a human among us.
b. Efficacy of Special Revelation
General revelation is efficacious; it is able to hold us accountable before God because it shows us sufficiently that there is a God and some things about him. His power and his divine nature are clearly made known Paul says in Romans 1. Yet general revelation is not efficacious for salvation. It doesn't give us saving truth. Special revelation provides revelation of God's grace and mercy to save sinners. Special revelation has to be made known in order for that saving truth to come to people. Yet we also understand from Scripture that just the revelation alone, in itself, is efficacious to save. It is saving revelation in the sense that it does present the truth of the gospel, the truth of God's grace in Christ. But there is the presentation of the truth and also the question of the reception of the truth. The presentation alone does not guarantee the truth will be received, as any of you know who has shared the Gospel. To share it does not necessarily mean that it will be received. But there is no hope of being saved apart from the fact that there is this special revelation that is given. The fullness of the Gospel is God's grace in redemptive history leading up to the coming of Christ and all that happens in Christ, his life, death and resurrection. It all comes out of that in the formation of the church community that will witness to the world; this is the whole package (when you think of biblical redemptive historical history); it is what God intends for his people to know to be saved and to grow to be conformed more and more to his image
Can you be an exclusivist and believe that a person apart from Bible and apart from Christian witness could put faith in Christ because God gave to that person or that community special revelation?
I have heard testimony (I do not know how to verify or to falsify these things that I heard), that there are groups of Muslims who have come to Christ through a personal revelation of Christ to their community. I don't have any reason to think that it isn't true or any reason to think that it is true. But is that, in principle, possible? Yes. Christ came to Paul that way. Here he is going up the road to Damascus, fully intent on gathering Christians to put them prison, and he has a divine visitation; Christ himself reveals himself. I think we have good reason to say from Scripture that clearly the norm is that we go to the world (Matt 28:19-20). But remember Matthew 28, Acts 1:8 and Acts 2 (the Spirit given at Pentecost) happened before Paul was visited by Jesus. So evidently, having said, "Go to the all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them," God still took the prerogative to come to Paul directly. So can that happen? Yes, it did. Might that happen again? That is up to God. But clearly the norm is that we go, we share, they hear. Even Paul, who was saved by this special revelation of God, in Romans 10:13-15 says, "Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but how shall they call upon one in whom they have never believed; how shall they believe on one whom they have never heard; how shall they hear unless there is a preacher; how shall they preach unless they are sent; how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news." Here is Paul who was saved through this special revelation, but nonetheless realizes that clearly the norm is Christian people, who are given this precious gift of the Gospel, to go out and share it. So yes exclusiveism is possible, but I would not encourage anyone to count on that as the mechanism by which people will be saved throughout the world.
In Romans 8:16 Paul writes about the Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are children of God. Is that revelation?
I feel comfortable using the term revelation. One reason I do is because in a very similar kind of way the actual term is used, ''apokalupto'', in Ephesians 1:17 in Paul's prayer. This is not Romans 8, but it is the same kind of idea though. In Ephesians 1 he writes, "Of having heard of the faith that exist among you, and your love for all the saints, I do not cease giving thanks for you making mention of you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give to you." This is now, you Christian people, now in your own Christian lives, in your own Christian experience. That he may give to a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him. That is ''apokalupto''. "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened" (Eph 1:18). I take it verse 18 spans this notion of what he means in verse 17: The eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that your heart may grasp, your affection may be aroused to see the beauty and the splendor and the glory so you embrace truth that your mind has been privileged to know. May your heart see it and the eyes of your heart grasp it so that you will know what is the hope of his calling. Know it in a fuller, richer, deeper sense as Christian people. This is revelation; this is the term Paul uses. I think that it is arguable that his use of revelation in this context is equivalent to illumination. It is taking truth and shining the spotlight on it and shining it on your heart so that this effect occurs, this growth occurs. So I don't know that it really differs from illumination in concept, but it is interesting that he uses the term ''apokalupto'' for it. I take it that this is very similar to what Paul is thinking of in Romans 8, with the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. So there is something that happens internally, subjectively: a witness to the truth that we are the children of God in our own soul.
1. General Meaning
The term inspiration is not a particularly apt term in some ways because we use it in colloquial kinds of ways. We talk about Shakespeare or Mozart being inspired. Then we talk about Paul being inspired. Or we talk about a pastor being inspired while he preaches. What in the world is inspiration then? We talk about your third grade student who wrote a poem being inspired. It is meant to be a translation of the word ''theopneustos'' which is a term found in 2 Timothy 3:16 for God breathed. ''Theos'' (God), ''pneustos'' from ''pneumo s '' which is the Greek word for spirit or breath. It is only used that one time in the Bible so we can't really look elsewhere for it. It is pretty clear from the joining of the two terms what it means: God breathed. Inspiration is suppose to communicate that notion. It doesn't do it real well. Actually a better term in one way and worse in another would be "expiration." Then you have "spirit" which is this breathing notion, but you have "spiriting out" ("ex" or exit, out of). That would actually be closer to what ''theopneustos'' means. The problem is, what does "expire" mean in English? Expiration is when someone dies; you say they expired, so that is not going to work well to communicate the idea. We are stuck with inspiration. That is the word we've got; that's the word we will live with, but let's be clear on what it means. It means then, the out-breathing of God to produce his Word.
That out-breathing takes place through human agency. So prophets and Apostles write. And as they write, at least in most cases, the Bible is not the result of dictation. There are sometimes when God tells the prophet, go to the people and say this. That might be dictation, that's fine, but most of the Bible is not in that category. Most of the Bible is an author of Scripture (a prophet or an Apostle) writing what he wants to write, and as he writes what he wants to write, it is what God has breathed out to be his Word. Incredible isn't it, when you think of it? As Paul writes to the Galatians, in Galatians 4:19 he says, "I am as a woman in labor until Christ is formed in you." What a vivid image even for a man to say who hasn't experienced childbirth. What a vivid image; he is as a woman in labor. As he writes what he wants to write, this is the Word of God breathed out through the Apostle, through the prophet, through the writer of Scripture.
Inspiration communicates this notion of the out-breathing of God to produce his Word. It happens through human agency. So people write, and what they choose to write, what they want to write, is in fact what God has breathed out or intended that they write. These happened together. This is an example, by the way, of one those mega issues where we will spend a fair bit of time of what is called "concurrence." God's sovereignty and human agency are working together in a way in which neither one is compromised. The human agency is at work as Paul writes the book of Galatians; he writes what he wants to write. However, God's sovereignty is at work as he works in Paul and through Paul; as Paul writes what he wants, God gets what he wants. This is why you take languages in seminary because of the conviction that every word, every grammatical construction, every syntactical arrangement of language that you find in the Scripture, all of it is God's Word. So is it a perfect as opposed to an aorist? You pay attention. If there is a conjunction here you pay attention. Why do you pay such close attention to all of these grammatical features and care to notice the syntax; why do you do that? Because of a conviction that this is, in fact, the Word of God as he intended it to be, all of it.
On another note, some of you know that Dr Schreiner debated two Arminian theologians from Asbury Seminary back in April. This is available on CD or video tape from the church that sponsored this. It was quite an evening for Dr Schreiner and me with over a thousand kids (I call them kids, they were 17 to 25 years old for the most part). It was not like a theology debate; it was like a rock concert at the beginning. One of the points I tried to make in dealing with whole notion of sovereignty and human freedom, compatiblism, and concurrence is that inspiration is an enormously powerful testimony of the compatibility of free agency and divine sovereignty. You see, if people have libertarian freedom in the way that Arminians talk about freedom (you are always free to do otherwise) that means that for every word Paul wrote, he could have written otherwise. And here is the key when it comes to inspiration: God can't control what words Paul chooses. Yet you believe that all of the Bible, written by these human beings is, in fact, the Word of God. Well the only conclusion I can draw is that God got very lucky. Just think of the odds of getting every word, every grammatical feature, every syntactical arrangement just the way God wants it through libertarian, free human beings. Just calculate the odds. You get the point; it is just ludicrous to imagine that to be the case. The only way you really account for the doctrine of inspiration is to say that God worked in the mind and hearts of the writers, so what they wrote was their own, and it was his simultaneously.
2. Verbal, Plenary Inspiration
Verbal inspiration refers to the fact that all of the language of the Bible is inspired: its words, its grammar, its syntax. Every bit of the language is breathed out from God as his Word. That is verbal inspiration.
Have you been to a conference where they have breakout sessions, workshop sessions, and then they have plenary sessions. What are those? It is where everybody gets together. Plenary inspiration is all of the Bible. The language of the Bible, all of its details, the words, the syntax, the grammar in all of its parts, in totality verbal plenary is the product of God's out breathing.
We affirm verbal plenary inspiration of the text of Scripture, not the authors of Scripture. We don't say that Paul was verbally plenarily inspired. We say the Bible is verbally plenarily, completely inspired. We affirm of the Bible, first and foremost inspiration because the only time the term is used is 2 Timothy 3:16, ''theopneustos''; and what is it used of? All Scripture is inspired by God. In a secondary sense (please note it is secondary), you might refer to the Apostle Paul as being inspired as he writes, but that is not a technically precise way to talk from the Scripture. Because "inspiration" is used one time, in 2 Timothy 3:16, and what it refers to as inspired is what Paul writes, not Paul himself. Balaam spoke the word of God, and he wasn't even a believer. He was a pagan sorcerer in the book of Numbers. The Spirit worked in him to do this; God did it. We have the same process going on, but it is easier to think of Paul under inspiration than it is Balaam under inspiration because he is a pagan. What is inspired primarily is the Bible. There is also 2 Peter 1:21 which speaks of men who were moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God. Men were moved by the Holy Spirit, so there clearly is a sense in which the Spirit moves in their hearts and minds, so what they speak and write is, in fact, the Word of God. In that secondary sense, you can talk about them being inspired or moved by the Spirit. The primary sense of inspiration is the text itself; the Bible is inspired. All of its language, in all of its parts are verbally plenarily inspired.
B. Key Passages and their Teachings
1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
This is one of the most important passages in helping us understand the nature of Scripture.
2 Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed
Here is that term ''theopneustos''; it is inspired by God.
2 Ti 3:16 ... and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2 Ti 3:17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
These words are so familiar that I think we can read them and miss the utterly incredible claims that are being made. Meditate on them; they are just astonishing in what they say. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Look at the whole realm of what Scripture can do. Look at what it is profitable to do: to reprove, to correct, to build up in righteousness, to teach in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate and equipped for every good work. It ought to cause the ministry personnel of our land to fall to the ground in shame because of what we know is true from surveys of how little time pastors spend reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture. They read every hot new book that comes out with some techniques for growing a big church, and they plow through those things and can't wait to get the next one. This verse says, "So that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." So you if you believe it, then practice it.
a. Translation Issue All or Every
The New English Bible translates this passage as follows: "Every God-Breathed Scripture is profitable for teaching and reproof."
Every God-breathed Scripture is profitable; do you sense the difference? You have the God-breathed and, in principle, the not God-breathed Scripture. In that case it isn't profitable and you wouldn't want to follow that stuff, of course. It allows for this discretion of the reader in terms of what is God-breathed and what is not God-breathed. Is this a legitimate understanding? The way the language works here, it is not a legitimate understanding. All Scripture is God breathed; ''pasa graph_ theopneustos kai _phelimos''. It is referring to all of Scripture (''pasa graph_''). It is all of Scripture; it is not referring to every Scripture which is profitable. Part of the problem is what do with the copula (the "is"). Where do you insert the "is" and what do you do with the "and"? Listen again to a traditional translation, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable." Now listen to the New English. "Every God-breathed Scripture is profitable." Do you notice a particular word missing? "And" (''kai''). It just drops out of the picture. But it is in there, look at your Greek text; it is in there. ''Kai'' is in there. It says, ''pasa graph_ theopneustos kai _phelimos''. All Scripture is two things: ''theopneustos kai _phelimos'', God-breathed and profitable. The same case endings of those two terms ought to kept together connected by the ''kai'' (and), so what you ought not do is split them up and make one of them all God-breathed Scripture. Where is the ''kai''? This is why all the major translations (with exceptions for what I must say is theological bias), translated in some version of what you have in NIV, NASB, English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version all go the same way with this: that all Scripture is inspired and profitable.
b. Meaning of inspiration
It is interesting that Paul puts in order what he does. Mainly that all Scripture is inspired, then profitable. I think the reason for that is that he wants to make it clear that inspiration is first. This is foundational. So all Scripture is God-breathed. This is what it is; this is the quality of this book. This is why this book is unlike any other book that has ever been written. Even though many Christian people will testify that in writing sometimes there is a sense of God moving, preachers will certainly talk about times when they sensed the Lord took over and spoke through them. I don't doubt that things like that happened, but there is no other writing, no other speech, that is equivalent to the writing that has taken place in this book. It is all God-breathed, all the way through. So we need to understand Scripture in its fullness as the Word of God.
Some may thing that this limits God. But how is that limiting to God if God chose to do it that way. Then it is presumptuous and rude. What if I wrote a letter to my wife and took great care in crafting just what I wanted to say. And she got this letter and said, "My relationship with my husband is just too precious and intimate to be conveyed in language, so I am not going to bother with this; I am just going to relate to my husband, but I am not going to read this." What would I think? I would be ticked. Can't you see that you can convey your mind and heart in what you write? My brother-in-law is a pastor, a very fine pastor and a wonderful man. One of his favorite metaphors that he uses for his people all the time is the Bible as God's love letter. This is God's message to his people, primarily. It relates to the world more broadly, but it is particularly to the people of God for guiding them into life, life and joy that will be theirs now and for eternity. And this we have because of inspiration.
c. Ontology and Function (What it is and what it does)
Notice that when Paul says all Scripture is inspired, that indicates what it is. That is ontology. It is the Word of God. It is breathed out by God. Then the next word he gives is it inspired and profitable. This is what it does. But notice the order of the "is" and the "does." Ontology precedes function. What something is precedes what it does. Further more what something can do is a function of what it is.
If you have a 1969 Rambler (Do any of you even know what that is? I remember them) and you want to enter it in the Indianapolis 500, it is just not going to work to do this. It is not made to be a race car; it will not function as a race car. Notice those two words. It is not made. It is not something therefore it cannot do something. What something does is a function of what it is.
The reason that we can have confidence that the Bible is profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work is because it is the Word of God. One of my huge concerns, and I know I share this with evangelicals broadly, is that the minute you begin to tear down the quality of what the Bible is, you cannot help but effect what it is able to do, what kind of guide it is for life and what kind of guide it is for ethics. Paul Juliet, in his understanding of how inspiration worked thinks that God gave to human beings concepts that got reflected in better or worse ways depending upon how well they understood those concepts and how much they were affected by their culture and all of that. So for example, when Paul writes what he does in I Timothy 2, "I don't allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man"(1 Tim 2:12) and when he writes in Ephesians 5 about wives submitting to your husbands, Paul was just not in tune with God very well yet on those points. But when he writes in Galatians 3:28 that, "There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile slave or free, male or female," Paul gets it right there. Ok Paul Juliet. Here we have a Bible, supposedly the Word of God, where we really have in this passage the Word of God and in this passage the faulty word of Paul. That's the nature of this book, fine, but how well does it function? All of a sudden you've got a problem because how are we to know where those problem areas are? It doesn't come with a guide that tells you these parts here you can forget that; they didn't get that part right, but these over here, pay attention to those. It doesn't come with a guide, so who becomes the guide? The reader. You and I decide; we become the judge on what is acceptable and what isn't. We determine where Scripture is in fact profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and so on.
So function follows ontology. Do you see how important it is to affirm what 2 Timothy 3:16 affirms; all Scripture is God-breathed, therefore it really is profitable. Without question, without reservation, without qualification it really is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.