II Timothy 3:16, 17
May 27, 2007 - Pentecost
The Inspiration of Scripture
One central aspect of Christian doctrine about the Bible is the affirmation that our Scripture is inspired. By that we mean to say something more than is said when we speak of other books, or of speeches, films or other communication as being inspired. We believe that the Bible is not the product of merely human spirit, no matter how elevated. We believe that the Holy Spirit of God, who is God, is the inspiration behind Scripture.
The Bible has human authors. Many name themselves. We see differences in culture, era, education and style. Some of the Bible is written in prose as great as any ever written. Some of it is written in every day language, even slang, of the people of the time. The Bible expresses the range of human emotion: joy, depression, fear, love, anger, hope. It shows human beings at their best and at their worst. It is a thoroughly human book.
Yet the Bible is stamped by a quality which makes it different from other books. It conveys a message rising above its human authors. It says more than a human could say. Scripture is the Word of God. The writers often say they are conveying a message from God. They were often aware God was writing through them. So we believe God is the primary author of Scripture. It is His book and it says what He intends it to say.
God spoke in Scripture by “inspiration.” Literally, the writing was “God-breathed” through its writers. The Holy Spirit entered into those who wrote and guided what was written. This was not dictation. It did not negate the will and character of human writers. Each wrote in a unique, individual style, as the Spirit used the talents and experience of each to convey God’s message in ways that would capture our hearts and minds.
We have chosen to steer clear of specific theories of just how the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture. Some specific theories in the last century, particularly the affirmation that Scripture is “inerrant in the original autographs,” were divisive. Disagreement over “inerrancy” sidetracked God’s people into painful infighting about the Bible, which did little to advance the Kingdom.
We believe that the Scriptures are true because they teach us what God wants us to know. It may well be that the Bible is free from error of every sort (from historical and scientific error as well as spiritual error), but freedom from error does not define the Bible. There are other “inerrant” books. A carefully proofread mathematics text or phonebook could attain to inerrancy, but would obviously not be Holy Scripture.
The central characteristic of the Bible is that God speaks through it. It is God’s voice which defines Scripture, not a formula about inspiration or inerrancy. Ultimately, inspiration of God’s written Word is a mystery, a combination of the human and the divine, much like the mystery of Jesus the living Word, who is fully God and fully human.
How fresh is your breath? Over the past few decades, television has tried to convince you and me that we desperately need help in that department. I grew up watching ads for Scope mouthwash. People carried around little bottles of a noxious liquid called Binaca, which was sprinkled on the tongue.
Today we have Altoids and Dentyne Fire and Ice, with brand new commercials to suggest your breath will be a powerful determination of success in romance. Chew the right gum, chill out the competition with one freezing exhalation, and you get the girl.
The ads are amusing, but I hope none of us take them very seriously. We need fresh breath, but the breath we need is not our own. As Paul says in his second letter to Timothy chapter 3, verse 16, we need the breath which God breathes. He breathed His breath into the Bible. “Inspired by God” is the traditional translation for a single word in Greek here. The TNIV version I read this morning captures that sense a little more literally. Paul tells Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
As we heard in our wonderful multi-lingual reading of Acts 2 this morning, the breath of God is His Holy Spirit. The very word “spirit” is the same word used for the movement of air. In Acts 2:2 it’s the sound of a rushing wind which signals the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Here in II Timothy, it is air moving in the act of breathing which is connected with the Spirit. Medical folks still call the act of breathing in “inspiration.”
As I mentioned last week, we in the Covenant Church affirm that the Bible is God’s Word, “and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.” That affirmation is largely based here in II Timothy 3:16. Scripture teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in our faith, our doctrine and our conduct. And it does so because it is inspired, because God has breathed into it what we need to know and how we need to live.
In fact, the breath of God breathed into Scripture is what we need in order to live. In the previous verse, Paul reminds Timothy how he has known the Scriptures from a tender age and that they are able to make him “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” What he needs to be saved, what he needs to survive, is there in the Bible, there in the God-breathed words of Holy Scripture.
What you and I need to be saved, need to survive, need to live, is still here in this Book full of God’s breath. We need that breath of God. We need His fresh breath blowing into our hearts and lives. We need to breath it in, to be inspired ourselves.
You don’t really need icy mint breath, but I know all too well that you need breath in order to survive. As a child with asthma I felt what it’s like not to have the breath you need. And when Susan was just two years old I watched our little daughter struggling with the same affliction as her tiny chest sank deeply with each breath, trying to capture some air. That suffocation is horribly frightening, whether for yourself or as a parent looking on. In those moments you know how closely breath is connected to life.
Early on in my childhood experience with asthma, my pediatrician prescribed for me an inhalator that made all the difference in the world. As I discovered then and saw again with Susan, a little metal and plastic device that delivers a spray of medicine into your lungs can bring amazing relief. One moment you are laboring for every breath, and a puff or two later, you are breathing freely. Those little vials of epinephrine or albuterol seem almost miraculous—they work so fast and effectively.
Many asthmatics carry one of these inhalers around all the time, just in case of an asthma attack. According to medical terminology they take this medicine for breathing “PRN,” as needed.
We sometimes treat Scripture like one of those asthma inhalers. When we find ourselves gasping for direction, for comfort, for assurance, we turn to the Bible and inhale it vigorously. And as we meet Jesus Christ in the words of Scripture, He helps us, He comforts us, He provides the direction which we need at the moment. We use the Bible like it has a PRN prescription.
But there’s another kind of asthma inhaler which sprays a corticosteroid medication into your lungs, creating resistance to the inflammation that swells lung passages and causes asthma. You don’t use this kind of inhaler in a crisis, when you’re having an attack, when you are struggling to breathe. It doesn’t work that fast. You have to use inhaled corticosteroids once or twice a day over a few weeks to build up inflammation resistance. It’s a medical discipline you have to maintain. But it’s worth it. It’s much, much better to avoid and prevent those suffocating, breathless attacks before they even begin.
That second sort of asthma inhaler is a better image for how you and I need to approach the Bible. Yes, Scripture helps us in our crises. With a verse or two in a short time it can bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ or meet an immediate need for hope and comfort. It can inspire you enough to survive a crisis. But it’s better to breathe in its life-giving, life-sustaining help on a regular basis, day by day, week by week. As we study God’s word regularly, we find God’s inspiration of His Word constantly inspiring us, filling us with the life and strength we need for each day.
In this last message on God’s Word, I ask you to consider again how you are breathing in God’s breath through His Word. Do you have a regular discipline of reading that sustains you and keeps you healthy, or do you simply come to the Bible “PRN,” as needed?
The purpose of the Bible is to make us whole, healthy people for the long haul. That’s why Paul reminds Timothy that it is given to teach us the truth, to rebuke our sins, to correct our mistaken ideas about God, and to train us to live in righteousness. It’s a prescription for both knowledge and practical living. It helps us, in the old philosophical formula, to seek truth and avoid error. It convicts us and turns us from our sins and leads into better ways of life. But to receive all those benefits we need to keep applying it, keep breathing it in, regularly, faithfully.
Last week before the sermon I mentioned our old Nebraska friend Eph (Ephraim Trophimus) Johnson. Eph loved the Bible. He breathed it in like air. It filled and inspired his whole life. He had been a workingman who drove a delivery truck, but he could quote whole chapters of Scripture by heart. When he died, his wife Nina told me how he learned so much. While driving propane deliveries over rural Nebraska roads, he would prop his Bible up on the dashboard, and keep one eye on it and one the road. He inhaled every word of the Word deep into his soul.
Eph didn’t just read the Bible. He studied it. He read commentaries alongside it. In particular he soaked up the scholarly commentaries of a Swiss theologian named Godet. I remember so well how he would often come up to me after worship and comment on the sermon I preached. He would say something like, “Pastor, I like what you said. What do you think of what Godet wrote about that text?” And he would quote a bit of commentary that was always insightful, always helpful, always a positive addition to what I had shared.
It wasn’t just study. The Bible changed how Eph lived. Nina said some old Nebraska farmers would test Eph’s Christian faith by ordering propane late in the week so he would have to deliver it to them on Sunday. He handled it with marvelous grace. He and Nina would stay up till midnight some Saturdays, loading and driving his truck, but it would all be finished by Sunday morning, and they would be at church, because he loved God’s Word.
Eph lived to be 95 years old, healthy and strong for most of it. In his 80s he still once a week wrestled his lawn mower up twelve steps from the basement of their small house so he could mow their yard. We’d ask why he didn’t keep it upstairs and he would say, “No room. And it’s no problem.” He had four children, and when he died, twelve grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren, most of them solid Christians. Eph left a legacy in his family and in his church, a legacy of love for God’s Word. His breathed it in and it filled him.
Breathe in God’s breath. Breathe in the Bible. Come listen to the Word taught in Christian formation and worship on Sunday mornings. Join or form a small group and study together during the week. Open up the Scriptures and read some of it every day. Draw the Bible into you regularly, and you will find it easier to draw God’s breath of life to you when you need it most. May God’s Word constantly be for you the fresh breath that you need to live. May it fill and inspire you to the new life we have in Jesus.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj