Those who know me well may have seen this coming…but now that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit, not as a “being” but as the Wind/Breath of God (see this post if you haven’t already read it), it’s time to take another look at an old friend. I refer, of course, to θεόπνευστος (“theopneustos”) from 2 Tim. 3:16. Those who already know Greek will know, and the perceptive among the rest of you may notice, that this is a compound of θεός (“theos,” god–not necessarily the Christian one) and a form of πνεῦμα (“pneuma”, wind or breath or spirit as previously discussed).
The usual translation of θεόπνευστος, as nearly everybody knows, is “inspired” or “God-breathed,” and is the source of the common notion that what Paul was saying to Timothy was that the scriptural canon was breathed out by God…that is, that God is the source of “all scripture” (I’ve previously argued–1 & 2–that this statement cannot legitimately be read as an imprimatur on the entirety of our current canon). Unfortunately, it appears that Paul coined a word that has no antecedent in classical Greek literature and only occurs once in the entire biblical text. We are therefore stuck with the task of deducing what he meant by taking the word apart into its constituent parts, and one possibility (of course) is that the translators are right, that equivalents of “breathed out by God” are in fact correct and that Paul is saying that those scriptures which “are able to make you wise unto salvation” (v. 17) actually come from God.
But what if θεόπνευστος is not “breathed out,” but rather “breathed upon” or “breathed into?” Might Paul be suggesting that the written words, lifeless in and of themselves, become profitable–even powerful–when they are infused with the life-giving Breath of the Father? Perhaps it’s not an issue of writings being “inspired” at all, but rather what happens when these writings become “in-spirited” in the context of believers individually and collectively seeking God through them. It stands to reason that any writing, whether by the canonical authors, by modern believers, or even by secular writers, becomes highly profitable if and when it’s enlivened by the Breath of Life.
This is not to suggest that God is not the actual source of any of the biblical writings. 2 Pet. 2:20-21 is one good example of how God clearly and specifically moved prophets to write and speak specific words to his people. Our task as believers is to discern those words–and the spirit within them–and to pray that God will yet again breathe upon us as we seek to be equipped for his work.