2 Timothy 3:16

In my Sunday school class, we recently talked about this famous verse, which is cited with incredible frequency in discussions of the Bible's inspiration and authority.

And yet very rarely are the details of what that verse actually says noticed.

I've already mentioned before that the text does not use the existing word that it could have for “inspired,” and that the depiction of scriptures as “God-breathed” may have the Adam story in view, with God taking what would otherwise be lifeless matter or lifeless texts and giving them life through his breath.

In this post I want to highlight other elements – that the focus is entirely on behavior. Scriptures are not said to impart right doctrine, but to be useful in training people in living a particular way.

Also note that the emphasis is on their usefulness and their beneficial character. Perhaps we ought to start there. Rather than first defining a particular collection of texts as scripture (something 2 Timothy does not do, nor does any other work in the Bible), and then assuming they must be useful and beneficial, perhaps we ought to start with texts that are useful and beneficial, and treat those as not just “scriptures” (which simply means “writings”) but as special, even sacred.

This should lead us to ask whether hate-filled texts are useful or beneficial, and if not, what that means for their status as “scripture.”

 

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  • Matthew Green

    James, this recalls to my mind a book by Thom Stark: *The Human Faces of God* where he argues that even the “condemned texts” of the Bible have value as Scripture precisely because God’s voice is speaking to our conscience as we condemn the evil acts in these texts. If we started with the idea of useful and beneficial texts as Scripture, it can raise the question for believers of why God would want condemned texts in the biblical canon at all. Do you believe that God can still use condemned texts even if they’re not to be considered God-breathed?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      That’s a good point – one can in fact view such texts as “God breathed” in precisely the sense I’ve argued for, i.e. as used by God, animated and made alive. There is a Biblical theme about God taking what was meant for evil and using it for good. It would seem inappropriate to not include texts that may have been “meant for evil” under that heading.

    • Nick G

      Wouldn’t the same “argument” apply to any repulsive text – the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, for example? And for that matter, surely it makes just as much sense to claim that God’s voice is speaking to our good taste when we condemn The Jerry Springer Show, and our sense of the ridiculous when we condemn the latest end-times prediction of apocalypse. It appears to me not “a good point”, but an empty form of words..