You are hereBibliology and Hermeneutics, Part 1: the Origin and Purpose of Scripture

Bibliology and Hermeneutics, Part 1: the Origin and Purpose of Scripture

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By Ransom - Posted on 16 April 2006

by Stephen Douglas
In determining the value and purpose of the Bible, we have to begin by looking at its origin. While a description of the process that put the words of the Bible on the page in mechanical terms is interesting, the theological and philosophical answer to the question of origin is foundational. This we refer to as the issue of inspiration.In determining the value and purpose of the Bible, we have to begin by looking at its origin. While a description of the process that put the words of the Bible on the page in mechanical terms is interesting, the theological and philosophical answer to the question of origin is foundational. This we refer to as the issue of inspiration.The passage in Scripture usually cited as the primary source of the doctrine of inspiration is 2 Tim 3:16-17. This begins, “Every Scripture is inspired by God...” The syntax of the phrase is the most problematic aspect, because there is no copula (verb of being), a syntactical situation common in Greek that does not necessarily carry any detectable significance. The ambiguity of where we should understand the copula to belong fuels this debate: should we render this verse as “Every Scripture [is] inspired by God and [is] useful...” or “Every God-inspired Scripture [is] also useful...”? In the first, the point of the statement is that God inspired Scripture and hence it is useful for doctrine, etc. In the second version, inspiration seems to be the qualifier, and that seems to suggest that there are Scriptures that are not inspired and that those are not necessarily useful - but does it really mean that? The word graphe meant simply “a writing” outside the New Testament, but is always understood to mean "sacred writing" or “Scripture” in the New Testament. Theopneustos 'God-breathed' was probably intended not to modify the already specialized “Scripture” sense of the word but rather to act as a specializing qualifier for the more general meaning “writing”, thereby forming a phrase meaning literally “God-inspired Writing” and hence “Scripture”. Besides this, the usage data gathered by Robinson and begrudgingly confirmed by House seems fairly conclusive about the use of that particular syntactic construction throughout both the NT and the Septuagint: in almost every instance the adjective is attributive (i.e. it modifies graphe to mean "every God-inspired Writing").[1]

So what is the significance of the phrase "also useful"? What is the first reference to its practical purpose? If we look at the previous verse, we see that the start of this inspiration passage is not verse 16, but verse 15. Notice there that Paul modifies another oblique term grammata 'letters' with hiera 'sacred', a word that may be justly considered a parallel to theopneustos. Grammata is not used in the New Testament to refer to the Old Testament as a body of Scriptures. Although it is used in reference to the Ten Commandments in 2 Corinthians 3:7, Paul is manifestly trying to highlight the fact that the actual lettering was engraved in stone. Grammata is a term with meanings ranging from accounting (Luke 16:6-7), to written words in contrast to spoken words (John 5:47), to learning in general (John 7:15, Acts 26:24), to epistolary correspondence (Acts 28:21), to the actual characters written (2 Cor. 3:7, Gal. 6:11). Surely this is why Paul found it necessary to use the specializing qualifier hiera to specify holy "letters". So here we have parallel phrases, "sacred Learning"[2] : "God-breathed Writing".

To summarize so far, in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 Paul praised Timothy's “sacred Learning” because it is able to make one “wise for salvation”, and that is the take-off point for the following assertion that every Scripture is “also” useful for doctrine, reproof, etc. In other words, Paul is glad that Timothy knows the Scriptures because they take one beyond the door (salvation) and actually help one navigate once inside.

All this evidence aside, there is no clear answer to this problem, although many on both sides will claim there is one because both are completely possible treatments of the underlying Greek. The ambiguity may in fact be there because a decision on one of the two does not end up being determinative for our view of inspiration. Because neither view disproves or substantiates the rest of what I have to present, I will avoid referring to the debate below. Therefore we will assume that we should render it, “Every Scripture is theopneustos.” Similarly to avoid controversy, we will not get into the discussion of whether every “Scripture” includes the New Testament, which the Church centuries later designated as such but which at Paul’s writing did not even fully exist. We have good reason to believe that the principle Paul is explaining applies to the New Testament as well, and so I assume this in what follows.

This leads us to the specific meaning of the word theopneustos. The phrase “inspired by God” seeks to render this enigmatic near hapax legomenon which is a compound adjective with the components theos ‘God’ and pneustos ‘breathed’, represented quite literally in many translations as “God-breathed”. It is often argued whether this word designates Scripture as the manifestation of or as the target of the breath of God: God’s breath is either the source of Scripture or is merely the reason each writing is divinely effective. This last option is closely related to the source of the term “inspiration” pertaining to this doctrine, because the Vulgate translates it “divinely inspired”, or literally, divinely in-breathed. Many say that this reading would require a missing Greek preposition en- ‘in’ before pneustos, so that we should have theempneustos.[3] Of course this form might have been more conclusive,[4] but aside from the fact that this is in effect an argument from silence, such a preposition is not necessary. Are there any other factors that might give us some direction?

Paul used a compound so exceptionally rare that it has the potential for confusion if left to its own inherent meaning; this suggests that Paul did not use it in complete isolation, probably assuming it would be understood in terms of some implied context. Is there a reference elsewhere in the Bible to God’s breath being manifested as an object? Although I am unaware of an example of this, the argument from silence is no more instructive for my argument than for anyone else’s. Rather the strength in my argument comes from asking the same sort of question about the other proposed meaning: what other Scriptures can be found that reference God’s breath? If so, what is God’s breath doing there?

The notion of God-breathing seems to be a rather explicit allusion to the Genesis account of man's transformation into a “living soul” as a consequence of God’s “into-breathing” – His inspiration. This was very probably what Jerome had in mind in the Vulgate’s rendering. With an already obscure compound, it would likely never have occurred to Paul to insert a directional preposition before the deverbative element when the allusion was clear enough without it. Paul said “God-breathed” knowing that Timothy would immediately associate that expression with Genesis 2:7.

We can summarize from this discussion that 2 Timothy 3:15-17 teaches that these writings collectively known as the Bible have been infused with the breath of life from God’s own lips, and that the Bible has therefore taken on all the practical properties for which God ordained it. But which properties are they? Paul is clear in this passage that the Scriptures are “able to make [one] wise for salvation” and are also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). Paul makes absolutely no claims that Scripture is to be used in any other way, and gives no intimation that it had any other purpose. Indeed, no one seems to disagree that the Bible's usefulness has its limits: no one can find building schematics for a skyscraper, or coloring pages for children, or a recipe for peanut butter balls between the covers of any Bible. That is understandable, for the Bible contains no information about those subjects: the debate enters when trying to determine if the Bible is useful for every subject about which it does contain information. Now we are getting into the question of the value and purpose of the Bible, which is in part answered by looking into the more mechanical aspects of the Bible’s inspiration. Whether or not we construe en dikaiosune 'in righteousness' as pertaining to "teaching", "rebuking", and "correcting" as well as the more obvious "training", we may be sure by the context that this is what Paul was referring to. In verse 17 he summarizes the purpose of the Scriptures: "so that the man of God may be be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (NIV). Again, not so that the man of God may be fully informed about the distribution of the descendants of Noah's sons throughout the earth.

God breathed the breath of life into Scripture. This logically implies that there was something already there for Him to breathe into. A good parallel (provided Paul thought this all the way through) would be that just as God molded the pre-existing clay into a vessel into which He could breathe life, He similarly breathed life into a pre-existing and formerly useless lump of clay. This clay was man’s own literature that through inspiration was, as C. S. Lewis put it, “raised by God above itself, qualified by him and compelled by him to serve purposes which of itself it would not have served”[5].

I do not mean to give the false impression that the Bible was independent of God’s influence until after man had written it down. This elevation of the works of mankind was not based on an afterthought or incidental approval (“Hmm…this looks pretty good”), but was an act God's providence had foreseen in His election of the Israelite people. Thus, even when ignorant men were writing with their own purposes and emphases, God was ordaining that work concomitantly to be useful for the things Paul noted in 2 Timothy.

Moreover, God’s influence is the very subject of the Bible. It is a compilation of testimonies about God’s encounter with man. It is a history of mankind’s pursuit of God and of God’s pursuit of mankind. Its efficacy is the legacy of the latter and its existence a testimony to the former: a person's pursuit does not begin without God's prior decision to meet that person, and man's contact with God leads him to express this relationship, and thus we have the Bible. This means that in the Bible, we have the stones of foundation laid by men of faith before us; they have created for us the steps upon which our spirits and minds may climb to reach an understanding of God's heart and purposes. In fact, at times, God personally invaded and practically dictated whole portions of literature with special messages of a theological nature: this is what we call “prophecy”. Such exceptions would necessarily be inerrant and free of the author's interpretation of the message, except that they retain the natural stylistic and contextually relevant mode of delivery pertinent to the individual author. In these cases, the Holy Spirit, as described in 2 Peter 1:21, bore along the prophets, and thus God ensured that what these men reported from their encounters was accurate, lest some portion of God's specific revelation be twisted by man’s ignorance and His intended message be obscured.

The human writers of Scripture, although unavoidably influenced by the Holy Spirit’s promptings, may truly be said to be the authors of Scripture because each one bears witness to God’s guidance by imprinting his own mind, heart, and aspects of his very consciousness in the work. This is not a spontaneous creation of anything but a discovery of something that has existed quite regardless of previous human imperceptions. For the writer of Scripture, this is the mode of operation: God ordains an author to bear testimony to some aspects of His truth; the author is then confronted with the truth and gives it literary expression.

The last issue I wish to address here is the issue of the author’s intent. Is this part of what was ordained by God? Not exactly. God intended the Bible to be given to us for His Own purposes primarily. God's intent was manifested through the writer's intent, but God's intent was never limited by nor necessarily the same as the writer's. God's intent for Scripture was to let His followers bear testimony to Him and the truth they had obtained by their encounters with Him.

I hope we can all agree that there is no more patently absurd notion than verbatim dictation as the method of inspiration. Ruling this out, I suggest further that if God had intended to convey unfiltered, unprocessed Truth, he could definitely have chosen a more sanitary (objective) vessel than literature written down by man. Coupling this with a view of Truth as something much too large and unwieldy for even an infinite number of authors to exhaustively address or describe, I am left with the conclusion that God's purpose was not to lay out cold, hard truths in a series of unanalyzable propositions. Therefore, the author's intent is undeniably relevant to what God was trying to say: he chose Matthew to write a gospel not in spite of, but because of his point of view and his take on the issues that God is concerned about.

Importantly, this takes into account the fact that the author's own thoughts even on the important issues were not always God's. Surely no one believes that the "cursing Psalms" reflect the heart of Jesus - but they do reflect the heart of a man in a tight spot, who calls out to God for help, spotlighting God's message. We cannot afford to stop digging when we detect the author's own view on a subject: we must instead look into God's motivations for ordaining the words the author writes, whatever the author’s motivation. God's intent for a passage trumps that of the author.

The upshot of this view of the origin of the Scriptures in regard to interpretation is that we are left to discover and know the Truth of God through a veil more opaque than many of us in our modern era would choose. But an examination of every human's experience in finding and understanding our Creator and His ways, including this very study, shows that the sum of theological epistemology follows the same principle. Sure He could have built in a network link so that His communiqués would never be subject to human obfuscation! He chooses to have us learn things through study and from one another. Like it or not, it seems that it is God's preferred mode of operation in dealing with humanity.

What bearing does this view of inspiration have on the issues of inerrancy and infallibility? The next installment is meant to discuss those issues, as well as to present the literary-generic principle of biblical hermeneutics.

[1] A. T. Robertson, cited by H. Wayne House in "Biblical Inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16".

[2] Cf. our term, "a man of letters" referring to an individual who has availed himself of learning by being literate; also DLitt. or Litt.D. degree (Latin Litterarum Doctor 'doctor of letters').

[3] So B.B. Warfield in "God-Inspired Scripture", citing Ewald.

[4] Or perhaps not: Warfield himself argues for different reasons that theempneustos would more likely mean "inhale" than "breathe out into".

[5] From Surprised by Joy.

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Dude, incredible article! You've given me a lot to think about. I especially like your thoughts on scripture being theopneustos. Thanks so much, Stephen!

Ransom's picture

I appreciate your encouragement, Jared!

BTW, right now I'm finishing up work on Part 2, which goes into the "inerrancy" I was mentioning on your blog.

MichaelB's picture

I'm looking forward to it!

Windpressor's picture

*********

"Moreover, God’s influence is the very subject of the Bible. It is a compilation of testimonies about God’s encounter with man."

For what it is worth, I have pointed it out in blog comments that Scripture does not expressly claim to be the Word of God. I concur with the "testimonies" concept that it is more a witness to rather than WoG itself.

The comments at Jared's December 7, '05 blog also have links to sites and other comments --
http://blog.planetpreterist.com/index.php?itemid=512#c

Interesting observation --

In the creation account, God spoke to form all creation except for man who was breathed into.

Likewise, at Christ's temptation He declares: "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"(Matthew 4:4
ESV)

Note there appears to be a contrast between the qualities of written(inspired) and spoken word.
The description of scripture as *witness* is contrasted with the *Word* by Jesus himself at --
John 5:37-40 (ESV)

"...39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, ...."

Even though it requires breath to speak, I see a distinction made between "God said" and "God-breathed".

G1
...........

G-Juan Wind

Ransom's picture

Thanks, Windpressor. I was looking for the word "witness" but couldn't quite come up with it. You are correct. The Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible.

Interesting distinction you are making between speaking and breathing. If we can take that to the bank, I guess one might want to say that Paul in 2 Tim. 3:16, by not saying "God-spoken" or the like, was saying that Scripture is not the very words of God, but either 1) the very breath of God or 2) the target of the breath of God. I choose the latter.

Opus's picture

Stephen,
Very interesting article and you made some excellent points. Among them:

Paul is clear in this passage that the Scriptures are “able to make [one] wise for salvation” and are also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). Paul makes absolutely no claims that Scripture is to be used in any other way, and gives no intimation that it had any other purpose. Indeed, no one seems to disagree that the Bible's usefulness has its limits: no one can find building schematics for a skyscraper, or coloring pages for children, or a recipe for peanut butter balls between the covers of any Bible. That is understandable, for the Bible contains no information about those subjects: the debate enters when trying to determine if the Bible is useful for every subject about which it does contain information.

These excellent observations are one reason why I find the current debates regarding old earth/young earth and local flood/global flood so fruitless. The Bible isn't a scientific text book...it has another purpose, namely to reveal God's redemptive purposes and acts to mankind.

Keep up the good work!

Jim

Ransom's picture

Thanks, Jim. My own struggle against those trying to read scientific data into the Bible is one of my motivations for this series. To me the key to all this stuff is not simply differing interpretations, but is actually rooted in entirely different views on bibliology itself!

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Stephen,

Very interesting and helpful article. Thanks for your contribution here. I appreciate your approach that simultaneously upholds the biblical text as the product of both God and man. I've seen many who debate this issue try to "rub out" one or the other. The image of a living Bible because of the Spirit of God is a great way of describing the issue as well. Thanks.

There is one issue that still troubles me a bit. I'd love to have your thoughts. You say,

"Surely no one believes that the "cursing Psalms" reflect the heart of Jesus - but they do reflect the heart of a man in a tight spot, who calls out to God for help, spotlighting God's message."

I'm not so sure I'm ready to make it quite this easy. The imprecatory Psalms may very well demonstrate the nature and personality of Jesus within certain circumstances. This becomes more clear to me as a preterist who connects Luke 19:27 and Matthew 25:41 to the very real events in A.D. 70.

To be sure, the cursing of one another on light and transient grounds is a great sin. Jesus warns against that in his teaching and James warns against that in James 3:9f. Both examples make a lot of sense in the historical context of the abuse the Jews heaped on their Jewish brethren who accepted Christ. But even Paul, in very grave circumstances, proclaimed curses that do not appear to me to be all that different from the imprecatory Psalms.

My concern is that there is a tendency to "tame" Jesus in comparison with other men of faith we know in the Bible. I'm concerned about that because I think that attempt has more to do with the sentimentalism of our modern culture than with the reality of the biblical testimony, especially as a preterist. Perhaps there are special times when the use of the imprecatory Psalms are appropriate... even Christian?

I see great wisdom in C.S. Lewis' famous comment to the effect that he is no tame lion.

Love to hear your thoughts,

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

Ransom's picture

Thoughtful comment, Tim. I'm down with the whole idea of God not being tame. I argue that very point in many circumstances.

Look at Psalm 69:28, in which David begs God to blot out his accusers, some of whom are apparently just drunk beggars (v. 12), from the book of the living. Now that you mention it, this does seem to be a typological parallel with Jesus, but does it justify it on the part of other kings? If you were the president, would it please God that you were asking Him to kill anyone who opposed you and made a mockery of your name? What happened to "love those who persecute you and pray for those who spitefully use you"? Perhaps then my words about those curses not reflecting the heart of Jesus were ill-chosen - it's His heart that has the right to speak those things.

The fact that these psalms apparently prefigure Jesus seems to be justification enough for their inclusion among the Scriptures, but again, not because that's the way we should feel. It's clear that David in those Psalms feels wounded pride (and says as much). That's not enough reason to curse someone. In our anger we should not sin, and I am just not so sure that David did not cross that line.

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Ransom,

That's a fair enough way of looking at it.

I think we agree that David's historical situation cannot be pressed into service for current political (ab)use.

As to the reference about loving our persecutors and praying for those who spitefully use us. We see that going on in the NT, pre-eminently with Jesus and Stephen during their deaths. What history shows though, is that there comes a point when God gets "fed up" with those persecutions and injustices. Then he moves. Often in direct response to the prayers of his people.

I'm not convinced that our prayers for wicked men around us are always to be positive. The martyred saints, represented in the book of Revelation, prayed for vindication and justice. Even after they worked for the conversion of their enemies during their lifetimes in the first century.

Perhaps the distinction is how we approach Kingdom life God-ward and man-ward. In our congregation we sometimes pray the imprecatory Psalms against those who hate and persecute the church around the world. We ask God to "break the arms" or "smash the teeth" of evildoers that are intent on destroying his people. We do that because those are kingdom Psalms that clearly (to me at least) transcend the experience and life of David or any other Psalmist.

At the same time we work for the conversion of these very people in our daily lives, whether they are in our immediate culture or in far-away lands. Our weapons are love, patience, beauty, and truth. God is honored in how the history plays out for it's in his hands. Sometimes the results are a bit ugly from our perspective. This thing we call the Christian Faith is serious business.

He is no tame lion.

Blessings,

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

Ransom's picture

I think you're right, Tim. The distinction is in the motivation. We do pray that God will vindicate us, but only because our vindication will vindicate Him. We are to pray that He will dispense us the grace to love our enemies while we pray that He will dispense justice to our enemies.

Virgil's picture

Stephen, many thanks for this article; I found it very enlightening and I never linked Paul's in 2 Tim with God breathing life into clay. It puts the debate into a whole new perspective.

leo724's picture

Stephen,

From your experience with Greek what do you think of the possibilty that theopneustos means that the words of the scriptures are the very breath of God?

Thanks,

Bill

Ransom's picture

It is possible linguistically but, as I explained, not necessary or likely: because the compound is nebulous without any context, my guess is that Paul chose it for its connotations and relationship to Genesis' breath of life.

leo724's picture

Stephen,

I agree that "the compound is nebulous without any context". I think, though, that the context for this usage is the entire New Testament, and Old Testament, usage of the words for "spirit".

Note for example these parallel passages.

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

and

Ephesians 5:18-20

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;

Notice how the word of Christ is parallel to the Spirit in these passages and in Paul's mind. I think that this thought is reflected in many passages and is the context which would clarify the Timothy passage for Paul's readers.

They would have thought of theopneustos and associated pneustos with the breath or word of God.

What do you think of this?

Bill

Ransom's picture

Well, Bill, a couple things occur to me.

1) The word of Christ is not co-referential with the Bible, or even the Old Testament. The logos of God is the wholeness of Truth. Remember that Jesus is Himself the Word. Having it dwell within us strikes me as akin to having the Truth written upon our hearts.

2) Now, if we want to take the breath (pneustos) as being the very Spirit of God (pneuma) as you seem to be doing, there are a couple more interesting observations to be made:

Paul's admonition to be filled with the Spirit actually reinforces the notion of the Spirit of God being something that empowers and energizes by filling.

Does it not seem unlikely that the same man that contrasts living by the Law with living by the Spirit would then turn around equate the Spirit with the Law (which would definitely be included in Paul's pasa graphe 'every Scripture')?

What do you think?

leo724's picture

Stephen,

Thanks for your response.

I agree with your first point and with your first observation.

I also kind of agree with your second observation. It does seem unlikely, but I think that that is exactly what Paul is doing. The Spirit came to explain what Christ had done. This is clear from John's gospel. When Paul refers to the Spirit I think he is referring to the explanation of the work of Christ which was revealed to the church.

This work of Christ is then contrasted with the work of the Law.

Does that make any sense at all?

Bill

Ransom's picture

"This work of Christ is then contrasted with the work of the Law."

I agree with that statement. I also agree that the Spirit confirms Christ's work. Where you're losing me is over what appears to be your equating the Spirit with the New Testament. It seems to me that you're saying that Paul's statement was "every NT passage is also profitable for doctrine," etc. Surely you're aware of the anachronicity of that view: the NT had not even finished being written when Paul wrote that, much less canonized.

Or perhaps you're actually interpreting that passage as "every writing that is God's breath", anticipating the NT. Here are my issues with that:
1) This interpretation makes a mess of the logical progression of Paul's statements. Your interpretation (if I have got it right) equates the ability to make one "wise for salvation" with "doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness". I see these as different stages of the game, so that the "also" at the beginning of v. 16 is adding applications for Scripture rather than repeating the same one by breaking it down.
2) This vague sort of implication could be much broader or narrower than what we consider the NT. Perhaps you have no problem with this, or you see Paul anticipating the NT or the biblical canon as a whole. If so,
3) this still reeks of anachronicity. It's reading the Bible as we know it back into this exchange of Paul and Timothy dating sometime in the early 60's. Paul does not sound as though he's predicting something that does not exist, but is giving Timothy his views on something that would ostensibly impact him (an actual pastor in the first century).

Maybe you could be a little more explicit with what you actually believe - as you may be able to tell, I'm having a hard time piecing it together. I've probably been beating down a strawman that I myself created, rather than engaging what you're saying!

leo724's picture

Sorry, let me try to clarify a bit.

I think that the New Testament often uses the word "spirit" to refer to the revelation of the meaning of the work of Christ. This was an ongoing supernatural revelation to the Church which was completed in 70ad with the completion of the New Testament.

This is how I see "spirit" being used in Ephesians 5:16.

Now, you said, "It seems to me that you're saying that Paul's statement was "every NT passage is also profitable for doctrine," etc. Surely you're aware of the anachronicity of that view: the NT had not even finished being written when Paul wrote that, much less canonized."

Actually, I don't think I have said anything yet about my view of 2 Timothy 3:15,16. Still, I'll be glad to answer your points.

First I don't think that 2 Timothy is solely referring to the NT. I think it is referring to the OT and also, by implication only, to the NT as it was in the process of being written down.

Now to answer your three points.

1) I'm not sure what your point is here. Let me just say that I see no difference between the sacred writings and the all/every scripture. I also see salvation as a process and not as a instantaneous event.

2) See 3).

3) Again, I see the the writings and scripture, here, as referring directly to the OT. I do feel that Paul was very aware that the letters he was writing were a part of something that would become similar to the OT. God spoke to the early church through gifted people to explain the work of Christ. In 70ad that communication stopped since the NT was completed. I'm sure that Paul was aware that he was a part of this revelation.

Here is a link that will better explain my view on this.

http://www.preteristarchive.com/Preterism/green-david_p_03.html

I hope this helps you to understand what I believe. If you have any further questions or comments I welcome both.

Bill

Ransom's picture

See, I'm glad you clarified! It appears I misunderstood you. The only reason I thought what you said had bearing on 2 Tim. 3:15-17 is that your original question was whether theopneustos could refer to the very breath of God.

As for Ephesians 5:18, I am struggling to see why you choose that use of the word "pneuma" there. The only reasons I can imagine are:

1) It is problematic for Paul to command Christians to be "filled with the Spirit" if that phrase means the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes one a Christian in the first place. But this doesn't really jive with your statement that you believe in progressive salvation, so I doubt that's it.
2) Based on the article you linked to you, you may be simply trying to deprive the charismatic/Pentecostals of their use of the term "filled with the Spirit" as a subsequent work manifesting itself in the charismatic gifts.
3) Could it be just because Paul didn't refer specifically to the pneuma "hagion"?

I won't make any presumptions this time.

leo724's picture

Stephen,

The reason I chose to equate the spirit in Ephesians 5:18 with the word of Christ is that I think this is an exact parallel in both meaning and structure to Colossians 3:16.

Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you , with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

and

Ephesians 5:18-20

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit , speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you" is an exact parallel to "be filled with the Spirit". I think, therefore, that the Spirit is the word of Christ. I have no ulterior reason for thinking this. It just came to me as I read the passages side by side.

As for your suggested possible reasons,

1) I don't think that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what makes one a Christian in the first place. I would rather say that it is a matter of believing (relying on or trusting in) the word of Christ.

2) I think that the phrase, "filled with the Spirit" is only used in Ephesians 5:18 where it is shown by apposition to clearly mean nothing more than "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father".

3) I think there is pretty much always an implied hagion with pneuma. The spirit or the word of Christ is that which sets us apart from the world.

Thanks for bearing with me in all of this. I value your feedback.

Bill

Ransom's picture

"Thanks for bearing with me in all of this." The same here! I'm finally understanding where you're going.

I personally think there is too much "equating" going on with this interpretation. Things can be used in reference to one another without making them the same entities. I think the link between Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16 is "richly": the Word of Christ written on our hearts is activated by the Spirit of God, who testifies to Christ and illuminates that truth to us. Similarly, I have a problem with taking the admonition to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, etc. as strictly in apposition to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled is inward and internal, and speaking to one another is by nature an external expression of the work of the Spirit's illumination of the Word of Christ, just as the manifestation of being drunk with wine is in dissipation (Thayer says "an abandoned, dissolute life"). Drunkeness leads to uselessness and self-centered introversion; being filled with the Spirit leads to productivity, such as sharing the faith and encouragement. Does this make any sense?

leo724's picture

Sure, everything you've said in this post make sense. If I'm not mistaken, you are advocating the predominant teaching regarding the filling of the Holy Spirit.

I am asking you to try to step outside of your doctrinal mindset and look at these two passages in a fresh way. If, then, you decide that you don't like what I'm saying you can always go back. :)

First, let me say that I am trying to analyze the passage for what it says. I am trying to abandon any preconceptions that I might have from things I have been taught in the past and I ask you to do the same.

Examples of teachings that you have brought to the passage are, " the Word of Christ written on our hearts is activated by the Spirit of God, who testifies to Christ and illuminates that truth to us", "Being filled is inward and internal", and "being filled with the Spirit leads to productivity, such as sharing the faith and encouragement". Now these teaching may or may not be true but they are not explicitly found in the two verses under consideration.

Ephesians 5:18-20

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;

I believe that you are saying that the clauses after "be filled with the Spirit" are the results of being filled. I am saying that they are examples of being filled. For example you are saying that being filled results in speaking, singing, etc. I am saying that being filled is speaking , singing, etc.

I agree that there is no way to tell which view is correct from looking at the passage itself. I will say though that you see it as a result because of the understanding of the Holy Spirit that you bring to the passage. Not that you're wrong necessarily, but I'd like you to try to abandon that idea just for the moment.

I think that if you will admit that Colossians 3:16 is parallel to the Ephesians passage you will see why I see equality and not result.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Here, it is much easier to see the equality of the phrases. Letting the word of Christ richly dwelling within you is teaching and admonishing. They are the same thing. One is not the result of the other.

Now please allow me to comment on two of the thoughts which I feel like you have brought to the passages.

1) "the Word of Christ written on our hearts is activated by the Spirit of God, who testifies to Christ and illuminates that truth to us."

I think that there is a redundancy here. If the Word of Christ is written on our hearts (whatever that might mean) then there would be no need for the Spirit of God to activate it. It just sounds odd to say that the word of Christ is written on our hearts in some dormant fashion or darkly until the Spirit does something to activate or illuminate it. Don't you agree?

2) "Being filled is inward and internal"

I agree that being filled is inward and internal. It was inward and internal to the body of Christ, not to the individual. Paul is speaking to the body at Ephesus. He is exhorting the body to be filled. Speaking to one another is filling one another with the word of Christ. There are many such verses that present day Christianity take out of a body context and apply to individuals.

As always, I anxiously await your reply.

Bill

Ransom's picture

Thanks for your explication: I see what you are saying. I see your points, and saw where one of mine was faulty.

However, in spite of myself, I ended up changing my mind about them being parallel passages.

Let me start with your interesting viewpoint about the body at Ephesus being the body filled with the Spirit. This looked interesting to me, and seemed to make it parallel with Colossians 3, but I ran into a problem trying to make that parallel work when it violated a more certain parallel: how does Paul's exhortation to "be not drunk with wine" work on a corporate level without being true initially at an individual level? Paul would be saying, "Don't get the body of Ephesus drunk with wine," which is meaningless unless he means that too many drunkard Christians make for a drunken church: extending this pattern to the next phrase, having the corporate body being filled with the Spirit would mean that the individuals would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, I'm not sure how I missed this before, but the phrase en humin used in Colossians 3:16 is almost always (if not always) better translated as "among you" rather than "within you". This interpretation makes much more sense in the context of that passage anyway. Hence we should have, "Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another..." Do you see? He is telling the Colossian church to disseminate the Word of Christ! In Ephesians, Paul tells them how to cultivate a culture that disseminates the Word of Christ.

In Ephesians, he's telling them the mechanics for spreading and encouraging one another on an individual level, and in Colossians he's telling them what to do on the corporate level, as well as explicitly stating the subject of what is to be spoken and sung, etc., namely the Word of Christ.

Do you see why I'm having a hard time with your interpretation?

leo724's picture

Yes, I do see why you are having a hard time with my interpretation. But I am patient and I will continue to meet your objections or admit I am wrong. I think I can get you to change your mind at least once more. :)

To take your second point first, I do agree that the Colossians passage is better translated with "among" and I agree with all that you have said concerning Colossians.

You are correct to observe that there is no apparent parallel to "drunkenness" in the Colossians passage. I would like to show you why I think Paul mentions drunkenness in the Ephesians passage in order to show you how it actually strengthens the parallel.

If you do a search for "drunk" you will find that this admonition in Ephesians is unique in a sense. Admonitions about drunkenness are usually mentioned in lists of sins and not alone. This raises the question of why Paul brings up drunkenness at this point. The usual answer is that when we are filled with wine wine controls our behavior. So when we are filled with the spirit the spirit controls our behavior.

I submit that that is reading into the text. I submit that the theme is not control but rather speech. Just as being filled with wine produces a certain kind of speech, being filled with the spirit is also to produce a certain kind of speech.

There are two passages that illustrate the link between the spirit and wine and speech.

1 Corinthians 12:1-3

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:11-16

Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

Being filled with wine results in a certain kind of speech. This is similar to

Ephesians 5:4

and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Filthiness and silly talk and coarse jesting are very characteristic of drunkenness.

Being filled with the spirit or the word of Christ also results in a certain kind of speech. This is the point of each of the two parallel passages. Paraphrasing Peter in Acts 2, "This church is not filled with wine but is filled with the spirit or word of Christ." My point is that the Ephesians passage is not about wine except to make a point about how our speech is to be filled with God's word.

Now you go on to say, "how does Paul's exhortation to "be not drunk with wine" work on a corporate level without being true initially at an individual level? Paul would be saying, "Don't get the body of Ephesus drunk with wine," which is meaningless unless he means that too many drunkard Christians make for a drunken church: extending this pattern to the next phrase, having the corporate body being filled with the Spirit would mean that the individuals would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit."

I hope that what I have said so far has answered this objection but I will still answer specifically. If I am understanding you the thrust of your objection is "having the corporate body being filled with the Spirit would mean that the individuals would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit."

I agree that individuals would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order for the corporate body to be filled. I just don't see how that detracts from the corporate nature of the admonition in Ephesians.

Don't you agree that the admonition is directed to the church as a whole?

I trust that you enjoy this discussion as much as I do. Someone once described the Bible as a crazy word puzzle book. I love puzzles and I love working together to solve them.

I only wish the posts weren't buried so deep on the board. I would like this to be an example of how believers can work together to come to an understanding of debatable passages.

Ransom's picture

I am enjoying this cordial exchange! And yes, you have pressed me into agreeing with you that the immediate subject in both passages is the motivation for speech.

What I think I'm missing is what you mean to do with "spirit" in Ephesians 5. Are you saying that Paul had two uses of the term "spirit" (if so, surely he could have been a little more explicit by just using another term)? Or is "the word of Christ" that what you consider the Holy Spirit to be? I know that other passages mention the "Spirit of Jesus".

leo724's picture

First off, I am curious why you think that I may be saying that Paul had two uses for the term "spirit" and do you have an idea of what one or both of the uses I would suggest are?

Second, yes I do consider the Holy Spirit to be "the word of Christ" in the passage in Ephesians. Actually, I would rather say the word about Christ. That has been my entire point in showing the parallel nature of the two passages. :)

I will be more than happy to answer any question you might have about my view of the spirit. I just want to see how you answer my two questions first.

Ransom's picture

"I think that the New Testament often uses the word 'spirit' to refer to the revelation of the meaning of the work of Christ. This was an ongoing supernatural revelation to the Church which was completed in 70ad with the completion of the New Testament. This is how I see 'spirit' being used in Ephesians 5:16." [emphasis added]

It's pretty obvious that you were saying there were more than one use of the term "Spirit". It seems if you meant that the Holy Spirit = the revelation of the meaning of the work of Christ that you wouldn't have said "often" or "in Ephesians 5:16".

The only thing I can think of is that you believe the Holy Spirit functions as the "word of Christ", as well as another function (unknown to me). Please enlighten me.

leo724's picture

Oops! Sorry for misleading you here. I chose the word often because I can give many examples of this usage. I would have chosen the word always but I didn't want to search through every passage to see if always would be more accurate. I didn't mean for often to imply that there are exceptions. I just meant that there might be exceptions that escaped me at the time.

In the same way, when I say that this is the usage in Ephesians 5:16 I do not mean to imply that there are other uses elsewhere. There may be but they do not come to mind at this time.

I do believe that "the Holy Spirit functions as the 'word of Christ'". I cannot think of another function at this time.

My purpose in bringing up this comparison of the two passages was to show that there is a background theme of the spirit equaling the word of Christ that Paul's readers in 2 Timothy would have understood.

Comparing Ephesians 5:18-20 to Colossians 3:16 is the simplest proof of this background that I have. There are others we can try if this one is unconvincing.

Ransom's picture

No offense, Bill, but if this is your simplest proof, I find it hard to believe that Timothy or any others of Paul's audience would really have a handle on this terminology; talking about the pneuma was clear enough, but for Paul to change it up and infrequently call the Holy Spirit logos, a name that Jesus and not the Holy Spirit was known by, would require some excellent hermeneutical skills indeed to unpack this convoluted terminology.

This tenuous relationship between "word of Christ" and "Holy Spirit" seems none too clear an allusion for anyone to draw with theopneustos. In essence, you are saying that "God-breathed Scripture" correlates with pneuma which correlates with "word of Christ". This is problematic for at least two reasons:
1) Even though it's obvious enough that they contain the same root, non-etymologist Greek-speakers would likely not have made an immediate connection between and . --pneustos is, after all, a -tos past participial deverbative noun meaning "breathed", in contrast to the simple (non-verbal) noun pneuma 'Spirit/wind/breath'.
2) I think that perhaps modern Protestants' unjustifiable predisposition to call the Bible "the Word of God", a terminology that is not used in 2 Tim. 3, may have driven the parallel you are seeing between 2 Tim. 3 and the Ephesians/Colossians passages.

I'm just not seeing it, Bill.

leo724's picture

Stephen, relax, you could never offend me. You can merely point out my inability to explain things well.

It seems that you are not able to see the connection between the Ephesians/Colossians passages and 2 Tim 3. There is a very good reason for that! I haven't even begun to demonstrate the connection.

I have been laying the first foundation stone for my case. At this point I would rather you limit yourself to just considering the correspondence between Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16.

If you do not acknowledge the structural, grammatical, and thematic correspondence between the two passages then I will accept that and move on.

I have one other "proof text" type argument and then I will demonstrate the principle in various passages that are less clear. Eventually you will either agree or disagree but at the least you will understand why I see things the way I do.

So do you agree with my point from Ephesians/Colossians or do you have any further objections that I can answer?

Bill

leo724's picture

Here's something I think you'll enjoy while I'm crafting a response to your latest post.

http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=1480

Ransom's picture

Surprise, surprise - Daniel Wallace agrees with the biblio-idolatrous Baptist interpretation. He goes to great lengths to settle the issue grammatically in order to avoid the context (as he so much as admitted). His evidence is not bad at all, but not as conclusive as he seems to think it is. The problem with the type of comparative research that studies in NT Greek seem to require (given that there are no living speakers of Koine) is that we must presume that the written text followed mirrored the language's standard precisely, much as we would expect a manuscript sent to a publisher to have been fixed and standardized. In fact, we have no evidence to contradict basic principles of language variation, so that, for example, word order might be changed from the normal syntax for emphasis in certain cases, or that an adjective might be further down the sentence because it was thought of later (especially in a language in which adjectives show considerably more mobility than in English), etc.

Regardless, efforts by well-known folks with theological agendas notwithstanding, the issue is not closed. As I said, my take on the meaning of theopneustos is more fundamental to my interpretation than the syntax, as "Every Scripture is God-inspired" is the crux of the matter.

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