Saturday, July 5, 2014

"God-breathed", theopneustos

I accepted B. B. Warfield's interpretation of theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) after my first reading (circa 1982) of his essay, "GOD-INSPIRED SCRIPTURE" (The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield, 1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 229-280; The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, edited by Samuel G. Craig, 1948, pp. 245-296; original in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, v. XI, pp. 89-130; online version HERE). Warfield's interpretation is repeated throughout this contribution, and concludes, with the following:

What is θεόπνευστος is "God-breathed," produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. (p.296)

Warfield reiterates this interpretation in, "Inspiration", an article which first appeared in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, pp. 1473-1483), and subsequently reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield (1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 77-112), wherein we read:

For the Greek word in this passage [2 Tim.3:16] — θεόπνευστος, theópneustos — very distinctly does not mean "inspired of God."... What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God. (pp. 78, 79)

Now, before I introduce the online article/essay which prompted this thread, I would like to point out that in addition to Warfield's interpretation/understanding of the term theópneustos, I also adopted his view that this "'God-breathed'...product of the creative breath of God" was limited only to the original autographs (i.e. sola autographa) and did not extend to any copies (i.e. apograha). I took it for granted that this was the 'classical' view of the conservative, Reformed paradigm. However, it seems that I was mistaken on this point, for Dr. Theodore P. Letis, in his scholarly essay, "B.B. Warfield, Common-Sense Philosophy and Biblical Criticism", argues that Warfield was the first conservative, Reformed scholar to adopt the notion that theópneustos pertains only to the autographa. Note the following:

Benjamin Brickinridge Warfield (1851-1921), Professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887-1921, was the most astute and critically aware N. T. scholar at Princeton during his tenure. While he also retained the old scholastic view of verbal inspiration, he did so, keenly aware of this "weapon" in New England.

A good deal of Warfield's early academic career, therefore, was spent mastering the discipline of N.T. criticism so as to tame and neutralize this threat. How he went about his task helps to explain three developments at Princeton in his lifetime and his lasting influence on the current evangelical view of Scripture: 1) why he gave a distinctive emphasis to the autographic inerrancy theory; 2) how text criticism came to be viewed by evangelicals in the twentieth century as a safe, neutral realm that can only support the evangelical cause and never harm it; 3) how Warfield contributed to the climate that was more tolerable toward genuine biblical criticism at Princeton at a time when such criticism was perceived to be threatening in the extreme.

Warfield's first step in this process was to distance himself the Protestant scholastic approach to text critical matters, while retaining the scholastic view of verbal contrast to Charles Hodge's view, which we shall treat below, Warfield began by depreciating the established text (what was called the textus receptus—the "received text") which had hitherto been the locus of the verbal inspiration view. For Warfield, the scholastics had stumbled when their reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text. [These are Warfield's own words; see note below.]

Warfield was the first from Princeton to break so decisively with the old text standard. He did so with the confidence that a far better text was then emerging.

Nevertheless, to abandon this standard meant he would be abandoning the text thought to be verbally inspired by the Divines who produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. In order to save, therefore, his verbal view of inspiration—the last vestige of Francis Turretin's influence—he was forced to now relegate inspiration to the inscrutable autographs of the biblical records...

The true test for determining if one is an heir of the Reformed scholastics is found in the role the Westminster Confession plays in locating final Scriptural authority. Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), Charles Hodge (1797-1878), and the Southern Presbyterian, Robert Dabney, (1820-1890) were genuine heirs of Turretin. They focused authority in present, extant, copies of the biblical texts (apographa), with all the accompanying textual phenomenon, as "providentially preserved" and sanctioned edition (Westminster Confession  Faith, 1:8).

Warfield, on the other hand, was the first professor at Princeton to allow his Common-Sense Philosophy the role of reconstructing the text according to the canons of German Criticism. (The Ecclesiastical Text, 1997, pp. 4, 5.)

[Note: "Reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text;" (Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 216).]

The rest of Letis's essay builds a very strong case for the view that no conservative, Reformed scholar prior to Warfield questioned authoritative, normative status of the textus receptus as the "God-breathed" Word of God.

Though it sure seems that Warfield's view has become the new 'standard' for most conservative, Reformed folk (and the Evangelical paradigm as a whole)—replacing the Reformed scholastic view—opposition to this theological novem has continued in Reformed circles (and, interestingly enough, many Independent Baptists) to our day.

With the above, somewhat lengthy, introduction in place, I would now like to move on to the online article/essay which prompted this post. Just yesterday, while engaged in some unrelated online research, I happened upon the treatment, " Thoughts On the Word Theopneustos, “given by inspiration of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16, and the Question of the Inspiration of the Authorized Version" (LINK), by Dr. Thomas D. Ross (A PDF version, which I recommend, is available HERE). 

Dr. Ross's contribution opens with the following:

Scripture teaches that the words of Scripture are inspired by God, and thus the entirety of the canonical Scriptures are inspired, 2 Timothy 3:16. God did not inspire people like Moses, Jeremiah, or Matthew; rather, the words that He gave to mankind through them are inspired. Since “inspired” means “God breathed,” and Matthew 4:4 states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” believers are to live by inspired words. Since the present tense verb “proceedeth” in Matthew 4:4 represents continuing action, as is also found in other very closely related uses of the verb, the breath of God, that is, inspiration, remains in the words of the copies of the autographs, and men are to live by every word of those inspired copies. The fact is that neither 2 Timothy 3:16 nor Matthew 4:4 actually refer to inspiration as a process, rather than a product. (Page 1, PDF version.)

Dr. Ross immediately follows the above with five propositions:

1.) Accurate copies of the Greek and Hebrew words are inspired, since inspiration, in 2 Timothy 3:16, refers to a product. Paul instructs Timothy that the product of the written Scripture itself is both “inspired/God-breathed” and “profitable.” Neither “God-breathed” nor “profitable,” in 2 Timothy 3:16, refer to the process of the giving of the autographs. Both adjectives describe the noun “Scripture” and attribute a quality to it.

2.) Anything that we can properly call “God’s Word” is inspired, because, by definition, if God breathes out some words, He has inspired those words. “All Scripture is inspired,” 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse equates what is “Scripture” with what is “inspired.” The two categories are identical—if something is “Scripture,” then it is “inspired.” Had the verse referred to the process of revealing Scripture it would have stated, “All Scripture was given by inspiration of God.” Since 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the product of that process, inspired words, it states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The breath of God is an inherent quality of all that is Scripture, all that is the Word of God.

3.) Scripture shows us that accurately translated words are still Scripture. 1 Timothy 5:18, for example, refers to both the untranslated gospel of Luke (10:7) and the translated book of Deuteronomy (25:4) as “Scripture.” Indeed, 1 Timothy 5:18 is the only other reference to Scripture (graphe) in Paul’s epistles to Timothy, so it is natural for one to consider 2 Timothy 3:16 in light of this previous reference. The same Paul who tells Timothy that everything that is Scripture is inspired calls both the untranslated and accurately translated Word of God Scripture.

4.) Therefore, accurate translations are Scripture.

5.) Since accurate translations are Scripture, they are inspired, since all Scripture is inspired. All Scripture has the breath of God upon it. (Ibid., pp. 1, 2.)

Dr. Ross concludes with:

Scripture teaches that inspiration is a quality that pertains to all that is appropriately called Scripture. Since original language copies are properly considered Scripture, they are properly termed inspired. Since, in a derived sense, the Bible, when accurately translated, is still properly termed Scripture, the Word accurately translated is, in a derived sense, properly termed inspired. Therefore, it is proper to call the King James Version inspired, because it is an accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew autographs dictated once and for all by the Holy Ghost. (Ibid., p. 6)

Dr. Letis and Dr. Ross have given this beachbum some serious 'food -for-thought'. I would love to hear from those who may share my interest in this subject...

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

Do you think Ross would admit that every translation of Scripture is "equally inspired"? To make one error in translation would be to reduce the degree of inspiration.

It seems to me like this is an equivocation of what has always been understood in Protestant circles as "verbal inspiration."

If the KJV is fully inspired, who needs the originals? Ultimately one can make continued inspired translations that resemble a photocopy that has been made over and over until it is abundantly clear that the original is vastly superior. Likewise, an "inspired translation" that is in every way equal to the original will still be subject to a criticism that would not exist for the originals.

Call it inspired if you will, a translation can never carry the same authority as the original.

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Dr. Ross does qualify translations, for he wrote:

>>Since original language copies are properly considered Scripture, they are properly termed inspired. Since, in a derived sense, the Bible, when accurately translated, is still properly termed Scripture, the Word accurately translated is, in a derived sense, properly termed inspired. Therefore, it is proper to call the King James Version inspired, because it is an accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew autographs dictated once and for all by the Holy Ghost.>>

I suppose the question that needs to be asked is: who has the authority to determine if a translation is "accurate" ???

Grace and peace,


Jamie Donald said...

Greetings, David.

I'd like to start with Dr Ross first.

He starts with the verb "proceedeth" being active and on-going to arrive at inspiration being a continual process rather than a product. But in a nutshell, he has to assume that the translation he used and analyzed is an accurate inspired translation in order to conclude that accurate translations are a part of the inspiration process. If this is not circular reasoning, then I don't know what is!

To be fair to Ross, his footnotes to reference the Greek. However, it's not clear if his starting point is the translation and the Greek simply (in his mind) backs it up, or if he starts with the Greek and translates to English for the benefit of the his audience. Using "proceedeth" makes me suspect the former, but this is just a suspicion. But even if he starts with the Greek, he still has the same basic problem. Since we have no extant autograph (original) Scriptures extant, Ross must assume that the Greek being used is an accurate and inspired copy in order to conclude that accurate copies (and translations from those copies) are inspired. While it's not as tight a circle, it's still circular.

The other problem with Ross' reasoning is that it is ad hoc. Application of the same evidence leads to dramatically different conclusions. He states that 2 Tim 3:16 refers to both the New Testament autographs and the Old Testament translations -- directly claiming that both are inspired. Presumably, this is due to the NT quoting the Septuagint version of the OT. So he arrives at the conclusion that translations are inspired. But this same "inspired" Septuagint contains the deuterocanonicals which Ross considers as uninspired.

If he wants to say that the deuteros are not a part of the inspired section of the Septuagint, then we come to you basic question: who gets to determine what is and is not accurate/inspired translation, and what authorization do they claim? The same goes for the Johannine Comma, which is found in the KJV that Ross refers to as "inspired."

Warfield has a similar problem. It stems from there being no extant copies of the autographs. He cannot point to a single document and say, "This is the Inspired Word of God."

Because they have the same basic problem, the difference between Warfield and Ross in their point of view -- while substantial -- is really just academic. In order to say that the Inspired Word of God reaches Christians today, they must both postualate a post-apostolic, manual method of handing on or passing down of the message. Warfield must so that he can get to the Inspired Word. Ross must so that he can ensure that Inspired Word can be made known to Christians today. But if the method of passing down the message is flawed, then the end result -- for both of them -- is equally flawed. And both of them postulate that the post-apostolic, manual method for handing on is flawed.

David Waltz said...

Hi Jamie,

Thanks much for taking the time to comment; I know that you are usually quite busy, so when you do post, I take it very seriously.

I have read over your post twice now, and there is nothing therein that I can find fault with. With that said, something is missing from your cogent response: an alternative.

Grace and peace,


Jamie Donald said...

Greetings again, David.

In short, I find Dei Verbum to be an adequate alternative. It balances the Scriptures in their original form, the handing on of our Lord's message to modern times, and adds a teaching authority to ensure that the Message is properly received throughout all ages.

Peace and Blessings.

Jamie Donald said...


A quick addendum. Since I am a practicing Roman Catholic, I had also thought it would go without saying that where both Warfield and Ross postulate that any manual handing on process is flawed, I am not similarly constrained. I believe in Tradition which, while not inspired and inerrant, is still guided by the Holy Spirit under the charism of infallibility.

Without their constraint, I can reconcile Ross with Warfield. Like Warfield, I can see the inspiration of the Spirit at work in the original authors. And like Ross, I can see the Inspired Word reaching mankind today through copies and translations. But in order to see this reconciliation, I need to also be able to see a Tradition which guards against the introduction of fallibility.

I'm sure there's a way of stating this which is more theologically sound than I've given here. But it's late, and I'm pretty sure you get my idea anyway. Plus, it's all much better said in Dei Verbum as I suggested above.

Peace and Blessings.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Jamie,

Thanks much for getting back to me. Dei Verbum is a deep, and rich document; I have read it a number of times, but must confess that I still do not think that I fully understand it—especially as it relates to the history of the doctrines/motifs involved within the document (e.g. Scripture, Tradition, inspiration, infallibility. development, et al.).

I have had a keen interest in the development of dogma ever since I first read John Henry Newman's, An Essay On the Development of Christian Doctrine (circa early 90s). Dei Verbum touches on this subject in section 8, wherein we read:

>>This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.>>

I have often wondered how "the fullness of divine truth" is related to "the words of God" and the autographa; specifically, does Tradition (via the Holy Spirit) bring us closer to the autographa as, "the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth" ? This relates to the purity of the transmission of Scripture (i.e. preservation).

As for Tradition itself we read:

>>...sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity.>>

Where is this "full purity" found ?

Grace and peace,