All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Let’s take a moment to think about the concept of inspiration. The Oxford dictionary defines inspiration as either:
- The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative, or Divine influence, especially that supposed to have led to the writing of the Bible.
- A sudden brilliant or timely idea.
- The drawing in of breath; inhalation.
All of these three ideas come together in religious texts.
Religious texts which have become canonical within their traditions have received canonical status because the community believes these writings are divinely inspired. What then do we mean when we describe religious texts as divinely inspired?
Certainly, religious texts are regarded by the community as “something creative” “a sudden brilliant or timely idea.” I suspect that texts are awarded canonical status because they powerfully address the hopes, dreams, pain, and disappointments of the community, otherwise these texts would not have stood the test of time. But, how does a reader of a text decide whether or not that the text has come about through “Divine influence”? After all, divine influence sets canonical texts apart from other texts.
There is no litmus test to decide whether a text is divinely inspired or not. But, think about how we apply the term “inspired” to music, literature, and other forms of art. We might describe a song as inspired, for example, when it resonates with our experience. We might refer to a poem as inspired when it gives words to some deep, unexpressed thoughts or feelings deep inside of us. I suspect that when we talk about religious texts as being “divinely inspired” we are really talking about the fresh, creative insight or expression which these texts bring to our lives.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares that “all scripture” is theopneustos, translated literally as “god breathed.” There is some debate among scholars as to whether the inspiration happens during the composition of the text (that is, the words on the page are inspired) or the reading of the text (that is, the reader is inspired by the text). I suspect the writer of 2 Timothy is drawing a parallel to another divinely inspired act of creation described in Genesis 2:7:
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Regardless of whether or not you believe humanity came into being when the divine blew the breath of life into a lump of manipulated clay, there is some profound truth in this passage. Even something as common and mundane as a clump of dirt comes to life when it is infused with the divine breath. Genesis 2:7 speaks powerfully to the ability of the divine breath to transform our mundane, everyday lives into real living. In a similar way, when the divine breath infuses words on a page they come to life in a powerful way. The power of divinely inspired texts is their ability to speak light, peace, and hope into our everyday existence.