It Breathes: Dynamic, Dangerous, and Demanding a Response, Part II
All Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes—training and shaping us that we may be up to the tasks God has for us.
II Timothy 3:16-17
To what scripture does the writer of 2 Timothy refer? Is this Scripture really meant to tell us that God literally wrote the Bible somehow?
Part 1 of this series stated, "If we are willing to look, there are clues to help us discover bigger ideas." My favorite clue in this Scripture is the Greek word behind the phrase "God-breathed."
The word the writer actually uses is theopneustos:
"theós" = God
"pnéō" = breathe out
Theopneustos = "God-breathed" in Greek
"Inspired by God" is the same idea using a Latin root, divinitus inspirata. All of it meaning filled with, inhabited by, brought to life with the breath, the wind - the Spirit - of God.
Both of these words, "pnéō" in Greek and "spire" in Latin, are connected to another word that means breath/wind/spirit: the Hebrew word "ruach," a word we find in the poetic opening lines of Genesis - the very Scripture to which the writer of 2 Timothy wants us to connect:
"Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And the Ruach (Spirit) of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." - Genesis 1:2
In these opening words of the poem of Genesis 1 - the Ruach - the breath of God, the wind of God, the Spirit of God, is there to take that which is formless and void, that which is lifeless, and bring it to life.
In the second creation poem of Genesis 2, God takes Adam - the Hebrew word for dirt - and breathes into it, making humanity. The breath, the wind, the Spirit of God making the formless and void dirt come alive.
These poems from Genesis 1 and 2 open the Torah. They begin the Scripture, the Story of God. When 2 Timothy says that all Scripture is God-breathed, these scriptures from Genesis are the very scriptures to which it refers.
All Scripture is Theopneustos.
All Scripture is Inspired.
All Scripture is filled with the Ruach of God.
And according to Genesis 1, so is creation.
And according to Genesis 2, so is humanity.
According to these scriptures, there is the tangible material...like a lifeless sphere of rock, floating in cold space...or the formless and void dirt...or even the words on a piece of paper in a book...and then there is that which breathes life, bringing forth creation and humankind and Holy Scripture. According to the writer of 2 Timothy, the "breath" belongs to God.
What makes the earth more than a lifeless rock? What makes us more than dirt? What makes the poetic words of Genesis more than just words on a page? It is the breath, the wind, the Spirit of God.
The same thing that animates the universe gives you life and breathes the Scripture of God’s Story.
Author and theologian Pete Rollins tells a story about giving a sermon when he was a young man where he tore the Bible from which he was preaching into pieces and threw the pieces across the room. As you can imagine, his congregation was shocked. He had their attention, whereupon he made the point that it was not the paper nor the ink nor the leather cover that made the Scripture sacred. “It’s just a book," Pete said. "What makes it sacred is when the story of that book is incarnated in us.”
Now, Pete is kind of a wild Irish poet, so I get that even thinking about tearing a Bible or throwing it across a room may make us uneasy, but we can still be honest about the point.
What if we took a CD that contained the Bible and broke it into pieces?
What if we took out our phones, found our Bible apps, and then deleted them?
That probably seems a lot less scandalous and offensive, but the outcome is the same.
The CD or app are not any more sacred, in and of themselves, than a book. What makes the Scripture within the book or the CD or the app sacred is when it lives in us, when we breathe it in and out.
Scripture is not sacred because God dictated it…or possessed the writers of the biblical books. Scripture is sacred because it is alive with the breath of God in us.
Each time we read or hear these stories
Each time we shema—listening so intently that we can’t help but respond
Each time we wrestle with it
Each time we argue and debate and dialogue about it
Each time we let it get inside of us
Each time it awakens us
Each time we act it out...it breathes.
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