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Inspiration of the Bible: Defined

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Is the New Testament “Given by Inspiration of God”?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In attempts to discredit the divine origin of the New Testament, some critics have accused Christian apologists of mishandling 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The argument goes something like this: “When the apostle Paul wrote, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,’ he was referring to the Old Testament, not the New Testament.” As “proof,” these individuals cite 2 Timothy 3:15 wherein Paul told Timothy, “From childhood you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (emp. added). Since the “Scriptures” (ASV, “writings”; Greek grámmata) of which Paul spoke in this verse obviously referred to the Old Testament (for the New Testament writings would not have been around when Timothy was a child), then we are told that the “Scripture” (Greek, grafeé) mentioned in verse 16 also must refer only to the Old Testament. Furthermore, it is alleged, since “the New Testament was not written at the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16,” supposedly “he could only be claiming inspiration for the Old Testament.” Such statements are made by some in hopes to prove that the New Testament documents do not claim divine inspiration for themselves, but only for the Old Testament. And, skeptics assert, “if the New Testament does not claim inspiration for itself, then neither should we.”

Primarily when the term “Scripture(s)” is found in the New Testament it is used in reference to the Old Testament. In fact, 52 times one can read the word “Scripture(s)” in the King James translation of New Testament, and nearly every time it is referring only to the Old Testament. However, at least two times this term is used when referring to both the Old Testament and the writings that eventually would become the New Testament. For example, Paul quoted Luke 10:7 as “Scripture” in his first epistle to Timothy (5:18). And in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter placed Paul’s letters on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures when he compared them to “the rest of the Scriptures.” Thus, it is incorrect to say that the New Testament does not claim inspiration for itself.

But what about 2 Timothy 3:16-17? Does it claim divine inspiration for the Old Testament alone? Is it inappropriate to quote this verse when defending the inspiration of the whole Bible, including the New Testament? All agree that 2 Timothy 3:16 applies to the Old Testament. Some scholars, however, teach that it applies only to the Old Testament. Adam Clarke stated in his commentary on 2 Timothy:

The apostle is here [3:16—EL], beyond all controversy, speaking of the writings of the Old Testament, which, because they came by divine inspiration, he terms the Holy Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:15; and it is of them alone that this passage is to be understood; and although all the New Testament came by as direct an inspiration as the Old, yet, as it was not collected at that time, not indeed complete, the apostle could have no reference to it (1996, emp. added).

Albert Barnes accepted this understanding to some extent when he stated that 2 Timothy 3:16 “properly refers to the Old Testament, and should not be applied to any part of the New Testament, unless it can be shown that that part was then written, and was included under the general name of ‘the Scriptures’ ” (1997, emp. added). Was a part of the New Testament written by the time Paul penned this letter to Timothy? Yes. As commentator Burton Coffman noted: “A great deal of the NT had indeed already been written” (1986, p. 270, emp. added). In fact, scholars believe that one of Paul’s earliest epistles (1 Thessalonians) was written approximately 15 years prior to this epistle to Timothy. Interestingly, in his first letter to the Thessalonian brethren, he claimed the words he wrote were “by the word of the Lord” (4:15). Thus, the notion that Paul did not consider his own writings as Scripture is false.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit guided Paul to write “all Scripture” (in verse 16) rather than the “holy Scriptures” (as in verse 15) “are given by inspiration of God” because He wanted to differentiate between the Old Testament alone (that Timothy learned as a child), and the Old Testament combined with the New Testament writings—some of which had been in circulation for almost fifteen years. One may never know for sure. However, it seems certain, considering all of the above information: (1) that Paul had earlier quoted Luke 10:7 as Scripture; (2) that Peter referred to Paul’s writings as “Scripture;” (3) that Paul indicated prior to his writing of 2 Timothy that he wrote “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15; cf. Galatians 1:12); and (4) that much of the New Testament already had been written. Thus, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “can be interpreted as covering the NT as well as the Old” (Ward, 1974, p. 200).

The critics’ efforts to discredit the reliability of the New Testament by alleging it does not even claim to be given by divine inspiration are to no avail. The fact is, it claims inspiration numerous times—one example of which is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

REFERENCES

Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Clarke, Adam (1996), Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Coffman, Burton James (1986), Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, & Philemon (Abilene, TX: ACU Press).

Ward, Ronald A. (1974), Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Waco, TX: Word Books)




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