This week my blog has taken a back seat to helping my daughter and son-in-law prep their condo for sale. So instead of an in-depth discussion of a subject that interests me I’m using this space to raise some interesting questions that perhaps I’ll expound on in the weeks to come.
One of the most frequently-quoted verses is taken from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to his pastor-intern Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I know of no Christian who would question that all Scripture is “profitable” for healthy living. On the other hand, I know many who seem to take issue with the declaration that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.”
If you haven’t been challenged on this in your Christian walk to date, it’s only a matter of time before you will be. And it’s best that you give some serious thought and prayer to it, so you’ll be prepared to defend your Faith when the time comes.
Before one can even begin to debate such a concept, one has to first have a common understanding of the terms. So, as a former American President adept at parsing words once said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” In our case, it depends upon the meaning of the words ‘all Scripture.’
To set the framework, I ask the following questions to drill down to an understanding of what constitutes ‘all Scripture?’
Question #1: Does “all Scripture” refer only to those works that preceded the quote (i.e.: the Old Testament writings, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Book of Acts and the earlier authored letters?)
Things to consider: Most scholars agree that 2 Timothy was written between 66 and 67 AD. That actually precedes the completion of the writing of two of the Gospels (John and Mark), six of the letters (2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John) and the Apostle John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation.
Question #2: Does “by inspiration of God” include the process by which the canon of our current Bible was compiled?
Things to consider: The term “canon” is used to describe the books that are divinely inspired and therefore belong in the Bible. By 250 AD there was nearly universal agreement on the canon of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament Books). The only issue that remained was the Apocrypha, with some debate and discussion continuing today. For the New Testament, the process of the recognition and collection began in the first century of the Christian church and continued to evolve over the next three centuries. Finally in 363 AD the Council of Laodicea stated that only the Old Testament (along with the Apocrypha) and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. This was confirmed by later councils.
Question #3: How far does “all Scripture inspired of God” extend beyond the original forty writers hand-chosen by God to record their works in their biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek?
Things to consider: There are 1,300 languages and dialects into which the Holy Bible, in its entirety or in portions, has been translated. Some of the earliest translations of the Old Testament scriptures began during the first exile in Babylonia, with most people speaking only Aramaic and not understanding Hebrew. Then when Alexandria became the center of Hellenistic Judaism, a Koine Greek translation was completed by 132 BC. There was a Latin translation of the entire Bible at the end of the 4th Century AD. And even some fragmentary Old English Bible translations from 735, an Old High German version of the gospel of Matthew dating to 748, and a translation into Old Church Slavonic from 863. The use of numbered chapters was not introduced until the Middle Ages. The complete Bible was translated into Old French in the late 13th century and the entire Bible was translated into Czech around 1360.
The first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in 1380, translated by John Wycliffe out of the Latin Vulgate. [This would be incomprehensible to the reader today in English.] Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German for the first time from the Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus, and went on to publish the entire Bible in German by 1530. William Tyndale working with Luther, used the same source material to translate and print the New Testament in English. The complete Geneva Bible was first published in 1560. It was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. The Anglican Church’s King James Bible was printed in 1611 (revised language in 1769 and again in the late 1800’s) to compete with the Protestant Geneva Bible and was influenced by the Roman Catholic Rheims New Testament. Its 54 scholars used earlier translated versions (so it’s not even a direct translation.)
Question #4: How do the vast differences between the ancient Hebrew’s or Greek’s language and our own, as well as the differences in our cultures separated by two to three millennia, impact your application of the phrase “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God?”
Things to consider: The translator’s difficult task is/was compounded by the presence of words and phrases whose original meanings have been lost. In these cases, the translator attempted to interpret the words and phrases as best as possible based on the context of the word and the translator’s opinion of what the author was attempting to convey. In this process, each translator used many techniques to convey their interpretation of the original message over the centuries to their culture. The resulting Bible translations are commonly categorized as: formal equivalence translations, dynamic equivalence translations and idiomatic or paraphrastic translations.
Formal equivalence translation – permits the reader to identify himself as fully as possible with a person in the source-language context, and to understand as much as he can of the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression. For example, a phrase such as “holy kiss” (Romans 16:16) would be rendered literally, and would probably be supplemented with a footnote explaining that this was a customary method of greeting in New Testament times.
Dynamic equivalence translation – the ultimate purpose of the translation is focused on its impact upon its intended audience, to fulfill the same purpose in the new language as the original did in the language in which it was written. e.g.: “greeted with a holy kiss” might be translated as “greeted with a hand-shake.” It achieves the same dynamic response with its modern audience as the original did with its ancient audience.
Idiomatic or Paraphrastic translation – retains the basic meaning while using different words, intending to achieve greater clarity.