“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV).
This passage presents an array of interpretive options, which are of special import, considering that this is a primary text on the doctrine of inspiration and has been so since it was written.
Part 1 of 4: The Nature of Scripture
All Scripture: Technically, “all” (pasa) could be translated “every.” Scripture (graphē) is thus referred to as a collective all or a collection of every Scripture, perhaps referring to every passage or scroll that makes up the whole of Scripture. Either way, Paul refers to the totality of what was earlier termed “the sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15), likely referring to the whole of the Old Testament.
Is Breathed out by God: “Is” is technically not in the Greek but is supplied, assuming that “breathed out by God” is a predicate adjective. “Breathed out by God” is theopnuestos, a combination of God (theos), “to breathe out” (pneō; cf. wind in John 3:8), and the ending –tos, which indicates that the Scripture was the passive effect of the action of God breathing something out, namely, His pneuma, or His Spirit. In other words, Scripture is not something that continually breathes out the Spirit of God into us as we read it. Rather, it is what was written as God breathed His Spirit through men so that the end result was His written Word.
2 Peter 1:20–21 describes the process of inspiration when it clarifies “that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The verb “carried along” is pherō, the same verb used to describe what a wind does with a ship (Acts 27:15, 17).
From the above, to give a definition, inspiration is the process whereby God the Spirit superintended both the reception (1 Cor 2:13; “words…taught by the Spirit”) and writing (2 Pet 1:20–21) of the very words (verbal) of the entirety of Scripture (plenary; 2 Tim 3:16) by men, fully using their unique personalities and vocabularies to perfectly record exactly the truth that the Spirit intended them to write.
Some might suggest that, because it is grammatically possible, “breathed out by God” actually modifies “Scripture” instead of functioning as a predicate adjective. In turn, the “and” (kai) would be translated “also,” so as to say, “All God-breathed Scripture is also profitable” for its many functions. It is true that this would create a nice parallel with 2 Timothy 3:15. Just as “the sacred writings…are able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Tim 3:15), so “All God-breathed Scripture is also profitable” for many things (2 Tim 3:16). However, a parallelism more fitting is within 2 Timothy 3:16 itself. Both “breathed out by God” and “profitable” are tied together with the word “and” (kai), and the parallelism is that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (predicate adjective number one) “and profitable” (predicate adjective number two). (If one does stick with “All God-breathed Scripture,” it does not have to follow that there is an implication that there are Scriptures not breathed out by God and thus absent of any profit for the reader.)