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All Scripture is God-breathed…

February 24th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 11 Comments

One verse often quoted, 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV):

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

This was also quoted during the “Foundations 1” course from Shofar that I attended on 27 January 2008, resulting in an interesting (private) conversation at the end of the session. I was curious what exactly this referred to, so I went to ask. I asked Ryno, if I have my names correct.

The simple answer “it refers to the Bible” is not quite that simple to me. 2 Timothy was most likely written before the Gospels and before Revelations. I think it is pretty clear that the author of 2 Timothy was referring to the Hebrew Bible (what we now call the Old Testament). Let’s drop the quote-mining and consider the surrounding verses, 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV):

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

He refers to the holy Scriptures that Timothy has known “from infancy”, i.e. the Hebrew Bible.

Anyway, the conversation was dealing with the Bible as a whole. At that point, Wynand (if I have my names correct) got involved to help me with my question. I brought in the question of the canon (the definitive list of what books make up “The Bible”), that it was only “finalised” in the fourth century. So if “all scripture” includes newer and future writings, does it include the “scripture” that was excluded from the canon by the synods? It seems a silly question in hindsight. I’d say the verse must either refer to the Old Testament (I’d say that’s more correct), or reinterpreted to refer to whatever texts whichever group decided to define as “scripture”. Either way, the conversation lead to an interesting revelation…

Wynand(?) explained that the Holy Spirit inspired people to write the texts. Furthermore, apparently without exception, many diverse Christian communities unanimously concluded, through inspiration from the Holy Spirit, which books were to be included and which weren’t. Eish… this doesn’t correspond to what I’ve heard, whereby the list of books considered canonical was determined by a sequence of synods. In terms of a definitive list for the New Testament canon “a definitive list did not come from an Ecumenical Council until the Council of Trent (1545–63)”. During the Protestant reformation, the Old Testament canon changed. (The New Testament books remained the same, but not without debate.)

The conclusion I’d end up drawing if I take this kind of “unanimously agreed” idea to its ultimate conclusion, would be that we call everyone that agreed on the same set of books “true Christian”, and the rest “heretics”. By defining “Christian” that way, we will have all “true Christians” agreeing on the canon, by definition. Hmm…

At the time, my knowledge of the matter was that the canonical texts were decided by a committee, so I asked Wynand about it. Paraphrasing his response: “That’s not how I understand it. I haven’t made a study of it though, but this (the inspiration account above) is how I was told it happened. I could go find out for you.” Now this is where I’m worried about critical thinking: people teach strong statements based only on what they were told. If a large group of people were to accept sweeping statements without exception and unanimously, we could end up accidentally concocting or evolving incredible supernatural stories that are swallowed hole by a huge community. Following that, people would start saying “but so many people believe it, it must be true”.

Too easy. Way too easy.

Wynand recommended I attend Shofar’s Bible School if I want to know more. I’ve taken him up on that offer, I have signed up for the first semester of the correspondence course. (I need flexibility, I will be travelling.)

My stepfather bought me a book by William M. Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book (kalahari, amazon). It deals mostly with how the oral traditions of ancient Israel came to be written down, the interplay between oral and written traditions. It only has a short section on the New Testament, and does not deal with issues such as canonisation.

How the Bible Became a Book - Front How the Bible Became a Book - Back

So how does the interest look from my readers? Would you like me to place this book relatively high on my priority list (for reading and blogging about)? I’m still a little more eager for reading (or rereading) some of my Marcus Borg books and blogging about that, I suspect it might be of greater use.

Categories: Shofar
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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 PienkZuit // Feb 25, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Ek lees op die oomblik Karen Armstrong se “The Bible, A Biography”. Ek sukkel soms om dit wat sy as feite voorhou te aanvaar as feite (sy maak aflaidings uit Bybelverse wat ek glad nie mee saamstem nie), maar dit is tog baie interessant om meer te leer van hoe en wanneer die Bybel geskryf is.

  • 2 Hugo // Feb 25, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Ooh! Ja, right, that’d have to go on the “to-read” list. Karen Armstrong’s got my curiosity piqued for quite some time now.

  • 3 Tim // Feb 25, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    If a large group of people were to accept sweeping statements without exception and unanimously, we could end up accidentally concocting or evolving incredible supernatural stories that are swallowed hole by a huge community.

    Uhm, haven’t you just described the religion called Christianity…?!


  • 4 Mon'Siret // Feb 25, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Tim, ‘n waardige vraag.

    Onthou net om te onderskei tussen wat ons deesdae en globally sien en ervaar onder die vaandel van christenskap en die ware blye onthulling van God waarvan die geskiedkundige gebeure getuig. Daar het baie water onder die brug gevloei en as ons nie versigtig is nie, mag ons die baba met die badwater uitgooi.

    Dink jy daar was TV evangelists terwyl Johannes op Patmos gesit en skryf het aan sy evangelie? Was Paulus dalk ‘n “bless-my-asseblief-tog-net-want-ek-het-vandag-gevas-Here” prediker?

    As mens die Bybel van naderby bekyk en dit eenvoudig in konteks lees, sien mens die teendeel: ‘n getuienis van die lewens van struggling tog verligte sondaars wat ‘n hoop gevind het in ‘n Man (nie ‘n mission of ‘n wet of ‘n morele waardesisteem nie) wat beloftes maak en dit nakom tot in die dood.

    Mag die ganse christendom, wat so maklik die naam van ons Here aantrek, maar nie leef asof hulle Hom ken nie, weer besef wie Hy in diepste is en watter vrug hierdie besef in hulle lewens behoort te veroorsaak.

    Hoe ver skiet ons tekort… hoe ver…

    Moet egter nie dink dis sommer vir glo nie. Daar steek meer in geloof as die melkkos van ‘n bekering tydens ‘n worship meeting altar call. Verstand en geloof loop hand aan hand. Wees dus ook versigtig dat ons nie glo en daarom ophou dink nie, of dink en daarom ophou glo nie.

    Dit geld vir almal van ons wat in hierdie blogs ons Godgegewe verstand wil inspan om die hoogste sport in “too-much-thinking” te bereik!


  • 5 Mon'Siret // Feb 25, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Hugo, as jy met ‘n dokter kan gesels oor sy vakgebied of oor ‘n student in dieselfde vakgebied. Die eerste het ‘n akademiese inslag omdat hy weet dat die vakgebied-monster nie sommer aangepak kan word met enige bedenkings-wapen nie. Laasgenoemde toon nog die tipiese arrogansie van die verliefdheid wat ‘n jongeling het, gereed om te verdedig wat hy self nog moet leer ken.

    Met wie sou jy wou gesels om die diepte van die vakgebied te leer? En met wie om aangesteek te word met die vlam van aktiewe ywer?

    Seker maar ‘n loaded question, maar pas dit toe op die Bybelvraag. Is ‘n dokter in die Griekse en Hebreeus tale en kultuur nie dalk jou aangewese vakkundige as dit kom by die Bybelgeskrifte nie? En eerder die Christenpastoor om jou te wys hoe mens met liefde prakties met jou medemens omgaan nie?

    Dit klink al vir my of jy by die verkeerde deure klop.


  • 6 Hugo // Feb 25, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Mon’Siret, I gain my knowledge from Bible scholars. With regards to this:

    Wees dus ook versigtig dat ons nie glo en daarom ophou dink nie, of dink en daarom ophou glo nie.

    (Tim, this is: “We should be careful that we don’t believe and therefore stop thinking, or think and therefore stop believing.”)

    Mon’Siret, what exactly is it that we must believe, would you say? And what exactly happens if we stop believing? (Why should we be careful to not stop believing?)

  • 7 Randy D // Feb 26, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Wow, if you go to my MySpace page(ignore my music), you’ll find that I’ve been debating the same exact topic. In fact, it was written early this AM. Check out my most recent blog called Questions…

    I’ve been met with a lot of crazy looks and disdain since I wrote that. I’m still searching.

    Hugo, drop me a line and let me know what you find out!

  • 8 Hugo // Feb 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Nice post, Randy D.

    A couple of interesting things to note: at times, Paul writes something to the effect of “it is not God that says these things, this is just my opinion, my take on things”, with regards to certain aspects of his letters. I’ve heard much explained in terms of first century context. Women remaining silent is part of that. The movement was one of radical equality and inclusiveness, I think in the new-found freedom, a number of things went a little wild.

    In terms of the letters, scholarship has placed into question whether Paul wrote all of the letters traditionally attributed to him, in particular 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. No consensus has been reached. But that is probably not as relevant to this discussion.

  • 9 Rinus // Feb 26, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Nice entry Hugo.

    I’m glad to hear that you are keeping them on their toes. I wish you could somehow attend the bible school too; just think of all the interesting debates you’re going to miss out on! 😉

    Mon’Siret: Ek wil nou nie ‘n discussion begin wat ek nie tyd gaan hê om klaar te maak nie (too late, I presume). Ek dink dis heeltemal geldig vir Hugo om die vrae te vra vir Wynand* en Ryno*. Hulle is tog besig om almal die ‘feite’ van die bybel te leer, met die oogmerke om almal te laat verstaan hoekom die bybel juis woord vir woord, letterlik die waarheid is.

    * Hugo se standaard naam disclaimers apply

  • 10 Mon'Siret // Feb 27, 2008 at 5:56 pm


    (Tim, this is: “We should be careful that we don’t believe and therefore stop thinking, or think and therefore stop believing.”)

    Iewers het my punt nie goed genoeg oorgekom nie. Dit sien ek in jou response. Ter verduideliking wat ek verwag heeltemaal van topic sal gaan.

    – what exactly is it that we must believe?
    Om so vraag te antwoord is ietwat selfmoord op hierdie soort van blogs. Die probleem is dat die “wat” nie deur almal enersinds aanvaar word as dieselfde nie. So, no venture there to answer that one.

    – and what exactly happens if we stop believing?
    Fairies verloor hulle vlerkies. ;o-)
    en what exactly happens if we stop thinking?

    Jy vra die een kant van die vraag, maar die volle vraag is eintlik die leidraad om die eerste statement te verstaan. My oorspronklike statement stel juis twee dinge teenoor mekaar op so manier om te sê dat nie een van hulle die fokus is nie, maar dat daar eerder ‘n besondere dinamika tussen hulle bestaan wat ten alle tye respekteer moet word om sinvol te glo en sinvol te dink.

    Verduidelik asb: Dit gaan nie hier oor wat mens dink of glo nie, maar dat mens later dink sonder om spasie te laat vir die ondenkbare wat mens net met die geloofsvertroue kan aangryp. (Ons weet tog nie alles nie!) So verval meeste bloggers wat ek teëkom en hulle weier om te erken ons weet nie alles nie. (Moet sê: op thinktoomuch vind ek al meer ‘n omgewing van aanhou dink ten spyte van onsekerhede, amper met erkenning van onsekerhede! en ek hou daarvan) en hier sluit jou ander vraag mooi aan…

    – why should we be careful to not stop believing? en ook die teenvraag: why should we be careful to not stop thinking?

    want te midde van onsekerheid mag ons steeds in verwondering staan oor dit wat ons nie met ons denke kan omvou en koester nie, maar wat ons met ons harte moet allow-to-be.

    Die teendeel is egter ook waar dat as ons aanhou glo en enigiets (weereens geen spesifieke onderwerp van geloof nie) vir soetkoek opeet sonder om dit te toets met ons denke, dan loop ons die gevaar van verleiding deur manupilerende owerhede.

    Sonder geloof ingeweef in ons denke (veral in die wetenskaplike wêreld) is ons denke sonder helder verwondering. Sonder denke ingeweef in ons geloof (veral in die godsdiens wêreld) bly ons melkkos-eters in ons geloofslewens.

    “I gain my knowledge from Bible scholars” – wonderlik, my enigste vraag bly: is die betroubaarheid van die skolier geweeg voor die navolging van die boodskap. (ek sê nie die scholars weet nie waarvan hulle praat nie, ek vra of Hugo die nodige standaarde daar stel sodat hy die beste pitkos kry.)

    Onthou dat die Here nie almal ken wat sê dat hy glo nie, en nie almal weet werklik waarvan hulle praat nie.

    Daarom moet ons alles toets om te kan sien of dit goed is en dan aan die goeie vashou.


  • 11 Hugo // Feb 27, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Mon’Siret, ek hou van jou. Goeie antwoord. Ek hoop jy stap ‘n padjie saam met ons. 😉

    It sounds largely like a version of Einstein’s sentiment, when he says:

    “The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

    This is borderline quote-mining, depending on how it is used. It comes from the third page of the article Rinus told us about. Einsteinian religion is a thing of beauty, as is reverence, a sense of wonder, a sense of awe…

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