Oral Inspiration and the Referent for God-Breathed Scripture

Part 1 of this paper underscores the authority of the word of the Lord, whether spoken orally by God to Moses, spoken orally by Moses on God’s behalf, inscribed on stone tablets by God, inked on parchment by Moses, spoken orally to Jeremiah by God, spoken orally by Jeremiah on God’s behalf, inked on parchment by Baruch, and so on. In each case, the eternal truths of the universe were as divinely authorized as anything could be, because God spoke and select agents spoke and wrote what God said. It was incarnational communication.

Speech-acts as God’s modus operandi of revelation is confirmed, for example, in Heb 1:1-3 and 2 Pet 1:21. Dan Trier and others have emphasized this point, especially in the edited book, “The Voice of God in the Text of Scripture.” See also the essay by Peter Williams in the edited book, “The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures.”

Part 2 of this paper examines 2 Tim 3:16 in light of oral inspiration. I will argue that Paul’s affirmation regarding inspired Scripture 1) needs to be understood in the context of Scripture as a whole, hence it was not a full declaration about inspiration, and 2) needs to be understood in the context of Paul’s instructions to Timothy, hence the referent for God-breathed was not the autographs, but the received text, useful for instructing others and for quoting from the OT.

Though Paul used one designation to refer to the Scriptures, which Timothy knew (iera grammata), and a different designation for what Paul referred to as inspired (graphe), according to the parallels in the context, the two designations likely refer to the same entity. Thus, “theopneustos” was primarily an adjective describing a status, not an adjective describing an action. The action of inspiration is described more clearly in 2 Pet 1:20-21.

This paper is a byproduct of my forthcoming book (IVP Academic) on the hermeneutical implications of the orality of Scripture.

2 thoughts on “Oral Inspiration and the Referent for God-Breathed Scripture”

Leave a Comment