Ever heard someone quote 2 Timothy 3:16 to say or imply that every word in Scripture was dictated by God? They quote the verse as saying “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness [NIV].” The “God-breathed” part is used to support the claim that every word in the Bible is dictated by God (the claim originates from the “God-breathed” interpretation of this verse) and is therefore 100% error-free. We’re going to examine this passage to see if it really says what some claim it says, and examine Scripture to see if this claim holds up.
Now most of those who quote this verse don’t really quote it like they mean it. For example, they reject every command in God’s Law (which Paul says is useful “for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”) unless it’s explicitly reiterated in the “New Testament”, and make-up excuses for doing so. So they show that they don’t really believe that all Scripture is God-breathed. If they did, they would be obeying every command that they could obey. Young-Earth Creationists do slightly better by believing the Biblical account of Earth’s history from Creation to Salvation, but like nearly everyone else who professes to be a Christian, they only believe that the commands reiterated in the “New Testament” are useful for what 2 Timothy 3:16 says they’re useful for. And for how much they emphasise Paul’s writings, they show that they don’t even believe him when it comes to the usefulness of Scripture.
As hinted above, the chain of authority concerning Scripture is that the “New Testament” has more authority than the “Old Testament” according to nearly every church. But what wasn’t covered above, is that the human traditions they’ve been taught are treated by nearly every church as having authority over even the “New Testament”, though they will all say that they’re following the “New Testament” teachings. This is backwards from what it should be.
Now, it should be noted that the word translated as “God-breathed” simply means “inspired by God” and is assumed to mean “God-breathed”. It should also be noted that “God-breathed” meaning “directly from God” is also an assumption. Since God knows all things and cannot lie, anything that comes directly from him would be absolutely error-free.
One thing to note is that the Jewish Bible (and the Bible came from the Jews) orders the books by how much authority they have. The books at the front have the most authority and the books at the back have the least authority. And there are three major categories of Scripture: The Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
The Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) has the most authority and is at the front of the Bible to reflect this. The reason it has the most authority is because it comes directly from God. It is the very foundation for the rest of Scripture and without it, we wouldn’t know what is or is not sin [Romans 7:7]. Is it any coincidence that the first 5 books that God gave us define what sin is [1 John 3:4]? Because the Law comes directly from God, it needs to be (and is) inerrant.
The Prophets are God’s mouthpiece, speaking to the people by the authority of God himself! But what proves that they really are speaking by the authority of God? The Law gives us the standards by which we are to test these prophets. The prophets’ authority is second only to the Law, and are continuously warning the people to return to the obedience of God’s Law. The prophets need to be inerrant only when they’re speaking by the authority of God. Just a single error would make said prophet a false prophet worthy of the death penalty. Indeed, all of the prophets’ books that are in the Bible are inerrant.
By the way, the phrase “Law and Prophets” (and variants of it) appears in the “New Testament” eleven times. In every one of those instances, they are used in a positive light and sometimes as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah.
Finally, we have the Writings. Of which, Psalms, Proverbs and Job are listed first, and the Chronicles are listed last! Interesting things to note are that Samuel and Kings are listed among the Prophets, Jesus called the Psalms “Law” [John 10:34], and one of the “Law and Prophets” variants goes “Law, Prophets and Psalms” [Luke 24:44]. So the book of Psalms has an unusually-high authority among the Writings. The Psalms are also the only writings that Jesus explicitly stated were inspired by the Holy Spirit [Mark 12:36].
But we can’t say that the Writings come directly from God. For 1 Chronicles 21:1 contradicts 2 Samuel 24:1. And if all scripture is dictated by God, then God is contradicting himself between these two verses. Since 2 Samuel was written by one of God’s prophets while 1 Chronicles was written by someone who was in Babylonian captivity, then we must conclude that 2 Samuel gives the correct account while the writer of 1 Chronicles changed the account because he didn’t like the fact that it was God himself who incited David to take a census. Those who hold that the whole Bible was dictated by God and is therefore inerrant have to practice mental gymnastics in order to uphold their narrative. This is not loving God with all your mind, it’s making excuses for not examining your teachings.
A few more notes about the writings: 6 of the 13 writings are written as poetry as either prayer, praise, repentance, lamentations, or instructions in wisdom. And 8 of the 13 are written as historical accounts. The book of Job fits into both of those categories and is the only book among the Writings that is that way. Also, the Jewish scribes were very diligent and took great care to make sure that their historical documents were accurate and that they copied them accurately, with Chronicles being the only notable exception. This is probably the reason Chronicles is listed last among the Writings.
Most of those who quote 2 Timothy 3:16 like to apply that verse to the entire “New Testament” (unless a specific verse says something that goes contrary to what they teach). But Paul was not referring to any of the “New Testament” writings when he said “All Scripture is inspired by God”. He was referring to the so-called “Old Testament”, and probably only to the Law, Prophets, Psalms, and maybe a few other writings of high authority. So the passage is being grossly misapplied by today’s churches. In fact, if we were to continue the model of assigning a hierarchy of authority to the “New Testament” books, then the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles would be placed just before the Chronicles, with the Gospels and Acts being first (and in that order), the Epistles from those who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry second, and then Paul’s epistles third, because Paul was never with Jesus during his ministry.
Now what about inconsistencies like 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles? As it turns out, those are exclusive to 1st and 2nd Chronicles, which were written much later than the events they describe. In other words, Chronicles is an anomaly in what would otherwise be a set of books that are perfectly consistent with each other.
For the New Testament, one group found that the internal consistency of the “New Testament” is 99.5%! What that means is, for every 400 verses of the “New Testament”, only 2 will contradict each other. And with 7,957 total verses in the “New Testament”, that means only about 40 verses will have any inconsistencies. Not bad for a collection of 27 books written by 8 or 9 different authors. Other works written by a single author don’t come anywhere near that level of internal consistency. Also, it is known that the New Testament was tampered with long after it was written. It is entirely possible that the remaining 0.5% will disappear once these later tamperings are corrected.
Also, the Gospels and Acts are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, as well as the events that happened afterwards. And these 4 witnesses are in agreement with each other. Remember, the Law requires the testimony of at least 2 or 3 witnesses to establish a civil matter. God preserved the accounts of 4 witnesses to establish the legitimacy of Jesus’ claims!
The primary thing to remember about the “New Testament” is that it is proven or disproven by the Law and the Prophets. If any of the “New Testament” authors spoke what is contrary to the Law and Prophets, then such authors would be proven to be false teachers. But in spite of claims to the contrary, they all upheld the Law, and taught others to do the same.
In conclusion, the Law, which was dictated by God, and the Prophets, whom God spoke through, are indeed inerrant and have to be inerrant. The first three books of the Writings (according to the Hebrew order) are also inerrant, with the next 4 probably also being inerrant. But it is not necessary for the remaining 6 books of the Writings to be inerrant. The Gospels are in agreement with each other in their testimony of Jesus (which they have to be lest they be false witnesses), and (along with Acts) are backed-up by outside sources. 100% inerrancy of the “New Testament” is not required, but is probable.