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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Epistles: Inspiration in Biblical Times

By Rodney Caruthers II

Biblical Archaeology Review

Modern notions of inspiration often evoke images of writers, artists, and musicians who experience moments when their creative powers are at their zenith. The artist appears to be operating beyond normal human capacities in terms of uniqueness, innovation, and spontaneity. Modern concepts of inspiration, however, are sometimes anachronistically applied to ancient texts.

The concept of biblical inspiration is classically captured in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God (theopneustos) and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” Yet this verse also raises some questions. What does “inspired by God” mean, and what did it entail? How did ancient writers and readers understand it?

“Inspired by God” is one translation of the Greek word theopneustos, which is a compound word that uses theos (“God”) and pneuma (“breath” or “spirit”). The word is variously translated as “inspired by God” or “God-breathed.” Both translations attempt to render a distinctive quality of certain writings and indicate some sort of divine attribute.

Although the precise meaning of theopneustos is not explained elsewhere (indeed, the word only occurs in 2 Timothy 3:16), some biblical texts and other ancient writings offer descriptions of inspiration which allow insight into the many ways it was understood.

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