There are three times in scripture when we are told that God breathed.
- “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Genesis 2.7
- And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” – John 20.22
- All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3.16
The Bible declares that God breathes. But, we know that God doesn’t literally breathe like we do just like God doesn’t literally have hands or a back as scripture says.
If God doesn’t literally breathe, then what is God’s breath?
In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah. Strong’s defines this word as a puff, i.e. wind, vital breath, divine inspiration. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew defines neshamah as breath, essential to life and a causative agent for an activity of God.
“A causative agent for an activity of God” is a interesting part of the definition of neshamah as this is exactly the role the Spirit plays in God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In a sense, the Spirit was ready to give birth to the universe. The word for Spirit in Genesis 1.2 is ruah, which has a range of meanings including spirit, breath, or wind.
So, metaphorically we can understand God’s breath as his Spirit. This is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples he told them to receive the Holy Spirit.
God’s Spirit is his essence, his divine nature. So, God’s Spirit is made up of God’s attributes, which Paul says are invisible and known since the foundation of the world in Romans 1.
What are the invisible attributes of God, his Spirit, and therefore his breath?
- Life – “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” – 1 John 5.11-12
- Love – “God is love.” – 1 John 4.8 and 16.
- Light – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1.5
Go back to the scriptures that started this post. Three times we are told that God breathed in scripture. And, each one reveals a different invisible attribute of God. Each one reveals a particular aspect of God’s breath, his Spirit, his essence.
Genesis 2.7 says that God breathed his breath into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living being.
God’s breath is life.
In John 20.19-23, Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. But, notice what Jesus says immediately before he breathed on them. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20.21)
How did the Father send Jesus?
John 3.17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus to save the world, the whole world, the entire universe and everything in it.
How would Jesus save the world?
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4.9-10
Love was made manifest among us when God sent Jesus into the world. And, God sent Jesus into the world that we live through him. And, the love of God was most fully displayed by Jesus on the cross when he died for us.
So, when Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them as the Father sent him, he told them that he was sending in love. Further, he was sending them in love so that they would forgive. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20.22-23) To forgive the sins of another is to give life to them.
God’s breath is love.
There is much debate about just how to translate 2 Timothy 3.16 and what Paul meant by the word theopneustos, or God-breathed. Whether all scripture is God-breathed or when scripture is God-breathed, the key point at the moment is the result of the breath of God on scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, then it is useful or profitable for certain things – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
Note that teaching, reproof, correction, and training are not life itself. Nor are they love. However, each of them, in their own way, are methods to bring someone who is off course, someone who has erred, back onto the correct path. The correct path, or way, that we are to be on is love. When we deviate from that path, God-breathed scripture is there to put us back on the way of love.
God-breathed scripture illuminates the path or way for us. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Isaiah 51.4 says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”
Jesus said the entire law could be summed up in two commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Love is the law went out from God, or was sent into the world as John says. And, this law, this love, Jesus, was “the light of men” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”
Taking all of this together, we could say that God-breathed scripture is light.
God’s breath is light.
God’s breath is his Spirit, his essence, his nature. God’s essence or nature is revealed by his invisible attributes – life, love, light. An inspired reading of scripture reveals exactly this to us in the three passages that God breathes.
God’s breath if life. – Genesis 2.7
God’s breath is love. – John 20.22
God’s breath is light. – 2 Timothy 3.16