TODAY’S READING: ROMANS 15-16
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:4-6
Many Christians believe that Bible was written to give us the word of God. Therefore, because the Bible is the word of God, we should believe and obey it, every single jot and tittle of it, literally.
Where do Christians get this idea?
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)
These Christians believe that the Bible should be taken literally because it was breathed out by God. Therefore, if we want righteousness, which generally means perfect moral behavior to these Christians, then we should literally believe and obey the Bible because it teaches, reproves, corrects, trains you in righteousness.
But, is that why the Bible was written?
My answer is absolutely not.
First, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is theopneustos. This is the only time that the word is used in the Bible. And, it is believed that Paul coined this term himself. Theo means God, and pneustos comes from the word pneuma, which means spirit, breath, or wind.
Therefore, Paul could be saying that “all scripture breathed out by God” or “all scripture is God breathed.” In this way, all scripture comes by God’s breath or God’s Spirit. As a student of the Old Testament, Paul would know that God’s spirit was also God’s breath. The Hebrew word ru’ah was used for both.
However, Paul could also be saying “all God-breathed scripture.” If we translated it this way, then we come away with a slightly different understanding in English. This would imply that there is scripture, but there is also God-breathed scripture. In other words, there is an understanding of scripture, but there is another understanding of scripture when God breathes his Spirit into it.
This latter idea, that there are different understandings of Scripture, fits exactly with what Paul says in 2 Corinthians. There, Paul says that there is a literal understanding of scripture by the letter that leads to death and there is an understanding of scripture by the Spirit, a God-breathed understanding, that leads to life. The Spiritual understanding of scripture comes because Christ’s crucifixion, his suffering, tore the veil that blinded us to this true Spiritual meaning of scripture.
Further, Paul uses two key words – faith and righteousness – that help us understand what he means by God-breathed scripture. Over the last week, I have written about the meaning of faith and righteousness in “What Is Faith?” and “What Is the Righteousness of God and Its Effect?”
The key to understanding both words is to know the one thing that Jesus said all scripture spoke about. Twice in Luke 24, Jesus says that the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, that is all scripture, spoke about one thing – that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead three days later so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.
For 40 days, from his resurrection to his ascension, Jesus taught the disciples the necessity of his suffering and rising from the dead. He told them this was what all scripture was about. But, to do this, Jesus had to interpret and translate the scriptures for them. In other words, the necessity of his suffering and rising from the dead was not the obvious literal meaning.
Further, Jesus told his disciples the night before he died that he would ask his Father to “give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)
This “Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14)
So, the Holy Spirit was given to us to be with us forever. The Holy Spirit teaches all things and brings to our remembrance what Jesus said. Jesus said it was necessary that he suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus spoke these words, the Holy Spirit speaks these words since the Holy Spirit only speaks what Jesus speaks.
Therefore, God-breathed scripture, Spirit-filled scripture, is all about the necessity of Christ suffering and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Remember, this cannot be understood literally from the scriptures themselves as Jesus had to interpret, translate, and open our minds to them. The Holy Spirit, through God-breathed scripture, does exactly the same thing.
While the meaning and understanding of theopneustos is contested, Paul says something very similar in Romans 15:4-6.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Just like in 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that the things written were written for our instruction.
In 2 Timothy 3:14-16, Paul used the words faith and righteousness to speak of the necessity of Christ suffering and rising from the dead.
In Romans 15:4-6, Paul uses the word endurance instead of faith and righteousness to imply suffering. Endurance means the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.
The very meaning of the word endurance implies that suffering is involved. In fact, earlier in Romans, Paul says links suffering and endurance. Romans 5:3 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produces endurance.”
According to Romans 15:4, one way scripture instructs us is through suffering.
Also, Paul says that another way scripture instructs us is through encouragement. The Greek word for encouragement is paraklesis. It also means comfort and exhortation.
When Jesus said the Father would send us a helper, a comforter, he said the Father would send us a parakletos. The Holy Spirit brings the encouragement of the scripture to us. He is the helper, the comforter, the exhorter of the scriptures.
But, what does the Holy Spirit say?
Exactly what Jesus said.
It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
And, it cannot be emphasized enough, this meaning of the scriptures had to be interpreted and translated to us. Our minds had to be opened to it. It is not the literal, obvious, plain meaning of the scriptures.
In the very next verse, verse 5, Paul calls God the God of endurance and encouragement. God is the God of suffering that produces life for repentance and forgiveness of sins. As this God, he grants, or gives, you “to live in such harmony with one another.”
The phrase “to live in such harmony” is “to auto phronein” in the Greek. The word auto means his. And, the word phronein means think, set one’s mind on, to be minded.
Paul is saying that God of endurance and encouragement, the God that suffers to give life, is giving us his mind. We are to have God’s mind toward one another. We are to think like God towards another.
How does God think towards us?
It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.
God suffers for us, his enemies, to bring us life.
God gives us his mind “according to Christ Jesus.”
God gives us his mind, which is the mind of Christ. And, the mind of Christ was to glorify God. In John 17:1-4, Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given me authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
Why did God give us his mind to suffer to bring forth life, which is the same mind that Jesus had?
“That together you may with one voice glorify God.”
The Greek word for together is homothymadon. Homo means the same. And, thymadon comes from the word thymos, which means passion (as if breathing hard).
Like God breathed?
God gives us the mind of suffering to bring life so that we can have the same passion as Christ to glorify God.
It was in his hour, his crucifixion, the necessity of his suffering, which led to his rising from the dead, that Jesus glorified God.
We are to have this same passion so that we can all glorify God together in one voice.
Or, present your bodies a living sacrifice as Paul says in Romans 12:1.
Look how similar this is to what Paul says in Philippians 1:29-2:8.
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe [that is have faith] in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. So if there is any encouragement [paraklesis] in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy be being of the same mind [to auto hina phronete], having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The Bible was written for our instruction. It was God-breathed, inspired, so that we would know what God was really saying.
God was really saying that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
But, this is not the literal meaning of scripture. The true meaning of scripture can only come to you if Jesus translates and interprets scripture for you. He has to open your mind to this meaning.
And, Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit forever to teach us and tell us exactly what Jesus taught the disciples. It is the Holy Spirit’s interpretation and translation of the scriptures that makes them God-breathed.
This non-literal, Holy Spirit filled meaning is how the scriptures “are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
This non-literal, Holy Spirit filled meaning is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
This non-literal, Holy Spirit filled meaning causes us to know it is suffering for our enemies that leads to life for us and our enemies.
The literal meaning of scripture just produces death.