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The ASV's translation of 2 Tim 3:16 reads:

Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.

What arguments support the ASV's translation of πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος as "every scripture inspired of God" as opposed to the traditional translation: "every scripture is inspired of God"?

I'm assuming the translators of the ASV must have had some reasons for taking θεόπνευστος attributively rather than predicatively, however I've not seen any other Bible translation that does so.

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  • See also the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims: "All Scripture, inspired of God,..." Apr 22, 2018 at 17:22
  • Of course the commas around "inspired of God" in the Douay-Rheims gives it the same meaning as all Scripture is inspired by God. I'm surprised the ASV did not have the commas. That makes the statement restrictive as if some scriptures weren't inspired by God.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 22, 2018 at 21:25
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    It would make more sense if translating like the ASV to have "every writing inspired of God" contrasting Scripture from other writing.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 23, 2018 at 7:21
  • The literal translation of θεόπνευστος (see, for example the EGNT) is 'God-inspired'. There is no latitude in the word itself to make a genitive out of it ('of God'). 'Every scripture God-inspired and profitable for teaching' (the literal rendering of the text) can only possibly mean that all the scripture fits the description 'God-inspired and profitable'.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 24, 2018 at 5:36

1 Answer 1

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As OP points out, the distinction here is between a predicate adjective (all scripture is God-breathed) and an attributive adjective (all God-breathed scripture...).1 This is well-trodden territory in the commentaries. I will summarize several arguments in favor of the latter, which mostly come from older literature.2

Bernard understood θεόπνευστος as parallel to ἱερὰ γράμματα ("holy writings") in the previous verse. Because "holy" in v. 15 is clearly attributive, he believed that "God-breathed" in v. 16 would be most naturally understood as attributive also (i.e. "God-breathed scripture). Further, he opined that for Paul to make a direct affirmation that scripture is “God-breathed,” would be irrelevant at this point in his argument, which is focused on the functional significance rather than its origin or ontology.

Others (e.g. Roberts) have appealed to the use of πᾶς + noun + adjective elsewhere in the NT, noting that in all such cases the adjective is attributive.

There are twenty-one instances in the New Testament in which pas is used to modify a noun which is immediately followed by another adjective as in 2 Tim. 3:16. In every case the Greek order of words is (1) pas, (2) the noun, and (3) the adjective. Typical examples are "every good tree" (Matt. 7:17); "every idle word" (Matt. 12:36); "every spiritual blessing" (Eph. 1:3); "every good gift" (James 1:17). . . . In no case of this usage is the adjective separated from the noun so as to be taken as a predicate.

For a summary of arguments in favor of the attributive understanding as well as detailed refutation on the basis of syntactical considerations (which, it is argued, contra many commentators, are decisive), see Dan Wallace's The Relation of θεόπνευστος to γραφή in 2 Timothy 3:16.

To this discussion, we should note the caveat expressed incisively by Luke Timothy Johnson:

The debate is not central to Paul’s point, which concerns the function rather than the origin of Scripture, and is generated by theological concerns about the inspiration of Scripture that are driven by an anachronistic literalism.

Notes

1. Although the comments bring up the choice of rendering "inspired of God" vs "God-breathed", I don't believe any meaningful distinction was intended by the translators (though admittedly "inspired of God" uniquely allows for the word order chosen by the ASV, due to quirky English rules about unmarked relative clauses), so I have not focused on that.

2. My impression is that the modern literature generally understands the adjective as predicative but opines that the syntax is ambiguous. Wallace is an exception.

References

Bernard, J. H., The Pastoral Epistles. CGTSC; Cambridge, 1899; reprinted Grand Rapids, 1980 (Thornapple Commentaries), p 137.

Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, The Anchor Yale Bible; (YUP, 2001), 423-424.

J.W. Roberts, Every Scripture Inspired of God, Restoration Quarterly 5 (1961), 33–37.

Daniel B. Wallace, The Relation of θεόπνευστος to γραφή in 2 Timothy 3:16. https://bible.org/article/relation-2-timothy-316#_ftnref1 Accessed 4/25/2018.

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