Looking at 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

The word, "God-breathed" is transliterated as theopneustos. I'm trying to understand Paul's intention with the use of this word.

The first question would be, is "theopneustos" a word that Paul has created to serve his purposes OR is there evidence in other manuscripts outside of the New Testament (that occur before or at the time of Paul) in which people have used this term and does their usage shed light on the meaning? Most of the time when I see citations for this word, the works attached to them come from the second century or after.

The other question is an understanding of whether or not "God-breathed" should cause us to think of God breathing onto/into the scriptures OR whether we're to think of the scriptures coming forth from the breath of God. Another way to phrase that question:

Is "God-breathed" an allusion to God breathing life into Adam and therefore another way of saying that scripture is alive and active with the energizing power of the Spirit? That would be a focus on God breathing into the scriptures.

Some seem to think the focus is on God breathing out… That God breathed out the scriptures. And therefore the meaning is that scripture finds its source/origination in God. This thinking would lead to a meaning that is something more akin to Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)...

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Let me know what you think! Thanks. Perhaps the answer is simple: Paul's usage is obviously figurative and therefore the meaning is naturally broader and perhaps both versions of what I've expressed can be encompassed by the term, "God-breathed."

4 Answers 4


Is "theopneustos" a word that Paul has created

As noted in other responses, there is no known usage of θεόπνευστος prior to 2 Timothy. Thus, Paul (or someone close to him) may have coined the word, but we do not know. Other writers using the word appear to be quoting Paul rather than the other way around. Some helpful background here.

Into/onto/coming forth

The English word "inspire" preserves some helpful etymology--it comes from the Latin inspirare -- it literally means "to breathe into" (source: Oxford languages). In both English & Greek, the direction of the breath is from God to the recipient (the writings). The use of the word γραφὴ (graphe) implies an intermediary -- God inspired a person and the person wrote in accordance with that inspiration.

Thus both possibilities proposed in the OP are consistent with breath in this direction.

  • Inspiration ("breath") came out from God--He is the source
  • Inspiration ("breath") went into the scriptures--they are a destination

One of the contemporary Jewish understandings of breath/pneuma was "the thing that gives life" (this usage is found repeatedly in Paul), and indeed "ruach" in Hebrew carries just this meaning--the word is used for both breath & spirit. So the idea of God imparting life (or intelligence) is quite consistent with the way a Jewish writer would understand inspiration.

  • 1
    I know other comments have received more "upvotes" or "useful" votes but I've accepted this one because you addressed both of my primary questions and I found your reasoning to be quite solid. Thank you for your insights. Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 4:24
  • @KeithSobus thanks, glad this was helpful Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 1:47

The phrase “given by inspiration of God” was translated from the Greek word “THEOPNEUSTOS.” This is a compound Greek word comprised of “THEOS” and “PNEO.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the word THEOS means “deity, especially...the supreme Divinity,” and the word PNEO means “to breathe hard.” Therefore, the word THEOPNEUSTOS literally means God-breathed. This is the way the New International Version renders it.

Josephus, a non-Christian historian of the first century, said, “The rabbinical teaching was that the Spirit of God rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them in that their words did not come from themselves; but from the mouth of God and they spoke and wrote in the Holy Spirit. The early church was in entire agreement with this view” (“Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament” by Fritz Rienecker).

Despite the human instruments God used, the scriptures are just as if God had spoken them directly.

  1. θεόπνευστος (theopneustos)

According to BDAG, this word is unique to Paul and literally means, "God-breathed" or "God-inspired" to use a more modern term. Whether Paul invented the word or found it somewhere else, we do not know but it appears that this is the only instance of the word in 1st century Koine Greek writings.

  1. Meaning

To help understand this term and what it involves, observe the text from which it came in 2 Tim 3:16, 17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.

Note that this means that the proper use of divinely inspired Scripture brings a change in the student by the following effects:

  • Good for teaching (about Godliness)
  • brings conviction of sin (John 16:1-8)
  • correction of erring people, that is, the student him/herself
  • training in righteousness (right doing)
  • makes the student of Scripture "complete", or better, "fully prepared"
  • equips the student for good works

This is no mere training in the normal sense - it is a power that changes people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit - miraculously. That is, not only was the text of the scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the when it is studied, the Holy Spirit impresses the student and brings about changes in the life of the student.

Note the parallel text in 2 Peter 1:19-21 -

We also have the word of the prophets as confirmed beyond doubt. And you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

That is, the "God-inspired" text of the Scripture was accomplished using the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the minds of the men who wrote it. We see this many times such as: 2 Sam 23:2, Neh 9:30, Eze 2:2, 11:5, 24, Micah 3:8, Zech 7:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rom 1:2, 3:2, Heb 3:7, 5:12, 9:8, Mark 12:36, Acts 28:25, 1 Tim 4:1.

I will resist the temptation to comment on the debate about verbal inspiration, vs, thought inspiration, vs, partial (as distinct from plenary) inspiration. That is another question.


θεόπνευστος only occurs once in the New Testament. It's a compound word, God breathed, but remember the word πνεῦμα means breath, wind, spirit. Comparing 2 Timothy 3:16 with 2 Pet. 1:19–21 gives the indication that θεόπνευστος references inspired by the Holy Spirit.

19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:19–21, ESV)

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