Paul wrote that “all scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). This remarkable phrase about the breath of God provides us a look into the intimate relationship between God and His Word.
This verse is often pointed to when speaking about the inerrancy of the Bible: God is without contradiction, so it follows that His Word is also without contradiction. The reasoning here is that God’s nature is intertwined with the nature of the Bible.
As is God so is the Bible. This connection applies not only to content but also to form—not just what is said but the way it is said.
Good writers differentiate themselves from bad writers by expressing their idea with clarity. Great writers differentiate themselves from good writers by expressing their clear ideas in an intentional form crafted to match the mood of the content.
If great writers can do this, consider how intricate, sophisticated, and marvelous the one perfect writer can connect His intended message with His chosen form.
I want to focus on the word breathed in Paul’s phrase above.
Without any study, one can understand the imagery here. A breath is something soft, intimate. A breath may be quiet, but it is also a sure sign of life. God’s breath is a giving of God’s life.
And so, the giving of God’s breath suggests a reflection of his likeness.
Consider the creation of the world. All the living things God made were made “according to its kind” or “according to their kind,” except for one—humanity. When God made man and woman He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
And how did God do this? Genesis 2 provides a closer look: “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” (2:7, italics added).
So here in Genesis, we can see the association between the likeness of God and the breath of God. Let’s look at two other examples.
Jesus on the Cross
Move forward in time to the hill of Calvary. Jesus hanging from the cross, bearing the sins of the world. When it was finished, the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke both say that Jesus “breathed his last” (Mark 15:37, 39; Luke 23:46).
I don’t want to over-analyze the diction here, this is not a phrase exclusive to Jesus—Luke uses this same phrase in three separate places in Acts (5:5; 5:10; 12:23).
But a connection is still there. Jesus’s death was the atonement for the sins of His sheep. Jesus’s death, and resurrection, purchased righteousness for His people. This final breath tore the veil between God and man, signifying reconciliation—the likeness of God given to man.
The Disciples Receive the Holy Spirit
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples. They were overjoyed to see Him. And Jesus then “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22, italics added).
Here again we see the breath of God corresponding to the giving of the nature of God. There is a sanctifying effect to the breath of God—in receiving it you are made to reflect God’s likeness.
The Breath of God Brings Perspective
I want to clarify here in this article that the breath of God, while it brings the likeness of God, does not make anyone or anything else God. The breath of God given to us does not mean we are now our own gods.
On the contrary, if we come to see how we, as God’s creation made in His likeness, were given His breath, we take on a sobering, humble perspective on our lives.
Consider these two passages from Scripture. First, David in the Psalms:
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Psalm 39:5)
“…for my days are a breath.” (Job 7:16)
Having received the breath of God as the source of our life (“the breath of the Almighty gives me life” [Job 33:4]), we can visualize how small and transient our lives are compared to the Almighty.
Our lives, everything we strive to do, everything we work for, is like a single breath for God.
As that breath, the best thing we can hope to do, and the one thing that will bring us the most satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment is to demonstrate and share the life of the one who breathed—God himself.
The Christian Life
Job said that the breath of the Almighty gives life. This is true in that it moves people from nothingness to life (as shown from Genesis), and also true in that it increases the fruit, the liveliness, of our life.
The Christian life, then, is a life powered by the breath of God, transforming a person more and more into the likeness of God.
How can we obtain this life? The “man of dust” obtained life because God breathed into him. Where is the breath of God given to us?
Paul’s phrase in 2 Timothy 3:16, notice, shows us that the Bible is not “breathed upon” by God, but “breathed out.” God’s Word is God’s breath to us, bringing us life, making us more like Christ.
The Bible has the power, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to both teach and demonstrate all the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Are you growing in these fruits by reading God’s Word?