Fatal Errors with Sola Scriptura’s “God Breathed” Argument

scripture-of-the-dayEzekiel and I agreed on just about everything, except for theology and football. He was a dogmatic Calvinist and a Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic (which is different than just being a ‘fan’). He was also an awesome debater and very logical – a bit loud and hyperbolic – but his gift was never being able to arrive at the right conclusions.

After years of going round after round, I finally had enough of Ezekiel’s delusional protestations. Over the course of two days in late July of 2009 I organized every solid argument I ever presented to my Calvinist friend against sola scriptura. On the third day I typed it out and realized that I had accidentally written a book. I decided to call it Dead on Arrival: The Seven Fatal Errors of Sola Scriptura, and self-published it in 2010. I also dedicated it to Ezekiel, and it continues to sell very well, still today, in paperback and on Kindle. Back then I thought I might write a series of books called ‘Dead on Arrival’ about all the other Protestant errors, but I’ve since lost interest.

My favorite argument in that book is found in chapter three where I take on the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is inspired by God.” In his article How NOT to Refute Sola Scriptura, Kevin Tierney astutely writes about the weakness of the typical Catholic response to this proof text; hinging on the word ‘Scripture’ referring to the Old Testament. I think I used that argument once against Ezekiel and had my butt handed to me. To the contrary, the best Catholic response in this verse is not with the word ‘Scripture’, rather, it is with the word ‘inspired’ (some translations ‘God breathed’). That is where we find the death nail to sola-scriptura. It is such a fatal error, that, even today, when I bring it up to Ezekiel his response is always, ‘I’ll have to look into that.’ I am certain he has looked into it by now; he just can’t overcome it.

In my book I spend about seven full pages on just this one word, so I don’t pretend to be able to fully explain the argument with the limited space I have here, but I will try to summarize it as best as I can.

In short, adherents to sola scriptura posit that we know that Scripture alone is the sole source of authority for the Christian and for the church is because ‘God breathed’ (inspired) it. The reason why this argument is a fatal error is because it hinges on the cumbersome translation of the Greek word theopneustos (a very rare word) being rendered in English “God breathed”, rather than the equally cumbersome translation “inspired by God” that most, ancient and modern, translations have so rendered it.


Theopneustos is composed from theo (supreme God) and pneustos from pneo (to breathe hard). Theopneustos is found only twice in the New Testament, never in the Septuagint, and only four other times in the extant Greek writings. Some think that theopneustos was a word coined by the author of 2 Timothy in order to distinctly highlight the Divine origin of the Scriptures.

On its own, pneo is used only twice in the New Testament to refer to ‘wind/air’ (Cf. Acts 27:40, 28:13). Although, the more common use of pneo, which is sure to help us to understand the author’s intent in combining it with theo, is the word pneuma (Holy Spirit), in which pneo serves as its root. Pneuma is used primarily and throughout the New Testament when speaking of the Spirit of God.

Putting theopneustos back together in English in this new light, the new translation that what we come up with is, “the Supreme God’s Spirit.” Through this better translation we find a very insightful play on words in the full passage where we find theopneustos also being used for the word “God”; that is, “All Scripture is the Supreme God’s Spirit by the Supreme God’s Spirit.” This was a very important paragraph. Again, theopneustos, occurs only twice in the New Testament, and it occurs back to back in 2 Timothy 3:16; used both for the word ‘inspired/God breathed’ and for the word ‘God’.


So not only does theopneustos cause problem for Protestants understanding of Divine revelation, but once this word is opened up and tested against their claim, sola-scriptura becomes a house of cards on a very windy day.

The test is as follows, if Protestants believe that Scripture is the sole source authority over the Christian and the Church, by virtue of God breathing it (pneo), then they must remain consistent in this belief. That is, everything that God breathes, or breathes into, or breathes on by, must also have been given to be the sole source of authority over the Christian and the Church. Yet, if we can find any other time in Scripture where God did breathe something, or breathe into something, or onto something, then that would contradict sola-scriptura, because there cannot be two or more sole authorities.

Now comes the nail in the coffin to sola scriptura. When God pneo into the nostrils the breath of life to make man a living being he gave him authority over creation (Cf. Gn. 2:7). When Christ pneo on the Apostles He gave them authority to forgive or retain sins (Cf. Jn. 20:20-23). The Holy pneo of God is the Holy Spirit and the Church of the Apostles is His Temple.

Now the Protestant doesn’t have to arrive at the conclusion that these other things that God breathed on are greater sources of authority than Scripture, but if they are consistent with their belief then they must reject that Scripture alone is the sole source of authority for the Christian and for the church, because, obviously, it is not alone. Clearly, God’s breath has given other things authority.

David L. Gray is a Catholic Author, Blogger, and Radio Host and founder of DavidLGray.INFO Inc., which is a lay apostolate consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He is currently studying at Franciscan University of Steubenville for this Master of Arts in Theology and Christian Ministry. Visit him online at www.davidlgray.info