Plutarch and θεόπνευστος

Bust of Plutarch of Chaeronea, a Greek philoso...
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In a recent conversation, one which I’m not going to link to because, well, every challenge presented, even in the most light hearted manner, friendliest push possible is answered with insults. However, I wanted to post on this because I felt like it may in fact be interesting.

As I noted last years, Plutarch and the author of 1st Timothy shared some common themes. Rodney has since done a post on Plutarch as well. Anyway, so you have the basic groundwork needed to understand that there may in fact be a connection between Plutarch and some of the New Testament writers, especially 1 Timothy. But, what about 2 Timothy? Well, that’s where θεόπνευστος comes in at.

As I suggested to someone recently, Thayer may in fact be a good place to start:

 θεοπνευστον (Θεός and πνέω), inspired by God: γραφή, i. e. the contents of Scripture, 2 Tim. 3:16 (see πᾶς, I. 1 c.); σοφιη (pseudo-) Phocyl. 121; ὄνειροι, Plutarch, de plac. phil. 5, 2, 3, , p. 904 f.; (Sibylline Oracles 5, 406 (cf. 308); Nonnus, paraphr. ev. Ioan. 1, 99). (ἐμπνευστος also is used passively, but ἄπνευστος, ἐυπνευστος, πυριπνευστος (δυσδιαπνευστος), actively (and δυσαναπνευστος; apparently either active or passive; cf. Winer’s Grammar, 96 (92) note).)*

That is Thayer’s complete entry on this word. Now, one should note that Thayer goes beyond a simply translation, but suggests contexts which range from Pseudo-Phocylides to the Sibylline Oracles. Both of these are fine, but considering that scholars have easily shown that both of those works make use of, through redactors, Christian theology, we may not want to go there for our sources.

Plutarch, however, remains a somewhat neutral source.

When speaking of Dreams in his work, Concerning Nature (5.2), Plutarch writes,

Democritus says that dreams are formed by the illapse of adventitious representations. Strato, that the irrational part of the soul in sleep becoming more sensible is moved by the rational part of it. Herophilus, that dreams which are caused by divine instinct have a necessary cause; but dreams which have their origin from a natural cause arise from the soul’s forming within itself the images of those things which are convenient for it, and which will happen; those dreams which are of a constitution mixed of both these have their origin from the fortuitous appulse of images, as when we see those things which please us; thus it happens many times to those persons who in their sleep imagine they embrace their mistresses.

While there may be issues with using Plutarch’s text here, as there are indeed with every ancient text, I shall take this text as a parallel text to the author of 2 Timothy. Note that some dreams are said to come from divine instinct, or perhaps, divine pushing. But, what does this mean? Well, divine dreams have purpose; natural dreams do not. But… more… dreams can be mixed of both!

What does this mean for the ongoing debate on whether or not God dictated the words of Scripture and thus, they are free of error (and feel free to attach to that last part whatever qualifier you may need to help rationalize it, you know – in the originals, in whatever it affirms)? My position is that Scripture is not the Word of God. Christ is. That is actually Scripture (John 1.1 for my position versus lots of presuppositions for the other position). Scripture is the human witness to God’s revelation and is not a revelation in of itself. It doesn’t really affirm anything, but stands as a witness to what God has done, will do, and wants to do. But, what Plutarch does do is to show that the word wasn’t meant to be thought of producing something eternally infallible, etc…, but something which God directs for a purpose, although, as he notes, divine and human instinct can mix.

Let’s keep Scripture in its proper place, as given to humanity for a purpose. Not all at once, not always in the way we want, sometimes as mythic historical narrative so that we can learn from it, but not as a dictation. Scripture is given to learn from and for the Church as a while to love by. The divinity of it mixes with humanity, so that we can embrace God.

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2 Replies to “Plutarch and θεόπνευστος”

  1. Joel, as I recall you were never once insulted on my site but if my memory is incorrect then do provide evidence. Yet you were the one who refused to behave in a respectful and mature manner and I had to ban you as a troll. If you would like to re-engage with all that behind us and be courteous you are most welcome back. It is my policy to ban trolls so you are quite safe unless you are the troll. The conversation you can freely link to without any fear of abuse or insult is

    Have a nice day 🙂

    1. Dude…. I’m not sure you get this post. Let me help.

      The above comments about insults were not about you. I linked to you because Zemata recommended your link as a possible similar link, so I chose it.

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