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The Word of God and the word of God

7th December 2013

In the Bible, the English word "word" usually translates the Greek word logos, which doesn't only mean "one word"; it can mean "sentence" or "utterance". I like to think of it as meaning "communication" or "message". In fact, the NIV translates it as "message" in Matthew 13v19.

Many evangelical Christians use the phrase, "the word of God" to mean the Bible. And when the Bible talks about "the word", it is often talking about itself but sometimes it's talking about Jesus Christ. Some people differentiate by describing Jesus as "The Word of God" (capital "W") and scripture as "The word of God" (lower-case "w").

And it also may be that sometimes when the Bible says "the word", it's talking about other messages from God, that are not in Scripture and are not the person of Jesus.

Sometimes it's more obvious than others what is meant by "the word" in a Bible passage. Here are some examples my thinking of how to interpret the phrase. Yours may differ:

The word of God as scripture:

Matthew 15v4-6
For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

John 10v34-35
Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods’, to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken...

Ephesians 6v17
... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God".

Every word of Scripture is God speaking to us - it's His logos. As Paul tells us:

2 Timothy 3v16
All Scripture is God-breathed

The Word of God as Jesus Christ:

John 1v1
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.

John 1v14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Revelation 19:13
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

The ultimate communication from God - the greatest possible logos - is Jesus Himself. God spoke more completely, more vividly, more powerfully, in sending Jesus than in any other way. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews understood this. He said:

Hebrews 1v1-3a
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being

The Word of God as other messages from God:

Acts 4:31
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

(which probably refers to preaching or prophesy; it's unlikely they were only quoting scriptures to each other)

Also, Old Testament prophecies (1 Kings 12:22 and 1 Chronicles 17:3) were called the word of God twice and the word of the Lord and least 103 times. I'm sure God gave many more prophecies which were not recorded in Scripture, and I think they were also the word - the message - of the Lord. And 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the "word [logos] of knowledge" and the "word [logos] of wisdom" as spiritual gifts - gifts from God.

In several places, Acts describes preaching as proclaiming or preaching the word of God. This can't mean that they only quoted scripture. it might mean that they proclaimed/preached about the Word of God - Jesus. Or it might mean that what is preached is a message from God (however imperfectly delivered). These include:

  • Acts 13:5a, "When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues."
  • Acts 13:7b, "The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God."
  • Acts 13:44, "On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord."
  • Acts 13:46, " Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles."
  • Acts 14:25, "and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia."

In other scriptures it's not clear if " the word" means "the Scriptures", "Jesus", or "the gospel". Or perhaps they just mean "the message of God", including all three:

  • Acts 13:48, "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed."
  • Acts 13:49, "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region."
  • Acts 15:35, "But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord."
  • Acts 15:36, "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.'"
  • Acts 16:6, "Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia."
  • Acts 16:32, "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house."
  • Acts 17:13a, "When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea"
  • Acts 19:10, "This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord."
  • Ac 19:20, "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power."

Jesus and the Bible

As quoted earlier, 2 Timothy 3v16 says All Scripture is God-breathed. Since Jesus is God, this means that the Word of God breathes out the word of God. We also saw that Ephesians 6v17 describes the Scriptures as a sword. these ideas are combined in:

Revelation 19v13-15a
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

This passage prophesies that Jesus will strike down the nations, judging them by the word of God. Like all law courts, God's seat of judgement will convict us according to whether we have broken the law - in this case, God's law, found in the Bible. The only way to escape condemnation is through faith in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus. That is, we'll be condemned for trespassing against the word of God, unless we're saved by the Word of God.

Interpretation

I was taught to think of the word of God as being the Bible, which is correct, of course, so far as it goes. But I wasn't taught very much to think of the Word of God as being Jesus - the ultimate Word of God). And I wasn't really taught to consider prophecy or preaching as the (imperfectly delivered) word of God.

I'm trying to re-educate myself to have a greater understanding of the different ways God's word - His message - comes to us. This must include looking again at the scriptures that talk about the word, and thinking about the possible meanings of each. In particular, next week I hope to write about this passage:

Hebrews 4v12-13
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.