Part 1 of this series on the Bible is available here.
Perhaps the most common name for the Bible that you hear in Evangelical churches, other than maybe “The Bible” is the phrase, “The Word of God.”
It’s a phrase that has become synonymous with the Bible. It’s the message that God delivered to us to convey his plan of salvation and restoration.
To a degree, this makes sense. After all, these are words that are inspired by God. The Bible is a collection of stories about God, so speaking colloquially, they are words of God.
But that’s not usually what we mean when we say “Word of God.”
So let’s look at how the “Word of God” is referred to in Scripture.
The Gospel of John begins with an exposition on “The Word”. In it, the author is clearly connecting “The Word” to Jesus, who the rest of the book is about. But in John 1, “The Word” is not a reference to scripture. Rather, “the Word” is a reference to the Greek philosophical concept of Logos.
The philosophical idea of the Logos was the overriding logic of the way the world functioned. The expectation that the sun would rise in the morning was due to the Logos. The Logos was what made the world tick – a sort of spiritual driving force for the rhythm of the universe.
John’s Gospel begins by identifying Jesus as this Logos. Present from the beginning, responsible for all the workings of creation, and among us as God.
At no point during his exposition of the Word does John make a connection to Scripture or the Bible. Rather, he’s tying a Greek philosophical idea into the person of Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah. At least in this passage, the Word of God isn’t about the Bible at all, but about the eternal and pervasive nature of Christ.
But there are a few other references in scripture to “the word of God”. Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” In Ephesians 6, Paul encourages his audience to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Surprisingly, there is no explicit reference to scripture in either of these contexts either.
When we hear the phrase “The Word of God,” we are conditioned to equate it to the Bible. But while the Bible includes words from God, there’s nothing in the text that suggests the Bible is The One and Only Word of God. When Hebrews says that the word of God is alive and powerful, it’s not saying, “The Bible that you’re currently reading is alive and powerful.” it’s saying, “When God speaks, there’s power.” When Paul encourages his audience to take up the sword of the spirit, he’s not talking about carrying a Bible around like a weapon, but rather that we trust in the Lord and his power to sustain us against the attacks of the enemies.
Now, none of this is to say that the Bible does not contain words from God. To the contrary, the Bible is the best place to find authoritative words from God. God continues to communicate through his people through the text of the Bible. Because of that, I do not think that it’s inappropriate to refer to parts of the Bible as words from God. When God speaks in the Gospels and says, “This is my Son, in whom I am will pleased, listen to him.” That’s a word from God. When Christ is equated with The divine Word in John 1, that makes every one of Jesus’ teachings a word of God (although admittedly filtered through the writings of the Gospel writers and their various theological agendas).
But the Bible is not the only place to find the words of God.
While the Bible includes all the necessary information to be saved, I don’t think that means that God is done speaking to us. I think God continues to speak to us through the way we interact with nature, or through conversations with other people, or through the way we engage God in prayer.
Of course, that opens us up a little bit. If God is still speaking today, how can we know which words come from God and which words just come from us?
And that’s another area where the Bible is a valuable tool for us.
We have a record of things that God has said and done that has been affirmed by the church over generations. If someone shows up out of the blue and says, “God is speaking to me!” We can measure those words against the words of scripture. If someone claims to have words from God that go against the nature of God we see in scripture, we can reject that revelation. The words of God in the Bible carry more weight than the words of God spoken by your preacher, or your friend, or your parents, because the Bible has the weight of the whole church behind it. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t speaking new words in our world today.
When Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted by the devil in Matthew 4, he resists by quoting scripture. And one of the scriptures he quotes is, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Every word. Not some of the words, not most of the words, not just the words that were written down in a collection of books that was compiled 1500 years ago. Every word.
In order to truly live, we have to feast on all the words of God. The ones he spoke thousands of years ago, and the ones he continues to speak today. If we truly desire to draw close to him, we have to be willing to accept the new words along with the old ones. We have to be willing to listen to God as he continues to speak to us. Because the same words that were powerful enough to speak light out of darkness are the words that he uses to transform us today. The same words that are sharp as a double-edged sword are still being spoken. The words of God are still able to change us.
Why would we want to limit God to only the words he spoke thousands of years ago? If we are going to be a Church that truly believes in the power of the Word of God, shouldn’t we be eager for all of that Word? Shouldn’t we be hanging on every word that comes from the mouth of God, and not just the ones he said long time ago?
I think that if the Church wants to continue to grow in the presence of God, we have to be open to new revelation. If we truly believe that the God who created the universe by speaking it into existence is the God who continues to work in our own lives, we have to be open to the words he continues to speak today.
So may we embrace the words of God in the Bible. May we come to the text of scripture and find new insights about the nature of God. But may we never be satisfied with only what has already been said. May we be open to the words that God continues to speak, believing in the enduring power of God’s words, both within the Bible and outside of it.