“The bible is the word of God.”
We’ve all heard it before. But today you’re going to hear something different. The opposite, in fact.
The bible is not the word of God.
Some of you just wrote me off as a heretic, but I hope you can restrain any assumptions as to what I mean by that statement and keep reading to understand what I am and am not saying.
Here’s the heart of what I want to get at: Jesus is the Word of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
“…His name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13).
Now, before we go any further…
To those of you who are thinking that this is merely a matter of semantics – do not naively presume that this is merely another phrase used to refer to the bible. Language is a powerful tool that can be and is used to influence people’s thinking. And one of the reasons I am writing this is to help you see how the things you believe and the ways you think are affected by the way you hear Christians talk.
Even without any explicit mention, ideas such as the legitimacy and divine origin of the bible’s canonization, inspiration, authority, infallibility/inerrancy, that the bible is the greatest (or only) way God speaks to us, etc. are inherently connoted in the phrase “the word of God.”
Intentionally or not, this tradition of man has been used and has served to bypass critical thinking and generate a sense of credibility for such ideas. I’m not saying these ideas are necessarily wrong, but I am saying let’s help ourselves think clearly by not call something by a name that is reserved for someone else.
(Note: Some say that the bible is at least the “written word of God.” But that is a presumption. The bible does not claim to be the “written word of God.” It doesn’t even say that a “written word of God” exists. People decided to make one. It is also a mistake to say that Jesus is the capital “Word of God” while the bible is the lower case “word of God” because the Greek language did not make capital/lower case distinctions.)
When you read a bible passage and come across the phrase “the word of God,” you will interpret that passage according to what you think “the word of God” means. You will derive your definition of “the word of God” from how you have heard other people use it. But if your definition is different than the original definition used when the author wrote that passage, your flawed definition will cause faulty interpretations which will in turn lead to misconceptions. (You can see this for yourself with a few verses I provide near the end of this post.)
I read the roughly 300 bible verses (NASB) that mention “word of God” or “word of the Lord” (some people refer to the bible as “the word of our Lord”). Here’s what I found: “word of God” (appears primarily in the New Testament) and “word of the Lord” (appears primarily in Old Testament) can refer to:
- The Law
- The voice of God
- A prophetic word from God
- The Gospel
- A specific thing Jesus said
Notice anything missing?
You can find “the word of God” being preached, proclaimed, spoken, heard, received, and spread, but you won’t find it being read.
In the bible, these phrases never refer to the bible or to the Old Testament as a whole (there are other Hebrew and Greek words reserved for this purpose). If you find this hard to believe, I encourage you to check it our yourself (click “word of God” and “word of the Lord” above).
Ultimately, the misuse of this phrase has distracted us from who the bible tells us is the Word of God: Jesus Christ.
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39).
Jesus is a real person. He’s not just a historical figure you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He is with you. He is in you. He is your greatest reality.
And all the bible does is point to him.
The habit of calling the bible “the word of God” exposes the modern belief that God doesn’t speak anymore; only the bible does. But the bible itself testifies that this is a lie.
This language blinds us to the reality that Jesus speaks to us outside the bible. Calling the bible “the word of God” at best undermines the significance of Holy Spirit speaking to us, and at worst denies his activity today.
When God speaks, that is the word of God. Holy Spirit can use the bible to speak to us, but, as he demonstrates all throughout the bible, he doesn’t need a book to communicate with us. The bible is good, but it can be given too high a place in our lives when it replaces the living Word and his communication with us.
God never said he would speak only through a book, nor does the bible ever claim that it is the primary way that God communicates with us, as is so often touted today. On the contrary, Jesus said that his sheep know his voice and that Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. The ultimate revelation of the Father is Jesus himself (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15). And I don’t mean the things written about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We come to know God not primarily through a book, but through a living person whom we relate with.
God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. The whole bible supports this idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is, by His nature, continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking voice…And this word of God which brought all worlds into being cannot be understood to mean the Bible, for it is not a written or printed word at all, but the expression of the will of God is the breath of God filling the world with living potentiality…The Bible…is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper and leather. The voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free. – A. W. Tozer
Let’s finish by looking at a few passages that mention “the word of God.” I understand that it is natural for many to interpret these verses as referring to the bible, especially since that’s what many of us have grown up being told. But if you do believe these are talking about the bible, I’d encourage you to read the verses in context. You might be surprised with what you find.
“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…’the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25).
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
“…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14).
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:11,17).
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Enjoy living in the Word of God, and enjoy the Word of God living within you.
The Danger in Believing the Bible is “The Word of God”
The Scriptures vs The Word of God