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The Word of God
and God's word
A few years ago I was driving very late at night and needed something to
keep me awake. I couldn’t find any appealing music on the radio and settled
for listening to a rebroadcast of Jerry Falwell’s sermon that Sunday. He was
preaching from John 1. It started out fine. He was talking about the
Incarnation, and the Son of God, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among
us. Good stuff.
He continued talking about the Word, and that we as Christians should
believe in the word because it was our only hope of salvation. He then said
that we should believe every word in the word, because God Himself had
spoken the word. It was with God from the beginning, referring to John 1:1.
"Huh?" I thought.
He went on. We Christians don’t really read the word anymore, let alone
believe it. We’ve got to believe in the inerrant, infallible word of God or
we have no way to know God’s will. We have to defend the word against the
secular humanists who say it is only a myth. . . . etc.
Well, it took several miles before it finally dawned on me what had just
happened. Right in the middle of an otherwise good sermon about Jesus, he
had just made a huge jump from talking about Jesus
Christ as the incarnate Word of God to talking about the Bible as the written word of God.
Everything that John 1 said about Jesus, he took to be saying about the
Bible. And apparently he didn’t even realize that he had radically changed
Now, the point here is that Jesus and the Bible are not the same thing. I
definitely want to affirm the Bible as the word of God, but it is certainly
not the same thing as Jesus himself, although we sometimes elevate the Bible
to similar status. God has spoken through His Son, according to Hebrews, and
we also believe that He speaks through the Bible. But it is an extremely
important point of theology that we do not confuse the two. There is only
one Word of God who is the incarnate Son of God. The Bible as the word of
God bears witness to that Word. The word bears witness to the Word. I make
that distinction by only capitalizing "Word" when it refers to Jesus.
I think in trying to fight a "battle for the Bible," (a battle that
really didn’t ever need to be fought except to protect certain ideas people
had about it) we have adopted the idea that the Bible itself is somehow
absolute Truth. And in so doing, I think we have misunderstood its role, and
ended up spending far more time and energy trying to fight that battle than
we have in trying to understand Scripture and live by it!
Although the Bible is certainly true and bears faithful witness to the
Truth, I don’t think the Bible is absolute Truth, not in the same way that
Jesus is the Truth. I don’t think the Bible is the Word of God (note,
Word), but I do think it is God’s word that bears witness to the
Word. (See Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture).
John’s use of the term logos, or "word," was
nothing less than a stroke of genius. I wouldn’t even hesitate to affirm
that God may have helped John find a way to express this. Yet, as a
Wesleyan who believes that God works through redeemed humanity, I can just as easily affirm that John used the intellect God gave
him to find ways to express the truth about Jesus that God had helped him
get his mind around.
The term logos has roots in both Greek and Hebrew culture. In
Greek culture, in comes from philosophy. There it has several specific
meanings, depending on the philosopher, but all are related to a single
larger concept. The logos is the unifying principle between the ideal
plane of existence, the world of ideas and perfection, and the level of the
imperfect physical world where human beings and all physical matter exist.
The logos is the creative principle of reason or intellect that
allows any connection between the two planes of existence (this idea is
taken up in late OT and intertestamental writings where Wisdom fills the
Since this perspective had become a common world view in Greek culture,
most any Greek would have immediately understood the implications of
applying that concept to Jesus, especially connecting it as John did with
creative activity. Greeks would have heard him say that in Jesus we have the
connecting link between humanity and God (cf. Paul in Colossians 1). Jesus
is the creative expression, even agent, of the governing power in the
universe. It is in Christ that we have any possibility of "seeing" God, of
understanding who He is, and even entering into relationship with Him, an
idea that went far beyond Greek philosophy!
But the term logos also had roots in Hebrew culture, where in the
Greek version of the Scriptures (the Septuagint) it translated the Hebrew
term dabar (this is a soft "Spanish" b, pronounced like a v).
In Hebrew, the term "word" takes its significance from Hebrew prophecy, from
phrases like "the word of the Lord came to the
prophet Jeremiah" or "Hear the word of the
Lord, you people of Judah." The "word of the Lord" spoken by the prophet was
more than just a message from God; it was nothing less than God’s will for
humanity expressed in the cultural language of Hebrews, Israelites, and
In the Near Eastern culture, there was even a deeper dimension to the
spoken word. Words were understood to have some effect in shaping events,
something communicated by our modern concept of a "self-fulfilling
prophecy." That is, saying something had some effect in bringing it into
existence. This is the cultural background of the idea of curses in the OT (e.g.,
the Balak story in Numbers). Invoking the "word of the Lord" was an
assertion that God was present and active in the world.
So, Jews from a Hebraic cultural background would have heard John say that Jesus is the intermediary
between God and humanity, that in Jesus God is again revealing His will for
His people. Because of this new word of God spoken, there was
already at work the beginning of a new light in the darkness of the world.
God is present in our world, and that presence opens up new possibilities.
There was no question in the Hebrew tradition of relationship with God, but
the incarnational overtones of John’s Gospel here would have broken new
ground for them.
Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture