Is the Word of God the Bible?

Is the Word of God the Bible?
We hear the same things over and over and over. So many times so, that we believe what we have been told, even if it’s wrong. While I want to ask why we do this, we already know the answer - It's much easier. It's much easier to align ourselves with a group, than think for ourselves. While this can be true in most realms, it can also be true when it comes to theology and the church.

In the last few years, it has become a hobby of mine to research biblical topics, specifically those that are neglected in Christianity. I am continually fascinated when I realize I've never heard certain topics or passages addressed in Church. One would assume that after hearing close to 2,000 messages or sermons, you would have heard it all. Yet the more I study, the more I see that what's been sold in church, is severely lacking. When I have been given nice and neat packages of thought, I rarely wondered if there was something more.  But, when I study these topics, they become so exciting and come to life. I find something so much greater, with more depth and even beauty, that what I have often been spoon-fed.

One of the most recent topics that surprised me, was the topic of "What is the Word of God?" Most would find this odd, since for most it’s blatantly obvious, that the Bible is the Word of God. I for one, had never questioned that claim. I have heard it thousands of times with such authority, it became fact with no question in my mind. This actually isn't a debate about how Christians and non-Christians look at the Bible. Believe it or not, this question is one completely found inside mainstream Christianity. Worked on!!!!!

Is the Word of God Jesus?
A couple years ago, I heard one of my favorite pastors, Bruxy Cavey make the distinction that Jesus Himself is the Word of God, and not the Bible. Before this, I never knew there was even a question about the Word of God. Bruxy added that Christians, "are not just people of the book, but even more so, we are people of the Person". He clearly points to passages like John 1:1 and 1:14 where Jesus is called the Word and that He was the Word made flesh (aka human). While this passage is clear, I don't succinctly and entirely see every reference to "Word of God" as completely fitting to be only Jesus. To show you what I mean, here are some examples:

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  (Luke‬ ‭11‬:‭28‬)

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”  (1 Thessalonians‬ ‭2‬:‭13‬)

“But the word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts‬ ‭12‬:‭24‬)

In these verses, the Word of God is clearly a thing and not a person. This is what posed the confusion over the last couple years. There are certain verses that can clearly fit each side, but not one answers fit all references. This is the reason for my questions and study.

Is the Word of God the Bible?
The reason why I couldn't fully accept the consensus view that the Word of God is only the Bible since the Bible was not a concrete term until long after the words were written (especially when we include New Testament). While we can find early canons, they Jesus include all current New Testament books. Many of these canons had most, but not all, and many with including additional books. These would include Marcion's in 140AD, Origen around 200AD, and Athanasius in 367AD. And even if we look much later with Martin Luther, he tried to remove a handful of books during the Reformation. It wasn't until the 16th and 17th century when we had the canonized Bible like we see today. It's difficult to ignore these changes and pretend that the New Testament authors were visualizing this Bible, that came so much later.

So what is then the Word of God?
If I am claiming that the Word of God is not (always) the Bible or Jesus, what is it? Isaiah 40:8 is arguably the most quoted verse about the Word of God. This verse can not only be seen all over Christian paraphernalia, but we can see it quoted in 1 Peter 1:24-25,
"The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of God stands forever.”

Despite this verse being near-universally used to describe the Bible, Peter disagrees. This same verse continues and states that "...this word is the good news that was preached to you." Paul also equates the Word of God to the Gospel (literally means good news) in his letters to the Colossians and Thessalonians. When restates his points, his rewording uses the terms “Word of God” and “Gospel” interchangeably (Colossians‬ ‭1‬:‭23, 25; 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭2‬:‭4, 8, 13‬).

While I think it seems accurate to state that the Word of God is the Gospel, it might be more logical and precise to say it is the message or revelation of God. I say this, because the Gospel is normally viewed as limited to the New Testament. But it’s throughout the entire Bible where God reveals His plan of redemption, recreation, and restoration. It is this plan that communicated through the prophets and finds their fulfillment in Jesus.  With this in mind, while we can specifically define the Word of God as the Gospel, and more generally as the message of God. For example:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my WORD be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭55‬:‭10-11‬ ESV)

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.  The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-12, 15 ESV)

When we allow the Bible to define our terms, it gives us the ability to read the passages naturally. Now, these verses fit together and make sense, without hermeneutical gymnastics. So regardless which synonym is used they can all be understood as the message or revelation of God (i.e. the Word, Word of God, Word of the Lord, Word of Christ, Word of Truth, etc)

What's even better, is by viewing the Word of God as the message of God, it doesn't invalidate other understandings. Simply stated the Word of God is the message of God, which is specifically the Gospel,  finding its fulfillment in Jesus Himself as seen throughout the entire Bible.  Therefore, rather than trying to decide if the Word of God is the Bible or Jesus, both are validated when the Word of God is understood as the revelation of God, as seen in the Bible, namely Jesus.

While this might seem like just theological semantics, it does greatly matter. These 7 points will show how it can influence how we think and act:

The Bible contains the words of God.
The Bible is not the Word of God but contains the words of God. This distinction is necessary because not every word or event was God’s perfect will. The Old Testament contains a lot of history, telling the narrative of His people, through many literary styles. The New Testament begins with the written Gospels by showing the preparation, incarnation, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of the Jesus. The rest of the New Testament is primarily composed of letters to churches. There is no single book that only records the direct quotes from God, hence it is misleading to apply the label “Word of God” to the Bible when it does not describe itself as such. Instead, the Bible refers it itself as the Scriptures. We must understand just because God said it to a specific group of people at a specific time doesn't mean it applies directly to us universally and completely.

The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith.
Jesus taught both early in His ministry and after the resurrection that the Scriptures pointed to Him (Lk 24:27, 44-45, John 5:39). Also, He consistently trumped the Scriptures by saying "you have heard it said...but I say..." (Mt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) He also said that if you have seen me, you have seen the father (John 14:6-9). This all points clearly that Jesus is the center of our faith. He is the model that we are to copy, not the Bible. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, whose example we are called to imitate, if we believe (Lk 6;40, Jn 14:15, 1 Jn 2:3, 5:2-3). This means the Bible is not a rulebook for our lives that we are to follow and legislate, but primarily is the history of and about God's people. This means that while we can apply the Old Testament to our lives, we must understand it originally in its historical context and how it points to Jesus.

The Bible is not flat, it points to Jesus.
Many Christians see the Bible as flat, as in that every verse has the same importance. Proponents to this thinking cling to 2 Tim 3:16, which says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" and the idea that God does not change (based on Heb 14:8, Mal 3:6). From these premises, they believe that every verse will be used the same way. This can provide an avenue for some to pick and choose what verses they want to follow and emphasize. This is how many can dismiss Jesus' command to love your enemies. They point to God's violence in the Old Testament and thereby conclude Jesus could not have meant what He said.  Jesus' life and teaching is therefore minimized, and He becomes primarily the way to go to Heaven. But no matter how much one wants to say that all of the Bible is equal, some verses are certainly thrown out or ignored. I doubt anyone would ever claim that Psalm 137:9 or Galatians 5:2 have the same weight as Gen 1:1 or John 3:16. But when the focal point is Jesus, we prioritize what He did, and we seek to look like Him, as shown in the Bible.

We do not have to be afraid of difficult Bible passages.
Christians rarely address contradictions, extreme violence or difficult passages in the Bible, especially as seen in the Old Testament. Most think they are not equipped to tackle such discussions or are even afraid of what conclusion they might come to if they did such a study. Yet when the center of our faith is Jesus, instead of the Bible, we evaluate what we read in the light of Him. For example: Just because the Bible records it doesn't mean God wanted it to happen. The Bible specifically is a history book, it records what was told and happened. Just like now, people made mistakes, and think and do things that are not right, this does not need to discredit or devalue the Bible. Instead, our focus is where our faith lies, not in the Bible itself, but in Jesus the Messiah, the King of the Kingdom of God.

The Bible is not a Weapon
Hebrews 4:12 says "The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Not only do many view this verse as referring to the literal Bible, they seem to act like it’s a literal sword. Too often we see Christian Zealots welding the Bible as a weapon. The Bible is used to oppress and rule over people with power. What is ironic is this never looks like Jesus, even though they call themselves Christians. Not one time in the written Gospels did Jesus judge a nonbeliever, yet He reserved the harshest words for the religious, who believed their theology was perfect. The Bible can most certainly give guidance and direction (as 2 Tim 3:16 shows), but we need to remember our audience. Paul made clear who the Church is to admonish (aka judge), "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" (1 Cor 5:12) Just like parents who help, advise, and correct their child, the Church can do as well.  Unfortunately, we often see the hurting condemned and silenced, and religious leaders get away with abuse. If the Church were to stand with the oppressed and oppose the oppressors, the world would view Christians much differently. When the scriptures are used not like the Pharisees did, but to observe and study the way of Jesus, we would find the Word of God, the Gospel. A Good News that is proclaimed to the poor, a liberty declared to the captives, sight is given to the blind, and freedom to those oppressed. (Lk 4:28-19)

Bible Translations
Did you know the previously quoted Scripture is from Isaiah 61:1-2? Do you also know that if you look up Isaiah 61, you will not find "recovery of sight to the blind" in that verse in our Bibles? The reason for the difference was Jesus was not quoting from the Hebrew (the origin of our Old Testaments) but from the Greek Translation of the Hebrew, called the Septuagint. Jesus was using a translation. When we discover that Jesus and Paul heavily quoted from the Septuagint translation, it removes our stress over the best translation of the Bible. This knowledge can remove the legalism found often in fundamentalism. When the Word of God is the message of God, our view of Children's Bible can be changed.  A child can grasp the same example of Jesus from a reworded story,  then a scholar can from original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.  This means when see anyone hearing and following the example of Jesus, the mission of Word of God is functioning properly.

The Bible is not a devotional
Too often in Christian culture, we act as if God wrote the Bible specifically for us, at this point time. I remember in high school, randomly flipping open the Bible and blindly pointing to a passage to find "my message of the day". It is far easier to read the Bible with the central audience being ourselves. I am certainly not saying we shouldn't read it in a devotional time, but we must evaluate how we think about the text. We have to realize that we are looking from the outside in. Much of the New Testament was written to specific churches at specific times to address specific problems. We are only seeing one half of a conversation. We must be able to think and study what the missing side was saying. It is only after we see the letters or books in historical and literary context, can we then apply it to our lives. What amazes me about all of this, is what I thought would make reading the Bible much more boring, dry and confining, it has not. Instead the Bible comes to life. You see joys and hurts, frustrations and pride, and even exaggerations and sarcasm. This Bible could be a lot of things, but boring it can't. So while it is not a devotional written to us, we can apply what is written to us.

Closing thought
These seven points are, for me, the most obvious implications that come from this Word of God topic. I am sure there are more implications, and certainly, more that could be said, but this article captures the answer to my opening question. The Word of God is the message of God, specifically the Gospel. With this knowledge, let's stop calling the Word of God the Bible. Instead, let's read the Bible to further see Jesus, and by doing so, prove to be doers of the word, and not hearers only, otherwise we deceive ourselves. (James 1:22) May this change of thinking return us to the Gospel and lead us to study the way of Jesus closer. By doing this we can continually lay down our legalism and pick up the way of the cross.

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