Monday, April 7, 2014

Word of God ≠ Bible?

The Armor of God

This past week we had Vacation Bible School where our theme was "The Armor of God." My wife did an excellent job at teaching our kids what the Armor of God is. She found some good material, but we ran into a snag when we were talking about the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The material stated that the sword, representing the word of God, was the Bible.

Is that true? I don't believe so.

Where is the Word of God found?

The phrase "the Word of God" or "the Word of the Lord" appears often in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, it often refers to a message from God (e.g.:  Hosea 4:1, 1 Chronicles 17:3). Whether or not this message has been written down is not specified, but doesn't seem to be necessary. This would make sense because literacy was something highly prized and few could read, let alone write (1).

In the New Testament, this concept continues in the Gospels. When Jesus was teaching, Luke's Gospel says in chapter 5, verse 1, "Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret . . ." (Italics mine). When the apostles preached, it is recorded that they "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:31 NASB)

In Romans 9:6, Paul speaks about the Word of God not failing in relation to God's promise to Israel. In this, it clearly is about God's spoken Word. In speaking about the Word of God throughout his epistles, it is clear that this is a message from God to his people, but it no way signifies that it is Scripture. (See 2 Corinthians 4:2 and Philippians 1:14 for examples.) In this instance, if Paul had meant Scripture, he would have meant the Old Testament because he surely would not have believed that his own writings were scripture.

If the Word of God is not Scripture, but the message of God to his people or audience, then the armor of God takes on a whole new meaning, especially the Sword of the Spirit.

The Ultimate Word of God

Finally, we have the ultimate Word of God:  Jesus himself. John's Gospel has that beautiful description of Jesus, reminiscent of the Creation Story itself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

This theophany of Jesus represents something powerful. The Word of God has become flesh. These two concepts represent a synergy. The Word of God becoming flesh is more powerful than the Word of God by itself, being spoken by mortal humans. The author of Hebrews expresses this concept succinctly:  "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." (Hebrews 4:12 NASB)

And Scripture? Is that the Word of God? No.

Does Scripture contain the Word of God? Yes.

What does this mean, then, for Scripture? God can speak through Scripture, but His Word goes beyond Scripture. This helps me in dealing with inconsistencies and obvious contradictions in Scripture. (How did Judas die? Did he hang himself, as Matthew 27:5 maintains, or was it an accident, as Acts 1:18 declares?)

Scripture was written by humans who made mistakes and had a very different worldview than we do today, but Scripture still contains the inspiration of God, even if it isn't inerrant or infallible.

Better than Scripture:  We have the Word of God, which is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword."

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