The Bible is not the “Word of God”

(Jim Wright has referenced this article in attempting to paint me as not believing in or honoring the Bible.  Read the article and it should become clear to you how dishonest his characterization is.)

I’m bracing as I write this for an expected slew of shock, dismay, rebuke and unfriending the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  All I ask is that you read this entire post so you understand what I am saying and what I am not saying.

But yes …. you haven’t misread me.  I’m saying the Bible is not the “Word of God.”  Further the Bible itself doesn’t claim to the be the “Word of God.”  There is one and only one “Word of God” and that is Jesus Christ, period.

Why is this important?  I firmly believe that the Bible is inspired, given to us by God. It’s an important part of knowing and following Jesus.  However, it is not the equal of Christ, it is not Christ in written form, and it most certainly is not to be elevated above Christ.  Sadly, it’s my belief that many practising Christians have done just that, and in so doing have fallen into a form of modern gnosticism, which reduces Christian living to mere intellectual understanding, which is then seen somehow as elevating them in position above others who do not share their knowledge (see also “Pharisaism” in part, with an extra measure of self-righteous legalism to boot.)

The “Word of God” is a very specific and carefully used term in Scripture.  In the New Testament it especially is used in conjunction with the greek word “logos.”  It is this word and this phrase that is used in the prologue of John and many scholars and historians of the early church believe that this opening in John was written specifically to address what was seen by John and the early apostles as the heretical challenge of Gnosticism.  That may be true of that time, but I believe it is equally relevant and valid today to help us see that the heart and soul of a relationship with God, is through the person of Jesus Christ, as manifested in our life by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus Christ.  It is never to replace Him.  In fact, I’ll make a radical statement (for some anyway) that I believe it is intentional on God’s part that we do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible so that we would not fall into the temptation to make them an idol and worship or elevate them as equal or even above Jesus Christ in any way whatsoever.  What we have in Scripture is overall reliable, demonstrably tie-able in most every situation to an agreed upon majority text (and I won’t get into the arguments that occur here in terms of the Byzantine or Alexandrian test traditions).  There is alway room however, for a measure of humility and care when we approach Scripture to allow that neither the texts we have, themselves are “perfect” nor is our understanding and interpretation of them in every case necessarily “perfect.”  There is only one “perfect” in the revelation of God to mankind and that is Jesus Christ (again) period.

The original languages use a very specific word for “Word of God” as I’m addressing it here, and that is the greek word “logos.”  There is another greek word used in the Bible about 70 times that is also often translated into English as “word” in the sense of a “spoken word” and that is the word “Rhema.”  They are not the same words and where “word of God” is rendered in scripture in any form, it’s important if you want to have any depth of understanding of the core meaning of the phrase to determine if the word is “logos”, “rhema” or some other form of phrase that is being translated in that manner.  That’s beyond the scope of a blog post, so I challenge you if you want to do a little digging on your own, go ahead and do a study on the phrase “Word of God” and find out, (there are many tools even on-line to do it) whether the phrase is rooted in “logos” or “rhema.”   When the phrase is logos, to understand that as anything other than Jesus Christ, the “logos” Word of God will lead to confusion and possibly a usurping of position and importance of the Bible to the diminishing  of Jesus Christ.  That is inconsistent with what Christianity really is.  Anything short of Jesus Christ at the center and as the foundation of a relationship with God, misses the point of God’s plan entirely.

Here’s some of the scriptures that are important in moving forward in this understanding, but it’s by no means exhaustive.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Gen. 1:1-3)

This passage to the understanding of many opens the Bible from the very onset of creation to show the role of each member of the Trinity in Creating (Christ), Moving with creation itself (Holy Spirit) and speaking things into being (God the Father).

It’s no mistake that John’s gospel opens with a similar formula and seeks, with no ambiguity to demonstrate the role of Christ in creation as God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (Jn. 1:1- 3)

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:10- 14)

Here is the heart of the “logos”.  The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  This word was present at the creation of the world and an active agent, described of God and it was this God who incarnated and came to dwell among us as the highest and greatest revelation of God.

What does Jesus say about the Scriptures?  First of all, he doesn’t use the term “word of God” in any sense that equates it with Himself.  He usually refers to scriptures (which for Him at that time were only the Old Testament scriptures as the NT didn’t exist yet) with the introductory phrase “as it is written” (Mt. 4:1-11; 11:10; 21:13; 26:31; Mk. 7:6; 11:17; 14:27; et al) or he’ll say something like “spoken of by the prophet” (Mt. 24:15; Mk. 13:14), or “all that the prophets have spoken” (Lk. 24:25).  Sometimes he’ll just say “scriptures” (writings) (Mt. 21:42; 22:29; 26:56; Mk. 12:10, 24; etc.)

When Jesus uses the phrase translated into English “Word of God” he is referring to the spoken word of God (in the context of Rhema, either using that word or appealing to that concept) and in most cases a specific instance where that speaking took place.  It’s not referring to the entire collection of scriptures let alone equating them as somehow the equal to Himself.  Examples of this are Mk. 7:13 where Jesus is referring to a specific commandment (Honor your Father and Mother) which some Pharisees had just quoted.  In Mt. 22:31-32 Jesus is referring to Ex 3:6.  Again, not exhaustive, but an example of what to look for.  When you see that phrase, look at what happened earlier and after and find the context of the specific passage he’s speaking of.  Don’t fall prey to “proof-texters” who wrench things out of context and try to make the comments by Christ apply to the entire body of Scriptures in some manner that then elevates them above Himself.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, just to clear up any misunderstanding, Jesus clearly taught that the scriptures by themselves are not sufficient to contain the “Word of God” (logos).

“And The Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (Jn. 5:37-40)

The Scriptures point to Jesus.  Jesus is the Life, not the Scriptures themselves.

And to close this very brief and by no means exhaustive it’s necessary to address the coup d’ grace often pulled out by those who wish to to make the Scriptures some sort of active force (independent of Jesus and the Holy Spirit).

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)

Seems pretty clearly to mean the Bible right?  Especially if you’ve been conditioned from a young child for this passage to mean this (as well as the armor of God in Ephesians) for this to mean the Bible.  (Maybe you remember as I do as I child being told to “Draw swords!”)  There’s only one problem with all this.  IT”S PATENTLY NOT TRUE.  Read on to the next verse.

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13)

It’s referring to something that is not manifest in “his” sight, and all things being naked and opened unto the eyes of “him” with whom we have to do.  Again, this is Jesus, not the Bible.  The Bible doesn’t work upon us (not in this context) from the outside.  It is Jesus who works inside of us by His Spirit.  May he use the Bible as we read and study it?  Of course, but he’s not limited to that and it’s Him that is doing it, not the scriptures themselves.

This seems to be such a basic teaching and yet I have to tell you, both as a believer for 35 years at the time of this writing and with 20 years of varied roles within several different churches, this is not commonly or clearly taught.  We’ve traded in Christianity with Christ at the center for a form of philosophy, and teaching that elevates the Bible to the equivalent of 4th member of the Trinity, and the really alarming part of it is that in doing it, Jesus is effectively emasculated (strong word I know, and I’m using it deliberately) and turned into a distant, symbolic figure who is not actively involved.  Further, it allows men (even well meaning men) to take the Scripture and cut it up into little pieces where they can manipulate and juxtapose it in proof-texts to say pretty much whatever they want and in doing so take upon themselves the authority that the only Jesus holds.

This is a radical thing to understand and it’s not easy to begin to break free from many elements of this indoctrination.  It takes consistent practice of examining many texts that are commonly quoted (there are others besides some of the mainstays quoted above.)  Stop reading and listening to the Scriptures in these haphazard ways.  Begin reminding yourself before you read that these Scriptures are present first and foremost to point to Christ.  HE IS THE WORD.  Can there be other purposes and lessons to learn?  Of course.  But these will always be subordinate to Christ and His Holy Spirit.  They do not rise above Him and they are not the equal of Him.

Start with the book of Colossians.  Read the whole thing (it’s a short book.) You’ll be amazed when you see how Christ is central to everything we are and how we are to walk.

The Bible is not the “Word of God.”  God help us for how much of what passes today as the Body of Christ that apparently has lost sight of that fact and turned Christianity into “people of the book.”  Thank God for the book, the Bible, but Thank God the most for Jesus Christ.  HE, is the core of Christianity, and if anything but Christ is at the center, then we’ve missed everything.

18 thoughts on “The Bible is not the “Word of God”

  1. loved it loved it loved it. Since my husband and myself do not attend a regular church but meet with many different friend to discuss the bible but most importantly to discuss Jesus Christ period.

  2. As an agnostic and former believer, I believe wholeheartedly in what you’re saying here. I left the church because I felt it had strayed from its goals, its heart, and its relationship with Jesus. No one showed the spiritual fruit of Christianity in my life for a long time; no one showed any more love or contentment than my few non-believing friends, and they did it for the sheer joy of the relationship, not out of some idea of Christian fellowship. Christianity left me more lost and broken than I had ever been without it, and the problem is exactly what you’re outlining here. If Jesus still lives and dwells in our world then I have yet to see it, but it’s not going to be found in some dusty old book that I can quote, analyze, and criticize better than most of my Christian friends; real Christianity has to come _Solo Christo_ and not through an understanding of a text that will not change a dying world. Only the living Word could change me, if I ever found Him dwelling here. The Bible is worth just as much consideration as the Koran, the Bagavad Gita, or Plato if there is no relationship with Christ on which to hang my faith.

  3. Brilliantly put, Bart! Thanks for articulating so well something I’ve been trying to find words for in conversations with friends, but stumbling over for the last couple of years. I’ll certainly be making use of your post to help as I continue to dialogue with others about these things!

  4. Bart , I disagree with you to some extent, but I think your on the right path. The Bible is the written , infallible, perfect, word of God. But the Bible, or the scriptures, are just words on paper if Jesus Christ himself doesn’t make them alive. See 1 Corinthians 1:17-27. As the writer of Hebrews said in chapter 1:1-3, God has in these last days spoken through his Son, through whom he made the world. I agree with you that the Holy Spirit has chosen to use two different Greek words, Logos, and Rhema, and I believe that if you don’t receive Rhema from Jesus Christ, then you cant believe, “Saving” Faith comes from hearing the Rhema of Christ, just do a study on the word called, or calling in the New Testament. Jesus Christ himself invites the person with Rhema, and convinces or persuades him. And it almost becomes the identity of the church, they are referred to as the called. Faith is as much a gift as your salvation is, and you get that gift when Christ invites you to come unto him. So yes I agree with you that the references we are indoctrinated with like the “swords” being the Bible or faith comes from hearing the bible are definitely misinterpreted. But with out the Bible as the written tangible source to weigh supposed Rhema against, we are in great danger of, as Jude calls the false teachers, “DREAMERS”, creeping into the church. What I am saying is if yours or my Rhema, i.e. Word from Christ, contradicts the written word of God, then that supposed word is false. For instance , Christ will NEVER tell me to leave my wife , or blow up an abortion clinic, because that would contradict the written word of God. In short the more of Gods written word you hide in your heart, the more Rhema he can use, that you might not sin against him. See Psalm 119. And hence conform you into the image of his Son.

    • Clint thanks for your comments. They mirror comments I would have made in my days of ministry and institutional evangelical service and I don’t agree with everything you’ve said but appreciate many things you have said.

      You in some way demonstrate my point, ignoring some of the more clear points of the article, such as the fact the infallibility is a moot point when you apply it to documents we don’t have. The Bible has in fact to some extent been elevated to a Paper and Ink Jesus. It’s my contention that it takes nothing away from the Bible to recognize it as pointing toward Christ and Christ as pre-eminent over all.

      Many things said about the Bible in institutional contexts today are rotely memorized and accepted for being repeated and my observation is that it’s led to a diminishing of focus upon Christ and the Bible placed upon a pedestal and worshiped as a de facto 4th member of the Trinity.

      I love the Bible. I affirm it’s inspiration and it’s importance in pointing us toward Christ, but I will no longer give it a title that the Bible itself reserves for Christ and Christ alone.

    • I love this blog post great stuff. The response above made a comment I have to disagree with. He suggested if God tells me something that disagrees with Scripture the bible wins.
      I put more faith in my relationship with God than my understanding of scripture, and if I believe God is speaking or He has revealed something to me and it contridicts the bible, I nolonger assume the bible is right, maybe my understanding of scripture if flawed.

      Just my thoughts. Great post.

  5. While I admire your passion i believe it is misguided. I believe the Bible DOES support the fact that it is the Inspired word of God. I don’t believe we should “worship” it or that it is God ‘s Only way of Communicating with us.

    • As I stated in the article that I believe in the inspiration of Scripture then it appears we have no issue on that. I have to wonder if you’ve read the article or just the title because your response doesn’t interact with anything specific I’ve said and draws a distinction I address in the article. Thanks for stopping by though and leaving the comment.

  6. Amen, Ben Enns! Bart, I can’t find anything at all in your blog that differs from what I have always been taught and always believed about scripture. It has authority for believers but it’s the indwelling Life of Christ, the Holy Spirit, Who helps us discern the Truth in the scripture. I find myself puzzled by the arguments over “infallibility” and “inerrancy” and disturbed that misinterpretations cause division before people actually seek the leading of the Holy Spirit to guide them to the Truth of the Bible, which should knit us together in the presence of the One two Whom all the scriptures point. I prefer a word used by those who framed the Junaluska Affirmation (people can probably find that online somewhere with a simple web search, or reference Dr. Paul Mickey’s book The Essentials of Wesleyan Theology). They chose to reject “infallible” and “inerrant” to describe the authority of scripture and used the word “accurate”. You and I speak the same language, it seems, when it comes to whether we call the Bible the “word” or the “Word”. I suppose a King James Only biblicist/religionist types can find a lot to argue with there, but it’s settled between me and God, so I have no argument with anyone.

  7. I am not sure of whom you might be speaking when you say that the Bible has been elevated the a 4th person of the Trinity. This has been what I might refer to ‘a call to arms’ against those who reference the Bible as inerrant, etc. And I will disagree to the thought of the so-called
    ‘Bible worship’ that has been mentioned from time to time. I do not think that the writer, whether it be Paul or someone else, is making reference solely to the Christ when he writes, “for the word of God is living”…..I believe that he is making reference to God’s revelation through the spoken word and also the Word Who became flesh, both of which he mentions over and again from the first verse of the Epistle. We are reminded in 1 Peter 1:23-25 that the word of the Lord is enduring and is preached among men. And we see the two-edged sword coming from the mouth of the Christ in Revelation 1:16. You have presented a very good thought for a statement that I may address on my blog. Jesus is Lord.

  8. This is true. In fact I’m reading 2 Peter and noticed in 1:19 that “word” is logos. It is clear that this is referring to scripture. I’m curious why so many in the anti institutional church movement are aiming their arguments against biblical inerrancy? Are we confusing sola scriptura to solo scriptura? Any pew survey will show that,although there are more resources available to Christians than ever before, biblical knowledge is at an all time low. The problem isn’t that the church is making the bible the fourth member of the trinity, the problem is the church isn’t focusing on Jesus Christ and what He has done for sinners. The focus of many churches has nothing to do with scripture, it has everything to do with what are you doing to serve the church.

  9. Pingback: Who is Jim Wright, Nathan’s Voice, Fulcrum Ministries and Crossroad Junction? | Crossroad Junction Watch

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