If Jesus is the ‘Word of God’ Can We Call the Bible the Word of God?

Even as a lover of books, this might be one of the most terrifying pictures I've ever seen.

Even as a lover of books, this might be one of the most terrifying pictures I’ve ever seen.

“The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is. John says he is the Eternal Logos, the true Word spoken from all eternity, and to put such a focus on the Bible as the Word of God is to take it off their point: Jesus. In fact, it’s tantamount to bibliolatry–elevating the Bible to the 4th person of the Trinity.”

Ever heard something like that before? It’s become a truism among many of the Christian internet set, and something like it has been popular in theological circles for some time now.

I must admit, when I first heard the slogan myself, I was thrown off a bit. I mean, John does identify Jesus as the Logos, the Word, of God from all of eternity–the truest and deepest reality Father is eternally speaking. What’s more, it’s true that from time to time you can run across someone in a fundamentalist church who treats the Scriptures as if they were dropped from heaven and yet remain utterly oblivious to its central content. I can begin to see what motivates some to adopt it.

However, after the initial appeal, it appears to me that this is a mistaken move that many (though not all) use as a lead-up to falsely pitting Christ against the Scriptures. In fact, I’ve come to see this as sadly little more than a rhetorical sleight of hand, passing itself off as serious theology.

A Word About Words - The first is concerned with the basic nature of language and the simple text of the Bible. It should be an obvious point that words or phrases can, quite comfortably, have more than one proper use, or an expanded lexical range. For example, the phrase “God’s will” can refer to God’s will of command expressed in his explicit commands, but it can also refer to God’s will of decree by which he governs history. Both meanings are appropriately designated by that phrase, and context will usually clarify any confusion on that point. It ought to be uncontroversial to say the same thing is true of the phrase “the Word of God.”

At the most straightforward level, the phrase “The word of God” just means “a word God has spoken.” We find hundreds of references to God’s speech (“the word of the Lord came to”) littered throughout the canon, whether in the Law, the prophets, or the wisdom literature. Every time God spoke to Moses, he heard “the word of God.” Every time a prophet prophesied and used the phrase “Thus says the Lord”, they were speaking the “word of God.” Over and over, we see the preaching of the Gospel in Acts described as the “word of God.” That Jesus Christ is the eternal Logos of God does not change the fact that it is entirely appropriate to speak of the utterances of Jeremiah or Isaiah as the “word of God.” How much more then for the totality of all that God has “breathed out” by his Spirit?

For those worried about confusion on this point, this is why sometimes theologians have gone out of their way to distinguish what they mean by the phrase, specifying “the Word of God incarnate”  (ie. Jesus) or “the Word of God written” (ie. the Bible). They know very clearly that one has certain properties that the other doesn’t. For instance, the Son of God doesn’t have the properties of being made up of 66 books by various authors over a period of a thousand years or so. On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t have the property of being eternally-generated by the Father, or being incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended in glory. Straightforward enough.

So when the author of Hebrews speaks about the Son’s unique revelatory function he says “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (1:1-2), it’s important note that he doesn’t follow that up with, “so now that we have this final Word let’s not call those previous communications ‘God’s Word.'” The conclusion simply does not follow.

Which brings me to the next point: the Word’s own view of the words. 

Jesus and the Bible

Christ himself presents us with the Word.

What Did Jesus Say? I’ve written before that it’s rather misleading to pit Jesus against the OT, or the “red letters” against the black letter sections of the Bible, given his own view of it. Once again, consider:

Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? (John 10:34-36)

Not only is Jesus not squeamish about equating the Old Testament Scripture with the “Word of God”, he re-emphasizes their inviolability and authority by adding that they can’t be “broken.” Passages like this could be multiplied ad nauseam. In this he is followed by all of the apostles.

But instead of just repeating myself, J.I. Packer has some wisdom for us on this point:

But who is this Christ, the Judge of Scripture? Not the Christ of the New Testament and of history. That Christ does not judge Scripture; he obeys it and fulfills it. Certainly, He is the final authority of the whole of it. Certainly, He is the final authority for Christians; that is precisely why Christians are bound to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Christ teaches them to do so.

A Christ who permits His followers to set Him up as the Judge of Scripture, One by whom its authority must be confirmed before it becomes binding and by whose adverse sentence it is in places annulled, is a Christ of human imagination, made in the theologian’s own image, One whose attitude to Scripture is the opposite to that of the Christ of history. If the construction of such a Christ is not a breach of the second commandment, it is hard to see what is.

“Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, 61–62 (HT: Matt Smethurst)

In other words, if Jesus identifies the Scriptures as God’s Word, why are we so squeamish about following suit?

The Trinitarian Word – Finally, this approach is confused because in doesn’t see that the Bible is the Trinitarian Word of God. Michael Horton calls our attention to the Trinitarian coordinates of inspiration in The Christian Faith. Reminding us of the structure of all trinitarian actions he writes “In every work of the Godhead, the Father speaks in the Son and by the perfecting agency of the Spirit.” (pg. 156) The Bible is the “Word of God” because in all the Law, the narratives, the Psalm, Prophets, Gospels, and Epistles we hear the Father testifying to the Son (John 5:39) by way of the power of the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).

We can see something like this understanding in Heinrich Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession. After calling attention to the locus classicus establishing this doctrine (“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,for reproof,” etc. (II Tim. 3:16–17), Bullinger puts it this way:

SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Again, the selfsame apostle to the Thessalonians: “When,” says he, “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,” etc. (I Thess. 2:13.) For the Lord himself has said in the Gospel, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”; therefore “he who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20). (Chap. 1)

In a sense, it is only as we acknowledge the Bible as the Word of the Father about the Son that we truly see the Son as the Father’s own True Word. It is through the testimony of the Word of God written that we recognize Jesus as the Word of God Incarnate. What’s more, given the current illumination of the text by the Spirit we ought say with Bullinger that “God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures” about the Son.

At this point I think it becomes clearer that to pit Jesus as the Word of God incarnate against the Bible as the Word of God written is a false choice. It’s not only confused both at the level of language, not the attitude towards the Scripture taught to us by Jesus, but at the deeper level I fear it leads many to denigrate the diverse testimony of God to Christ in Scripture all in the name of elevating him.

So then, is Jesus the Word of God? Yes and Amen. Should we still speak of the Bible as the Word of God? Of course we should–Jesus told us to.

Soli Deo Gloria

17 thoughts on “If Jesus is the ‘Word of God’ Can We Call the Bible the Word of God?

  1. Indeed! You are spot on, Derek!

    The Word of God is Jesus Christ, first and foremost.

    But He comes to us in preaching and teaching (about Himself).

    In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (tangible Word of God).

    And in the Bible. Word of God coming to us.

    • A big problem comes with ‘What is Cannon?’ The differences between what is considered Canon by different religious institutions is obvious. Further, is vulgate Canon? Don’t we all judge what is of the Word by what we ‘hear?’

  2. We judge Word of God by what it does. It convicts of sin, and of righteousness.

    It accuses…it exposes…it drives to Christ and creates faith. No matter if Paul said it…or if Herod would have said it.

  3. Hey guy,
    Your second last sentence is hard to parse b/c of the inclusion of the word ‘both’. I dunno if there’s something more you intend to say there. Otherwise, great piece. Thanks for writing a good midday read :)

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  6. The Bible is the archive of all the testimony of what is the mind of God in that which He desires us to know, and the schema of interpretation has no theological name I recall in that it appears to be underdeveloped but in TWO corollaries it is found on the lips of both Moses and Jesus and a passel of other apostles, disciples, prophets and other Holy Spirit gifted or inspired writers in about the following forms.

    Corollary One – In the mouth of one witness shall no man be put to death. This is similar to Jesus’ “If I bear witness of myself my witness is not true,” and the more correct translation of 2 Peter 1:20, “This first knowing that every prophecy of scripture is not of its own interpretation.

    Corollary Two – In the mouth of witnesses, two or three shall a matter be established (or a man put to death for a capital sin). Such matter is doctrine, judgment, confirmed testimony, truth, or in the Greek coined by the Apostle Paul, EPIGINOSCO/EPIGNOSIS (verb or nown) which is knowledge upon knowledge.

    Doctrines that are determined by this law intuitively used by those otherwise under impressed with the Biblical statements of these could be the TRINITY (a doctrine with a Latinized name rather than a Bible name in that this doctrine is not normally stated but is developed by using two or more scriptures to develop it) and the RAPTURE (another Latinized name for a doctrine not stated directly with a name but understood by comparing two or more scriptures).

    In fact Doctrine is NOT usually found established throughout all of scripture but are individual testimonies given by the prophets to which we with one of the several remaining gifts of the Spirit left the churches today called the discernment of spirits, which is NOT a gift to find bad spirits from good spirits but the words of the witnesses in the Bible examined by a single judge, confirm with our examination. Doctrines that ARE found in the Bible are those things called TRADITIONS only found in the Bible that started out being the combined testimony of the Apostles who were ordained witnesses of what Jesus said and did, the gospel being one of those traditions that began to be put in the archive we call GOSPELS which are actually the words of eyewitnesses of what Jesus did. Paul seems to be the one first beginning to see to putting spoken tradition into words in the New Testament.

    Joseph seems to be the one that Moses first indicated being aware of the concept of two or three things establishing a matter when he interpreted the twofold dream of Pharaoh, saying that the dream is actually one but that God in doubling it twice established the matter and it is sure and bound to come to pass. But the first doubled testimony is actually that of the Creation accounts, some folk ridicule, and that of the Flood.

    Paul throughout his 1 Cor. 13 love chapter being actually a part of a study from chapter 12 beginning with “I would not have you ignorant” to the end of Chapter 14 where he says “but if one is ignorant let him be ignorant still.” Here Paul prophesies a soon termination of some of the marvelous sign gifts to the Jews and the revelatory gifts of Holy Spirit enhanced memory of eyewitnesses of what Jesus said and did and prophecy, leaving agape or unconditional love as the only credibility giving gift left the churches until the rapture or the end of the church age, when in the last seven years of God’s dealing with sinful Israel, prophets and various gifts reappear. The end of the “this evil generation” of Jesus’ peerage in 70 AD terminated the marvelous sign gifts to the Jews led by tongues, then special miracles and special healing. Eyewitness knowledge by the Apostles/disciples and prophecy ended in the person of John the Apostle in his last archiving testimony or his death.

    This last is that referenced by Paul in 1 Cor. 13:10 when in this resolved ellipsis statement of the verse says, “But when the complete (archived) testimony is come then the testimony in part (EK MEROUS – defined in 1 Cor. 12:27 as a member in the body of Christ, and in the form ANA MEROS or BY COURSE explaining the manner of testimony in the setting of the Second Corollary of the law of Multiple Witnesses) shall be done away with.

    Paul puts a scientific tinge to it when he equates this law with the three dimensional interpretation of the testimony of two eyes as an analysis of the fruit of two witnesses of any type, prophecy, revelation or whatever, in 1 Cor. 13:12.

    All this to say that this testimony is sometimes called the WORD OF KNOWLEDGE (eyewitness testimony) or a WORD OF PROPHECY, or WORD OF WISDOM after the discerner of spirits gets through with it. By the way spirits used here are the fruit of such testimony in the form of words as in what Jesus said, MY WORDS ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE. All of this is the WORD OF GOD.

    • Jesus is the incarnate word of God. I don’t see many people explaining about Jesus this way. But our fore fathers were familiar with it as we see in the Christmas hymn ” O come all ye faithful”. Every year we sing “Word of the father now in flesh appearing”

      The father God honored his word above all his names (Psalms 138:2). None of the words of God is spoken in void. It accomplished its purpose and returns to the father (Isaiah 55:11)

      Isaiah who prophesied about the birth of Jesus has also mentioned it in Isaiah 9:6-8 (particularly verse 8). Jesus is the word of God who became flesh or the word of God took the form of a man and was born in Bethlehem as a baby John 1:1-3, 14, I John 5:7; Rev 19:13, Hebrews 4:12, 13 (note these two verses talk about the word of God verse 12 starts with the word of God; verse 13 says nothing is hidden from ‘his’ eyes and not ‘its’ eyes.

      He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3. That’s why Jesus said whoever has seen him has seen his father. This is the reason why he is also called the son of God!

      Because God created everything with his word, we also read that God created everything through Jesus (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16). In II Peter 5-7, it clearly says that the world was created by God’s word and through the same word it is going to be judged. We read in John 5:22 that the father has handed over the authority to judge to Jesus!

      Jesus was sent to this earth to fulfill some actions in this earth decided by the father (Jesus does not do anything on his own will) John 5:19- 21; John 17:4; John 4:34; John 12:49, 50; John 6:37,38; John 5:36; John 15:10,15; John 5:17; John 6:45; Hebrews 10:7-10; John 14:10.

      Father God has given authority over everything to Jesus (John 3:35; Colossians 1:16; John 5:27; John 13:3; I Peter 3:22; Ephesians 1:20 – 23) but after Jesus defeats all the enemies he will hand back the authority to father God (I Corinthians 15:24 – 26).

      Because Jesus is the word of the father God, the word that comes out of the father God’s mouth is first conceived in the thoughts of the father God. Then it is spoken out. This is the very reason Jesus said his father is greater than him (John 10:29). This is also the reason why Jesus said he does not know the hour of his coming. Because Jesus is the word of the father, the word is realized only when it is articulated. That does not make Jesus any inferior to the father God. By commonsense will anyone say that a person’s word is greater or lesser than the person himself. The relationship between Jesus and the father is also similar.

      Jesus is the incarnate word of God. The Bible is the inspired word of God. The Bible is the word of God written down by the inspiration of the holy spirit for our benefit (II Timothy 3:16, 17). This is why the Bible says we are born again through the word of God (I Peter 1:23). That’s why the Bible has got the same power which Jesus had!

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  9. A quote from two theologians are relevant to this topic.

    “Faith in God’s promise presupposes that God is who his promise reveals him to be, and thus it places God’s revelation of himself right at the heart of the theological task.” — Carl Trueman (The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture)

    “The presentation of Jesus as the truth incarnate, as the Word of God, is critically important, and certainly something to rejoice over—but it is a relatively rare theme compared with the biblical emphasis on the truthfulness of God’s words when he speaks.” — D.A. Carson (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church)

    To add my own thoughts, which reflect what is written in this blog, it is important to remember that Jesus is never quoted as saying “I am the Word of God” (though he did make other ‘I am’ statements). That was said by John. And John said, “These things are written so that…” Like those in the Old Covenant who preached as witnesses for I AM and his word, so John and the Apostles of the New Covenant preached as witnesses of Jesus Christ and his word.

  10. Funny thing: I’ve been concerned about this issue, not because it might devalue the Bible, but that it might elevate the Bible too highly. It seems to me that if both Jesus and the Bible are called the Word of God, the problem should be how to avoid equating the Bible with Jesus himself.

    But thanks for clearing things up for me, Derek.

    • The making of the difference is rubbish. What you have clearly is that the Bible is the testimony of the mind of God of all that which He desires us to know. In that most of the discussion found in the Old Testament is actually given by JESUS, the WORD, HIMSELF. The trinity is replete in the Bible and to a point that it embarrased the folk who translate it making plurals of singular words and vice versa to indicate that ELOHIM means GOD, when in fact it means GODS in the plural sense of the trinity. We have GODS who is named JHVH. HAELOHIM actually means ALL THE GODS, again in the plural sense, but we have individual members of the Trinity, each ONE actually named JHVH, speaking and sometimes speaking of the other member of the TRINITY. You can speak of each SINGLE member of the Trinity as THE ONLY GOD who is the father, THE ONLY GOD who is the WORD or SON , and THE ONLY GOD, who is the RUAH or Holy Spirit. You can never really say that JHVH is the only God…in fact the Shma found in the Toray has it the other way. It has it that GODS is ONE JHVH. “JHVH our GODS is ONE JHVH.”

      The fact is the Bible, in that there are no more prophets during the church age since John the Apostle until the rapture when the church age ends, and the last seven years before the Millennium has prophets and others with special Holy Spirit like gifts like the early churches had, is the ONLY source of knowledge about JHVH our GODS, and we respect it in THAT light, don’t worry about someone making an idol of it, leave THAT in GODS’ hands.

      If the Bible is the mind of Christ, what is your problem about confusion?

      I know of folk, family, who denounce the Bible in lieu of their own GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE, PROPHECY or REVELATION. NOW THAT is a problem.

      • Hi Stephen,

        Your first sentence indicates that you have a problem with what I said, but I’m not able to discern exactly what that problem is. Perhaps you could express yourself more clearly?

        I suspect we’re agreed on all major issues here. My comment was simply about needing to avoid equating the Bible with Christ himself, given the fact that they’re both called Word of God.

        If your concern is that I’m drawing a distinction between the *authority* of Christ and the Bible, then you don’t need to worry about that. The Bible has the authority of Christ.

      • Hey James,

        That you were not thinking EVERY word of the Bible, thus the Bible itself, is Jesus, and in worshipping Jesus you might kiss the Bible as well, I understand now.

        I guess I was addressing the thought that your reply had hinted at, more than what you might have believed.

        However, I was actually trying to show that where ever you saw in the Old Testament, the word of the LORD to this or that prophet, It was Jesus who was doing the talking. Sometimes He spoke of Himself, sometimes He was speaking for His Father, and it really gets tight sometimes to actually determine who is speaking to or of whom without a Hebrew Bible before you. You may already know these things, but it was a point I wanted to press.

        The other thing is probably found in a post I made further up on this list (or earlier), is the underdeveloped doctrine that the Bible is actually an archive of testimony, containing actually a limited number of real doctrines. Usually folk seek a verse, one verse or so or even several passages in context and presume that it is teaching doctrine, especially in the prophecies, not knowing that the Bible schema of interpretion is that in the mouth of two or three witnesses (or scriptural testimonies) shall a matter be established. In fact to take ONE verse at all times to be doctrine is warned against by Peter in this other corollary of that Schema I mentioned where Moses says in the mouth of one witness shall no man be put to death, where Peter says in 2 Peter 1:20 in this corrected translation, “this first knowing that every prophecy of scripture is NOT OF ITS OWN INTERPRETATION.” This is completely opposite from the false translation that prophecy of scripture is not of someone’s private interpretation, the false warning of some Catholic like magisterium. In fact this mistranslation is actually found in the Latin Vulgate influencing Tyndale and those making the Geneva and KJV translations into English.

        Even Jesus said this, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true” and then goes to show that there are several other witnesses that verify His words. How this Schema of interpretation in two corollaries is found throughout the scriptures without too much comment by teachers of the words is startling and without this knowledge becomes a genesis of much error we know of today.

        But these ideas only touch on what you mention, I just wanted it to be thrown out there for others to know in reading us that the Bible is a marvelous authority in our lives and we know nothing of Jesus without it, unless we were in the “this generation” of Jesus’ peerage and of the Apostles, or in the period beyond the rapture when there is no church but prophets, 144,000 witnesses, angels and others Joel mentions of concerning before that great and notable day of the Lord. Sorry If I worried you a bit…but I hope we are square now.

  11. Scripture is certainly inspired by God and can reveal the words of God. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit who testifies about Christ and reveals the thoughts of the Father towards us, can certainly use scriptures to reveal Logos to us. And it wouldn’t be difficult for me to imagine that God already knew how much humanity would be both literate and illiterate at various points throughout history. All that to say, I am glad God is not limited to revealing himself only through his written words, but that he can reveal Himself (including Christ) through nature, dreams, visions, etc. I would imagine those who came into an awareness of and relationship with God through non-literary means are as well.

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