The Word of God

Today, if a Christians says, "I've been getting into the Word," we know he means he's been reading the Bible. If you ask him if he's got the Word of God, he'll check to see if he has his Bible.

It is normal for us to mean the Bible when we say "the Word."

But does the Bible agree with us?

Early Church Quote

For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word would not try to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples? To them the Word appeared and revealed them, speaking plainly. (Anonymous, Letter to Diognetus 11, c. A.D. 120)

My Search Begins

A decade ago I was reunited with an old friend. I hadn't seen him in years.

He used "the Word" more than anyone I'd ever met. He told stories of "giving the Word" to people, and if I mentioned something I had a question about, he'd say, "You just have to go to the Word."

Of course, he always meant the Bible when he said that, and such a thought had never bothered me before. With my old friend, though, it was bothering me a lot. Somehow, there just seemed to be something wrong with the way he used "the Word."

Late one night during his visit a thought struck me. What if "the Word of God" and "the Bible" are not interchangeable terms?

Normally, when I think something like that, I'll rummage through the Scriptures in my mind. God will usually bring some verse to my remembrance that applies to the subject.

Nothing. I couldn't think of a single verse where the Bible uses "the Word of God" as a noun meaning "the collection of Scriptural books."

No problem. This was the late 1990's. It was the computer age, and I had a Bible on my computer.

Even thought it was late and I was headed to bed, I sat down at the computer, typed in "word," and let my Bible program kick up every verse in the New Testament with the word "word" in it.

Then I began to read.

Early Church Quote

There is one God who has manifested himself by Jesus Christ his Son, who is his eternal Word. (Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 8, c. A.D. 110)

The Word of God and the Scriptures

"Word" occurs in the New Testament 197 times in the King James Version.

I read every occurrence.

Not once does the Scripture ever use "the Word" interchangeably with "the Scriptures."

There are places where a Scripture is quoted, and then the Bible refers to that particular Scripture as the Word. For example, in John 15:25, we read:

But this happened so that the word that is written in their Law might be fulfilled, "They hated me without a cause."

Another example is Mark 7:6-13. There Jesus refers to the command to honor your father and mother as "the word of God" that is made of no effect through the tradition of the Pharisees.

Those are the only two places I found in the Gospels, out of 71, where "word" referred to the Scriptures at all.

When we limit ourselves to the phrase "the Word of God," then it's worse. It's used 41 times in the New Testament, and the only place where it is certainly referring to a Scripture (never to the Scriptures in general) is in Mark 7:13, which we already mentioned.

On the other hand, there are numerous places where the Word of God couldn't possibly be a reference to Scripture.

We all know there are places where "the Word of God" is a clear reference to Jesus. But there are other, very interesting uses of "the Word of God" ...

And remember, there are none that certainly refer to the the Scriptures in general.

It would be impossible for the Scriptures to use "the Word of God" as a reference to the book we know as the Bible, because the books of Scripture were not consolidated into one book until at least 200 years after New Testament times. Agreement on exactly which books should be in the Bible would have to wait another century, until Jerome's Vulgate became the standard Bible of the western churches.

The eastern churches, which have descended to this day as the Orthodox churches, do not have a set canon among them to this day.

Early Church Quote

Now the Word of God is his Son, as we have said before. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 59, c. A.D. 150).

Uses of "the Word of God" in Scripture

"Word of God" is used 44 times in the New Testament of the King James Version. It applies to several things:

  • Jesus himself, as mentioned earlier (Heb. 4:12-13; Rev. 19:13)
  • Everything Jesus taught (Luke 5:1; 11:28)
  • The anointing or inspiration that comes to a prophet (Luke 3:2)
  • The Gospel or the preaching of the Gospel (Luke 8:11; Acts 4:31; 13:7,44; Rom. 10:17; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Thess. 2:13; etc.)

That last use, referring to the Gospel, is probably the most common use of "the Word of God" in the Scriptures.

I say "probably" because there's another use that is just not taught anymore, and it is somewhat related to the preaching of the Gospel ...

The Word of God increased ... (Acts 6:7)
The Word of God grew and multiplied. (Acts 12:24)
The Word of God grew mightily and was strong. (Acts 19:20)

Do you know of any modern usage of the term "the Word of God" that would allow the Word of God to grow or multiply? Are these verses a reference to writing more Scripture? Was the Bible getting larger in Luke's day?

Of course, those verses cannot be a reference to the Scriptures. The Scriptures don't grow and multiply. They don't increase.

But the Word of God does increase; let's look at how ...

Questions?

We need to look at how the Word of God grows, but I know many of you will have questions that need to be answered before you stop using "the Word of God" as a reference to the Bible.

I answer those questions on a page I call The Word of God and the Scriptures. There I also explain why it's very important that we do change that habit of ours. There are important places where our terminology have caused us

  • ... to miss the Word of God when it doesn't come in the form of the Scriptures.
  • ... to misinterpret Scriptures that say important things to us.
  • ... to cripple ourselves and those we teach in their ability to live by the Spirit of God.

How the Word of God Grows

Fortunately, we don't have to wonder how the Word of God grew. The first of those verses, Acts 6:7, tell us:

The Word of God increased, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly.

The context of Acts 12:24 and 19:20 make it clear that the same sort of thing happened. Disciples were being multiplied, and the Gospel was becoming known. The more disciples, and the more knowledge of the Gospel, the more of the Word of God there was!

But it's more than that ...

Early Church Quote

Note this interesting reference to 1 Peter 2:2, "the milk of the Word":

Many also use the fat of milk, called butter, for the lamp, plainly indicating by this enigma the abundant anointing of the Word, since it is he alone who nourishes the infants, makes them grow, and enlightens them. (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor I:6, c. A.D. 190)

Receiving the Word of God

The Scriptures speak of receiving the Word of God 11 times (Mark 4:16,20; Luke 8:13; Jn. 12:48; Acts 2:41, 8:14, 11:1, 17:11; 1 Thess. 1:6, 2:13; Jas. 1:21). Each time, with the possible exception of the last one, it is in reference to believing the Word of God for the first time. I suppose it's fair to say that it's used in much the same way that we speak of receiving Christ.

The Scriptures call the Word of God seed on several occasions, probably more often than we realize.

There's the parable of the sower, which is in three of the Gospels. 1 Peter 1:23 adds that we are born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God. James 1:18-21 talks about our being begotten by the Word of truth, which is to be "engrafted" in us and make us "firstfruits."

This all lines up with the idea of the Word of God growing. If it is planted in us as a seed in order to give us new birth, then shouldn't it also grow in us?

But in order for the seed that is God's Word to grow in us, we must first receive it. How do we do that?

Again, we are told specifically by one of our verses:

Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (Jam. 1:21-22)

We receive the Word of God by doing it.

Jesus states this pretty plainly on several occasions. One example is Luke 6:46, where he asks:

Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and not do what I say?

Then, in Matthew 7:21, he says something similar:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.

Finally, in telling us how to respond to the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us exactly what it means to receive the words that he has just said:

Whoever hears these sayings of mind and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house upon a rock. The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it didn't fall because it was built upon a rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does not do them shall be compared to a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was its fall. (Matt. 7:24-27)

The Word of God is always received by doing it. Disobeying the Word of the Lord is just the same as rejecting it.

The point I wish to make here, however, that receiving the Word of God is something amazing. It is like a seed. It is small at first, but in and of itself, as long as it is fed and nurtured, it grows. The person who receives the Word of God finds that the knowledge of the will of God, and the power to do it, grows inside of him like something living—because it is living.

The Scriptures give us two amazing illustrations of this occurring. None of us should miss this.

The Conversion of Simon Peter

The first one will look at is my favorite because it was the first I saw. It opened my eyes to the life and power of the Word of God, and has allowed me to live in a greater awe and confidence ever since.

It is found in Luke 5:1-11.

Peter—still Simon at that time—was washing his nets as Jesus spoke at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd was large, and they were crowding the Lord, so he asked Simon if he would put out from land a little so he could speak to the people.

Simon complied.

He had no idea what he was getting into.

After Jesus was done speaking to the people, he had a word for Simon himself ...

Launch out into the deep, and let down your net for a catch.

Not too powerful a word, right? Nowadays, when we think of "having a word" for someone, we think of something powerful and deep. Perhaps we have advice for them on their family, on their walk with God, or on a direction for their career. If we're charismatic, we may think of a spiritual person having some insight from God into a situation or a prophecy for someone's life.

Here, though, the Word of God was, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your net for a catch."

Simon's response is amazing ...

Master, we have toiled all night, and we have taken nothing; nevertheless, at your Word, I will let down the net.

I capitalized the word "Word" there because this Word would turn out so powerful.

You know the rest of the story, but you may not realize some of the details. After Peter's net was so full that it was bursting, he turned to Jesus, fell on his knees and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

Then, when he returned to the land, he "forsook all, and followed him."

Did Jesus tell Peter he was a sinful man? Did Jesus tell Peter to give up everything and follow him?

I don't believe so. I believe he simply told Peter that he should let down his net.

But because it was the Word of the Lord, and because Simon obeyed that Word, it went inside him like a seed. All he knew when the Word went in him was that he should throw his net in the sea. Once the Word was planted in him, though ... then he knew ...

  • He was a sinful man, unworthy to be in Jesus' presence.
  • He should leave everything and follow Christ.

I believe that any spiritual man knows that the very first lesson God teaches us is that we are sinful and unworthy of his mercy. You will not go anywhere in Christ unless you open your heart to that lesson, which, if you have the Spirit of God, you are being taught every day.

And the very Gospel that Jesus preached—though it's one that is rarely preached today—is that if we wish to follow him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross every day, and go after him (Luke 9:23). Luke 14:33 adds that if we do not forsake all that we have, we cannot be his disciples.

Peter got that message.

How did he get it? Did he get it by explanation? No, he got it by obeying the one Word that the Lord gave him, which was to go out deeper and throw his nets into the water.

The Conversion of Zaccheus

This second amazing illustration of the power of the living and growing Word of God is found in Luke 19:1-10. It is the story of the conversion of Zaccheus.

We all know this story, too. Little Zaccheus was up in a tree, and the Lord saw him as he passed by. He called Zaccheus down, went to his house, and Zaccheus turned from his cheating ways, returned all the money he'd extorted 4 times over, and gave half his goods to the poor.

What we may not realize is how exactly Zaccheus followed the Word of the Lord when it came to him, simple as it was.

Jesus said to Zaccheus:

Zaccheus, hurry, and come down, for today I must stay at your house!

Notice there are three commands here:

  1. Hurry.
  2. Come down.
  3. I must stay at your house today.

Scripture gives an exact response of Zaccheus to all three:

He hurried, came down, and received him joyfully.

I don't believe that was accidental. I believe the Holy Spirit was indicating by this verse that Zaccheus was receiving the Word of God in the only way the Word of God can be received, by being obeyed exactly.

Just as in the case with Peter, look at the power of the Word when it was received. It went in as a seed, but it began to grow up inside of him immediately.

Did Jesus tell Zaccheus that he must repay those he had cheated? Did he even tell him to stop cheating? Did he tell him that he needed to give half his goods to the poor?

Well, we can't see that he said it directly, but in a sense we can say that he did because Jesus is the Word of God. Once the Word of God was inside Zaccheus, it gave him revelation of the will of God, just as it had gave Simon Peter a revelation of the will of God.

Jesus was impressed. "Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham."

Sure he was a son of Abraham. He had become one when he received the Word of God. As the Scriptures say, "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:28-29).

So How Do We Apply This?

We must not only be hearers of the Word of God; we must be speakers as well.

Our focus on Scripture to the exclusion of all the rest of the Word of God that Scripture tells us about has caused us to miss the fact that the very Word of God is living and growing inside of us. We make foolish commitments to confine our words to the words of Scripture, when neither the Lord nor any of the apostles did so.

When Peter looked for an apostle to replace Judas, he said that person was going to be ordained with them "as a witness of the resurrection" (Acts 1:22). This was the central ministry of the apostles (cf. Acts 4:2,33; 10:40-42).

The apostles were not called to be expositors of the Scripture; they were called to be witnesses of the resurrection. When the angel released Peter from prison, he told him to "speak ... all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20).

This life!—not a theological treatise.

We should expect this. These were fishermen! They never went to seminary. Jesus taught them to follow God and live spiritually, not to be expounders of the Scripture.

Where did Jesus ever preach verse by verse from the Scriptures? Where did the apostles do so?

Don't get me wrong. The Scriptures are important. They are inspired, and they are useful for correction and for equipping us for every good work.

But Christianity is a spiritual, miraculous religion. The Word of God is a living, growing thing. We are meant to follow Christ, and Jesus Christ occasionally told people to throw their nets on the other side of the boat in order to save them. Peter healed a crippled man sitting by a gate of the temple.

Early Church Quote

For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. What else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also his Son? ... The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, then whenever the Father of the universe wills, he sends him anywhere, and he is both heard and seen. (Theophilus, To Autolycus II:22, A.D. 168)

The Word of God and Prophecy

There are those who say that since we have the New Testament, we no longer need prophecy.

Is this true? In Acts, a prophet named Agabus warned the church that there would be a famine in Judea (Acts 11:28). As a result, the Gentile churches were able to send support to their Jewish brothers.

Would that prophecy have been unnecessary if those Christians had the New Testament?

The New Testament doesn't make prophecy unnecessary.

More Specific Application

Today there is a famine of holiness and an extreme famine of unity. Christians don't know how to live, how to adapt to our rapidly changing culture, nor how to maintain unity in an era of denominationalism and division. Thousands of house churches start in hope of experiencing the family of God that the Gospel calls us to be. Most languish with less than 10 members, never growing, or they explode in size, then quickly splinter and divide.

This is because we are in a war. The devil does not want Christians in unity! He takes the battle seriously, even if we don't.

We must fight him, and one of our weapons is the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

But it is not the Bible.

The Bible is the Word of God, but the Word of God is not the Bible. The Bible is just one small portion of the Word of God. In the end, Jesus himself is the Word of God, but the Word of God in Scripture refers to any of the ways that the Word of God comes to man.

House churches fighting for their lives and fighting to be effective need more than the Bible. They need the whole Word of God. They need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to overcome the devil, who is constantly warring to keep them ineffective and bored, or—if he can't do that—to divide and crush them.

Christians struggling for unity among themselves need more than the Bible. Where can they yield? Where must they take a stand?

Only a spiritual people will be able to overcome these problems.

Believing the Scriptures

In saying this, I am not rejecting Scripture. In saying all this, I am asking you to obey Scripture.

The Bible says, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). When Christians were facing seduction by false gnostic teachers, the apostle John told them it is the anointing of God—a clear reference to the Spirit, since anointing means the applying of oil—that would deliver them from error. He even told them they could trust that anointing as "true, and not a lie" (1 Jn. 2:27).

Note that all the "yous" in 1 John 2:27 are plural. The promise that the anointing will lead us into what is true is a promise to the church, not to individuals. The church is called "the pillar and support of the truth" in 1 Tim. 3:15.

I can't tell you how many people have told me they are Bible believers and that they want to follow the Bible only. Yet those very same people refuse to believe the Bible when it tells them that the anointing can be trusted to lead them into truth.

Such people believe some wonderful things about the Bible, but they don't believe the Bible itself.

It's the same with those that teach that the Bible is the pillar and support of the truth.

The Bible teaches that the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). We don't like to believe that because of the terrible history of the Roman Catholic Church, but does one hierarchy's evil make the Bible not to be true? How can you say your love and believe the Bible, but when it tells you that something else is the pillar and support of the truth, you don't believe it?

When the Bible says that the pillar and support of the truth is the church, it is talking about the local church. It is not talking about any specific denomination; it is talking about the Christians together in one city or town. When the devil tries to lead them astray, they can get together, Jesus Christ will be in their midst, and the anointing will lead them into what is true.

But, we don't do that, so we don't get to see the power of it.

You search the Scriptures because you think you have life in them. However, they testify of me, and you refuse to come to me so that you may have life. (Jesus, Jn. 5:39-40)

Note: The "Further Research" section below is written for when this book becomes a .pdf, rather than pages on this site like it is now. You can still go to the pages suggested, but know that you're then leaving my book, Things as I See Them. If you want to see the other chapters, go back to the table of contents

For Further Research

You can address this subject further at my Christian History for Everyman site.

  • The Word of God Discussion Page: Here you can ask questions or give your own comments so that we can all discuss this issue, and its application to the Gospel in the 21st century.
  • The Word of God and the Scriptures: This is where I address common objections and verses that we have misinterpreted because of our traditions, assumptions, and biases concering "the Word of God."

Table of Contents

Search Christian-History.org

Custom Search
Christian Theology Top Site

The Early Church History Newsletter

Delivered monthly.

Back issues available.

Email

Name


Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you the Early Church History Newsletter.