The Bible: Word of God or Mere Words of Men?
The phrase, “word of God,” is found some forty-four times in the New Testament (ASV). It is most interesting to examine the significance of this expression as viewed by the different teachers who employed it in their sacred instruction. In so doing, the reverent student will discover that the biblical use of this phrase is vastly removed from the scholastic irresponsibility so common in the modern community of “Christendom.”
Modernists repudiate the contention that the Scriptures are the word of God. Some allege that the Bible contains the word of God, but the genuine word must be separated from the chaff of fallible, human ideology that clutters the divine core of Scripture. Of course those who make this distinction feel they are the rarified experts who exclusively are capable of making the appropriate discrimination.
Others allege that the Scriptures are solely a collection of humanly constructed documents, but in the process of being assimilated by the human spirit, in some mysterious, intangible, indefinite way (perhaps in conjunction with the alleged power of the Holy Spirit) the ancient narrative becomes “the word of God.” Thus, by means of various theoretical constructs, the sacred documents are divested of their overall identification as the “word of God.” Men must be free from the “tyranny” of the “words” of Scripture! But is there any semblance of support for these views?
Testimony of Christ
On a number of occasions Jesus himself appealed to sacred communications, either in oral or written form, as the “word of God.” For example, the Pharisees and scribes approached Christ, complaining that the disciples did not follow the “tradition of the elders” in neglecting the ceremonial washing of their hands (to cleanse them from Gentile contamination) before eating. Indirectly it was an accusation against the Lord himself—“your disciples” (Matthew 15:2).
The Lord responded that it was they who were determined to “transgress the commandment of God” (v. 3). He then appealed to various Old Testament texts (e.g., Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Isaiah 29:13), charging: “[Y]ou have made void the word of God because of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6; cf. Mark 7:13). Christ endorsed the Old Testament as the “word of God.”
In his parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of a certain one who “sowed seed.” In Matthew’s version of the illustration, the seed is called the “word of the kingdom” (13:19), suggesting that by this word one is able to access entrance into the Lord’s kingdom. In Luke’s version, the same seed is designated as “the word of God” (8:11).
When Christ was pressed by a crowd, his mother and brothers wanted to see him, and that message was conveyed to the Savior. Taking advantage of the occasion to deflect attention away from the physical to the spiritual, the Lord declared: “My mother and my brothers are these that hear the word of God, and do it” (Luke 8:21). From this the following facts appear: (a) There is a body of literature called the “word of God.” (b) Attention (“hear”) must be given to the divine instruction. (c) Obligations within this sacred library must be obeyed (“do it”) if benefits are to be received.
In the waning days of his ministry as Jesus made his way from Galilee toward his redemptive mission in Jerusalem, a certain woman exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts you nursed.” But Christ responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). The lessons to be gleaned from this brief statement are similar to those outlined in the previous paragraph.
A few months before his death, Jesus was in Jerusalem (John 10:22ff). The Jews pressed him to tell them plainly if he was “the Christ” (i.e., the Messiah). The Lord responded by pointing out that already he had given them sufficient testimony of that fact, but consistently they had resisted it. He further pointed out that their problem was in the character of their spiritual disposition. They were not of the “sheep” class, i.e., those who willingly listen to, and follow, their Shepherd (10:27).
When Jesus announced that he and the Father “are one” (a neuter pronoun suggesting an identity of nature), they attempted to stone him for the crime of blasphemy (vv. 30-33). But the Lord was not finished. He cited the book of Psalms (82:6), from which he contended there is Old Testament precedent for an accommodative use of the term “gods” for ordinary human beings, when such were employed as instruments through whom the word of God was delivered to others. The argument takes the lesser-to-greater format. If it was appropriate to designate certain Old Testament judges as “gods,” it was even more appropriate for him who was “one” with the Father, who had been set apart and sent into the world, to be recognized as deity.
It is interesting to observe the related terms that are employed in the Savior’s argument. Has it not “been written”? The sense of the perfect tense form of the verb demonstrates the abiding force of the divine authority in sacred revelation. “Law” represents the totality of the Old Testament, calling men to accountability. “The word of God” stresses the authority behind the divine message that empowered certain Old Testament dignitaries who acted on the Lord’s behalf. “Scripture” designates the format into which revelation finally found expression. The phrase “cannot be broken” asserts that however recklessly men may throw themselves in opposition to the word of God, and smash themselves into pitiful pieces, Scripture itself weathers the futile storm of frustration and shines all the brighter.
The Book of Acts
The historical record of the book of Acts thrillingly illustrates that the gospel message of the Lord’s apostles, together with that of other inspired spokesmen, was not of human derivation, but was the word of God. The “word of God” consisted of a body of instruction that was spoken or proclaimed by messengers authorized for that task (see Acts 4:31; 6:2; 13:5, 46; 17:13; 18:4).
In order for the word of God to be efficacious, it had to be “heard” and/or “received” (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 13:7, 44). When responses to the gospel were observed, the word of God was “glorified” (13:48) because of the saving power resident within it. As the church multiplied, the word of God itself was said to “increase” or to “grow” (6:7; 12:24)—the cause being figuratively made to stand for its powerful effect.
In the New Testament epistles the expression “word of God” has a variety of applications. For instance, Paul rebukes the irresponsible actions of the Corinthian church with two rhetorical questions, the design of which was to deflate an egotistical disposition entertained by some. Did the word of God originate at Corinth; or did it come only to you? (1 Corinthians 14:36). The questions take for granted that the message that brought salvation to this group was a revelation from God. In another epistle, he would contrast the mere “word of men” with the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
In his letter to the Ephesian saints Paul argues that this body of literature designated as the word of God was that which originated with, and was the penetrating instrument of, the Holy Spirit (6:17). Elsewhere the word of God is further described as being “living and active, and sharper that any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).
So confident were the early saints of the integrity inherent in the word of God that they were willing to undergo hardship to defend its integrity. The apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos on account of the word of God and his testimony concerning Jesus (Revelation 1:9), the latter being the equivalent of the former. Other saints were persecuted even more horribly. Some were “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God” (Revelation 20:4). How can any responsible exegete read these passages and not be convinced that the early Christians considered the gospel message to be anything less than the literal word of God? It was not the theory of God, the concept of God, the idea of God—but the word of God! And that word was conveyed by means of words.
So sacrosanct was the revelation of truth given through the apostles and other inspired communicators, that the recipients of the holy message were warned not to “handle the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Indeed, some already had been “corrupting the word of God” and were severely censured for this inexcusable misconduct (2:17). What a reckless activity it is to speak or act in any way that causes the word of God to be blasphemed (Titus 2:5).
A consideration of these texts and numerous others of like import, reveal several fundamental truths. The New Testament recognizes a certain body of literature as “the word of God.” Implicit in this expression is the fact that the message has been conveyed by means of words, and that its origin is divine. The doctrine of verbal inspiration could not have been enunciated more precisely. When this teaching is rejected, it is the result of liberal bias, not factual investigation.