If you sit and listen to a Christian talk about the Bible for any length of time, you will invariably hear them refer to it as “The Word of God”. This includes myself. I say it all the time. We appeal to a passage in scripture saying something along the lines of “The word of God says..”. I’ve put a lot of time and though into what I’m about to say, and it may come off as heresy, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t believe the Bible is “The Word of God”.
Now that I’ve (possibly) offended every follower I have, let me explain what I mean. And yes, I’m gonna get Greeky.
It’s All About Words
Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, refers to three different types of words using three different, well… words. These words are (transliterated) Graphe, Rhema, and Logos. In attempting to understand my argument, it’s important that we understand the definition of these three words and how they are used. I’m going to provide the definitions here, but if you’re curious about the meaning of these words (or really any word in the New Testament) I’d encourage you to look them up at BibleStudyTools.com.
First, we have graphe. This is the word which literally refers to a written communication. It’s used in 2 Timothy 3:16, translated as “scripture”. It’s also the word Jesus uses when referring to the Old Testament throughout the Gospel, as in Matthew 21:42 and John 2:22 That John passage is key to understanding all of this, and we’ll get back to it soon.
Now, let’s look at rhema. When rhema is used in the New Testament, it refers to spoken words. It’s all about spoken communication. It’s used in Matthew 26:75 when Peter “remembered the word Jesus had spoken”. Rhema can also be found in Hebrews 6:5 translated as “word” in the phrase “tasted the good word of God”. Jesus uses the word in John 17:8 in reference to his teachings to his disciples which came from God.
Finally, we have logos. Logos is perhaps the most commonly referred to of these three words in the Church today. It’s used in John 1:1 (In the beginning was the Word…) and refers to Jesus. Like rhema, logos can be used to suggest a spoken communication. However, it is a far more nuanced word. In 600 BC, a philosopher by the name of Heraclitus used it to describe a divine reason or plan, and forever after it carried with it far more implication than rhema. It can mean the embodiment of a concept or idea. As a fairly straightforward reading of John 1:1 would suggest, logos is sometimes a reference to Jesus himself. In other passages it means “an account”, like Acts 1:1 where it refers back to the book of Luke. In fact, in the book of Acts, the word is used 64 times and almost every instance is a reference to an account of the Gospel and is sometimes translated as “the message” (4:4). It is often preceded by “they received” (17:11).
Boiling It Down
These three words are used in three very different ways. Graphe refers to that which is written down. Rhema is about that which is spoken. Logos, however, refers to the plan of God, embodied.
As we read through the New Testament, it should be noted that the writers never refer to their writing as logos. They don’t use “The Word of God” to describe the epistles as we do today. Instead, the writers refer to Jesus the Christ; his life, death, burial, and resurrection; and the shared message of those things as “The Word”. When someone receives “The Word” in the New Testament they aren’t receiving “The Scriptures”, but the fulfillment of them.
Let me state, for the record, that we read about The Word of God in the Scriptures. When Philip ministers to the Ethiopian in Acts 8, it’s important to note that Philip preached Jesus from the scriptures (which was here a reference to the Old Testament as the New Testament books had not yet been composed). Scripture is important. If you walk away from reading this thinking it isn’t, I have failed to make my point. However, scripture should always be understood in the context of how it relates to The Word of God (aka: God’s plan embodied, Jesus).
Think back to John 2:22:
“So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.”
Just before this, we have an account of Jesus clearing the temple. He drives out the money changers and merchants and his disciples remembered the written word “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Remembering the Old Testament scripture which they had been familiar with from childhood, they began to draw connections to Jesus. However, the scripture wasn’t understood and believed fully until Jesus had been raised from the dead. At that point, they came to remembered rhema, believed graphe, and believed the logos. John draws a clear line between graphe and logos.
The disciples knew scripture before the resurrection of Christ, but they didn’t understand it without the context of the resurrection. When we understand The Word of God, we have the correct lens to look at scripture through. Scripture is good, but absent the Christ it’s meaningless.
What does this mean?
As I pointed out before, Scripture is important. We read about The Word of God in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean that all scripture is The Word of God, though Paul does say that all scripture is inspired by God. We’ll talk about what that means another time. Taken apart from the context of Christ, scripture can be abused mightily.
Many people have taken passages of scripture for justification of hateful and destructive things. They’ve taken those passages, divorced them from God’s plan embodied, and used them as weapons to inflict pain. We can all think of examples. The KKK used (and uses) scripture to justify their racist and bigoted ideas. The Nazis appealed to scripture as a justification for their heinous crimes against humanity. And sometimes, 21st century Christians justify sinful behavior and hatful sentiment using scripture.
When we read scripture, we need to ask ourselves what it means in light of The Word of God. If we believe:
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not parish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn it, but to redeem it through him.”
Then we need to carefully examine scripture to understand how its teachings fit into that phrase. Does abusive, disrespectful, hateful behavior have anything to do with The Word of God?
If the Bible is The Word of God, it needs no context for us to understand it, and we can use it however we want. It is it’s own lens. Because the Bible is scripture and not The Word of God (remember, that’s Jesus), it needs a lens to focus it. Even the prophets didn’t understand what they wrote, because they didn’t know Jesus. If you’re reading the Bible and it seems unclear, ask what the passage reveals about God’s plan embodied. Revere scripture for what it reveals about The Word. Do not place it above The Word.