The Word of God
2 Timothy 3:16-17
The word of God. The Word of God? The Word of God!
The tone and body language we use when we utter this phrase reveals how we understand it: with indifference, credulity, or confidence.
What do we as Christians mean when we say, “the Word of God?”
First, we think of Jesus Christ. As John says in the prologue to his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John adds, “The Word became flesh.” Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate.
We also use the phrase to describe the Bible, the Word of God Written. We can understand the phrase as an objective genitive, that is, God is the object of the phrase “the word.” In this sense we would translate the phrase dynamically as “words about God.” In other words, the Bible is a human attempt to speak about God. It may get some things right. It may get some things wrong. We must what is true or false. This is, I think, the prevailing view in the world today, and to some degree in the church.
This not how we understand the “Word of God Written.” We believe the phrase “Word of God” should be understood as a subjective genitive. God is the subject of the phrase “the Word.” We translate the phrase dynamically as “God is speaking.” When we read the Bible, we are reading the words God wanted to be recorded for our benefit, and in those words, we hear God speaking to us.
But how is this possible? Well, the Bible is inspired in a unique way. We sometimes speak of a musical performance or a poetry reading as inspired. We might even say that a well-executed play in football was inspired. By these we mean that the performance of reading or play were inspiring. We felt something as we listened or watched them. But we are saying something else when we say, “The Bible is inspired.” The Bible is inspired, but it is not always inspiring. Just think about the long genealogy that constitutes the first nine chapter of First Chronicles or the ceremonial laws of the Book of Leviticus.
So, what do we mean when we say, “The Bible is inspired?” Second Timothy 3:16 helps us to understand what we mean. Paul uses the Greek word theopneustos. It means “God breathed.” N. T. Wright, the English Anglican Bishop and theologian tells the story of an American professor who went to Oxford for a year as a visiting academic. He and his wife were waling around one of the older parts of the college one day. They saw an ancient, crumbling stone building. His wife spotted windows with curtains and people going about their business inside. She exclaimed, “These ruins are inhabited!” Wright, speaking of the Bible, observes, “It looks like a jumble of old bits and pieces of writing, a rag-bag of poetry, history, folk tales, ethical instruction, and some strange stories about some even stranger people. Reading it can seem, at least to begin with, like wandering through old courtyards where somebody once lived but a long time ago. But then, just when you are tempted to put the whole thing aside as interesting perhaps but not really relevant, you sense movement and life. Something is stirring there. There’s an energy, as though someone’s left a light on or music is playing in the old building. Maybe its inhabited after all. It seems to have a life. A breath, even.”
Literally, what Paul says is “all scripture is God breathed into.” God has breathed into this book. If you’ve ever spent time alone sitting in silence with the scriptures, you’ll know what I speak of. The words can leap from the page into your heart and mind and you can hear God’s still small voice speaking to you. I am currently reading through the prophet Isiah in my morning devotions. Although Isaiah was speaking of ancient Israel, the words resonate strongly with the present day. I try to follow current events and culture carefully. There is much cause for concern. Some of the words that jumped off the page to me recently were “The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it.” Corruption, decadence, and self-interest seem to rule the day. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” Our values have been turned upside down. Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Where is concern for all of our citizens, not just the privileged?
Paul says that scripture is useful. The primary goal in reading the Bible is not information but transformation. The Bible is intended to reprove and correct us. Its aim is to train us in righteousness so that we may be equipped for every good work.
This means we should approach the Bible in a way that we approach no other book. I like what one commentator said, “We approach scripture with a special reverence and with special care. We come to the Bible very carefully. We want to be diligent. We want to be prepared. We want to take it seriously. […] Really, in its simplest form, we ought to come to the Word of God with the same sort of attitude with which we come to God himself. If God spoke to you, which he does in the Scriptures, if God opened his mouth to us, how would we approach him? Well, I think we would listen carefully. We would listen diligently. We would listen submissively. We would listen expectantly. And we’d listen with an aim to love and obey.”
The Bible is not just human words about God, but God speaking to us. The scriptures are not just inspiring. They are inspired, God breathed. Someone is living in this book, if you will. If you will take and read it, you will discover the author for yourself. And the “perfect law of liberty will begin to change you. God will reprove you and correct you. God will train you in righteousness. God will equip you for every good work.
“How is the Word of God to be read? With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.”
Thanks be to God, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate. Thanks be to God for the Word of God written too that constantly points us to Jesus and His way.
The Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God. Amen.