The word of God is a common phrase that we hear in the churches and in the Scriptures. Now preachers in the churches almost always use this phrase to exclusively mean the Bible. Is this actually the case? And while we are talking about both the “word of God” and the Bible I want to ask the reader to consider if God ever did promise to preserve the Bible? Here is my take on the subject.
What is the Word of God?
The phrase word of God has a couple of meanings in the Bible. The Word of God can mean The Son, but mainly every time it’s used in Scripture it’s used to mean God’s message or proclamation. Almost every time a prophetical book begins it starts out with the author saying “The word of the Lord which came by…” then the story and recording of God’s message to the prophet follows this. The New Testament writers use this phrase a lot and it’s almost always used to refer to God’s message of Jesus and eternal life. Although we almost always hear preachers use the phrase to mean the Scriptures in their entirety this is not the case. This would be another example of not letting our modern traditions affect the reading of the Scriptures. So let’s check out some common verses used to support preservation below.
The Poetical Books are absolutely full of references of God’s anger of the oppression of the poor. Check out Psalm 72. This Psalm is no different. The word “preserve” in verse 7 is definitely in reference to God’s word of merciful protection of the “poor” and “needy” of verse 5. To clear up confusion, the “words” of God that are purified seven times are not a reference to the Scriptures, but of His word of judgment to the oppressor and the deliverance of the poor in verses 3 and 5. No mentioning of the Scriptures are made in this passage.
In verse 146 David links God’s Covenant Law to Israel with the word “testimony”. The second part of each verse is always a reference to the Law of God, so it would be safe to interpret this as David’s meaning. Now the Law, or the commandments, are immaterial. He would not be talking about the script of the Law, but the actual commandments themselves. While the commandments may be found on script that was not its origin, we remember that God spoke everything to Moses and then Moses wrote it. There is no indication that David is talking about the Scriptures themselves.
That “word” which is exalted here is probably in reference to God’s message to Israel, again more specifically His promises to them. There is no indication in this passage that God is referring to the Scriptures. Again, while the promises are in the Bible, the Bible is not only made up of God’s promises.
The context of this passage is a promise to Israel from God. Verse 1 starts out the chapter by God commanding comfort to be preached to Israel and that comfort is God’s promise of deliverance and comfort. Therefore the “word” of God in this passage is in reference to His proclamation of His promises to Israel contained in the Scriptures, particularly here in Isaiah. It is not the Scriptures themselves that the prophet is talking about. Again, no mentioning of the Scriptures is made in this passage.
This is one of the big ones used by preservationists. However, upon looking at this passage one will notice that ink and script are not what is in view here, rather the requirements of the Mosiac Law. Christ is the end of the Law as Paul says. He fulfilled the Law according to His own words here, so if He was speaking about the Scripture then the Scriptures themselves would be void. The timing is until it be fulfilled, and not the end of the material world. The Law usually refers to Moses’ writings alone and certainty not the New Testament Scriptures, which of course had not even been written yet. How does the even remotely refer to the Scriptures?
Another big passage used is found here in Matthew 24. Many claim that Christ’s words here are the New Testament writings or the Bible as a whole. It becomes more apparent when one looks at the Scripture passage that Christ is talking about His teaching of His return to be true. The Scriptures themselves record Christ words, but they are certainly not all of His words. John mentions in his exaggeration that the world could not contain the books that should be written about all the things He had done. If the Scriptures were in view here, we should have a complete text of everything Christ said, which is an impossible thing to have. He is talking about His return being true.
The message of God, or HIs word, to John means eternal life. In this passage we see Jesus referring to God’s word and commandment which He gave to Jesus. The word is said by Jesus to be those things pertaining to eternal life and not of the New Testament Scriptures or any other Scripture for that matter.
God’s word of sanctification is the consistent usage of “God’s word” found in the Gospel of John, when not referring to Jesus. It is God’s proclamation of eternal life that we see here just like we see in John 12:49-50. He is not referring to the Scriptures because as we know Jesus already condemned people who thought that because they had the Scriptures they had eternal life (John 5:39). Many teach that the Scriptures sanctify us, but this isn’t true. It is God’s gracious pronouncement which does and not paper and ink.
1 Peter 1:22-24
Here in 1 Peter we see Peter quoting the famous Isaiah 40 passage that we examined earlier. Peter gives his own commentary on what it means and connects it to the Gospel which saves us. Verses 18 through 21 record the Apostle speaking about Jesus’ work of salvation for us and in verses 22-24 he sums this up as “the word of God” which “was preached to you” and made them “born anew”. No mention of Scripture is found here, but rather God’s proclaimed message, the Gospel of Jesus.
Long story short is that when an author of Scripture wants to speak about the Scriptures, he will use the term Scripture. The term word of God has been misunderstood by many preachers and those who have attempted to connect the phrase word of God with the Scriptures in many cases may have mistaken in their common usage. This is not to say that the Scriptures cannot be called the Word of God, it is just to say that this phrase should not only be understood this way alone. The phrase is inclusive of Scripture in that the inspired text is of God and is part of His directives. However, the certain verses as looked at above do not supply a context that exclusively connects the author’s use of the phrase to the Holy Scriptures. How the authors use this phrase is available for everyone to see and no one should conclude that the phrase means the Scriptures in these passages. The Scriptures are deeply important in the Christian faith and it is wonderful to have them, but God never promised to preserve them. It has been the church and will continue to be the church who preserves them by His grace until His return, if they still be available by then. I mention this to say that there is a very real human element in the preservation of the Church and Scriptures that must not be forgotten. God may be gracious in His preservation, but He will not be found alone as the preserver of these things.