Jesus and his followers redefined the term’s word of God, word of Truth and, Word with a capital letter, to mean either the gospel or, Jesus, the living gospel. This is a subtle nuance that has been overlooked for centuries by theologians but, I think it makes a very big difference in the doctrine of scripture that one holds. This is a combination of three posts that were posted in December of 2009. I will apologize for the length here but I think it is necessary to combine these post to see the case clearly. I ask that you take the time to read this and decide for yourself.
When you look at the various creeds written over the years, they most often, if not always begin with a section on the scripture. This is true of systematic theology books also. They generally begin with the scripture or the concept of divine revelation. The reason is simple. The section on divine revelation and scripture establishes the foundation for all of the doctrinal points that follow. Most statements of faith include a position on the scripture. It is only natural that this discussion of my paradigm shift should begin with the scripture. Is it accurate to call it the Word of God? And, if it isn’t, what difference does it make? In my view, it makes a very big difference and I think that the subtle, nuanced truth will point to a major shift.
First of all, Jesus himself referred to the scripture twenty-four times in the four gospels. In other instances, he called it either, the law or, the law and the prophets. He did not call the scripture the word of God with one possible exception in John 10:34-35 and, we will deal with that in a later post individually. However, he did call it the scripture 24 times and he referred to it as either the law or, the law and the prophets 25 times for a total of 49 times. Here is what I find most interesting. He defined the word of God as the gospel of the kingdom in Luke 8:11. If you look at the parallel verse in Matthew 13:19 he defines the seed as the word or message of the kingdom… in other words… the gospel.
In fact, as these posts progress, you will find that overwhelmingly and, even exclusively, Jesus and his apostles define the word of God, the word of truth or, the Word, as either, the living Word Jesus himself or, the gospel, the word or message of the kingdom of God. It is my plan to do an exhaustive analysis of this throughout the entire New Testament scripture. I will use many illustrations in subsequent posts but for now let me end this post with an example for you.
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 1:9)
Now here is the question that you should ask yourself. Was John banished to the Isle of Patmos for the scripture? Of course not. It was very legal for Jews to have the Torah or the scriptures. Rome had decided to let that go long before Jesus came on the scene. The fact is that John was on Patmos for the gospel and Jesus. It was the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus that caused Rome to persecute the Christians. So, we see that the gospel and the incarnation are very important to the story of the New Covenant. It will become more and more clear that in reality, at least according to Jesus and his contemporaries, that it was the only focus.
We have looked at what Jesus said in the four gospels about scripture, the law and prophets and, the word of God; Specifically, his definition of the term word of God in Luke 8:11. Let’s move on to how the Book of Acts uses the phrase word of God.
First, the phrase is used in twelve verses. And, when you read the verses in context, in each of them, the phrase only makes sense when the meaning of the phrase is gospel. In other words, if you try to replace the phrase with scripture it does not make sense but, if you replace the phrase with the gospel, it is obvious that gospel was the intended meaning. And yet, to the average evangelical, the first connotative meaning attached to the phrase is scripture. Here are a few examples of the apostolic meaning:
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Act 4:31)
In the above verse, the clause, they spoke the gospel with boldness makes perfect sense but it does not make sense to say that they were speaking the scripture with boldness because all of the Jews spoke the scripture and it did not take boldness to speak the scripture. They memorized scripture from the time that they were small children on.
Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Act 6:7)
In Acts six they were only speaking to Jews because the Gentiles were not included in the evangelizing until Acts chapter 10 so, when you read Acts 6:7, it only makes sense when you see the word of God as the gospel….the gospel spread and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem …and conversely it would not make sense to say that the scripture spread
Here are all of the scripture passages that have the phrase the word of God in them in the book of Acts: (Act_4:31; Act_6:2; Act_6:7; Act_8:14; Act_11:1; Act_12:24; Act_13:5; Act_13:7; Act_13:44; Act_13:46; Act_17:13; Act_18:11;) In each of them, the only term that makes sense when substituted, is the gospel. Using the word scripture will not work in any of them. Check it out for yourself.
By the same token, the word scripture is used seven times in the book of acts to describe what was written their sacred scripture and, the Law… or, the Law and the Prophets… are mentioned in 20 verses. It is clear that the apostles and, contemporaries of Jesus saw the difference between the scripture and the word of God. As we move forward with this blog, it will become obvious that the first century saints never referred to the scripture as the word of God.
Again you may ask, “so what?”
Well, for one thing, you should ask yourself “why did they make the distinction and how did we end up changing this meaning?”
We have covered the use and meaning of the phrase the word of God in the book of Acts. Now we will shift to the phrase the word of truth. This phrase is most familiar from the often quoted and preached on verse, 2Tim 2:15. So the question once again is what is meant by Paul and others when they use the phrase word of truth? And again, the most widely accepted evangelical meaning is scripture. When anyone discusses rightly dividing or correctly handling the word of truth, they invariably mean the scripture. But is that what was meant by the phrase in the first century writings?
First off, the phrase is used four times in the New Testament writings three times by Paul and once by James; (2Co_6:7; Eph_1:13; 2Ti_2:15; Jas_1:18;) Interestingly, Paul actually defines the term in Ephesians:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, (Eph 1:13)
Notice that Paul outright states that the word of truth is the gospel of your salvation. There can be little room for debate about what he meant in his writing and he would not have been confusing with his terms; therefore, we can believe that the meaning that he attached to the phrase in Ephesians 1:13, is the same meaning that he gave it in 2Tim 2:15 and, thereby we can reasonably assume that he meant that the man/woman of God should rightly divide and, correctly handle the gospel of salvation.
Does James back this up? The answer is a resounding yes. Look at the passage from James:
Jas 1:17-18 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (18) Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
In the above passage James is speaking of being brought forth as a kind of firstfruit. This is description of being born again by the word of truth, Jesus and/or, the gospel. In any instance, you can be sure that he is not saying that he or, the other believing saints were being brought forth by the scripture.
So, what is the reason for this gospel focus? The answer is simply that Jesus taught his disciples a totally redemptive view of scripture that pointed to him and, the redemption he brought. The earlier focus of the word of truth, Psalm 119:43 was supplanted by this use of the phrase. The first century Jews, especially the Pharisees, saw the Torah as the word of God based upon the 119th Psalm and Jesus and his disciples are replacing the meaning in an overwhelmingly forceful way and, they are careful not to refer to the Torah as the word of God. Now before you jump to conclusions about how I view the scripture I will begin to get at that next. We will come back to the word of God a few posts down the road however.
As usual, if you have comments or questions feel free to share them. And I would strongly suggest that you go back and read the posts that come before this so you can see how the logic is built on the evidence.