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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible So Special?

Don Stewart :: What Does the Phrase, “the Word of God” Mean?

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What Does the Phrase, “the Word of God” Mean?

Why the Bible Is So Special – Question 10

The phrase, “the Word of God” or “the Word of the Lord” has a number of different meanings in Scripture. It can mean either something that God has decreed, something that God has said when addressing humans, words that God spoke through the prophets, Jesus Christ, or finally, God’s written Word.

This can be illustrated as follows:

1. It Can Be Something That God Has Decreed

God’s decrees are His divine pronouncements. His words cause things to happen. Specifically, the Bible gives a number of examples of this. In Genesis, we read that God commands light to appear:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3 NASB)

Light comes about because of the spoken word of God. He spoke, light appeared.

When God decrees something that will, of necessity, come about, it is known as “the Word of God” or “the Word of the Lord.” The psalmist wrote:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Psalm 33:6 NASB)

The New English Translation puts it this way:

By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. (Psalm 33:6 NET)

The heavens were created by the divine decrees of God.

These types of decrees were something that God desired to occur ? they were not necessarily spoken to anyone. Yet, they are called “the Word of God” or “the Word of the Lord.” Indeed, the universe is upheld by the Word of God. The writer to the Hebrews said:

The Son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly. He sustains the universe by the mighty power of his command. After he died to cleanse us from the stain of sin, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God of heaven. (Hebrews 1:3 NLT)

Therefore, God’s divine speech causes certain events to happen, and on some occasions, causes things to come into being. His divine decrees caused the universe to come about and it allows the universe to continue to exist.

2. It May Refer to God Verbally Addressing Humans: Personal Address

When God verbally addressed certain humans in the past, His words were known as the Word of God. Scripture gives a number of illustrations of God addressing humans in human language. For example, God personally spoke to Adam in the Garden of Eden:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 NRSV)

Thus, the phrase, “the Word of God” or the “Word of the Lord” can refer to the actual words God used in speaking to humans in their own language. This type of personal address from God is found throughout Scripture. When the Ten Commandments were given, God personally spoke them to Moses. The Bible says:

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3 RSV)

Therefore, the Word of God may refer to the actual words that God spoke to humans. In these instances, the people were hearing the very voice of the living God. His words were completely understandable; spoken in ordinary human language. The people were expected to obey these words that God had spoken.

3. It Can Refer to God Speaking Through Human Prophets

The phrase, “Word of God” is also used of something that is said by God’s chosen spokesmen. The Bible says that God spoke to His people through the words of the prophets. These words consisted of ordinary language spoken through human beings.

When the biblical prophets spoke for the Lord, their words were called the “Word of God.” The Lord promised that the prophets would speak His words. He said to Moses:

I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I want. I myself will hold responsible anyone who then pays no attention to the words that prophet will speak in my name. But any prophet who presumes to speak anything in my name that I have not authorized him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods?that prophet must die. (Deuteronomy 18:18-20 NET)

While the words of the prophets were the speech of human beings, they carried God’s divine authority. The words spoken by God’s prophets were supposed to be obeyed. However, those who falsely claimed to speak God’s word were to be punished.

In another instance, the Lord promised to tell the prophet Jeremiah what to say to the people. The Bible says:

The LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ But go to whomever I send you and say whatever I tell you.” (Jeremiah 1:7 NET)

The Lord assured Jeremiah that his words to the people would be God’s words. We also read in Jeremiah:

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I will most assuredly give you the words you are to speak for me.” (Jeremiah 1:9 NET)

Scripture makes no distinction in the authority of the words that God directly spoke and those things that were spoken by His prophets. Everything that was said was considered to be the Word of God because God was their ultimate source. God used ordinary human beings and spoke through them in their own language to communicate the Word of God. Consequently, the words were to be obeyed.

We must note that while God did personally speak to humans, or used humans as His personal spokesmen, these occurrences were rare ? they were not the norm. This was not the way in which He regularly communicated with humanity.

4. Jesus Christ Is the Word of God

God the Son, Jesus Christ, is known as the Word of God. At the beginning of John’s gospel we read the following:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 KJV)

In the Book of Revelation, John describes the risen Christ as the “Word of God.” He wrote:

He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. (Revelation 19:13 ESV)

The New Living Translation says:

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13 NLT)

This description, the Word of God, is only used for God the Son; it is not used for God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the one member of the Trinity who personally communicated God to humanity. However, since there are only two references in the New Testament that refer to Jesus Christ as the Word of God, this usage is rare.

5. It Also Refers to God’s Written Word

Finally, the “Word of God” can refer to God’s Word in written formPsalm 19:9-10the Bible. After being proclaimed orally, God’s Word was put into written form. Moses was told to write down God’s words:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14 NIV)

Elsewhere, we again read about God telling Moses to write something down:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34:27 RSV)

In the New Testament, Jesus contrasted the written Word of God with the ungodly tradition of the people. He said:

But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” he certainly does not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. (Matthew 15:5-6 NET)

According to Jesus, these human-made traditions nullified the Word of God. The written Word of God, the Hebrew Scripture, was the only source of authority for the people until Jesus came. While these were human words, they still carried God’s divine authority.

The New Testament appears to use the terms “Word of God,” “Word of the Lord” and “Word of Christ” interchangeably. All of them refer to God’s authoritative Word.

Therefore, we find that the Scripture uses the phrase “the Word of God” in five distinct ways: God’s divine decrees, God personally speaking to people in their language, the words of God’s divinely inspired prophets, Jesus Christ and the written Word of God. The context must determine how the phrase is to be understood.

Summary – Question 10
What Does the Phrase, “the Word of God” Mean?

The phrase, “the Word of God” is used in a number of different ways. It refers to something that God has decreed to come to pass. It is also used of the actual spoken words of God. Words that God has spoken through the prophets can also be called “the Word of God.” Jesus Christ Himself is called the Word of God. Finally, the phrase can also refer to God’s written Word.

The words that were delivered by God’s designated spokesmen, the prophets, as well as the written Word of God, though not as dramatic, carried the same authority as the actual words spoken by God.

While all five ways that God has spoken to humanity can be called the “Word of God,” the only form available to us to study is the written Scripture. Indeed, we would not know about the other four areas of God’s Word except for the written Word in Scripture.

What Symbols, or Word Pictures, Does the Bible Use to Describe Itself? ← Prior Section
Does the Old Testament Claim to Be the Word of God? Next Section →
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