Shuck and Jive

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Word of God

Here is the latest in Conversations with Bob! Follow earlier conversations to the right of this blog and feel free to join in the discussion! We are currently talking about the Bible.


Thanks for the suggestion. This is a tough subject to speak about in brief but I will try.

First, a quick comment on the Kingdom of God. I would point out that the parables of Jesus speak about the Kingdom in a variety of ways. Yes, there are parables about the Kingdom in the present. There are parables about the Kingdom being something worth searching for, something of value beyond all else. But there are also parables about the future Kingdom.

Now, on to the Scripture as the Word of God.

Here is a list of resources that I find helpful:

Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man

G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture

Jack Rogers, Reading the Bible & the Confessions the Presbyterian Way

These are all available at

Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach. Unfortunately this book is out of print, but you can get a used copy at Amazon.

Finally, from the Office of Theology and Worship: Biblical Authority and Interpretation, a paper approved by the GA in 1982, available for download at

That should keep ya’ll reading for the rest of the summer!

I’ll make references to the Book of Confessions as needed. BTW the Book of Confessions is downloadable at:

How is the Bible the Word of God? To begin I have to go off on what may seem like a tangent. Jesus is the Word of God. John chapter 1 uses that phrase to talk about Jesus. I’m not going to go into the divinity and humanity of Jesus stated rather directly in John 1. I just don’t think we can talk about the Bible as the Word of God without first talking about Jesus as the Word of God. The Confession of 1967 says (BoC 9.27)

The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel. The church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as prophetic and apostolic testimony in which it hears the word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.

Thus the Bible is the Word of God first in the sense of its purpose: to point to Jesus Christ as the one way of salvation, as the one sufficient revelation of God. I believe that the Bible must be defined by its purpose. It isn’t just out there on its own. God has purpose in the Bible, revealing who God is, what God wants us to believe and what God wants us to do. Thus any attempt to make the Bible into something else, such as a way to figure out the future, is a misuse of the Bible

Where does the phrase, “Word of God,” when used in relation to the Bible come from? I think its original use comes from the prophets. Many of the Minor Prophets start out with, “The Word of the Lord came to so and so” and then gives time markers. The prophet came and spoke for God to their generations. Usually the message from God proclaimed by the prophet was a critique of how the people of God had failed to live as God told them to live.

I think that is the beginning context in which the phrase was used. Of course the Hebrew actually said the Word of HWHY. But the intent of the phrase was to say that God spoke through the prophets.

How did this happen? What was the process? I don’t think that the prophet just opened his mouth and God spoke. Neither do I think that God told the prophet what to say word for word. There is too much grammatical and poetic variation from prophet to prophet. My guess is that God gave a basic theme and the prophets used their own words. In other words, as the title of Barth’s book implied the Word of God was spoken by the words of humans. This is of course speculation. I’m not a prophet in the Old Testament sense. I make this statement based on my best understanding of the vocabulary, grammar, etc. used by the various prophets.

Other Confessions in the BoC speak about the Bible but seem to be more interested in the authority of the Bible, particularly, in the Reformation Confessions, as over against what they perceived to be the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. I’ll talk more about them later in a post on the authority of the Bible.

My real concern is the attempt by some to divide the Bible into those parts that are truly from God and those parts that are a reflection of the culture or the opinions of the writers or editors. I think we need to hear the whole Bible as the Word of God, work as hard as we can to understand what the writers and editors meant to say in their original context, and then try to apply it to our world today.

I’ll also have something to say about how we interpret the Bible, particularly how we use the Bible to interpret the Bible in a later post.

So what part of the Bible is the Word of God? All of it! How does it have authority and how do we interpret it? I’ll leave that for later.


  1. Personally I don't think we should ever apply the terminology "Word of God" to scripture. Properly this appelation belongs only to Jesus. Applying it to scripture confuses the issue and gets people to start doing all sorts of horrible idolatrous things like imputing the attributes of God to the Bible. Scripture is not infallible. Scripture is not holy. Scripture is not divine. It teaches us about a God who is all of these things, but it does not have these characteristics itself.

  2. Your guys convo's are pretty cool and we could use more of this in the church - a council of sorts to decide importance of issues we discuss all the time...I congratulate on this endeavor.

  3. If all the Bible is the word of God, then I can't say I'm very impressed with God. There is much that is beautiful, wonderful, and inspirational in the Bible, but there is also lots of crap contained within those pages.

    A much better take on the Bible, I believe, is to view it as a record of the attempts by communities of faith to understand God. Because human beings wrote those words, it reflects all the human foibles as well as humanity's hope and aspirations. Because its writing took place over centuries, in the context of many historical circumstances, it reflects evolving theologies and understandings of God. I like Jack Good's way of conceiving of the Bible--as a "family album" of a community of faith.

  4. Bob, I love that you bring up Jack Rogers. I have had the pleasure of meeting him several times, and his works always illuminate in a wonderfully unique way.

    You probably know from reading Jack that he is very much a neo-orthodox fan of Karl Barth. I also attended a Sunday School class taught by the late Shirley Guthrie, who was taught by Barth himself.

    In a nutshell (because both Rogers and Barth can tend to get a long winded like any good Reformed theologian), Barth expressed his view of Scripture using Grunewald's Crucifixion. In it, John the Baptist is seen holding a book and pointing to Christ on the cross. Just as John the Baptist was not the Son of God but pointed the way to Him (Matt 3.11), Scripture is not God but rather the testimony to God in Christ. The essential "story arc" of the Bible is creation-fall-redemption-sanctification. The "lens" through which we as disciples of Christ interpret the Bible should first be Christ himself.

    I'm badly butchering the metaphors at work here, and Rogers does a nicer job of summarizing it.

    It's not a matter of "dividing" the Bible up. The fact of the matter is that parts do condone slavery, genocide and the subjugation of women. However, through millennia of study, debate and prayer, the Church has some to the conclusion of what is really important and crucial to the faith, and that is Christ's ministry and resurrection.