“The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!” That sounds like something from a bumper sticker. It’s a claim I find to be shocking whenever an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian makes. it. The statement reflects a belief that the Bible is the Word of God: words spoken by God to human beings who recorded them. Adherents to this view believe that the Bible is literally correct as stated in the English translation.
If you’ve attended Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Anglican, or Lutheran churches, you wouldn’t have heard this kind of claim, but you would have seen the Bible (or the Gospels) carried in procession and venerated. After reading a portion, a proclamation was likely made: “The Word of the Lord!” The proclamation infers that the Bible is the Word of God — that is God’s message to humanity for all time.
The claim that the Bible is the Word of God seems logical. The Bible is a book. (Really, it’s a collection of books.) It has words. Christians believe it’s an inspired book. Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God. Here’s the ironic thing about it. The Bible does refer to the “Word of God” but it’s not speaking about the book. Instead, the phrase “Word of God” refers to Jesus as the Christ.
Let me cut to the chase: the Bible is not the Word of God. The New Testament infers that Christ is the Word of God. This distinction has significant implications.
Here’s what the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1 to 4 states:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.”
The gospel attributed to John was written in Greek. What we translate into English as “word” is “logos” in Greek. Logos is a term used in other Greek writings, particularly in philosophy. Logos is the principle that governs the development of the universe. There’s no one term in English to capture it. It’s translated as word, plan, or reason. Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures use “logos” to translate the Hebrew term “dabar.” “Dabar” is sometimes translated as “word” in English, but in Jewish writings, it refers to the Divine word that is a creative force. Remember one of the stories of creation in Genesis: God speaks and things are created. That’s “dabar.” It’s not a word on a page, but it’s an active force of creation. Again, English has no equivalent concept for dabar or logos.
The New Testament equates Jesus as the Divine force of creation, the active word of God that holds the universe together. This active word brings life here and now for all people.
The Bible is not the Word of God. Instead, the Bible is a collection of writings from a couple of millennia that recounts how people have come to understand the Divine working in their lives. The Bible is a sacred story about dabar, about logos. But the Bible is not the creative force that governs the development of the universe. The Bible may be inspired and inspiring. But it wasn’t dictated by God and it’s full of very obvious contradictions.
Why are there contradictions in the Bible? There are many reasons for specific contradictions. In brief, the Bible is about people attempting to understand something much greater than us all. Understanding something beyond us can be ambiguous and contradictory. It’s exactly these ambiguities that make the Bible engaging and relevant because life is confusing for all of us.
The Bible: it’s a rich text that’s gathered literature from people who lived over many centuries and in a variety of cultures. As a whole, it is a story….a sacred one that continues to inspire. That’s a beautiful thing. But it’s not the Word of God.
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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.