If you spend time with the folks of Hill City Church, you will often hear us say: Jesus is the Word of God. When many of our friends hear us say this the first few times, they sometimes give us blank stares. If you have interacted with the traditional Evangelical church, when I say “Word of God,” you probably think the Bible. When I say “Jesus is the Word of God,” you might confusingly think, “How is Jesus the Bible?” But that’s not what I am saying. I am saying that Jesus is the Word of God, and the Bible is not the Word of God.
Jesus as the Word of God
I was first challenged by the idea that Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God while studying the tenets of the anabaptist tradition (Side Note: The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray is a great intro for non-anabaptists). Central to anabaptist theology is the idea that Jesus is indeed the Word of God; that is, the tangible, inerrant expression of the Almighty. His name is Jesus. I think there is no more a beautifully poetic expression of Jesus as Word than in John’s account of the Gospel story:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
The Word became flesh and made his home among us.We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.” - John 1:1-5,9-14,16-18 (CEB)
Reading the passage above with the Bible in mind is not only confusing, but it is also depressing. The Bible was with God and was God? Everything came into being through the Bible? The Bible was light and life for all people? But Jesus is light and life!
The controversy of our proclamation arises with regards to authority of the Bible. Usually, the misinterpretation is some form of misguided extrapolation. For example, when I say, “The Bible is not the Word of God,” you might interpret that the Bible is not important, relevant, or authoritative. This is simply untrue and not what I am trying to advocate. To the contrary:
The Bible is Important - In Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet, he describes the Bible as a collection of narratives of humankind’s experience with God. As we read the Bible, it is important to recognize the stories of experience with God “in their days, in their ways.” Narrative-based reading of the Bible is important to help us understand cultural interpretation of God’s interaction with humankind.
The Bible is Relevant - In our declaration of Jesus as Word, it is easy to disregard the Bible as irrelevant. The difficulty arises when we try to understand the relevancy of the Bible as anything other than a God-mandated rule book. However, as we read the scriptures along with the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are guided, challenged, convicted, comforted, and inspired. Spirit-led reading of the scriptures draws us into Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
The Bible is Authoritative - There is authority in the Bible, as it provides story and direction based on experience and interaction with God. However, the Bible’s authority flows out of the authority of Jesus. By this, I mean that in order to respect the Bible’s authority, we have to be interpreting it correctly; that is, through the narrative of Jesus.
The Authority of Jesus and the Reverence of Scripture
Reading the Bible under the authority of Jesus means that we must interpret all that we read based on our knowledge of Jesus. This means that when we read Paul, we must understand his context through our understandings of the way of Jesus. Likewise, as we read the Hebrew Bible (older Testament), we must come to conclusions about the nature of God based on our understanding of the character of Jesus:
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves.” - John 14:9-11 (CEB)
How does this challenge our understanding of the nature of God? God’s wrath? Our view of women, the poor, and the marginalized? I encourage us all to study the teachings of Jesus and embrace a Spirit-led encounter of the scriptures with Jesus as the center of our teaching, theology, community, and way of life.
“The Word of God is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative… and His name is Jesus.” - Bruxy Cavey
Like what you see here? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington for the conversation and our Q&A.