Word of God

The written Word

The belief that God speaks to human beings through holy writings or ‘scripture' is important within many religions. To Jews, the Hebrew Bible, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament, is the basis and the main authority for their faith. To Christians, both the Old Testament, which is the first part of the Bible, as well as the New Testament, which is the second part of the Bible and focuses on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, are of great importance to their faith.

The Bible: a library in one book

The word ‘Bible' simply means ‘books'. This is because it is not a single book, but rather a collection of 66 volumes, written by many different authors, in Bibledifferent genres, over a period of hundreds of years. It contains ancient stories which convey meaning through symbolic language, metaphors, historical accounts, poetry, prophecy and visions, biographies, theology, apocalyptic literature as well as wise advice and rules for living. Some of these are understood to stand for all time; others are often understood to have been given for the specific time in which they were written. The Bible contains stories of love and violence, greed and compassion, suffering and joy.

The Bible: the word of God

The Bible is often described as the ‘word of God' and many of its pages portray an immanent God who relates to human beings and is involved in the reality of their everyday lives. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of God speaking to individuals such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon, as well as to whole communities. God's word, described in terms of a range of synonyms such as law, teachings, instructions and commands, is the subject of the longest chapter in the book of Psalms, Psalm 119. It includes metaphors such as ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path' (Psalms 119:105), and similes like ‘How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!' (Psalms 119:103).

In the New Testament, Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living' (2 Timothy 3:16), and the author of 1 Peter writes, ‘The word of the Lord endures forever' (1 Peter 1:23-25).

The sword of God

Two New Testament writers also speak of God's Word as a sword. Paul, using the imagery of a Roman soldier's armour to teach his readers how to resist temptation and spiritual attack, says, ‘Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God' (Ephesians 6:17). The writer to the Hebrews, on the other hand, uses the imagery to describe the effect of the word of God on the reader:

‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.' (Hebrews 4:12).

The spoken Word

The term ‘Prophets' often refers to a group of people in the Old Testament who were used by God to deliver his messages to the Israelites. Many of the statements of the Old Testament Prophets begin with the phrase ‘The Lord says...', e.g. Isaiah 43:1. The prophet Jeremiah describes his experience by comparing God's word to fire, ‘His word is in my heart like a fire', and claims he cannot keep God's message to himself but feels compelled to pass it on, even if it makes him unpopular (Jeremiah 20:9). The Prophet Ezekiel describes being given a scroll with a message from God and being told to eat it, in order to then tell the people of Israel whatever God gives him to say. In the New Testament, the author of 2 Peter comments on the prophets' messages, ‘prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit' (2 Peter 1:21).

Jesus the Word

While the Bible is often seen as God's written word, and the prophets were understood to deliver God's spoken word, Jesus is portrayed in the New Testament as being God's living word.

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews begins with the words,

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. He reflects the brightness of God's glory and is the exact likeness of God's own being, sustaining the universe by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus is also referred to as the ‘word' (Greek: ‘Logos'), and is claimed to have existed from the beginning of time, as being the agent of the creation of the world, and as being (the same as) God (John 1:1-3). John continues by stating that ‘the word' became a human being and lived among us (John 1:14), a reference to the nativity. See Big ideas: Trinity, Holy Spirit; Messiah, Christ, Jesus.

Related topics

Big ideas: Jews, Hebrews, Children of Israel, Isrealites; Dreams, visions, and prophecy; Trinity, Holy Spirit; Messiah, Christ, Jesus

Impact of the Bible: How the Bible came into being; Reading the Bible; An overview of the Bible narrative

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