In the course of writing my last series of blogs two issues came up that I could not fit into my previous posts, but I believe deserve consideration. The issue is that there are two scriptural passages that I have seen misused with alarming regularity.
First, people have equated the phrase “word of God” in Hebrews 4:12 with the Protestant Bible. This belief has been supported by the widespread belief that the Protestant Bible is the “Word of God” and in circular way, this verse has also been used to support that very belief.
I think calling the Bible the “Word of God” is problematic where it is not outright wrong. Often when the Bible uses the phrase “word of God,” in Hebrew 4:12 and many other places, it is not referencing the Protestant Bible.
To support this statement I am going to take scriptures where the exact phrase “word of God” or “God’s word” is used and replace it with “THE BIBLE.” I encourage my readers to evaluate for themselves if equating “the word of God” with “the Bible” makes any sense in these passages. Keep in mind that when these scriptures were written, some of the letters that came to be part of our New Testament were not even written yet. Additionally the biblical canon was not established for decades and people did not have personal copies of the Bible until centuries later after the invention of the printing press.
- “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to THE BIBLE and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (Rev 1:1-2)
- “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you THE BIBLE in its fullness (Col 1:25) [Apparently Paul was charged with dropping off a book that did not exist yet.]
- “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But THE BIBLE is not chained.” (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
- “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring BIBLE.” (1 Pet 1:23)
- “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by THE BIBLE and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:3-5)
- “But they deliberately forget that long ago by THE BIBLE the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” (2 Pet 3:5) [Apparently a copy or copies of the Bible were floating around before the creation of the world and the world was created by the Bible.]
- “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received THE BIBLE.” (Acts 11:1)
- ” He (Jesus) is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is THE BIBLE.” (Rev 19:13)
- “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of THE BIBLE and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6)
- “Did THE BIBLE originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.” (1 Cor 14:36-38)
- “And we also thank God continually because, when you received THE BIBLE, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, THE BIBLE, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess 2:13) [Not only was receiving a book that did not exist yet of paramount importance, but it was active and at work in those that believed.]
- “Unlike so many, we do not peddle THE BIBLE for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2 Cor 2:17) [Apparently people produced copies of the Bible before books even existed and were selling them for profit.]
- “For the THE BIBLE is living 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.” (Heb 4:12) [I was not aware a book could judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. This is something that scripture elsewhere reserves for God alone]
It seems to me abundantly clear that we cannot simplistically equate the Bible with the “Word of God” when this phrase is used in scripture. Often this phrase appears to refer to either the Gospel or Jesus Christ Himself. I think we need to stop calling the Bible the word of God and refer to it as scriptures or simply as the Bible. When we call the Bible the word of God or God’s word, we often (intentionally or unintentionally) call down divine authority onto our highly subjective, contextual and biased interpretations of certain passages. This often gives divine authority to things that never should be seen as authoritative or divine.
An example of this is that I recently heard a Christian teacher reinforcing chauvinistic, complimentarian, sexist and distinctly Western ideals for families as the one acceptable way to understand and approach family life. He invoked Hebrews 4:12 and suggested that he was “sticking” less mature male Christians with the “Word of God” like a sword who had not been told what it was to be a man yet. I wanted to vomit.
Second, 2 Timothy 3:16 is regularly referenced when discussing the nature of inspiration of the entire Bible. It is from this verse that the Christian mantra that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” comes from.
I think this is a misuse of scripture. In context, Paul was referring to the Hebrew Bible (what many would call the Old Testament). We should not use this scripture as a proof text when discussing biblical inspiration, or at least not use it in reference to the New Testament.
This is pretty straightforward. Paul was a Jew and for him “the Scripture” would mean the Hebrew Bible. I do not think it is in any way feasible to suggest that Paul believed his letters, including 2 Timothy, were on par with the Scripture or that Paul in some way anticipated his letters would later become considered scripture by other Christians. If Paul did know somehow by divine revelation, he does not appear to express that in any of his writings. Paul also, in verse 15, refers to the fact that Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures from his (Timothy’s) infancy. Considering the fact that the spiritual writings that would become the New Testament were not all written yet, and Timothy would have known the scriptures Paul is talking about from infancy, it seems abundantly clear that Paul has in mind the Hebrew Bible.
This means the Paul is encouraging a Christian leader under his tutelage to see the value, divine inspiration and practical uses of the Hebrew Bible. Pretending this passage refers to the Bible as it is now understood may be useful, practical, and a cliché way to express the belief that the New Testament and Old Testament are divinely inspired and useful but I think Christians should find a way to express these sentiments in ways that do not fundamentally misuse the scriptures.