I have started writing a column for Preach magazine, in which I explore a significant word or phrase in the Bible and the ideas that it expresses. The first one was on the phrase ‘Word of God’. Despite the fact that many churches use this phrase with reference to the reading of Scripture, its meaning is often disputed, sometimes on the basis that it is Jesus, rather than the Bible, which is the word of God. The two ideas are actually closely related, and need to be understood in the context of Old Testament understandings of the phrase, as I explore:
‘This is the Word of the Lord’. ‘Thanks be to God.’ This is quite a common refrain at the end of the Bible readings in many churches; you might have said one or both parts of this in the last week. But it is not always clear what we mean by the phrase ‘Word of God’, and the use of the phrase is sometimes disputed.
We encounter the idea of the word of God immediately on opening the Bible. The creation account in Genesis 1 depicts God not so much as a craftsman shaping the world with his hands, but as a speaker bringing the world into being simply by his speech. What he speaks into existence comes into existence; God’s words do things. In the second creation account, in Gen 2.4 onwards, God’s words shape the world he has made; his command to the adam to eat of any tree in the garden, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, creates a boundary for the adam’s world. The first challenge to the power of God’s words comes from the snake when it asks ‘Did God really say…?’