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Word, Word of God, Word of [Jehovah]. Of the three Hebrew terms used in the OT to express God’s communications, that of peh (“mouth”), generally translated “word” in these contexts, is the most vivid. It specifies the source of the declarations as coming directly from God himself. Both Moses (Num. 3:16, 51; cf. Josh. 22:9) and Joshua (Josh. 19:50) received instructions from the mouth of [Jehovah] for their people. They consequently declared their word to be his.
Every instance of the term ʿimrâ, including the occurrence of its one plural form (Ps. 12:6), has God’s word in view, while the term itself focuses on the act of speech as such. Only four of its twenty-seven references are outside the Psalms (Deut. 33:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Prov. 30:5; Isa. 5:24, which in the neb appears between vv. 4 and 5 of ch. 10). As the speech of God, his word is “tried” (Ps. 18:30 kjv), or “proves true” (rsv, cf. 2 Sam. 22:31; Pss. 105:19; 119:140), having “stood the test” (Prov. 30:5 neb). Such a word laid up in the heart is a sure safeguard against sinning (Ps. 119:11).
The word dābār is used 394 times to characterize a communication as the word “of God” or “of [Jehovah].” Here the emphasis falls upon the matter of the utterance, on the what is said. As dābār, God’s word is the virtual concrete expression of his personality. God is what he says. Therefore, did [Jehovah] reveal himself to Samuel through “his word” (1 Sam. 3:21). As the expression of his being and character, the word of the Lord is the supreme means by which God makes himself known to his creatures. By such a word the world was brought into existence and history set in motion. This dābār of [Jehovah] can be trusted (Ps. 119:42) as the source of life (Ps. 119:25), light (Ps. 119:105), and understanding (Ps. 119:169).
In the LXX, the words rhēma and logos are used to translate the Hebrew dābār. In the familiar phrase “the word of [Jehovah] came” it is rendered logos in 2 Samuel 24:11; 1 Kings 6:11; et al., and rhēma in 1 Samuel 15:10; 2 Samuel 7:4; 1 Kings 17:8, et al. In the prophetic books the LXX translators favor logos to denote God’s message to the prophets for proclaimation to the people.
The NT uses both rhēma and logos with apparent indifference to any significant nuance of meaning. In addition to the word “of God” and “of [Jehovah]” there is that “of Jesus” (Matt. 26:75; cf. John 2:22; 4:50; et al.) and “of Christ” (Col. 3:16; cf. John 5:24; 17:17; et al.). One and the same, then, with “the word of God” and “the word of [Jehovah]” is the “word”—the logos—of Jesus Christ; so are his words (rhēmata) spirit and life (John 6:63).
In three contexts in the NT the designation “the word of God” appears. The preached word of the gospel is spoken of in such terms. There was a time when the NT as we now have it was not in existence. But “the word of God” was there—the saving message of Christ. The first disciples spoke “the word of God” with boldness (Acts 4:31) and so “the word of God” increased (Acts 6:7; cf. 19:20). At Salamis, Paul and Barnabas “proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues” (Acts 13:5), which “word of God” Sergius Paulus desired to hear (v. 7). This “good word of God” (Heb. 6:5 kjv) is “the word of truth” (Col. 1:5) and is consequently God’s gospel (Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 1 Thess. 2:2, 8, 9; 1 Pet. 4:17; cf. Acts 20:24; 1 Tim. 1:11) and Christ’s (Mark 1:1; Rom. 15:19; 2 Cor. 2:12; et al.). It is the logos of promise (Rom. 9:9) and of wisdom and knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8), therefore the rhēma of faith (Rom. 10:8). By this “living and enduring” logos of God man is born anew (1 Pet. 1:23) and by this rhēma of God man lives (Phil. 2:16; cf. Matt. 4:4; John 6:63). Such a “word of God” is the “word of the good news” of the apostolic gospel (1 Pet. 1:25), being preeminently the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19) and the message of salvation (Acts 13:26), which find their summary and dynamic in “the message of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18).
The word of God proclaimed orally by its first witnesses is one with the word finally embodied in written form in the NT.
In Revelation 19:13 the exalted Christ is specifically designated “the Word of God.” The title naturally associates itself with the same author’s logos doctrine either by way of an approach to it or as an application of it. In John 1:1–2 the term logos—Word—is used in an absolute sense of Christ as the incarnate Son of God. In the person of Christ, John thus affirms, God’s essential being became actual, comprehensive, and historical. As the Word—logos—Christ was among humankind as the incarnate speech of God; and as such he communicates eternal life to those who receive him. John declares that this Word had an existence beyond the limits of time. He stresses both his separate personality—“the Word was with [pros, ‘toward’] God” in the intimacy of an eternal relationship—and his true deity—“the Word was God” in the actuality of his essential nature. Precisely because the Word was personally distinct from God and yet truly God, he made God known.
Throughout John’s prologue, then, the logos is set forth as the personal self-disclosure of God in his total being. Thus is the Word more than divine reason. In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, there is a real incarnation of God, coming forth in human actuality of the innermost nature of eternal deity. Hence Jesus Christ is the perfect medium of God’s self-revelation. To speak of him as “the Word” is consequently to affirm more about him than that he is ho legōn, “the he who speaks.” He was not just a teacher sent from God. As Logos Jesus Christ is the Son of God in his everlasting relationship with his divine Father and in his continued function of divine revealer.
The source of John’s Word-logos doctrine has been much discussed. Seeing that John was a Palestinian Jew, some regard the OT as its source, since the idea of God’s self-manifestation by means of an intermediary agent, more or less personal and blending with the divine personality, was clearly present in Jewish thought. The “wisdom” of Proverbs 8, for example, is given personal attributes and at the same time wears the aspect of divinity. Others see John’s logos doctrine heavily indebted to Philo, the Jewish Alexandrian philosopher, who in his turn was much influenced by Plato. From the time of Heraclitus, a logos doctrine was developed in Greek thought with a view to explaining how the deity could relate to the world, but the Greek logos was generally understood as impersonal reason.
It was with this understanding that it was introduced into early Christian thinking by the Greek apologists of the second century. Thus did Theophilus and Athenagoras speak of the logos as immanent in God, but uttered, or “belched forth,” prior to creation to become the agent of the creative process. Justin Martyr likewise refers to Jesus the Christ “being of old the Logos, … now by the will of God having become man for the human race.” Among the Alexandrians the logos doctrine reached its ascendancy. According to Origen, the Logos-Word had its being eternally in God but was brought forth by the Father’s will to an existence as Son of God, thereby to accomplish God’s purpose of redemption for the world. Seen in retrospect, however, the use made of logology by the apologists and Alexandrians was a desperate expedient, which in the course of christological development was to result in the unacceptable notion that the logos-Son was somehow caused by God. In this way the filial subordinationism of the NT was substituted for that of the Son’s essential inferiority to God the Father, being at best for Origen “a second God,” and at worst “a thing made.” Such a word-logos Christology failed to secure what the dictates of biblical revelation require—the hypostatic preexistence of Christ and the reality of his eternal and essential divine personhood.
In several NT passages, “the word of God” is used to designate in principle the written Scriptures themselves. Our Lord authenticated this use by declaring that Scripture as the word of God cannot be broken (John 10:35). It is “the sure word of prophecy” of which Peter speaks (2 Pet. 1:19 kjv) because it results from God’s outbreathing (2 Tim. 3:16; cf. 2 Pet. 1:21).
By characterizing the Scriptures of the OT as the word of God, Jesus incidentally yet specifically affirmed the identity: what is Scripture is the word of God, and vice versa. Into this category the canonical writings of the NT eventually came. Its writers frequently allude to the divine revelation preserved in the OT as the word of God, and they regarded the message of the gospel as the true meaning and fulfillment of that former testament. They had learned from their Lord himself that Moses and all the prophets wrote of him (Luke 24:27). The fathers of the early church and the Reformers of the later church were at one in affirming faith in the biblical writings as the word of God. Augustine of Hippo states the general conviction of the former. “What is the Bible else but a letter of God Almighty addressed to his creatures, in which letter we hear the voice of God, and behold the heart of our Heavenly Father?” The Reformation brought to a focus once again this valuation of the Bible as the word of God. Luther’s identity of Holy Scripture with the word of God is generally assumed and sometimes explicitly stated. In fact, in the opening words of his Table Talks he declares, “That the Bible is God’s Word and book I prove thus …” Elsewhere he asks rhetorically, “Where do we find God’s word except in the Scriptures?” to require the reply, “Nowhere.” For Calvin, too, the Bible is specifically God’s word, at once sure and true. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England state that the Bible is “God’s word written” (XX), while the Westminster Confession later affirms that since God is the author of Scripture, “it ought to be received because it is the Word of God.” The Longer Catechism poses the question, “What is the word of God?” The answer is explicit: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.” For the Puritans, the same sure faith in Scripture was constant. And from their evangelical successors there have been renewed affirmations of confidence in the Bible as truly and fully the word of God. To speak of the Scriptures is indeed to use a term that etymologically specifies the word of God in written form. Without the writing there would be no Scriptures, and therefore no word of God. The Bible is God’s word written.
It is, however, this identification of Scripture as a written form with the word of God that has been called into question in recent times. Some contend that the Bible merely contains the word of God, and then only insofar as it speaks inspiringly to the individual human soul. To regard the Bible in its full extent as the word of God would be to posit for its composition the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit. But it is precisely this action of the Spirit on the writers of the Scriptures that they themselves claim and that requires for their production the designation “the word of God.”
Others consider the biblical writings to be at most a witness to God’s revelation, disclosed in the moment of the divine encounter. Those passages in the Bible that “find me” may be regarded as the word of God for me; but objectively, and in themselves, they cannot carry the designation. No such word-of-God type of language, it is presently affirmed, is appropriate. At best the OT can be referred to as the word of Israel and the NT as the word of some leading Christians of the first century. But the prophets of the OT were sure that they were recording God’s word for Israel, and leading NT Christians, like Paul, believed themselves to be stating God’s word for the churches.
The designation “the word of God, word of the Lord,” appears then in three distinct contexts. It refers in particular to Jesus Christ, in general to the divinely disclosed message through God’s chosen spokesmen, and in principle to the biblical writings. These three meanings are not, however, unrelated. Rather, they lie one within another on three concentric circles. Christ himself is the ultimate, the total, Word. As the normative expression of God he is consequently the Word in an absolute and personal sense. For the apostolic church the OT read from the perspective of the Word made flesh validated his presence as “he who should come,” and so is properly designated the word of God. Against this background and in obedience to their Lord’s command, the apostolic preachers went forth with the gospel of God’s salvation sure in the conviction that they proclaimed the word of God. In summary, then, “the word of God, word of the Lord” belongs in turn to God’s own revelation of himself made known personally in Christ, to the proclamation of Christ in the apostolic ministry, and to the truth of Christ embodied in written form in the Scriptures.
By H.D. McDonald
See also Logos.
Bibliography. J. Barton, People of the Book? The Authority of the Bible in Christianity; G. Bornkamm, “God’s Word and Man’s Word in the NT,” in Early Christian Experience; R. E. Brown, Gospel according to John; D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth; A. Debrunner et al., TDNT 4:69–136; J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making; H. Haarbeck et al., NIDNTT 3:1078–1146; L. W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1292–1295.