Monday, November 07, 2005

Intimacy with God (6) - God speaks through the Bible

I am returning to an earlier series of messages about developing intimacy with God. I had been looking at some of the ways God communicates with us, and how we can become more receptive to this. I said earlier:
Over the next few posts I would like to explore some of the ways God communicates with His people, including:

- through His Word (this is where cessationists would start - and end - but I'll leave this one to later)

- through angels

- through other people

- through dreams and visions

- by placing things in our hearts

- by speaking directly

I got about half-way through that list and then went off on a tangent. I'd like to return to it with a couple of posts about how God speaks through His Word.

First I'd like to explode the misconception amongst some Christians that whenever we read "Word of God" the writer is referring to the Bible. There are several places in the Bible where this expression cannot mean "the Bible". For example, the most frequent use of the expression is in describing incidents like these:
  • "the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision" (Gen 15:1)
  • "the word of God came to Nathan" (1 Chron 17:3)
  • "this word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God" (1 Kings 12:22)
  • "the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert" (Luke 3:2)
  • "In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions." (1 Sam 3:1)
  • " Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him." (1 Sam 3:7)
  • " Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel" (1 Sam 15:10)
  • "the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David's seer" (2 Sam 24:11)
  • " The word of the LORD came to Solomon" (1 Kings 6:11)
  • " By the word of the LORD were the heavens made" (Psalm 33:6)
  • "The word of the LORD came to me, saying ..." (Jeremiah 1:4; also 1:13; 2:1; 13:3; 16:1; 18:5; 24:4; 29:30; 32:26; etc. The same or similar expressions occur even more frequently in Ezekiel, as well as in Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.)
In all these places the reference is to a spoken word or vision from God and not to the written Scriptures. In fact, when the Bible refers to itself it uses expressions like these:
  • The Scriptures (more than 50 times e.g. Daniel 9:2; Matt 21:42; 22:29; 26:54; Luke 4:21; 24:27, 32, 45; John 2:22; 5:39; 7:38, 42; 10:35; Acts 1:16; 8:32; 17:2; Romans 1:2; 4:3; 10:11; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4; Galatians 3:8, 16, 22; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:15; James 2:8; 1 Peter 2:6; 2 Peter 1:20; 3:16).
  • The Law and the Prophets (about 10 times in the NewTestament, refering to the Old e.g. Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 22:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; Romans 3:21).
In at least two places the Bible uses the expression "the Word [of God]" to refer to Jesus as the living embodiment of God's word:
  • "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:1-2, 14).
  • "He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God" (Revelation 19:13).
There are other places in the New Testament where it is highly improbable that the writers were thinking about "the Bible" when they referred to "the word of God". For example:
  • "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Heb 4:12-13 KJV). Not only does the writer use the personal pronoun ("his") when referring to the Word, but we could ask how "the Bible" can be a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"? A later usage in Hebews 13:7 ("Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you") reveals that the writer had a spoken, rather than written, Word of God in mind when writing this letter.
  • " After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31).
  • "The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God." (Acts 13:7). Did he want to hear them read to him from the Bible, or did he want to hear the word of God directly from men of God?
  • "Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles'." (Acts 13:46)
More to come.

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