“All my life, I have seen preachers hold up the Bible and say, ‘This is the Word of God,'” writes a counselor in the Midwest. “When New Testament writers use the expression, ‘the word of God,’ do they not have something in mind other than the Scriptures themselves? We must not make the Bible our god, which is one form of idolatry.”
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Surely you raise a worthwhile caution, since Jesus himself warned his hearers not to allow a theoretical study of the Scriptures to distract them from recognizing the very Messiah-Savior to whom the Scriptures point (John 5:39-40). If the Old Testament Scriptures were not an end within themselves, but a pointer to Jesus, those Scriptures written after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection surely point us to the Savior and not to themselves as a means of salvation (2 Cor. 4:5-6).
While it would overstate the matter to say that New Testament writers (and even Jesus himself) never use the expression “the word of God” to refer to their Bible (see for example John 10:35), most of the time “the word of God” means the message from God — whether given through a prophet such as John the Baptizer (Lk. 3:2), or spoken by Jesus personally (Lk. 8:11), or communicated by those who proclaim the gospel (Acts 4:31; Rom. 10:17). That said, one errs in the other direction who flatly equates “the word of God” with the written Scriptures, thus failing to recognize the living, powerful aspect of God’s spoken “word” however he chooses to give it. Scripture tells us that the worlds were framed by the word of God, but we do not need to picture the Creator standing over a cauldron of chaos reading verses from the Bible (Heb. 11:3).
Jesus himself is God’s “word” incarnate (John 1:14). While he always regarded Scripture’s message as of divine authority, he sternly rebuked those who misused it to satisfy their own ego, to seek salvation through it (apart from him), or to manipulate it to abuse and control other people (Matt. 5:17-19; Matt. 23:1-30). Surely we do well to imitate Jesus in both regards. One who encounters the risen Christ in the gospel, who comes to know the Living God and to partake of his Spirit, will not think less of Scripture as a result. Instead, he or she will use it rightly, joyously, profitably, as the normative writings of the Christian community, the sacred literature which points us unfailingly to Jesus our Lord, God’s Son, the one and only Savior of the world.