1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5
When we use or hear the term “the Word of God” spoken what do we understand that to mean? Typically, when someone mentions the “Word of God” they are making a reference to the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. But is that what John was referencing in the first chapter of his gospel? In a word, no.
It’s plain to even a casual reader and it’s orthodoxy to understand “The Word of God” John references in the above text is not the Bible, but Jesus. (See John 1:14-17)
So then is it wrong to call the Bible the “word of God”? Or is Jesus the Bible? Or is the Bible God? Well, no, to all three questions. The Bible is the “word of God”, Jesus is not the Bible nor is the Bible God but both are the “word” of God.
Confused? That’s okay, you’re in good company.
So what is the “Word of God”, what is it not and how do we know one from the other? To understand what the “Word of God” is we’re going to need to really clearly define some things and have a talk about semantics.
Semantics is simply a study of languages, words, and what those words mean. But before we can talk about the meaning of some of these words we first need to understand the differences between the words we read in our English Bibles and the Bible (the New Testament at least) as it was written in its original language, Greek.
Before we do that though, I want you to take a minute, stop reading and pray. Talk to the Lord. Ask him to speak to you, ask him to reveal to you the truth of what may or may not be said in this article. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your understanding so that by the Spirit you may receive understanding in spiritual things. Remember, “the flesh is no help at all.” If you go at this spiritual subject as an intellectual endeavor, a pursuit of the flesh, I suspect you will greatly struggle with it. However, if the Holy Spirit leads you I believe He will lead you and teach you perfectly, in perfect accordance with the Scriptures, that you might have the mind of Christ and know truth from error. So take a minute and pray. Really, just stop, and talk to the Lord for a bit and then we’ll pick this up again.
Great, so now that we’ve talked to the Lord and asked him to teach us, I believe he will, I hope you do too. So back to Greek and English.
Look, I’m not a Greek scholar or even an English one, but I don’t need to be to understand and explain some of the things I’m going to share here.
If you’ve ever studied a foreign language from your own native tongue what you’ll quickly realize is that while most words have a perfect translation in another language, meaning a word for word match, there are many words or expressions that simply don’t have a perfect translation, there’s not a match across the languages of what the word is attempting to describe.
For instance, “blue” in English is “azul” in Spanish. They mean the exact same thing. They mean a very specific color and there is no disagreement between the two words.
On the contrary there are words in Spanish that tend to have more nuance than their translation in English. Consider “Te amo” and “Te querio”. Both translate into English as “I love you” and while they do mean this, they actually have very specific nuances that if the two words were used inappropriately, the hearer might get the wrong idea. “Te querio” is more casual and typically used for friends and family while “Te amo” is more serious and romantic and typically intended for one’s spouse or romantic interest.
Even within the same language words can have very different meanings across different cultures. In English, “football” means a particular sport in England where players use their feet to kick a round ball into a net to score points and a totally different thing in America where players throw an oblong ball and catch and run with it across a goal line in order to score points.
So the point is, words have meaning. And sometimes that meaning is “lost in translation”. So it is with the word “word” in English Bibles. The English word “word” simply isn’t sufficient to explain the nuance between the Greek words “logos” or “rhema” for which the English word “word” is used in English Bibles.
So when a person refers to the Bible, they’re referring to the Holy Scriptures. Well the Greeks had a word for the the “Scriptures” or the “Holy Writ” as it’s sometimes called. And the Greek word they used was “graphe”, which is the same Greek word we get the English words “write” or “written” from. “Graphe” in the Greek means a “a document, the Holy writ, Scripture”. And that’s all that it means. That’s the word’s plain meaning and it doesn’t have another meaning.
Most English Bible readers have no knowledge of the Greek word “graphe” and that when the Bible refers to the Holy Scriptures, the Bible itself, it always, always uses this word, “graphe”. Whatsmore did you know that the Greek word “graphe” is never, not once, translated into the English word “word” in any respected English Bible translation? Ever. The “graphe” in Greek is always translated into English Bibles as the “Scriptures”. Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself here.
So when we call the Bible the “word” we do something that not even the Bible itself does! The Bible never refers to itself as the “word” but always as the “graphe” or “the scriptures”.
But does that mean the Bible isn’t the “word of God”? Well, no. The Bible is absolutely the “word of God” but what we mean when we say that is that the Bible is a collection of writings that God himself spoke/wrote through human authors by divine inspiration. (2 Peter 1:20-21) So the Bible is certainly the “word of God”, it’s absolutely God’s words that he spoke and that he had his servants write (perfectly I might add) as his own personal testimony concerning himself and his creation. So the Bible can be correctly understood to be the word of God. It’s God’s own testimony, that’s why we call it the Old Testament and the New Testament. God, in his own words, is testifying in the Bible and his testimony is true, it is holy and it should be believed by anyone who would read it.
So what am I getting at? Well my point is this. There is still much confusion when most Christians use the term “the word of God.” Most of the time they’re using it to refer to the Bible when they really should be using it to refer to something else, namely, Jesus Christ or the indwelling voice of the Holy Spirit.
In short, what I’m saying is that the “Logos”, the “rhema” and the “graphe” are different words and they have very different meanings and because of the limitations of the English language we have really departed from a correct understanding of what’s being said in the Bible about both the Bible and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and these misunderstanding have incredibly important implications in the life and practice of any who would love and follow Jesus Christ as a disciple.
You’ll notice that whenever I write on this blog I try to use very specific language or words when referring to a particular thing. I rarely use the word Bible and most often refer to it as the Bible itself does as the “Scriptures”. My hope in doing that is to avoid this confusion that so much of Christendom has entered about this subject.
Personally I think it would be beneficial if Bible translators would simply stop using the English word “word” for the Greek words “logos” and “rhema” because even those two word have different nuances. So going forward I’ll simple refer to the “logos” as the logos and the “rhema” as the rhema and the “graphe” as the scriptures.
Below are the definitions of these three words according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. As you’ll see for yourself, the three words each have different meanings, that’s why there’s three of them! Ha!
“Logos” – Strong’s Word G3056 – “λόγος lógos, log’-os; from G3004; something said (including the thought); by implication, a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension, a computation; specially, (with the article in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ):—account, cause, communication, × concerning, doctrine, fame, × have to do, intent, matter, mouth, preaching, question, reason, + reckon, remove, say(-ing), shew, × speaker, speech, talk, thing, + none of these things move me, tidings, treatise, utterance, word, work.
While the “logos” is an incredibly deep word with multiple entendre it can be best understood to mean “the Divine Expression” or God expressed as he’s chosen to express himself to his creation. Simply put, the logos is the person, God the Son, Jesus Christ.
“Rhema” – Strong’s Word G4483 – ῥῆμα rhēma, hray’-mah; from G4483; an utterance (individually, collectively or specially),; by implication, a matter or topic (especially of narration, command or dispute); with a negative naught whatever:—+ evil, + nothing, saying, word.
Likewise, “rhema” is a word with deep meaning but it can more simply be understood to mean “an utterance, that which is uttered by a living voice“.
“Graphe” – Strong’s Word G1124 – γραφή graphḗ, graf-ay’; from G1125; a document, i.e. holy Writ (or its contents or a statement in it):—scripture.
Finally, we see the Greek word “graphe” means “scripture” in English. So the word the Bible uses for the Bible is “graphe” and that word is never transliterated as the English word “word” in any English Bible. Ever. The “graphe” is always, correctly I would say, translated as the “scripture”.
In summary, the “logos” is the Divine Expression, Jesus Christ, the “rhema” is a thing uttered by a living voice (typically used in reference to the Holy Spirit speaking) and the “graphe” is the Holy Scripture, ie the Bible.
Now, why does all this matter? Why are these semantics significant? As I said above, because of this confusion most Christians unknowingly err when they use the term “the Word of God” and apply it to the Bible and not Jesus Christ or the utterance of the Holy Spirit and this is a very serious problem as it manifests itself in a whole host of problems in the life and practice of most believers.
My concern here is not semantics but rather the reality that so many Christians have unknowingly replaced the living Word (logos) of God, Jesus Christ, with his testimony the Holy Scriptures/Bible (graphe) and this is a tragedy.
We’ve replaced the living God with his letter. The man with his testimony. And so, instead of truly abiding in Jesus, the living Word of God, we are looking for the life only He can provide in a dead letter, the Holy Scriptures.
3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our[a] hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.[b]
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:1-6
We’ve become like the Jews who sought to kill Jesus in John, chapter 5.
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39-40
The life of Christ can’t be found in the Scriptures apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We MUST hear his voice (rhema) to have his life (logos), then and only then, will the Bible (graphe) benefit us in any real way.
Come back for Part 2 of “The Word of God, Part 2” as I hope to go into some examples of how all of this applies in the way many of us read and understand the Scriptures and therefore live out our faith in Christ.
Grace and peace to you in Jesus name.