The ‘WORD’ of God and the word of God
Many Christians speak of the Bible as the word of God. Some even capitalize word (Word) as a term that is synonymous with the Scripture – the Bible. In this context Bible students are motivated by pastors and teachers to “be in the Word.”
I believe the Bible is inspired by God. However, I also believe there is, by design, a substantial human component it the writing, editing, translating, preservation and publishing of the Bible. You have heard the boast made by processed food manufacturers – “untouched by human hands.” The Bible has been touched by many human hands and is therefore fallible and less than 100% perfect. The Bible is not divine. God never intended that it be divine. The moment humans became involved absolute perfection and infallibility was out of the equation.
Bible publishers adorn the covers of the Bible they print with the title “Holy Bible.” But the word “holy” is normally understood as perfection, worthy of devotion and worship. If we are to understand holiness as absolute perfection and infallibility, which the Bible insists upon, then the word “holy” applies only to God.
According to the evidence of the Bible itself, Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) – not a book. We can, of course, capitalize the “Word” when we refer to the Bible but to call the Bible “the Word of God” is a stretch, perhaps even an error. The title “Word of God” refers ultimately and supremely to the second person of the Triune God, whom we know as Jesus Christ, specifically called “the Word of God” in the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
The Bible is a special written revelation of God through many human authors, who were inspired by God but also used what the Creator endowed them with – creative and literary skills to share insights, truth and spiritual nourishment. The Bible is thus an incomparable and unequaled book for both Jews (the Old Testament) and Christians (the Old and the New Testaments). It is the written revelation of God. Through its pages we learn and grow as we read and realize the full revelation of God, in all his love, mercy and grace. But the written lowercase word of God reveals Jesus as the capital/uppercase Word of God who came to fully reveal Father God.
The Bible itself is always and consistently declaring the physical to be merely the shadow of the spiritual. This format is most dramatically seen in the book of Hebrews, as the old covenant and all of its physicality is contrasted and overwhelmed by the spiritual supremacy and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Bible itself is therefore not the final object of our worship, and we should not speak of it, a book, as infallible or inerrant. The word of the Bible is inspired by God to reveal the supreme Word of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
An Invalid Man is Healed
In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John we read of an invalid man who was laying on his mat, with hundreds of other blind, paralyzed and crippled people, near a natural spring in Jerusalem believed to have healing properties. The popular religious notion was that those who entered the pool when the wind agitated the water would be healed. Naturally, each of these many debilitated, suffering individuals longed to be located as close as possible to the pool. The closer they were, they believed, the better chance they had of entering the pool when the water was “alive” rather than still and calm.
Jesus visited this desperate assembly congregated near this pool on the Sabbath (there were six other days he could have chosen for this visit, but it seems clear he intentionally came on the seventh day Sabbath). Jesus asked this man who had been an invalid for 38 years if he wanted to be healed. To us the question might seem somewhat naïve, but after almost four decades of helplessness, the man may have accepted what seemed to be a hopeless condition and therefore lacked the will to welcome any change to his wretched ordeal.
The pool of Bethesda, as it was then called, was the focus of the man’s hopes and dreams. It was his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It was his winning lottery ticket. All his faith and assurance centered around the pool. Jesus, the God-man, the incarnated Creator of all that is seen and unseen, was standing right in front of him but all the invalid man could think about was the pool. We have often been just as spiritually blind as this man, haven’t we? There but for the grace of God go you and me!
When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed the man could only imagine the pool as the one and only way he would ever be healed. He responded to Jesus: “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes ahead of me” (John 5:7).
Jesus changes our focus. He redirects our attention and realign our priorities. Jesus did not need nor did he have any use for the religious fascination and legend of the so-called healing property of the pool. He was and is the Word of God and his “word” was enough. Jesus came into this world with good news, with a new and better way of life, with a release and rescue from religious bondage. The Word of God uses the sounds and symbols of human language to tell the man to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (vs. 8).
Four Lessons About and From the WORD
In this fifth chapter of John we see four lessons that can help us correctly understand the word of God as the Bible and the Word of God as Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
- When it comes to physical healing, we are naturally fascinated with physical resources, supplements, procedures and protocols. In terms of physical healing, and absolutely in terms of spiritually healing, Jesus changed the focus from what to WHO. It wasn’t and isn’t religious belief and tradition that heals. It was and is Jesus. It’s not the pool of water that we can touch whose properties heal, it is the rivers of Living Waters (John 7:37-38) Who flows in and through us who heals us and give us life eternal.
The story of the healing of the invalid man is only the beginning of the divine revelation this fifth chapter of John provides. The healing only sets the stage for what followed. The healing was the backdrop, the stage-setting for the stage that Jesus prepared and upon which he stood as the story continues to unfold. As the chapter unfolds we see that as great as Jesus’ concern and compassion was for one man, he had, as we say, bigger fish to fry.
To reiterate, the first lesson we learn in this fifth chapter of John is that Jesus stands above all religious traditions. He is our focus, not religion. He is our focus, not “holy” water or a “holy” book.
- The Sabbath is the second lesson of the story in the fifth chapter of John. The lesson is that Jesus is more important than a day on a calendar. He is, as Mark says, “Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). Imagine that! Well, no one who walked the same dusty roads Jesus walked during his earthly ministry could imagine that. But the clear lesson of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus is greater than the Sabbath, in fact Jesus IS the Sabbath. He is our spiritual rest, always and forever. He is our focus, not the Sabbath or any other religious law.
Jesus intentionally healed the man on the Sabbath. He healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to break Jewish Sabbath laws by picking up his mat and carrying it.
The Jewish religious authorities did not hold a party in honor of this miracle. They did not host a festive gathering to celebrate a man who was now able to walk after 38 years of being an invalid. No, they were more concerned, as institutionalized religion often is, with the status quo and well being of their own rules and regulations. Instead of hugging and rejoicing with the man who had just been healed they rained on his parade by saying “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat” (vs. 10).
This story is but one of the many “Sabbath controversies” in the gospel when Jesus transcends a 24-hour period of time – when Jesus himself becomes our spiritual rest (Matthew 11:28-30, Mark 2:27, Hebrews 4:8-11) now and forever, rather than a physical rest required one day a week.
- The third issue which Jesus’ power and authority to heal and his authority over, of all things, the Sabbath, introduced, was Jesus’ very identity. Who was this man who healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years? Who was this man who “broke” the Sabbath by telling the man he had just healed to carry a weight which broke one of the Sabbath laws? The third lesson we learn in this passage is WHO Jesus is.
From 20 centuries of hindsight, enabled and empowered by the lavish riches of God’s grace and the spiritual vision we have received as a healing from God, this lesson might seem obvious. But it was not obvious then and there, to anyone! Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus was the eternal Word of God. He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. But the Jews had been taught, over and over again, that there is but one God – not two (or later three, as the history of the New Testament unfolds).
They did not suffer gladly anyone who suggested that there was more than one God. Throughout their tumultuous history as the people of God of the Old Testament they had been surrounded by “pagan” polytheists. The pagans had many gods – most of us are acquainted with the Greek and Roman gods. The religious authorities of the Jews were not about to entertain any possibility that this man they viewed as somewhat of an untrained, itinerant preacher was equal with God.
The divinity of Jesus was then, and sadly among some to this day, a huge stumbling block. When Jesus is not accepted and believed as divine, the spiritual vision given by God’s grace to focus on the cross and resurrection of Jesus as the centerpiece of faith is missing. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is our Creator, Lord and Savior. Jesus is equal to and with the Father. God is one, yet three perfectly united and harmonious divine Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is God, not just a man who once was, but is no longer.
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was the breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (vs. 18).
Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I say unto you, whoever hearts my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life (vs. 23-24).
As Jesus’ discussion with the religious authorities continues in the fifth chapter of John, he introduces the final lesson, one that can cause humanity to reject his authority and his centrality to the gospel.
- You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (vs. 39-40).
The WORD of God was telling those who “diligently” studied their Scriptures (which were of course what we know today as the Old Testament) that the Scriptures, the written word of God, were all about him! Jesus says that there is no life inherent within a book, as inspired and as helpful as it might be, for ultimately life eternal is found only in and through him!