The word of God is a powerful concept that started with God’s creating act through speaking in the book of Genesis. Over the course of the Old Testament the concept of the “Word of God” develops from a metaphorical act into a dynamic demonstration of God’s power, where nearly everything important is related to “God’s Word” in some way. This broad use of the “Word” leads to a similar systematic use in the New Testament. What is fascinating is how it develops from the idea of God creating everything through speaking in the Old Testament to mean everything important systematized in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The gestation of the idea starts in the book of Genesis.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.English Bible: Old Testament 13-14)
This is to give you a stark contrast from nothing to something. That God’s speaking brought everything into being. That it has immense power to create with ease. God said: “let there be light and there was light”(English Bible: Old Testament 14), “let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”( English Bible: Old Testament 14), “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear”( English Bible: Old Testament 14), “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night: and let there be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”( English Bible: Old Testament 14), “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”(English Bible: Old Testament 15), “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind.”(English Bible: Old Testament 15) and “let us make man in our image”( English Bible: Old Testament 15). All these things came to pass by God speaking; creation has its origin in the mouth of God.
All of reality is structured around what God commands issues forth from his mouth. He gives decrees, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (English Bible: Old Testament 19). He also gives punishments, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and they conception.”( English Bible: Old Testament 20) and “cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” (English Bible: Old Testament 20) From these punishments life is hard for Adam and Eve, all from the mouth of God.
God’s word gives commands and punishments, but also gives clarity to mystery. What was previously unknown to man becomes known. This is called in theological terms revelation. God’s revelation is disclosed through his speech. A good example of this is when Moses asks for God’s name and God answers “I AM THAT I AM” (English Bible: Old Testament 117) This revelation opens up a new dimension of God that is completely unknown before.
Revelation isn’t only God’s disclosure of his attributes but also includes his commands. God’s commands start to solidify into the concept of God’s word when Moses receives the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law found in Exodus, numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the lord your God which I command you.” (English Bible: Old Testament 336) The word of God became law and the law must be meditated “therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (English Bible: Old Testament 404) The purpose of God’s word in God’s law is to flourish humanity. God’s word acts in this way to bring about the good. Nothing can overtake this good, nothing is higher than this good. Isaiah says “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (English Bible: Old Testament 1260) The image of grass and flowers withering goes to reinforce the idea that the word of God is powerful, eternal. That it will stand forever.
The eternal nature of the Word of God has the same quality in the law. The law differs in how God’s people relate to the law. If they keep it, it will bring prosperity. If they abandon it, it will bring destruction. That they should “return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee” (English Bible: Old Testament 382) If so “the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand” (English Bible: Old Testament 382). If “thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish” (English Bible: Old Testament 383) The law here is connected with God’s Word through God’s command through speaking. And even more directly in verse fourteen in Deuteronomy. “But the word [is] very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (English Bible: Old Testament 383)
The difference though conceptual between the law and the word is that the Word enables you to follow the law. The word is synonymous with an action of God. “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” ( English Bible: Old Testament 382) The act of Circumcision is a sign of devotion to God, which is performed by a priest. Circumcision in verse 6 is performed by God through God’s word so that all intentions may be to follow God’s law. The law is a static object. The law is the commands of God known. The law is only known by God’s people if God’s Word reveals it. The Word of God developed in the books of the law becomes a dynamic acting force that, brings about national prosperity, changes the heart, brings revelation into the things unknown and upholds God’s eternal law.
The other aspect of the eternal in the word of God is to give prophecy. Prophecy in the Old Testament had a constant recurring theme. Israel would fall into sin by turning away from God’s law. Then God would send his Word to a Prophet to call Israel back to God. The prophecy would be a series of future events caused by God to bring the destruction of Israel. It would begin with a pronouncement of doom.
And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. (English Bible: Old Testament 1348)
Then it would get more specific. “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies” (English Bible: Old Testament 1349). After the prophet prophesied destruction there is always a promise of restoration if they come back. Sometimes the theme of restoration doesn’t occur within the generation in which the prophet is prophesying to. If God finds the generation so full of sin then he’ll condemn them with no hope of restoration until the third generation in the case of the prophet Isaiah.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without in habitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate. (English Bible: Old Testament 1207)
Seeing how a good majority of the prophecies are structured this way. It should go without saying most of the Prophecies given by the prophets are not well received. In the case of Jeremiah, the King of Judah Zedekiah didn’t like his prediction so he “took Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah.” (English Bible: Old Testament 1384) This is what Abraham Heschel meant when he said “to be a Prophet is both a distinction and an affliction.” (Heschel, 21) It is a distinction in that the person given the word of God to be a prophet is recognized by God with a sacred task. The affliction is the human reaction to what God is delivering to them through the prophet. This is the back and forth with giving and receiving the word of God. God delivers a message which is naturally resisted by those who are hearing it. This is a major theme in the Old Testament. The cyclical struggle of Israel falling into sin God sends his word, which Israel resists and eventually turns back to God to only fall into sin a generation or two down the line. This theme though is carried over into the New Testament in the life of Jesus.
With the shift from the Old to the New Testament comes a shift in languages Hebrew into Greek. The difference here is the Hebrew word for word, transliterated it is “dabar”. The Hebrew “dabar” is just a common word for word. (Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius) It has no special connotation. The Greek found in chapter one of the Gospel of John used to designate Jesus is Logos. This word is found amongst the Greek philosophers. It was first used in six hundred years before Christ by the Philosopher Heraclitus. He used Logos as way to explain the coordination of a changing universe. (Thayer and Smith) Connotatively Logos means anything with reason, logic, thinking, meditating, narrative, teaching, speaking, law, and rhetoric. Logos basically is the thing that the universe is systematized around. (Thayer and Smith) John used this in the exact same way in his Gospel to explain Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (English Bible: New Testament 195)
John here combines the concepts of the Old Testament struggle for the people to obey the Word of God with the Greek philosophy found in the word Logos. In the word was “life” and the “life was the light of men.” (English Bible: New Testament 195) Exactly like how the Word functions in bringing the law which brings prosperity. The “light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (English Bible: New Testament 195) This is much like how when Israel falls into sin when they are shown the “light” and does not understand it.
The gospel of John is all about how Jesus is the logos, the universal systematizing principle in which all reality is centered. That whoever believes in Jesus “is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (English Bible: New Testament 200). Jesus gives the water that whoever “Drinketh of the water that [Jesus] shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that [Jesus] shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (English Bible: New Testament 202) Those who hear Jesus’ “word, and believeth on him that sent [him], hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (English Bible: New Testament 204) Jesus is “the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (English Bible: New Testament 207) Those who believe in Jesus have “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (English Bible: New Testament 210) Jesus said “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (English Bible: New Testament 214) Here Jesus identifies himself as God calling himself the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus. Jesus is “the gate for the sheep.” (English Bible: New Testament 217) Jesus is “the good Shepherd.” (English Bible: New Testament 217) Jesus is the “Resurrection” (Marks, Hammond, Busch. Vol 2. 219) Anyone who has seen Jesus has “seen the father.” (English Bible: New Testament 226) Jesus is “the vine ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (English Bible: New Testament 228) Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (English Bible: New Testament 226) Everything in Gospel of John is about Jesus much like the Logos in Greek Philosophy and how the Word of God works in the Old Testament.
Though Jesus brings eternal life and forgiveness of sins, the world has yet to be extinguished of sin. The word of God finishes everything. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (English Bible: Old Testament 1288). In fulfillment of this verse Jesus as the word extinguishes all sin in the book of revelation as the white rider.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine lined , white and clean…..And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (English Bible: New Testament 600)
This is Jesus as the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (English Bible: New Testament 604). Here we have Jesus embody everything about the Word of God. Jesus completes his task and embodies everything there is in the concept of the Word of God. He acts as a revelation that has been spoken from the father to us as the Word. He brings a way to follow the law by changing the human heart. He follows the basic Old Testament pattern of Prophecy of destruction to those that continue to disobey God and hope for those that turn to him. In his first coming as Messiah he brings a new hope with fellowship with God and forgiveness of sins. In his second coming he brings destruction with a sword to all those not aligned with him.
The word of God is an example of the slow development of images and metaphors that cements into a powerful theological concept. What was first the image of God created through speaking becomes the universal organizing principle systematizing reality around itself in Jesus Christ.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Prophets. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Print.
Marks, Herbert, Gerald Hammond, and Austin Busch. The English Bible: King James Version. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012. Print. The Old Testament.
Marks, Herbert, Gerald Hammond, and Austin Busch. The English Bible: King James Version. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2012. Print. The New Testament.
Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. “Hebrew Lexicon entry for Dabar”. “The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon”. Accessed December 2, 2012 .Web. <http://www.studylight.org/lex/heb/view.cgi?number=1697>.
Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Logos”. “The New Testament Greek Lexicon”. Accessed December 2, 2012. Web. <http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=3056>.