The Word and the Word

What is the relationship between Jesus and the Bible? How does the Bible, the Inspired Word, relate to Jesus, the Incarnate Word (that is, Jesus, "the word became flesh," John 1:14)? Over the past 2,000 years, people have gone to various extremes in answering this question. Some want the Bible without Jesus and some want Jesus without the Bible. The former have cut from Scripture the true identity of Jesus as the eternal Son of God and have tried to reduce Him to nothing more than a prophet or an interesting teacher while making what they want of Scripture essentially without Him.

At the other extreme, some individuals and movements have tried to establish exclusive relationships with Jesus outside of His own words in Scripture. These include mystic, ascetic and apocalyptic approaches that appeal to those trying to create their own personal brand of spirituality today. Missionaries have found that in some cultures people readily accept a Jesus that they can synchronize with their other religious beliefs without heeding His exclusive claims. Some observers suggest that people see not one Jesus but many. Jesus Himself said there would be "false Christs" (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). The Corinthians readily accepted "another Jesus" and received a "different gospel" than the one Paul preached (2 Corinthians 11:4).

So how do we properly understand the relationship between God the Son who created and upholds the universe, and the book that we hold in our hands and that can fit into a handbag, a pocket or a personal digital assistant? To begin, Jesus' life helps us. From birth, He fulfilled the written Word of Law and prophecy from the Old Covenant that spoke of Him as "God with us" (Matthew 1:20-23). As a youth, Jesus grew up in the teachings of Scripture and upheld them. He obeyed the fifth Commandment to honour His father and mother. He was in "the things of My father" and would have taken keen interest in discussing the proper interpretation of the Law with His elders (Luke 2:46-52).

Throughout His ministry, Jesus quoted Scripture and held it in the highest regard. He confirmed that we are to live by "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). In His teachings Jesus spoke words that He received from God (John 3:34; 14:10, 24). His words came from eternity into time, from God into Scripture, the sacred writings (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Jesus asserted that "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). Jesus equated His words remaining in us with us remaining in Him (John 15:7).

Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture that lead Him to the cross to die for the sins of the whole world. While dying on the cross, Jesus quoted Scripture in two of His seven last words and alluded to it in others (Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34; Psalm 31:5 in Luke 23:46; Psalm 69:21 in John 19:28; these surely speak of the intimate relationship of the Psalms to Jesus' spiritual life). After rising from the dead, Jesus told His disciples that the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of Him: "all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). Jesus' life, death and resurrection are inseparable from the purpose of the Word that foretold them (Isaiah 53; 55:8-11). Through His life and teachings then, Jesus, the Incarnate Word, upheld, fulfilled and expanded the contents and boundaries of Scripture, the Inspired Word.

In the post-resurrection history, letters and Revelation of the New Testament, the Inspired Word opens a wide and beautiful window into the cosmic and eternal nature of Jesus, the Incarnate Word. We could not really know and appreciate Jesus without these words. From the confines of a prison cell, Paul wrote that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15). From exile on the Island of Patmos, John's pen recorded the fiery images of Jesus whose "name is called 'The word of God'" (Revelation 19:13). Through John, Jesus speaks of the "sword of My mouth" (Revelation 2:16; 1:16; 19:15, 21). Hebrews tells of the Word which is "living and active"; by His Word God created the world and upholds it (Hebrews 4:12; 1:1-3; Genesis 1:3ff). God inspired, literally breathed, the sacred writings and filled them with life and purpose (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21).

The written Word is a servant of the Incarnate Word, accomplishing His purpose to guide his people and make them like Jesus: "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The purposes of the Incarnate Word and the Inspired Word are the same: to reclaim and make holy God's people. Jesus who sits at God's right hand in eternity uses His written Word to transform our thoughts and purify His church along with the Spirit of Christ who lives and works in us (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). The Inspired Word acts in harmony with the Incarnate Word.

The book that we hold in our hands and carry in our handbags, pockets or personal digital assistants is God's instrument of personal transformation and knowledge of the truth along with His providence and the presence of His Spirit. This is not merely factual knowledge but that which comes from knowing and doing His written will (John 7:17; James 1:22). The Incarnate Word uses the Inspired Word to transform our thoughts into His and teach us His will for our lives. The Incarnate Word that fills the universe and fulfilled the Law for us also lives in the hearts of Christians by His Spirit. The Bible that we read in time contains "words of eternal life" (John 6:68) that create a bridge connecting us to the mind of the Incarnate Word. They are able to save our souls (Hebrews 2:1-3; James 1:21). In order for the Word to act in our hearts we must expose ourselves to it. As we do, God's Word is "an anchor for the soul," an encouraging hope (Hebrew 6:19; Romans 15:4). The Word and the Word are inseparable. One is infinitely large, one manageably small and portable in physical terms. Together they can carry us from time to eternity and everlasting safety in the loving arms of Jesus' Father and ours. While we are on the way there we need both the Incarnate Word and the Inspired Word daily, moment by moment.

Paul Birston

June 2005©

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