Guilty as Charged

In Psalm 56:4, 10, three times the psalmist refers to God’s word as follows:

In God, whose word I praise . . .
In the LORD, whose word I praise . . .
In the LORD, whose word I praise . . .

In Psalm 138:2, the psalmist, addressing God, says, “you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”

In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses tells the Israelites that they cannot survive on bread alone, but “on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” As well, Jesus confirms the truth of this statement in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4.

Later, in Deuteronomy 11:18, Moses tells the Israelites to take the words of God and tie them on their hands and foreheads.

Additionally, Moses declares that the words of God are not just idle words, but “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

The psalmist declares the enviableness of the one who meditates on God’s teaching day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Indeed, there are all kinds of interesting statements about the word of God in the psalms. God’s words are flawless (12:6). God is perfect and his word is flawless (18:30). The words of the Lord are “perfect . . . trustworthy . . . pure . . . enduring forever . . . sure . . . altogether righteous . . . precious” (19:7-10).

How does the psalmist in Psalm 119 regard God’s words? He delights in them. He sets his heart on them. He loves them. He lifts his hands up to them. He regards them as eternal. He rejoices in them. He stands in awe of them. He pants for them. He sings of them.

The person in whom the Lord delights is the person who “trembles” at his word (Isaiah 66:2, 5).

Jesus declared that heaven and earth would pass away, but that his words would never pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).

Jesus is identified as the word (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; Revelation 19:13).

Jesus knows the Father, and keeps his word (John 8:55).

The words Jesus speaks are not just his own—they are “the Father, living in me” (John 14:10, 24).

The word of God is the very sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).

The word of Christ is to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16).

God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9).

The word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12).

The word of God is living and enduring (1 Peter 1:23).

* * * * * * *

So, to summarize:

God’s word is to be praised.
God himself has exalted his word.
God’s word is life-giving.
God’s word is perfect, flawless, eternal, pure, wonderful, awe-inspiring, living, righteous, precious.

More specifically, note that:

We praise God.
We praise God’s word.

We exalt God.
We exalt God’s word.

We love the Lord.
We love the word of the Lord.

We are awed by, and tremble at the presence of, the Lord.
We are awed by, and tremble at the presence of, the word of the Lord.

We lift our hands up to the Lord.
We lift our hands up to the word of the Lord.

We pant for the Lord.
We pant for the word of the Lord.

We are indwelt by Christ and the Holy Spirit.
We are indwelt by God’s word.

* * * * * * *

If I am ever engaged in a debate over the character, the authority, and the infallibility of the word of God, and the party with whom I am debating accuses me of being a bibliolater, a person who worships the Bible, a person who has made an idol out of the word of God, I think I’ll just go ahead and plead, “Guilty as charged.” And after pleading guilty, I’ll say, “Just go ahead and lock me up now. In fact, put me in solitary confinement and throw away the key. But before you go, could you please do me a big favor and put a Bible in the jail cell with me?

(The inspiration for this post comes from a book from one my former professors, Moisés Silva, entitled, God, Language, and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics. You may find the relevant discussion here.  There are no page numbers in this particular Google Books edition; after clicking on the link, search for “bibliolatry.”)

Jerry Shepherd
November 12, 2013

9 thoughts on “Guilty as Charged

  1. Thanks for this post! . . . and have you noticed how in Romans 9:17, the phrase “Scripture says…” is used, even though what follows those words is a quote of God’s speech. Similarly, Galatians 3:8 calls God’s speech “Scripture”. The Word inscripturated and God’s actual speech seem to be organically intermeshed! No surprise.

  2. Dr. Jerry;

    We cannot separate our understanding, our decisive response or emotional attachment to God from His Word for the Word filled life is the Spirit filled life!

    Ken Walker

  3. While I am sympathetic to your general argument, I am wondering where you draw the line between God’s Word and the Bible as written and translated by men and women.
    It seems that you are not just thinking of the autographa, but have in mind things other things, like the NIV version published by Zondervan, or maybe the Authorized Version put out by Eerdmans, or what is titled The Besorah of Yahusha (given me by a well-meaning parishioner). Do you worship these books? Or if, on some crazy whim or inspiration of God, I decided to do some translation work of my own from my little Greek NT, would that also count?
    Not trying to be contrary here (much), but I am truly wondering if there is a difference for you between the Word of God written and those words transmitted and translated.

    • Hi Jeff. Very good and very perceptive questions. Insofar as I think most translations are basically faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek texts, I don’t make any distinction; so I consider the NIV, NRSV, NASB, ESV, etc. to be rightly called “the word of God.” There are exceptions, and there are some translations that have a particular theological agenda they are following, which if pursued too strongly could be seen as idolatrous (constructing a false picture of what God is like). The more important question for me is whether such a thing as bibliolatry is even possible. I certainly don’t worship the paper and the ink and the leather or imitation leather cover. Do I worship the words themselves? My point is that there is such a close identification between God and his word, that, if such a thing as bibliolatry were even possible, it would be a perfectly understandable and perfectly forgivable offense. In my opinion, the bibliolatry accusation only gets made by those who are unhappy with the traditional evangelical understanding of the Bible as inspired, infallible word of God. It really ends up being a red herring. When you get a chance, check out this fine article by S. M. Baugh at Westminster Seminary California: http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/is-bibliolatry-possible.

      Blessings,

      Jerry

  4. But the question should be to what extent the contents of the modern Bible are comparable to what the psalmist had in mind when he said דבר יהוה. Do you think he was including the Gospels or the Revelation? Or, do you include these things in hindsight? How can this be determined, and what keeps a Muslim from saying that דבר יהוה is a veiled yet obvious reference to the Qur’an?

    • Hi Jason. Sorry for not replying earlier. For sure, the psalmist did not have in mind the Gospels or Revelation. But if one does consider the Gospels and Revelation as being in the same category, i.e., the “word of the Lord,” then I believe they should be seen by the Christian as partaking of the same character as the earlier words from the Lord, and therefore worthy of the same praise. Nothing could keep a Muslim from claiming this same status for the Koran; but I believe there is such a huge disconnect between the Koran and either the Old Testament or New Testament, that this claim should not be seen as holding any real credibility. The revelation in the Old Testament and the revelation in the New Testament are gathered around the great redemptive deeds of God. Thus, the OT and NT are much more like each other than either one of them is to the Koran.

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