It occurred to me recently that I’ve been making an inappropriate gesture for a long time. Don’t worry, it hasn’t been that kind of inappropriate gesture. Rather, it has been what I have come to view as an inaccurate hand motion to the VBS song “Itty Bitty Seeds” which recounts the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds. The song starts with “Theeeeeeeeee” as you lift your hands to the sky followed by “Word of God is like itty bitty seeds scattered all around.” The motion for “Word of God” is making a “v” with your open hands so it looks like a Bible. This is where I’ve apparently turned into a bit of a killjoy.
I typically try to be careful with the words I use. Sometimes I am more successful in these attempts than others. Yet one thing I try to do—and if anyone pays close attention when I teach a Bible study, they’ll notice this—is I try not to refer to the Bible as the Word of God. This isn’t due to a quirk or a particular heretical streak that I have in me (though I’m sure someone has/will accuse me of that), I simply don’t think that name lines up with what we read in the scripture.
The most famous biblical place the name “The Word” pops up is the beautiful opening in the Gospel of John.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-4, 14
Now, I realize that there are a lot of passages in scripture that are open to multiple interpretations, but this passage is talking about Jesus. Yet I have seen many a Christian bookstore item with this verse accompanied by a picture of the Bible. As a teenager, that never really registered as a problem to me. After all, what’s in a name? Yet I’ve learned that the names that we use can matter enormously.
Let me give you an example. I usually call my wife EA by the name “Beautiful.” On the surface, that name indicates the reality that I find her to be attractive, but it also speaks volumes about our love, our commitment to one another, and the life that we share. There is a ton of meaning embedded in “Beautiful” (just like the Greek word logos that we translate as word has far more meaning than we see on the surface) and thus I could never call anyone else except EA by that name, there is so much contained in that name.
Jesus and the Bible are not equals. I know that is obvious, but when we call scripture the Word of God we are drawing that close correlation. It suggests that the Bible is God’s highest mode of self-revelation and it is not. In his book The Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith notes:
God’s truest, highest, most important, most authoritative, and most compelling self-revelation is the God/Man Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ—and not the Bible—who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). It was in Jesus Christ that “God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19). As C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him.”
This is not to say that scripture is not inspired by God or anything of that nature. But if we are talking about the logos, the Word of God, then we need to be talking about Jesus: his life, his death, his resurrection, his message. In places like the Parable of the Sowers and the Seeds, Jesus is talking about the Gospel, the message that he came here to proclaim which he embodies. He isn’t talking about the Bible (which did not exist as we know it until several centuries after he walked the hills of Galilee).
None of this is to make anyone feel bad about calling the Bible the Word of God. Because the story of Jesus is found within its pages, I completely understand why it happens. Yet we should not confuse the mode of a message for the message itself. If we get that too mixed up, that can lead to the idolatry of scripture on level with saying that the Trinity is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. I believe that most people that call the Bible the Word of God don’t believe that.
The names that we use are important. I don’t want to call any other woman Beautiful and I do not want to call anything besides Jesus the Word of God. The Word of God is not something that we carry around in our pocket or something that we can twist around for own devices. It is Jesus, the Word who was with God from the very beginning. It is he who we brings us life. It is the gospel message that he embodies and proclaims that transforms us. That is what is like an itty bitty seed scattered all around.