Q.4: What is the Word of God?
A. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, and the only certain rule of faith and obedience.1
12 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 2:20
In ages past, God revealed Himself in many ways. He spoke through visions, dreams, a burning bush, and even a donkey. At one point, He spoke through a stuttering, stammering prophet. At other points, He spoke directly to people. This same God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world,” (Heb. 1:2; NASB). These words of Christ, by the work of His Spirit, were brought to His apostles’ remembrance and written down in His holy word.
Whether we are referring to the Old Testament or New Testament, all Scripture is the word of God. It is God-breathed, or breathed out by God. This is what Paul meant when he wrote that all Scripture is θεόπνευστος (theo-pneustos, or God-breathed) in 2Tim. 3:16. Most translations render the term inspired. Thus, when the term inspiration of Scripture is used by theologians, they mean to say that Scripture is breathed out by God—the very word of God Himself.
As such, it would be improper to say that Scripture is the word of man, as though God had spoken to man and man, to the best of his ability, conveyed what had been revealed to him. This is the view held by the neo-orthodox school of theologians, like Karl Barth, who argue that the Bible contains the word of God, but is not itself the word of God. As orthodox Christians, Reformed Baptists affirm every word of the Bible, in the original languages, to be the very word of God. However, Barth and his neo-orthodox companions would contend that “the word of God is within the Bible” (Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 1957, pg. 43).
This view came to have prominence in some pockets of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), in the mid-to-late 20th century. The Baptist Faith & Message of 1963 (BF&M 1963) included language that allowed for such views to be held. This neo-orthodox influence was successfully eradicated from the SBC through an effort spanning more than two decades that would come to be known as the Conservative Resurgence. Compare the first sentence of the BF&M 1963 with the first sentence of the BF&M 2000.
“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man,” (BF&M of 1963; emphasis added).
“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man,” (BF&M of 2000).
Asserting that the Bible is “the record of” God’s revelation of Himself to man leaves open the possibility that the Bible may not be, in its purest form, God’s actual revelation of Himself to man. Neo-orthodox pastors and seminary professors within the SBC had seized upon this language as justification for teaching that the Bible contains the word of God while not, in total, being the word of God. Dockery and Nelson explain in A Theology for the Church:
“With respect to its nature, Barth distinguished the Bible from revelation itself: ‘Therefore, when we have to do with the Bible, we have to do primarily with this means, with these words, with the witness which as such is not itself revelation, but only—and this is the limitation—the witness to it.’ The Word of God is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ; the Scriptures are witness, however imperfect, to the perfect revelation of the God-man. It is the church’s responsibility to preach the Scriptures; and, Barth contends, as they are preached, the Holy Spirit works such that the Bible becomes the Word of God to the people,” (ed. Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church. B&H Academic, Nashville. 2007, pp. 138-139).
We, as orthodox Christians, affirm what has come to be known as the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. That is a fancy way of saying that we believe every word of the Scriptures to be inspired of God. Particularly, we look to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. As Jesus taught of the Old Testament canon:
“17‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’” (Mt. 5:17-19; NKJV).
Jesus believed that even the most minor of strokes in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament bore with them the very authority of God. This is because they are the very word of God. Intrinsically linked with the 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament are the 27 books of the New Testament. Peter affirms this fact when he writes: “15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction,” (2Pt. 3:15-16; NASB). For Peter, the writings of Paul were to be included with the “rest of the Scriptures.”
This prestige was not merely meant to be ascribed to the writings of Paul, though, for Paul himself wrote of the church of God: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” (Ephesians 2:20; NASB). How was the church of God built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets? Through their writings and teachings. Notice what we are told of the New Covenant church from her earliest days: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (Acts 2:42; NKJV). The apostles’ teaching was paramount for the early church.
It was paramount because it, along with the 39 books of the Old Testament, is “the only certain rule of faith and obedience.” It is certain in that it is spoken, through the apostles and prophets, by God Himself. God used the personalities and backgrounds of the authors of Scripture to preserve for us precisely what He desired for us to know about Himself. God, then, is the prime author of Scripture, though He used the instrument of fallen, sinful men to pen it.
God chose Amos and Paul, Moses and Luke, Nehemiah and Peter to write His holy word, precisely because of who they were and the gifts and limitations He had placed in their lives. He used these human instruments to write Scripture much like a teacher or a professor might use different color ink pens to grade a paper. The characteristics of the human authors were as much important for the writing of Scripture as were the words they wrote. Again, there is no undirected molecule in the creative and providential working of God.
Therefore, even though Scripture was written by imperfect human beings, we can trust that its primary Author is perfect and has not spoken a word, through them, in vain. Scripture is the only certain, sufficient, inerrant, infallible rule for all faith in God our Creator and Savior. It is also the only certain, sufficient, inerrant, infallible rule for all obedience to Him.