Worshiping Which Word?

If we are to place Jesus in His proper place, at the center of our faith and worship of our triune God, then we had best place the Bible in its proper place lest we worship the word of God over the Word of God incarnate. Jesus is not the Bible. The Bible is not on par with the divine person of Jesus Christ. We worship our triune God in and through Jesus Christ and Christ alone. We in no sense worship the Bible or conceive of the Bible as being, in nature, a divine reality revered as worthy of worship.

When we perceive of biblical authority we must tread philosophically very carefully. N.T. Wright insists that "the Bible itself," through the words of Christ nonetheless, "declares that all authority belongs to the one true God and that this is now embodied in Jesus himself."1 (cf. Matt. 28:18) If, then, Jesus maintains all authority, and Jesus and the Bible are two separate entities, then Jesus possesses and adjudicates all and final authority. We must not commit bibliolatry (to make the Bible an idol).

The author to the Hebrews states that God has now, in "the last days," communicated to us by a Son (Heb. 1:1, 2), referring, of course, to Jesus Christ, since Jesus is named the Word, or Message, of God incarnate (John 1:1, 14; cf. Rev. 19:13). Again, though, we are not to perceive of Jesus as the Bible: "The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew's gospel, does not say, 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,' but 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.'"2 We cannot conflate the Son of God with the Bible, as though we are merely "honoring the word of God," and name Scripture our "final authority."

Jesus is our final authority. If one argues that the Bible is the word of God in the same sense that Jesus is the Word of God then we are idolaters. Jesus' insistence that He possesses all authority "ought to tell us, precisely if we are taking the Bible itself as seriously as we should, that we need to think carefully what it might mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible."3 Where did such a notion derive?

Before answering that question, I think we should note that "the word of God," as mentioned in the Bible, typically referred to a prophetic context, meaning that God spoke words to human beings. The phrase "the word of God" typically did not refer to words written down in a scroll or, later, a book.4 So we can dispense with any notion of "the word of God" typically referring to the Bible that contains written words of God that has "final authority." Authority, in a strict sense, belongs, again, to Christ Jesus.

Jesus did not transfer His authority to the Bible. The Old Testament is "a record of God's self-disclosure to the patriarchs, to Moses, to the prophets and others."5 The New Testament "records God's most decisive revelation -- his coming to the human race in Jesus Christ."6 God inspired the words written by New Testament authors but "all their writings were reflections upon the definitive Word of God, Jesus Christ."7 The word of God, the Bible, is a message "that testifies to the Word of God that is Jesus Christ."8 What, then, do we mean by referencing "biblical authority"?


That the Bible is perceived as "final authority," as though Jesus's authority is contained in the words of Scripture, was born within the Fundamentalist movement. Authority, however, belongs to a person and not to a record. The Bible, insists St Paul, instructs us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:15) The Bible is useful for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16) "Final authority" belongs to Christ and not to the biblical record. St John concludes:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NRSV)
Here is a divine purpose for the Bible, as attested also by St Paul, in instructing us toward faith in Christ for salvation. Again, the word of God "preached and written is still a word that testifies to the Word of God that is Jesus Christ."9 But the word of God, the written record, is not the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We reserve full divinity and worship for the Word of God, Jesus, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. (Col. 1:19)

"This Word of God," Jesus Christ, notes pastor Adam Hamilton, is "inerrant and infallible. He is fully inspired. He did not come mediated by others."10 Pastor Hamilton quotes Karl Barth to this effect: "the Bible contains the word of God found within the words of its human authors."11 To suggest more, and to ascribe divine worthship to the Bible, is, I think, to trespass what is permissible. We reserve divinity and worship for our triune God in Christ and Christ alone. We worship the Word and not the word.

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1 N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (New York: HarperOne, 2005), xi.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 147-50.

5 Ibid., 151.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., 150.

11 Ibid., 152.