Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
We have spoken before about proof-texting and taking a verse out of context. Well, Hebrews 4:12 is just such a verse that is often used incorrectly. When people read it, they assume that word is an inanimate object, or more specifically the holy scriptures. That is how it appears upon first reading.
Until, that is, one continues to the next verse. The pronoun changes from “it” to “he” and we must ask ourselves why.
The reason is that this passage speaks about the Word of God who was with God and was God from the very beginning – that Word made flesh that we know as Jesus the Christ. It is Christ who is living and active, who lives in such a way that renders joint from marrow – showing who is true and who is only giving lip service.
Karl Barth, beloved twentieth-century theologian, described the word of God this way: there are three.
The ultimate and true Word of God is Jesus Christ – the Word that was from the beginning who became flesh, who lived and died and rose again. Any time we refer to a capital “W” Word of God, it should always be in reference to Christ. For that Word of God is the only inerrant and perfect expression of who God is.
The second word of God, which is penultimate, is the holy scriptures. These are essential to our faith as they are the best accounts we have on earth of God’s work through Jesus and beyond. Though inspired by the Spirit, they are still the penultimate and little “w” word because they were written down by men, conditioned by specific times and specific contexts. We nevertheless trust that, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, God will continue to speak to us through the written word.
The third word of God is much lesser than the other two: preaching. Barth believed that due to the inspired nature of the word proclaimed and its relation to the written word of God, preaching is a much, much, much lower form of God’s word to us on earth. Important, but far below the other two.
Now, bearing all that theology in mind, here is the point: we must not confuse the living Word of God with the written word of God. One is God’s own self and the other is humanity’s best recollections of God interaction with us throughout history.
We are a people of the living Word, Jesus Christ. Though our book is of essential importance to us, ultimately it and everything else in our lives is viewed through the lens of what Christ did, who Christ was and is, and all that Christ taught. That means that if something in the scriptures does not reflect God’s glory in Christ, we must take Jesus as the higher authority. This is a key facet of Reformed faith that is often misunderstood or misconstrued in order that we humans might force our own rendering of a specific text, or even the whole of scripture.
It is not ours to have all the answers. It is ours to seek after them, by studying God’s word written, listening to God’s word proclaimed, and living in God’s Word made flesh. That is how we honor the true and perfect Word of God.
I hope you will join me as we continue to plumb the depths of God’s glorious words together that the Spirit may guide us to even greater understanding and more profound love of one another and the world.