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John 1 – In the Beginning,,, God’s Word!

J. Dan Gill

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food. — Job 23:12

God’s word is the word of our Creator. It is the standard by which the words of all others must be measured. If we cannot trust the One who made us, all is lost! Why then would we imagine that we could trust anyone or anything else? His word is a connection to the very meaning of our human existence.

To the people of the Bible, God’s word is the definition of truth. King David prayed, “And now, O Lord YHWH, you are God, and your words are truth” (2 Sam. 7:28). Jesus gives that same definition of truth in the New Testament, “Father … Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The one true God extends himself to creation by his spirit and shares his thoughts with us by his words. We as human beings come to know one another by our words. So it is that we can know God by his words. They are light to our minds. The psalmist writes, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130).

A person’s word is something that can be shared with others without being lost to the sharer. It is in that sense that God’s word is “with” him and can come to be “with” us as well. It is spoken by the mouth of God (2 Chron. 6:4), and comes to his prophets (1 Sam. 15:10). In turn it is spoken or written by them (1 Kings 17:24); people can hear it, read it. As he imparts his word to us, we can know the mind of God.

His Word is Him

Just as God’s spirit is him in his operation and presence, so is his word. By it he shares his knowledge, understanding and wisdom. To the people of the Bible, his word is the expression of his thoughts. In it are his will for us and his plans for all he does. And just as the word of a human being is not a separate person from that human being, neither is God’s word a separate person from the Father. What God’s word does is done by the Father himself. He acts by communicating — commanding.

As people, our thoughts are with us. We sometimes speak of a person “keeping her thoughts to herself.” Yet one’s innermost reasoning can be expressed by words. Our words begin with us, go out from us and have effect on those around us. They can benefit others and cause change in our world. Likewise, God’s word is active. He declares:

So will my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire, and succeed in the purpose for which I sent it (Isa. 55:11).

In the New Testament, we find again that God’s word is dynamic:

For the word of God is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit; joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

God’s word is at times personified in the Bible. His wisdom is beautifully personified as though it were a woman[1] in Proverbs 8. This “woman” dwells with “prudence” (v. 12). It is said that God possessed her in the beginning (vv. 22, 30). But these are poetic statements about characteristics of God. Neither “wisdom” nor “prudence” are actually persons in themselves. God’s voice, mouth, word and wisdom are never to be understood literally as persons in addition to the Father. Rather, they are expressions of the Father’s own mighty power.

When we hear a person’s voice or word, we rightly say that we have heard that person himself. What is said by one’s voice has been said by him. It is an extension of that individual. When we converse with a friend, we do not afterwards say that we talked with his “voice” or spoke to his “word.” Rather, we say that we spoke with our friend himself — the whole person.

So it is with God’s word. In the entire Hebrew Bible there is no instance in which anyone is said to have had a conversation with “God’s word” or prayed to it. No one makes requests to “the word of God.” No one addresses thanks or sings songs to it. All of the requests, giving of thanks and even praise of the word are addressed to the Father on his throne — the God whose word it is:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your word is very pure, therefore your servant loves it (Ps. 119:105, 140).

As we saw in chapter 6, God’s spirit is the Father in presence to work. It is by his spirit that he shares his word with us. What is spoken by the spirit of God actually proceeds from the lips of the Father (Ps. 89:34, cf. 26). When the prophets speak by his spirit, it is the one on the throne that people hear. When they are moved to write by the spirit of God, it is the Father himself who inspires them.[2]

The Father Created by His Word

God’s word is powerful beyond that of any other being. He spoke, and by his word creation came forth:

The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.
—Psalm 33:6, NLT

It was God’s spoken word — his own personal word — by which he effected creation. It was the very “breath of his mouth.” It was when the Father spoke in the beginning that light came:

 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen. 1:3).

The Father did not send a person called “The Word” to cause light to be. Rather, it was by his command, his own intention or choice, that light came upon the world. In the New Testament, we find that same understanding of God’s spoken word as the cause of creation:

By God’s word the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by means of water (2 Pet. 3:5).

It was by the “word of his command” (NRSV) that the heavens existed and the earth was formed. Yet the same powerful word by which God created the world can come upon human beings. God’s word originates in his mind, is imparted to his prophets and revealed to us through them. Nevertheless, God’s spirit or word being in or upon a person never means that person is God. Receiving the spirit of God or the word of God does not transfer to a person the quality of being God.[3]

Ultimately, God spoke by his Messiah after he was born. He was wonderfully moved by the spirit of the LORD and perfectly made God’s word known to the people (Luke 4:18, 19). The Messiah so fully embodies God’s word that he is called “The Word of God” (Rev. 19:13)

The Father did not send a person called
“The Word” to cause light to be. Rather, it was by
his own command that light came upon the world.

A Non-Biblical Word?

After the Bible was written, Gentile Christians, borrowing from their backgrounds in Greek philosophy, proposed a different kind of “word” from that of the Bible.[4] These post-biblical Christians thought in terms of a “Word of God” that was supposedly an ancient or eternal person who was with God in the beginning and helped him create the world.[5] However, concepts of God’s word as a person were hopelessly flawed. They sent post-biblical Gentile Christianity on a trajectory away from the pure, absolute monotheism of the Bible. By the latter part of the 4th century, many concluded that not only was God’s word a person, but so was his spirit and together with God himself, they are a tripersonal Deity. Thus, the true eternal God who is one individual with many attributes — including his own amazing word and spirit — was, over time, theologically transformed into an imagined three person God. From then until now, Gentile Christianity has divided its love and adoration between God and two other supposed God-persons.

But any notion of a person called the “Word” would be utter nonsense to God’s prophets and people of old. Such a person did not actually exist in the Hebrew Bible. Any reference to a person called the “Word,” whether as an ancient created being or as an eternal person, is conspicuously absent from the Old Testament. If such a being had existed, God’s prophets and people of old would have spoken and written about him or her dozens — perhaps hundreds — of times. Yet in all of the Old Testament there is no reference to the existence of an actual being that they called the “Word.”[6]

What we do find, from Genesis to Malachi, is God’s spoken word — his personal communication. That is found around 400 times in the Old Testament.[7] It is the word of the Father himself that they write about. And just as God’s hand, power and spirit had no personal names, neither did his voice, wisdom or word.

There was nothing that needed to be done by an imagined “Word-person” which the Father could not do by his own word. As we have seen, he can “send” his word — it goes forth “out of his mouth” (Isa. 55:11). By his word he speaks and even the elements respond (Ps. 33:6–9). He causes that same word to come upon his prophets: flesh and blood human beings. They in turn relate it to others. It is even said that he spoke through his prophets (e.g. 2 Kings 21:10). It is the Father then who causes the word by which he created the world ultimately to come to his Messiah after he is born. The Father perfectly embodies his word in him. It is in the Messiah that God’s word is said to “become flesh.”

Gill, J. Dan (2016). The Word of God. In, The One: In Defense of God (pp. 123-129). Nashville, TN: 21st Century Reformation Publishing.

______________

[1] God’s wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a female. Note the feminine gender pronouns in Proverbs 8:1–3ff. “Lady Wisdom” is a leading character in Proverbs chapters 1–9.

[2] God’s spirit brings his word, and they are functionally interrelated (2 Sam. 23:2). However, in the Bible they are not generally thought of as identical characteristics of God.

[3] John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), Jesus (Luke 4:1), Stephen (Acts 7:55) and others were said to be “filled” with the spirit of God. That does not mean they are God.

[4] The “word” of Greek philosophy was not the God of the Bible. It was an independent force or entity which supposedly “orders the world” and is said to “steer all things through all things.” John Mansley Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968), 95. From these notions, Philo, other Platonistic Jews, and eventually post-biblical Gentile Christians evolved a “Word” who was supposedly another person from the Father and was to be honored as co-creator. All of this is an affront to the God of the Bible who himself is the only power by which the world is “created” and “ordered.” To make God’s word something or someone other than the Father was unthinkable to God’s true people of old. For them, the Father is the only one who created, and the only one who “steers” the universe. The word of God is neither a person in addition to the Father, nor an independent force. It is YHWH’s own spoken word — his personal word.

[5] In the fourth century, there were two major dissenting parties: (1) those who believed in an ancient created Word-person (Arianism) and (2) those who proposed an eternal, uncreated Word (pre-Trinitarianism). At the time of the Council of Nicaea (325 CE), both parties were entirely out of touch with the Jesus of the Bible who had to be a true human being in order to be the savior of human beings (Rom. 5:17–19). Key leaders of the two camps were Arius and Athanasius who were both from Alexandria. Arius held to an ancient “Word” who, after he was created by God, was then involved in making the balance of creation. That unscriptural view is held today particularly by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Athanasius led the way for the equally unscriptural and even more complicated philosophical theology that the “Word” was an eternal uncreated being in addition to the Father. That view eventually evolved to become the notion that there are two persons who are fully God. With the addition of God’s spirit as a third person, the orthodoxy of post-biblical Gentile Christianity was born. Both approaches rob the Father of the glory that he alone is due as our sole Creator.

[6] For a review of the genesis and evolving of post-biblical Logos Christology see Marian Hillar, From Logos to Trinity: The Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[7] That is around 400 times by my unofficial count based on a review of the New American Standard Bible and its use of “word” (singular). The term most often translated “word” from the Hebrew is davar. Its meaning is “word,” not “person,” or “spokesperson.” Neither does it mean “man,” “son,” “angel,” “god” or “God.”

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