“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”
DISCLAIMER: The following blog post is geared toward an ongoing debate among Christians, and therefore it may seem tedious to others (yeah, yeah, even more tedious than usual, I know, I know). You have been duly warned!
I have been noticing something over the past few years, something which has concerned me more and more—Christians unthinkingly equating the primacy of Jesus (“the Word”), with the Bible (also colloquially known as “the word”). The first chapter of the Gospel of John declares in the very first verse, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God”; and later on in verse 14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Christians will immediately recognize that both these references to the “Word” are references to Jesus of Nazareth, considered by Christians to be the Messiah and the Son of God. The reference to “the Word” therefore is to a person, not to a written book or part of a book. (What the Greek term “logos,” translated here as “word,” signifies theologically is more complicated—probably something like “first principle” or the like is in view—but that issue is beyond the scope of this post.)
Now it is common for Christians also to identify the Bible (and even more typically, the New Testament) as “the word.” Christians ask, “what does the word have to say about tithing/divine healing/church on Sunday/etc.?” They are urged to read “the word” in their devotional time every day. They are to compare any new or different theological idea with “the word.” You get the idea. And you also probably get the idea that “the Word” [Jesus] can be uncritically equated with “the word” [the Bible]. That equation is, of course, not accurate or precise theologically, as Christians would see it, but it still can become second nature to them. And then the Bible becomes divine—in some cases a collection of magical formulas which should be memorized so as to be recalled at a moment’s notice. Now don’t get me wrong: I love the Bible, and I have been led to spend my entire life (at no little cost to my immediate family) studying and proclaiming it. But the Bible is not divine—in fact, from a Christian point of view, the Bible, apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is just another collection of ancient books. For Christians, Jesus is divine; in fact, he is the center of all existence. We are to do nothing apart from his teachings and his example. We are even to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus. (Sorry to go all Dan Brown here with the italics.)
So next time I hear the reverential intoning of “studying the word,” I might bring up this question: are you studying Jesus? (as all Christians at all times should), or are you studying the Bible? (which, apart from Jesus, spiritually signifies nothing). And as I blog with fellow Bible-readers on issues such as evolution or the age of the earth (believe it or not, in North America these are hot topics among quite a few Christians), I hope I both remember and remind my fellow bloggers that for Christian believers, it is Jesus who matters, not the six (or seven) days of creation week in Genesis chapter one, or whatever. “In the beginning was the Word.”
Next blog: back to a wider look at biblical topics. I think I will discuss “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” both in Torah and also in the Code of Hammurabi.