This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology. The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted.
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As discussed in the previous post, the question of the Word of God is a significant place where Muslims and Christians disagree. Muslims hold the presupposition that the Qur’an is their primary standard of truth. As a result, Christians must be familiar with Muslim perspectives on Scripture and the Word of God.
The Word of God
The phrase “Word of God” occurs throughout Scripture. However, this phrase is used in five different ways. This lesson will review the ways that “Word of God” is used in Scripture. Then we will have an overview of the next few weeks of lessons.
- God’s Decrees. “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen 1:3). A decree is when God declares something and causes it to happen. God is almighty and can declare anything to happen and cause it to occur immediately. The decrees of God were most evident during the creation.“The heavens were made by the word of the LORD, and all stars by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
- God’s Words as Direct Speech. “Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:1-2). Sometimes God communicates to people through direct speech, meaning that He speaks to them. Scripture is full of examples of God speaking directly to people (see a few examples below). When God spoke, He used human languages, such as Greek or Hebrew. However, these words were the Word of God, having divine authority. In Scripture, God usually spoke directly to men at critical points in history. God did not commonly use direct speech.
- “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:16-17).
- “The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1-2).
- “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).
- “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder” (1 Samuel 3:11).
- “Some time later, David inquired of the LORD: ‘Should I go to one of the towns of Judah?’ The LORD answered him, ‘Go.” Then David asked, ‘Where should I go?” ‘To Hebron,’ the LORD answered” (2 Sam 2:1).
- “At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, ‘Ask. What should I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5).
- “And a voice from heaven said: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased’” (Matt 3:17).
- “While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5)
- “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go and join that chariot’” (Acts 8:29).
- “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
- God’s Words as Speech through Human Lips. “Frequently in Scripture God raises up prophets through whom he speaks. Once again, it is evident that although these are human words, spoken in ordinary human language by ordinary human beings, the authority and truthfulness of these words is in no way diminished: they are still completely God’s words as well” (Grudem, 48). Clear examples of this are the prophetic books of Isaiah to Malachi.
- “Then the LORD reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me: ‘I have now filled your mouth with my words” (Jer 1:9).
- “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deut 18:18).
- “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me, his word was on my tongue” (2 Sam 23:2, spoken by David).
- “no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
- “just as [God] spoke by the mouth of his prophets in ancient times” (Luke 1:70)
- The Word of God as a Person: Jesus Christ. In John 1, Jesus is called the Word. As the Word of God, Jesus communicated the character of God to us and expressed God’s will. The Qur’an also calls Jesus the Word of God (Arabic kalimatullah), although the Qur’an does not give meaning for this term (Qur’an 3:45; 4:171). John 1:1, 14 provides the most apparent purpose of this name of Christ.
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
- “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
- “He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13)
- As the Word of God, every word spoken by Jesus was direct speech by God. Because of this, Jesus’ coming into the world revealed God and His will far more clearly than had been known before Jesus came.
- “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side – he has revealed him” (John 1:18).
- “Long ago, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).
- God’s Words in Written Form (the Bible). There are many instances in Scripture where the Bible was put into written form. For example, the ten commandments were “written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) on the two stone tablets. Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses commanded the priests to keep the whole Law and call an assembly of all the people of God every seven years and read the entire Law (Deut 31:9-13). The Law in this verse is a reference to the first five books of the Bible.
- “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deut 31:24-26).
- “And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Joshua 24:26).
- “And now, go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever” (Isaiah 30:8).
- “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jer 30:2).
- “[Paul] speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
- “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” (Rev 1:11).
- “I testify to everyone hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev 22:18).
- The Bible as the Word of God is the foundation for theology. There are several benefits from having the word of God available in written form.
- Having God’s words in written form preserves them for future generations.
- Having God’s words in written form provides an opportunity for repeated inspection. Repeated inspection and study allows for better understanding and obedience.
- Having God’s words in written form makes them available to many more people.
- For all of these reasons, the Bible as God’s written word is the focus for theological study. We can study God’s Words in the Bible to understand them. The Bible is available to everyone, meaning that all can participate in biblical study to understand and develop theology.
This post is the first of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology. The next six topics are:
- The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54). To be posted on 21-September-2020.
- The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word? “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). To be posted on 28-September-2020.
- The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). To be posted on 5-October-2020.
- The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). To be posted on 12-October-2020.
- The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). To be posted on 19-October-2020.
- The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). To be posted on 26-October-2020.