The Everlasting Word

I have been concerned for some time that many people in my religious tradition have become idol worshipers. Just as the Jewish people, who were saved from death by simply looking at the Nehushtan, the bronze image of a serpent on a pole after their their sin of rebellion in the desert, but then turned to worship the representation – so too many in my culture have, or are, in great danger of worshiping the means to which they attribute their salvation – the Bible.

I, like many others, have been brought up to believe that the Bible is the word of God – and have seen it held aloft and proudly proclaimed as –

The word of God (which) is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4 (NIV)

Now perhaps I have misunderstood the intention of preachers who have done this and things like it – but I think not. I heard a very committed Christian lady say recently  – ‘If we don’t have the Bible then what have we?’ – the inference being that without the Bible we are lost and have no hope.

What we forget, because we live in the bubble of our own short historical time frame, is that we only have the Bible (at least in common circulation) courtesy of the modern invention of the printing press. In fact the first Bible in the West – the Gutenberg Bible, was only printed in Mainz in 1455 with an English translation only becoming available, and that to a select few, with the printing, in 1539, of the ‘Great Bible’ or ‘Cramner’s Bible’. The King James Bible was only printed in 1611 – and even by then multitudes could not read it.

Does this mean that for most of our history, up until more modern times, people had no hope, no revelation and no access to the Word of God? Of course not – for the Word of God, which the Bible proclaims, is not the book which proclaims it, however valued and precious it may be, but the living, active, and ever present ‘Word of God’ himself!

Do not let anybody think that the Word of God for Christians is the Bible. It is not. The Holy Scriptures in the Bible testify to the Word, but the Word is Jesus Christ.

Fr. Thomas Hopco

His eyes [are] as a flame of fire, and upon his head [are] many diadems – having a name written that no one hath known, except himself, and he is arrayed with a garment covered with blood, and his name is called, The Word of God.

John – Revelation 19 (Young’s Literal Translation)

The greatest revelation of the Word of God was at Calvary. It is here that The Living Word is robed in a blood soaked garment as he gives his life for ours. Jesus is God’s ultimate speech – and his words are words of love seen in extreme deed and action. It is here, at the cross, preeminently, that ‘The word of God is alive and active’ – and it is the loudest word ever spoken by God!

Of course the whole issue of Bible worship is not new. Jesus had to deal with it in his own day when had had to point out to the religious leaders –

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

John 5 (NLT)

The question then is – if God reveals himself outside the pages of the Bible how does he do it? I find it truly shocking that even the disciples who walked with Jesus for three years – interacting every day with The Living Word, did not really comprehend fully who he was. This is not a judgement or a criticism – how could it be – I too would have found myself in the same boat.  However, the only time we have a clear confession of his true identity was from Peter who, having been asked directly by Jesus, answered – ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16:16 – NLT). Jesus reply is most significant here – ‘You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.’ In other words the revelation of Jesus true identity comes from the Father through the Holy Spirit (See – John 15:26 & John 16:13).

Does God speak through the Bible? Absolutely! But it is only when the written word is enlivened and revealed by The Living Word (through the Holy Spirit) that this takes place at its most fundamental and necessary level.

So please take care regarding this most important of matters – one we have barely scratched the surface of here. I am by no means denigrating the Bible – but I want to be sure I worship the One the book reveals and do not fall in to the trap of worshiping the written revelation rather than the One it presents.

Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son,
God manifestly seen and heard,
And heav’n’s beloved One:
Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,
In Thee God’s fulness find we now.

In Thee most perfectly expressed
The Father’s glories shine;
Of the full Deity possessed,
Eternally divine:
Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,
In Thee God’s fulness find we now.

True image of the Infinite,
Whose essence is concealed;
Brightness of uncreated light;
The heart of God revealed:
Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,
In Thee God’s fulness find we now.

But the high mysteries of Thy Name
An angel’s grasp transcend;
The Father only, glorious claim!
The Son can comprehend:
Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,
In Thee God’s fulness find we now.

Throughout the universe of bliss,
The centre, Thou, and sun;
Th’ eternal theme of praise is this,
To heav’n’s beloved One:
Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,
In Thee God’s fulness find we now.

Josiah Conder (1789 – 1855)

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