This week's question comes from Web Surfer Ray M. who e-mailed, "Is Jesus the manifestation of the Word of God? And if he is, can we say the Word of God is infallible?"
Ray's question is a good one for our modern church because of the assertion that the Bible is the word of God. Let's delve into the scriptures to see what they say about The Word.
Beginning in the Old Testament, we read the word of God came to a number of the prophets. First we read the word of God came to Samuel in 1st Samuel 9.27-10.1a when Saul was anointed as the King of Israel. In 1st Kings 12.22-24 Shemaiah the prophet receives the word of God that Israel should not go to war. Finally, in Proverbs 30.5 we're told the words of God are true. These are the only passages in the Old Testament that speak directly of the word of God. However, in at least of two of these three passages, scripture as we know it had not yet been written. Indeed, neither the books of Kings or Samuel were completed until the Babylonian exile some 400 years before Christ (and over 500 years after David). And if the Proverbs are as old as tradition ascribes them to be, very little scripture, if any, would have been recognized by the Hebrew faith.
So, what was the "word of God" for these of the Old Testament? Very clearly the word is that which God spoke to the prophets -- and the prophets were then charged with sharing that word, not through writing, but through speech (and according to Proverbs 30.6 they'd best not add anything to it!).
However, the New Testament seems to have a different slant on the word of God. According to John the logos (the word) is Jesus Christ in the flesh. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1.14).
Ray asked, "Is Jesus the manifestation of the word of God?" According to Webster, to make manifest is to "make clear, reveal, prove." We have been taught Jesus is the manifestation of God, Emmanuel which means God with us. Thus Jesus is not the manifestation of the word of God, but the manifestation of God. On the other hand, scripture plainly states Jesus is the word of God. In Revelation we read, "Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is The Word of God" (Revelation 19.11-13 emphasis added). Here John describes Jesus and names him as "The Word."
In the New Testament, then, Jesus is the manifestation of God and not the manifestation of the word -- Jesus is the word.
Then how can we say the word of God is fallible? Well, if we mean, "How can we say Jesus is fallible?" then the Christian community answers, "We can't." On the other hand, if the question is "How can we say scripture is fallible?" then we're asking a totally different question.
Scripture has been touted as the "Word of God" for centuries. It has been equated with the words of God probably before Jesus. Indeed, Paul writes to Timothy and says, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3.16). However, when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy in about 61 CE the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John hadn't even been written, let alone circulated, and there is little evidence Mark's gospel had been written before this date. And although there have been dispersions made regarding Paul's humility, even he was not audacious enough to claim he was writing scripture (that would have been blasphemy in his day -- as perhaps in our own day). So when he says scripture is inspired, he clearly speaks of the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament.
The Bible, the Old and the New Testament, has long been called the Word of God, but scripture itself does not assign that name to itself. According to scripture only Jesus is the Word of God -- and that was made flesh, not paper and ink. According to Christianity only Jesus as the Word of God is perfect; therefore, let us be very careful about who or what else we claim is infallible.