Tradition can be good (2 Thess. 2:15), but it can also oppose the Word of God (Mk. 7:13). Tradition can also change the meaning of the Scriptures because words change their meaning over time as humans use them. I submit that we need fact checkers to make sure that we are using the words of Scripture in a scriptural way.
I’d like to apply for one of those fact checker jobs. I’ll be able to do it better if y’all help me. Feel free to question, confront, or add in the comments.
“Word of God”
There is not one example anywhere in the Bible of someone using “Word of God” as a phrase meaning “the Bible.”
There are a number of passages where someone quotes a verse, and then immediately that one verse is referred to as the Word of God (e.g., Mk. 7:7-13). That happens because the Scriptures are indeed the Word of God, or at least one portion of it.
But they are not the entirety of God’s Word. In fact, I would argue that they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Surely you don’t think that 1200 pages of material is all that God has had to say over the last three or four thousand years!
Therefore the Bible itself never uses “Word of God” the way we do. We say, “I’ve got the Word of God tucked under my arm.” Or, we might go to a brother’s house and say, “Hey, do you have a copy of the Word here somewhere?” Worse, we might ask, “Do you have the Word with you?”
The Bible has no such usage of “the Word.”
“The Word,” when used in the Bible, is always in reference to one of the following:
- The Word inside of disciples, transforming them, growing inside them, and being passed on to others (e.g., Acts 6:7)
- The Word of God in general, in all its many forms.
The problems with our usage of “The Word” are manifold. Can you imagine the problems that could be caused by ignoring much or most of what the Bible calls the Word?
Fortunately, the situation is not quite that bad. Though we wrongly use “The Word” in our daily speech, most of us know that there are a lot of other forms of the Word besides the Bible. Almost all Christians have at least an intellectual idea that Jesus is the Word of God from John 1:1-3 and John 1:14.
The biggest problem is that we don’t trust the Word of God that has been planted inside of us. Because we have limited the Word of God in our speech, we don’t know about, trust, or exercise the Word Jesus actually put in us.
These words Jesus spoke, lifting his eyes to heaven and said, “Father … I have given [the apostles] the words you have given me, and they have received them … Sanctify them through your Truth; your Word is Truth … Nor do I pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their Word.” (John 17:8,17,20, emphasis mine)
The Word has been implanted in us like a seed (Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). If it’s like a seed, then it’s growing. Therefore, we read 3 times in Acts the bizarre (to us) statement that the Word of God is growing and increasing (6:7; 12:24; 19:20). It was growing and increasing, both as the Word grew inside the disciples, and as the number of the disciples grew.
Because we don’t know about, nor understand, this Word that is living and growing inside of us, we do not make use of its power. Instead, we take evangelism courses which give us lead-ins and outlines so that we can talk to people.
Jesus used something better than prepared outlines. Here are my two favorite examples. (After reading these, don’t forget to see “Caveat” at bottom of page.)
To Peter, he said, “Launch out into the deep, and let your nets down for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
If you don’t mind, I’ll finish the story my way …
Hold your breath. The Word of God has been released. What will Peter do with it?
First he questioned. He was the fisherman there, not Jesus. Finally he said, “Nevertheless, at your Word I will let down the net.”
The Word of God has now been received. It has been swallowed by Peter through the act of obeying. What will happen?
First, he fell on his knees and cried out that he is a sinner. Then, he headed to shore, abandoned his catch, “forsook everything,” and followed Jesus (Luke 5:14).
How’s that for a Gospel presentation that was incredibly successful?
Jesus is walking into town. He sees Zaccheus, and he issues a command. “Zaccheus, hurry, come down, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5).
The Word of God has spoken, and the Word has been released. What will Zaccheus do?
“And he hurried, came down, and received him joyfully” (v. 8).
By his obedience, Zaccheus received the Word of God that had come from the incarnate Word, Jesus. What will happen?
Zaccheus, apparently without any prompting from the Lord, promised to give half his goods to the poor and reimburse, four times over, anyone he had cheated. Jesus then announced, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Another successful Gospel presentation … without an outline nor prepared formula.
(As mentioned, don’t forget to see caveat at bottom of page.)
Misinterpreting the Bible
Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that is proceeding from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
The word “proceeding” is in the present tense in Matthew 4:4. In Greek, the present tense indicates continuous action. We live by every Word that is “proceeding”—has been coming, is coming, and will continue to be coming—from the mouth of God.
We do not live only by the Word of God that proceeded from the mouth of God 1,900 to 3,500 years ago and was written down on paper. If that’s all the Word of God you get, it is not enough (2 Cor. 3:6,cf. Heb. 3:13).
2 Timothy 2:15 & Hebrews 5:12-14
The King James Version makes an atrocious mistake at the beginning of 2 Timothy 2:15, capriciously translating spoudazo, meaning “be diligent,” as “read.”
There is no similarity between those two words, and “read” is not an alternate translation of spoudazo. Instead, it is an insertion by translators who made the same assumption that all of us do, that “the Word” in 2 Timothy 2:15 means “the Scriptures.”
If that were true, the KJV mistranslation wouldn’t be too bad an issue.
The assumption is false, however. When we remove our inaccurate “the Word=the Bible” thinking, the true interpretation of that verse is obvious. Paul is telling us the same thing that we are told in Hebrews. We ought to “practice” [hexis] and “exercise” [gymnazo] ourselves in “the Word of righteousness” so that we can both teach others and discern good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14).
In our misinterpretation of these two verses we are left missing the fact that we are not only to study the Bible, but also to exercise, train, and be diligent in all the Word of God, especially in the Word that is a growing seed inside of you.
This is the most surprising misinterpretation of all. How could we possibly have missed that the writer of Hebrews, who already told us that God is speaking only through the Son these days (1:2), is talking about that same Son in Hebrews 4:12-13? The Word of God, in 4:12-13, discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart and sees us as though we were naked. How could that possibly be talking about a book rather than a person?
This is your episode of Bible Fact Checker for today. Thank you for listening.
In mentioning above our reliance on outlines and how Jesus converted Peter and Zaccheus, I am not saying that having a prepared message is bad. The Gospel is one specific thing: Jesus is Lord. The proof for this claim is that he rose from the dead.
I would never suggest forsaking that message. Jesus had more freedom than us because he is the Lord. To obey him is to acknowledge that he is Lord.
Nonetheless the story of Peter’s conversion and Zaccheus’ are examples of what we, too, should be able to do because of the Word that is inside us. As Isaiah put it:
The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned so that I may know how to speak a word in season. He wakes me morning by morning; he wakes my ear to hear like a disciple. (Isa. 50:4)