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The Word of God


Quakers, like Jesus Christians, do not believe that the Bible is the "Word of God".

Some teachings are so sacred that it is unthinkable to question them. Such is the teaching that the Bible is the Word of God, i.e. that nothing spoken outside its pages can be recognised as God's word, and every jot and tittle inside was timelessly spoken by God.

Before Jesus, God's Spirit came only on selected individuals at significant times in their lives. God mainly lived in a box in the Temple, called the Holy of holies. And he spoke from the sacred writings preserved there. Consequently, Old Testament passages about the Word of God do often refer to sacred writings, in particular the Laws of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) which were stored in the Holy of holies with God.

Bible passages referring to this written 'Word of God', were not themselves part of the "Word" at the time they were written. Only gradually have some books been added to the 'perfect' Word. Others have been chucked out, or simply lost. (See Numbers 21:14, Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18, 1 Kings 11:41.)

Nevertheless, the Word of God teaching in the 20th Century favours the 66 books of the King James Bible as the complete and infallible Word of God. "What we have now must be all the perfect bits," they argue. "If God had wanted other writings included, he would have told King James."

Of course the King James Version is not perfect. Compare Nehemiah 7:8-27 with Ezra 2:3-23 to see how easy it is for errors to creep in. The number of offspring for 20 tribes are listed. The two writers differ on 13 of the 20 tribes, sometimes by only one or two offspring, but at other times by hundreds. No one really cares whether Zattu had 845 descendants or 945 descendants, but fundamentalists want us to say that 845 equals 945. We can't.

Another widely accepted theory says what we have now is imperfect due to errors in copying, but (it says) the original manuscripts were infallible. Since the originals have never been found, it is purely theoretical. But it still serves the purpose of capturing God inside a piece of parchment.

Truth is so simple for Bible-olators: Everything in the Bible is true, and everything outside of it is a lie. But if we didn't have just the two labels (infallible vs evil) we could take a more rational view of all holy writings. Nehemiah can make a lot of mistakes in counting heads and still be a great source of inspiration to people in the rest of what he says. The Bible itself says that all holy writings are inspired by God and are useful for teaching and exhorting people (2 Timothy 3:16). No mention of infallibility here, and 'all holy writings' is pretty much all holy writings.

From this, we conclude that the Koran, Gita, etc. are not evil in themselves. They are, in fact, better than nothing at all, and are useful for instruction, correction, etc. until something better comes along. It is only when a Muslim or Hindu or whatever becomes a 'fundamentalist', treating their holy writings as infallible 'law' that the writings become destructive. The Jews did that with their writings and Paul preached against it. Yet modern 'Christian' fundamentalists do exactly the same thing with the writings of Paul. And the cults do it with the writings of their leaders.

Jesus said some of what Moses wrote was not the eternal Word of God. And he dared to change it (Mark 10:2-12). Paul said some of the things he wrote were not the Word of God (1 Corinthians 7:6, 12, 25). Yet the Word of God myth says that Paul's opinion in these writings is the Word of God. What insanity! We are told that it is God himself saying to us: "This is not God speaking." This could only be true if God was lying when he said it!

All scriptures (and the writers of scripture) are fallible. The Word of God is not. So the Bible and the Word of God are not one and the same. St. John says "In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made." (John 1:1-3) Obviously he was not talking about the Bible. He was talking about Jesus (John 1:14).

The New Testament is much more specific than the Old Testament when it comes to the Word of God. It says that Jesus is the Word of God (Revelation 19:13-15). It is the words that come from the mouth of Jesus that God will use to judge us (John 12:48).

Paul said that God's Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and an important difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that God's Spirit is not restricted to special leaders for special times now. His Spirit has been poured out on 'all flesh' (Acts 2:17), so that we no longer need high priests to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:23-28). When Jesus died on the cross, God tore the heavy curtain around the Holy of holies from top to bottom (Luke 23:45). Now the Word of God can come through anyone.

Peter tells us to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). As we yield to God's Spirit, the Word of God speaks through us (Romans 2:14-15, Matthew 10:40). Of course we're still fallible, and our words should not be enshrined. We should ask people to extract whatever truth may be contained in our words, and to leave the rest. When a better revelation comes along, they should leave us and turn to it.

Because Jesus is the Word of God and his teachings are contained in the Bible, it is correct to say that the Bible contains the Word of God. But it is not the complete Word of God; St. John says the world itself could not hold all the books it would take to record it all. (John 21:25)

The Bible is superior to any other book, and the teachings of Jesus are superior to those of any other teacher. Fundamentalists just need to turn loose of their 'laws' and open up to the Spirit of God as revealed in Christ.

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Is the Bible the Word of God? Is Jesus the Word of God? Did the Bible create the world? Are the Koran and the Baghavad Gita holy writings? Can people be inspired when they speak today? If so, are they speaking the words of God? Are they infallible? Find the answer (as understood by Jesus Christians) to these questions and more in this thought-provoking study.
(See also The Role of Experience in the Quest for Truth [R], The Spirit of God, The Holy Spirit [R], and The Bible.)
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