10

The phrase "Word of God" or "Word of the Lord" and variants are commonly used (at least among evangelicals) to refer to the Bible - i.e. the written words of the prophets and apostles. I'm wondering what is the origin of this usage.

These phrases appear frequently in the Bible itself, but never (as far as I'm aware) to unambiguously refer to the written Bible itself. For instance, throughout the prophets it is commonly written "the word of the Lord came to so and so," but this seems to refer to something prior to the actual writing down of the relevant books. In the NT we have for example the oft quoted Heb. 4:12 saying "The Word of God is living and active..." which is often taken as referring to the Scriptures, but this reading doesn't appear necessitated by the context unless we already take the phrase Word of God to mean this. In some cases, it unambiguously refers to something not the Bible, e.g. in John 1.

To be clear, I am not asking about where the idea of divine inspiration of the Bible comes from. Rather, I am asking specifically about the origin of using the phrase "word of God" to refer to the Bible.

1
  • We may say that once the church lost the living word of God, the phrase became exclusive and limited for the scriptures. Something that was spiritual became limited to the books.
    – Michael16
    Dec 18, 2022 at 6:39

7 Answers 7

7

An interesting question.

There are just a very few occasions when the Greek word rhema is used to refer to 'God's words', John 8:47, and 'the good word of God', Hebrews 6:5. But there are multiple occasions when the word logos is used - the 'word of God', in scripture, over twenty visible from just a glance over Robert Young's list in his Analytical Concordance.

Logos can mean much more than just a word on a page. The scope of the concept, especially as used in holy scripture, can reach to mean 'utterance' in its totality, that is to say, all the words that I have spoken and written - everything communicated - is my 'word'.

And he who is Logos is the totality of the expression and utterance of God himself, John 1:1-5 and 14.

Therefore, as the scriptures were in progress, particularly during the first century, it could not - yet - be said that the totality of God's word, in writing, was, at that stage, complete and it could not - yet - be referred to as such.

What is clear is that the preached expressions of the apostles are referred to, by Luke, as 'the word of God'. This can be seen in Acts 12:24 ; 13:7 ; 13:44 ; 13:46 ; 13:49 ; 18:11 ; 19:20, and that the word of God was not only in the mouth of the apostles but also 'among them', 18:11, and 'grew', 19:20.

Ultimately, John the apostle, in documenting his visions, refers to the opening of heaven and the revelation of one who is called 'Faithful and True' and his name is called 'The Word of God', Revelation 19: 11-13.

That is to say, He is the full expression of all God's utterance.

He is the absolute totality of all that God would intelligently communicate.

The Word of God.

He is what is communicated by God. He is what is expressed by the apostles.

And He is what the scriptures are all about.

So much so, that those scriptures, in their totality, can also be referred to as 'the word of God'.

But I suggest that the expression only becomes valid once the scripture is complete. That is why the scripture, itself, does not refer to itself as such.

I think it would be very difficult indeed to pinpoint the exact time, place and agency wherein the expression was first uttered.

Polycarp, perhaps ?

An edifying question. Thank you for asking it.


In his commentary to Paul's epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp refers to τὰ λόγια τοῦ κυρίου which, literally translated, is 'the word of the Lord'.

The translation has 'the oracles of the Lord' for the word that Polycarp used is logia, not logos.

Polycarp - Philippians

This was written in the middle of the second century but there is dispute about the time of Polycarp's martyrdom so no categoric date can be given.

4
  • 1
    "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. " +1 Dec 14, 2022 at 13:59
  • 4
    Without any doubt, the Sacred Scriptures being referred to as the word of the Lord or word of God originated in the high antiquity of the Early Church. No doubt it was thought from the very foundations of Christianity. Polycarp shows that well.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 14, 2022 at 14:43
  • Hard to get older than Polycarp.
    – user52135
    Dec 14, 2022 at 23:15
  • 1
    @DarkMalthorp "Moses wrote all the words of the LORD" Exodus 24:4 Dec 15, 2022 at 13:15
6

And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. - Exodus 24:7

Although not explicitly stated as the OP inquires after, the implicit sense is certainly present that when what the Lord has said is written down and then read aloud, that which is heard is that which God has spoken no less than when it is heard directly, or when a prophet hears the word of God and speaks, "Thus saith the Lord.".

The giving of the Law was a process more than an event and the formal beginning of the process is in Exodus and includes all three aspects:

And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD. - Exodus 19:3-8

Moses was then instructed to prepare the people to witness and hear the Lord coming down to speak with him:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. - Exodus 19:9-11

The people prepared themselves as God instructed through Moses and brought them out of the camp to Mount Sinai. Moses then went up the mountain and God spoke with him. There was fire, smoke, tremblings, etc., and the people were terrified. Moses was told to go down and speak to the people so that they would not attempt to "break through" and perish (Exodus 19:16-25).

In Exodus 20:1-17 Moses speaks to Israel the "ten commandments" and the people respond fearfully by asking permission to leave God's presence and have Moses mediate (incidentally, this was God's spoken purpose for this scene given in 19:9):

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. - Exodus 20:18-21

From this point through chapter 23 is the fleshing out of the Law as summarized by the 10 commandments which concludes in a promise concerning the land of Canaan. In Exodus chapter 24 the covenant is confirmed:

And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. And Moses alone shall come near the LORD: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him.  And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do. - Exodus 24:1-3

This establishes well that the people, hearing what the mediator says, receive those words as "All the words which the Lord has said" even though it is second hand to them.  The next thing that Moses does is to write down all of what God had spoken to him and read it in the hearing of the people. The response of the people is exactly the same:

And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. - Exodus 24:4-7

I think that this constitutes the first instance of a continuing pattern throughout Scripture where that which God has spoken is rightly received as the "Word of God" by the direct hearer as well as by those to whom that Word is passed on either orally or in written form.

Thus it is fair to say that the already established portions of the written Word would rightly be considered as the Word of God even while what we now know to be the completed canon was still yet to be. This is born out in Jesus' response to the Tempter where the strongest correlation is drawn between what is written and what God speaks:

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. - Matthew 4:4

While the Bible never calls itself "the Word of God" in the sense that some Christians will that title is certainly in keeping with the whole tenor of God's revelation unto us.

2
  • 2
    I think the question is asking for the first time "the word of God" is used to represent the writings that are now considered Sacred Scriptures in most denominations and not a biblical based answer.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 14, 2022 at 15:46
  • @KenGraham I believe I have demonstrated that what God spoke and what was subsequently written has been considered as the "word of God" from the beginning. The Canon was not yet complete then, for sure, but Christianity did not introduce the concept. What has been written thus far has always been the "word of God". Now the Canon is complete and it is still true. That the Church affirmed this from the beginning is also true. Dec 14, 2022 at 22:51
2

OP: I am asking specifically about the origin of using the phrase "word of God" to refer to the Bible.

The first reference to "word of the LORD" is here.

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. Gen 15:1

The first reference to "word of God" is here.

And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may shew thee the word of God. 1 Sam 9:27

When do these phrases refer to the Bible, the written word of God, rather than the spoken word of God? Basically, the two ideas of spoken and written are the same. Like the New Testament, the apostles spoke and then wrote it down.

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. Mark 7:13

Jesus Christ declares here that the Old Testament is the word of God. The valid prophets spoke "thus sayeth the LORD". They spoke as God moved them, not sourcing their speech to themselves.

Luke puts it this way.

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Acts 6:2

Peter puts it this way.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:20-21

In short, God spoke through valid prophets who wrote these things to leave us a record. Likewise, Christ, the Word, also left valid witnesses who wrote a record. This is the 66-book Bible.

Lastly, there is a distinction between the two Greek words logos and rhema that are typically translated "word".

The significance of rhema (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Eph 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture. BlueLetterBible

The idea is that the logos is the spoken word of God that came to be written down and the rhema is the application of the logos, the written word.

TO ADD: A diminutive of logos is logion. It is translated as oracle.

Oracle: a diminutive of logos, "a word, narrative, statement," denotes "a Divine response or utterance, an oracle;" it is used of (a) the contents of the Mosaic Law, Act 7:38; (b) all the written utterances of God through OT writers, Rom 3:2; (c) the substance of Christian doctrine, Hbr 5:12; (d) the utterance of God through Christian teachers, 1Pe 4:11.

Notes: Divine "oracles" were given by means of the breastplate of the High Priest, in connection with the service of the tabernacle, and the Sept. uses the associated word logeion in Exd 28:15, to described the breastplate. -source-

Additionally, there is a broader description that points to the same idea of words spoken by God being the written words of God.

In the N. T. spoken of the words or utterances of God: of the contents of the Mosaic law, Acts 7:38; with τοῦ Θεοῦ or Θεοῦ added, of his commands in the Mosaic law and his Messianic promises, Romans 3:2, cf. Philippi and Umbreit at the passage; of the substance of the Christian religion, Hebrews 5:12; of the utterances of God through Christian teachers, 1 Peter 4:11. (In ecclesiastical writings λόγια τοῦ κυρίου is used of Christ's precepts, by Polycarp, ad Philipp. 7, 1 [ET]; κυριακα λόγια of the sayings and discourses of Christ which are recorded in the Gospels, by Papias in Eusebius, h. e. 3, 39; Photius c. 228, p. 248 (18 edition, Bekker); (τά λόγια τοῦ Θεοῦ) of the words and admonitions of God in the sacred Scriptures, Clement of Rome, 1 Cor. 53, 1 [ET] (where parallel with αἱ ἱεραι γραφαί), cf. 62, 9 [ET]; (and τά λόγια simply, like αἱ γραφαί of the New T. in the interpolated Epistle of Ignatius ad Smyrn. 3 [ET]). Cf. Schwegler ((also Heinichen)), Index 4 ad Eusebius, h. e. under the word λόγιον; (especially Sophocles Lexicon, under the word and Lightfoot in the Contemp. Rev. for Aug. 1875, p. 399ff On the general use of the word cf. Bleek, Br. a. d. Hebrew iii., pp. 114-117).) THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electr -ibid

Note the subsequent references to the New Testament from the writings of Polycarp, Clement, Papias, and others.

So, to answer the OP, the usage of "word of God" or "word of the Lord" or "oracles of God" first appears from Christ as He applies the written word sourced to God versus the spoken tradition from men. It then appears throughout the New Testament and into the very early church fathers.

0

The expression "word of God" (Hebrew "dabar elohim/דְּבַ֥ר אֱלֹהִֽים") seems to be first used by Samuel.

And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on), but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God. (1 Samuel 9:27, KJV)

The expression was further used by the scribes afterward.

But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying, (1 Kings 12:22, KJV)

And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, (1 Chronicles 17:3, KJV)

And then a similar expression was used by Solomon, in a more poetic sense.

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. (Proverbs 30:5, KJV)

Proverbs 30:5 uses a different Hebrew expression which was translated as "every word of God." This may, however, have influenced Jesus' own expressions during the temptations in the wilderness.

And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. (Luke 4:4, KJV)

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3 which, in Hebrew, does not have the word "word" (dabar)--so it could perhaps have been translated as "every thing that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Conclusion

Though Moses used a related expression, the actual "word of God" expression seems to have first been used by Samuel, as far as the Bible records. But the scribes, shortly thereafter, used it to refer to past instances of the word of God having been given or expressed.

1
  • 5
    I think the question is asking for the first time "the word of God" is used to represent the writings that are now considered canon (as is common today amongst evangelicals, at least). Dec 14, 2022 at 13:58
0

I see I am late to this, but I believe I found a possible answer.

Long story short;
I found in or around 1539 when King Henry VIII decided to allow an English translation, after many had tried and lost their lives, burned at the stake etc.. there was a drawing of the King himself handing down the authorized bible to the people with the words ‘Word of God’on the cover. It was clearly a form of propaganda showing the Kings support and his authority of the church, and showing the people cheering their King. You can see this drawing in the 1539 Great Bible, however the words on the drawing are in Latin. (Verbum Dei)

Blake -

2
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I would also recommend reading the Help Center's sections on asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Nov 28, 2023 at 4:32
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Nov 28, 2023 at 4:32
0

Another way to look at this is how the Bible defines the term/phrase: previous answers refered to logos and rhema, both of which are "spoken" words. In the unique case where Christ is called the Logos of God, by John, he begins his gospel with, "In the beginning was the Word (Logos)". Obviously a reference to Gen. 1:1 where Jesus existed before creation, which was spoken into existence.

The Greek word for 'written' is 'graphas' and is used 51 times in the New Testament always meant as the written Scriptures of the Old Testament. One of the surest ways to tell they are not interchangeable is that logos is masculine, graphas is feminine.

Why does it matter? Because the Bible did not die on the cross, shed it's blood for the redemption of our sins, nor was it resurrected so that way may have eternal life; only JESUS DID THAT!

My concern is that pastors who stand before a congregation holding their Bibles in the air saying, "This is the word of God" could be distracting certain believers from having a relationship with the Son of God and instead pointing them to be students of the Bible. There is life in the Son. Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:39-40,"You examine the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is those very Scriptures that testify about Me; and yet you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."

The Bible points us to Jesus, it never replaces Him. There is only one way to salvation, it is by believing with faith, not knowing with the brain. But I too, wonder how this all got started.

I was reading Bullinger's Lexicon about the word "logos" - it was very detailed about it being a spoken word, etc. Then for some odd reason he inserts this paragraph: “But further, inasmuch as the Logos, as the Living Word, became so to manifest and reveal Deity to us, “the written Word” was given with the same object and for the same purpose. Hence, it is sometimes difficult to know which is intended, as the same things are predicated of each."
Then goes on to say, "that both: are the truth, are everlasting, are life, save, purify, beget to new life, sanctify, shall judge and are glorified." I disagree on all counts - only Jesus does that.

Not sorry for being so passionate about all this, just don't want anyone misdirected.

1
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I would also recommend reading the Help Center's sections on asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Apr 22 at 2:59
0

There is no specific reference within the Bible to "the Bible" as such as the word of God. Such a reference would be anachronistic, since the Bible did not exist as a consolidated corpus of texts until the 2nd to the 4th century AD. There does not appear to exist any revelation from God anywhere identifying the sum total of His word as consisting exclusively of Moses through John, either prospectively in advance, contemporaneously, or after the fact. God can and does deliver more of His words at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, such as for example when the hand of the Lord appeared visibly before an astonished Babylonian royal audience and wrote on the wall the words, "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" (Daniel 5)

"The word of God" and "the word of the Lord" in every instance where they are used in Scripture refer to past, present and future revelation from God. On many occasions anciently, the Lord's prophet would inquire of Him with respect to a particular subject, or the Lord would proactively deliver His words on a given subject, and sometimes (though far from always) His words would be prefaced by the prophet by saying, "Hear ye the word of the Lord". Implicit in that word was that God was responding to or anticipating some present or future circumstance and topic or topics that would benefit the hearers if they gave heed to it. As such, "the word of the Lord" in any specified instance could be understood to mean implicitly, "the word of the Lord [to the people of such a place, at such a time, in such a circumstance". Although the context surrounding many of His revelations was situational, the truths are timeless, and He always reserves the right to speak more. The Apostles continued this pattern of delivering the word of the Lord from time to time and in sundry places and to various people that the Lord knew and perceived the thoughts of and pierced through all their rationalizations, knowing their needs at all times. As such there are epistles that we know of to the Corinthians, some of which are not included in the Bible as we have it today. Although in English we see it rendered as a single noun, it is clearly collective in the sense that it refers to all that God ever spoke, now speaks, and will speak in the future.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a unique perspective on this.

In both ancient and modern revelations, God is attested as saying that

My words ... never cease!

and

because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. (2 Nephi 29:9-10)

This enables us to understand that it would have been (and indeed was) appropriate to refer to any corpus of God's words as "the word of God", provided by that we understand that God continues to speak.

Affirming this:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. (Article of Faith 8)

Historically, it might be difficult to pinpoint the "first" instance in which the entirety of what we call "the Bible" was referred to as the word of God, but it is evident that every word that ever came out of the mouth of God, it has always been appropriate to call such.

You must log in to answer this question.