Over the next few days I will be taking a look at the question of what it means to say that the Bible is the Word of God. I will be doing this by examining Barth’s, David Law’s, and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s doctrines of scripture.
If one were to go to a typical evangelical church it would not be strange to hear the pastor referring to his or her Bible as the word of God. In an intuitive way we recognize that somehow the Bible is the word of God. But what exactly it means to say that the Bible is the word of God is difficult to say. While it is difficult to say what it means, there is some scriptural backing to this claim. For instance if one were to look at Matthew 15:1-9 we see that Jesus refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as the word of God. In this pericope we are given an encounter between the Pharisees, scribes, and Jesus. The interlocutors ask Jesus why his disciples break the traditions of the elders. Jesus replies by asking them why they break God’s commandments, specifically the commandment to honor one’s father and mother, for the sake of tradition. Jesus tells them that in doing this they make void the word of God. Yet the claim that the Scriptures are the word of God is not unique to the New Testament, throughout the Old Testament we see the prophets declare “the word of the Lord.” So in one sense what we have in the Old Testament prophets is the word of the God.
Historically the Church goes on to affirm the claim that the Bible is the word of God. For instance, The Council of Trent asserts that the “Synod receives and venerates, with equal pious affection and reverence, all the books both of the New and Old Testaments, since God is the author of both.” Thus they affirm that the Bible is the Word of God because God is its author. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes a similar assertion claiming that “the authority of the Holy Scripture…dependeth not on the testimony of any man or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof.” Thus once again the Bible is said to be the word of God because God is its author. The First Baptist Confession of faith claims that in the Bible we do not find “(men’s laws, or unwritten traditions, but) only the Word of God contained in the Scriptures.” So according to the First Baptist Confession the Bible is the word of God in that the word of God is contained in the Scriptures. Although there are differences between all of these important documents they all claim that somehow the Bible is the word of God. If we are going to be in continuity with the church’s dogma we must discover what it means to say that the Bible is the word of God.
In this paper I will analyze three different views as to what it means to say that the Bible is the word of God. We will look at the theories of David Law, Karl Barth, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. By critically examining these three positions hopefully we will be able to articulate a view that affirms, but clarifies what the Church has claimed all along, that the Bible is the word of God.