Last year—all the way back in 2014!—Karen and I went on a driving holiday around Tasmania. It’s a lovely place—beautiful rivers, lovely villages, great seafood, old buildings (older than Queensland anyway), great seafood, wonderful people, very good wine—oh, and did I mention great seafood?
While there, we went to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. It’s a terrific place to go to and wander around. You could easily spend a day or more there. There are paintings, sculptures, installations of various kinds, some high-tech stuff. It’s safe to say I intend to go back one day.
There was a room that held me in its grip. It was a room lined with bookcases and filled with books. Two tables in the middle of the room had books strewn on them.
I admit I love reading (though now I usually read on kindle rather than books), but you may ask why I was so spellbound.
This is the reason:
All the books are blank. Every book on every shelf. I’d guess there are hundreds of books in that room. Not one contains a word.
I was so disorientated, I didn’t know how to respond. And yet it was so fascinating that I stayed in that room for quite a long time.
What a difference a word makes!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
God has not left us with blank pages in a book. God has given us a book, the Bible; but the Word that is God is not the Bible.
The Word that is God
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.
This Word who was God and who became flesh is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But what does it mean to call Jesus God’s ‘Word’? The Hebrew scriptures give us some clues. There,
the word of God is God’s self-revelation;
the word of God is creative;
the word of God brings salvation;
the word of God is God’s wisdom, which is personified as Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs.
God’s revelation, God’s creative power, God’s salvation and God’s wisdom all became human. Every bit of it was concentrated in Jesus Christ.
And yet he was human. He wasn’t an angel in disguise, he wasn’t some kind of superhuman being. It wasn’t done with smoke and mirrors, the hand wasn’t quicker than the eye.
Colossians 1.19 tells that Jesus was a human being in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And in Philippians 2.6–7, we read this: Jesus was a human being
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
Jesus, God emptied out to fill human flesh.
Jesus is God’s self-revelation. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Allow yourself to be remade in his image.
Jesus is God’s creative power. He was put to death, but death could not hold him. He rose and all who are ‘in Christ’ are part of God’s new creation.
Jesus is God’s salvation. Everything he did, he did for us. And he calls us to live as he did—for others, for the poor and dispossessed.
Jesus is God’s wisdom, even though Wisdom is personified as a woman in the Old Testament. Doesn’t matter. His words are wise; they are life and health and strength to us.
Jesus is the eternal and living Word of God.
One last thing. We often say the Bible is the Word of God. What do we mean by that?
We mean the Bible reveals to us good news of the creative, saving, wisdom of God.
The Bible instructs us that this revelation of God’s creative, saving wisdom is in Jesus Christ.
The Bible tells us that the Word of God is Jesus.
So the Bible points us to the Word. The Bible is a vessel of the eternal Word. But it is the word of God in that sense only.
So: if someone teaches something in the Bible that goes against what we know of Jesus Christ, we can be confident that the words they speak are not God’s word—even if these words come from the Bible.
Let me give you one example.
Just a month ago, a so-called ‘pastor’ in the USA said he knew how to make his country AIDS-free by Christmas. His remedy was to kill all gay people. He was dead serious.
What do you think of that ‘solution’? I am absolutely appalled that someone who calls himself a pastor could suggest something so ignorant, senseless and abhorrent.
Yet the energy for this pastor’s misplaced zeal comes from the bible. He has a biblical reason for killing gay people. It is this, from Leviticus 20.13:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
As far as he is concerned, the killing of gay people is in the Bible and it is God’s will in order to rid the world of AIDS.
I think that’s enough of this man’s abhorrent views. You see, he may teach that the Bible is the word of God, he may believe that the Bible is the word of God, he may have a proof text in Leviticus 20.13, but here he is not teaching the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.
This American pastor uses the word ‘execution’. He presumably wants the state to pass laws to execute gay people. Now that is hardly likely to happen, but my point is this: executing gay people is not Jesus’ way. Therefore it goes against the Word of God whatever Leviticus says.
Jesus Christ’s way was not to execute others but to submit to execution himself. His way is love, love that took him all the way to the cross for gay people as well as anyone else.
What might Jesus say to us about verses like Leviticus 20.13? He might say something similar to what he said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.21–22a):
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement…
Jesus has the authority here. To those who would execute gay people in accord with Leviticus 20 Jesus might say,
You have heard it said that gay people should be killed;
but I say unto you, love your neighbour.
It is Jesus who is the self-revealing, creatively life-giving, saving, wholly wise Word of God. When I look at verses like Leviticus 20.13, the first thing I ask myself is ‘How do I respond to this as someone who is committed to the way of Jesus? How does Jesus in me respond?’ And we can ask those questions as the Body of Jesus Christ: ‘What is the mind of Jesus among us?’
So what of the Bible? The Bible is the indispensable junior word of God, which points us to Jesus and must always be interpreted in the light of Jesus.
Anything else is not the revelatory, creatively life-giving, saving, and wise Word of God, no matter how many bible verses it quotes.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… 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.