The Bible is Not the Word of God (part 1)

Why do we call the Bible “the Word of God” when the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God (John 1.1)? It seems that we make a leap from Scripture being inspired (“God breathed” as it states in 2 Tim. 3.16) to Scripture being this inerrant, perfect document, given to us from the very hand of God, with no meaningful human involvement. Isn’t there some space between those two views of Scripture? Need they be conflated?

Because that second view, the one prevalent in so many theological texts (like Grudem’s popular tome), puts us in quite a difficult place when it comes to whether women can speak in church, whether people who have been divorced can serve in ministry, etc. If you take the view that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then a passage like this has to be taken literally and obeyed without question:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor. 14.33-35)

Paul’s statement usually leads to one of these responses:

  1. Ignore it
  2. Find some clever interpretive way around it (e.g., it only applied to some boisterous Corinthian women – this involves moving “As in all the churches” to the previous statement; it only applies to “public” gatherings, not private gatherings in homes, which was where most church services were held at the time; balancing it out with another place in 1 Cor., where Paul talks about women operating in the gifts of the Spirit)
  3. Create some way in service to pay token obedience to this, despite the degrading effect it has on women (e.g., have women speak from the floor, not the stage; not allowing women to use the main pulpit; only allowing women to teach in all-women settings)
  4. Use it as a weapon against women who would serve in ministry to bludgeon them into silence

The real issue though is that what Paul says here contradicts the attitude toward women that Jesus displayed in the Gospels and in pouring out His Holy Spirit on women and men on the Day of Pentecost – power that was poured out for the express purpose of speaking publicly all that Jesus had taught and accomplished.

The real issue is that this one statement in Scripture is not in line with so much else in Scripture.

Which is a real problem if you think the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, perfect Word of God.

The thing is, the Bible doesn’t make this claim about itself. The Bible makes this claim about Jesus Christ. The Bible doesn’t claim to be the Word of God. It says Jesus is. According to John 1.1, Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the perfect, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible also tells us that nothing and no one is perfect, except God alone.

Even if the Bible had dropped down out of the sky, even if God had emailed us the PDF directly, even if no humans were involved in writing, editing, compiling, and deciding on which documents to include (OT, NT), the Bible would still be something other than God’s own Triune Person. The Bible is not God.

See, what we as humans always want – what we have wanted since Adam and Eve ate the fruit – is to make it so that we do not have to depend on God. People who hold an inerrant view of the Bible are just the latest in a long line of people looking for some way that they can live apart from being at every moment dependent on hearing from God.

Remember the Pharisees, the scribes, and the experts on the law? They held this view of Scripture (Torah for them). They didn’t need to listen to prophets like Jesus, because they had the text right there. They knew what it said. They knew what it meant. They knew what God wanted from them. Except. they. were. exactly. dead. wrong. Jesus hammered them repeatedly because their own expertise in Scripture had blinded them to what Scripture really meant.

So what am I saying? Am I saying the Bible isn’t important? Am I saying it’s just some book written by humans with nothing special about it? Am I saying we don’t have to take it seriously? Live by it? Learn from it?




I love Scripture. I am committed to the Bible. I have devoted the better part of my life studying it and acquiring the tools to study it as deeply as possible. I could not feel more strongly about the importance of Scripture and the key role it plays in living the Christian life.

Which is why it drives me nuts when people misuse it to work directly against the kingdom Jesus came to establish. The Bible is for drawing us close to God and each other – not for driving us apart. Just like Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden for fellowship with God and each other – not for estrangement.

[Continue to part 2 here]

15 thoughts on “The Bible is Not the Word of God (part 1)

  1. Hi, Mike,

    I’ve probably been studying the Bible longer than you’ve been alive. And, I think I have answers to some of the challenges you’ve made. First, I have come to the realization that the Bible is a sampling of how God and the human race related together, and that it covers what had happened from before our world was created until the New Testament Church was established. The Bible is progressive in nature and shows how human understandings about God matured (especially through the teachings of Jesus Christ). Within its pages is everything we need to know to become sons of God and to overcome and defeat the kingdom of evil.

    Because we know so much more than the biblical writers knew, because that knowledge is more conceptual in nature, and because our languages have developed tremendously, we can take what is written and, with God’s help, transpose those words into meaning for our world today. Keeping in mind that what verses and passages say and what they mean may be two entirely different things, the treasures the Bible contains will change our world once we fully understand them.

    I have started blogging about the main idea of the Bible: God loves us all and His love is absolute–perfect, complete, and real!

  2. Patricia,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I will share my view of what Scripture is in the second part to this post and respond to your main point there.

    For the moment though, let me say that I do not think we are in a superior position to the writers of Scripture, either in terms of our conceptual knowledge, or in the development of our language. While we have gained knowledge in some areas (mostly natural sciences), I think we are far less informed than our predecessors in terms of theology and philosophy. For example, Plato and Aristotle were required reading for children for centuries; now there are few adults who can muddle through The Republic or The Nicomachean Ethics. Our understanding has not increased through time; if anything it has grown less.

    As far as language goes, I don’t think the human race has produced a language as complex, nuanced, and beautifully expressive as the Greek language. English is vague and dull by comparison. This is why some people still learn proper grammar by taking Greek (or Latin) in their primary grades. I am teaching my daughters Greek now for this very reason.

    My sole aim with these posts is to point out that you can put so much emphasis on the authority of the Bible that it takes the place of God and becomes an idol. The Bible is not The Word of God – precisely because Jesus Christ IS The Word of God.


  3. Hi, Mike!

    I had to think about your response to my response. You know I think perhaps we tend to lose our focus on the purpose of the Bible when we get caught up in the details. Christ once challenge the religious folk of his day with words like these–You strain the gnats out and swallow the camel. The main force behind the Bible is that it contains everything we need to know to become the sons of God and to defeat the kingdom of evil.

    One thing I don’t think some believers realize is that the Old Testament writers did not know the whole story behind the circumstances they were writing about because there was a wall between them and God–the wall that was built by Satan when he lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden and the wall that was demolished by Christ when he died on the cross. We definitely need to use the New Testament to understand the underlying meanings of the Old Testament.

    1. Patricia,
      What you said at the end goes right to the heart of where I’m going with this. You have to read the Bible from Jesus outward – reading the OT and even Acts and the letters based on Jesus’ life, teaching, ministry, and example. Jesus had to correct the experts of Torah so often because He alone (as the Word of God) can unlock the meaning of Scripture for us.
      Even the Gospels have to be read together and in comparison to each other, to help us read them through the “lens” of Jesus (which is why He gave us four of them!).
      Jesus interprets Scripture. Through His life, through His Spirit. Through His church (when we bother to obey Him). This is what’s coming in the second part of this post, when I get to it. My son was born Monday night, so blogging is on hold for the moment. Thanks again for posting. I really appreciate it.

      1. Congratulations on your son! Is he your first? My husband and I have seven grown children, but I sure remember the excitement each birth brought. God’s blessing to your family. (PS Are you on Twitter or Facebook?)

  4. What about John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

    Or v. 14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

    Or 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,”

    Maybe you’re planning to address these in Pt 2, and if so I look forward to reading that. Congrats on the new baby! We’ll wait. 😉

  5. Hey so… I found you via the Duke website. I’m doing some research to help my husband look for PhD programs in theology with an emphasis in early church. I’m just wondering if you’ve enjoyed your experience at Duke? How long is your degree taking you?

    1. My degree is taking far too long because I have been working full-time and raising a family. I have had friends at Duke finish in 4-5 years. I am looking at 6. I love the program. It is very rigorous academically, but you are free to maintain your own theological/ideological stance. You will need to be able to defend it (as is proper), but you will not be belittled or brainwashed into something else. The Methodists are always so cool and full of grace like that (at least around here).

  6. Very interesting. I’m not much for following blogs…but a friend sent me a link and I gotta say this is very thought provoking.

    I came across something this morning that I think applies: John 5:38-40. Jesus is speaking to the Jews, who were criticizing a man Jesus healed for carrying his bed on the Sabbath. The man tells the Jews that the One who healed him told him to pick up his bed and walk. So the Jews start going after Jesus, seeking to kill him. Jesus has a long response, which includes the following: “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Jesus refers to the scriptures as a testimony of Himself, but that He is the only one who can give life. I thought that backed up your post.

    At the same time, can a testimony of the Truth be imperfect? Kinda like if I am a witness to a crime and testify in court. If I’m caught speaking a lie, or I don’t remember something correctly but am convinced that I do, then my whole testimony is now in question. Although the witness does not have to be perfect, the testimony does. When I was first becoming a believer, I would read the bible looking for contradictions, false claims etc. I felt that if I could find one thing that was wrong, untrue, a lie, then the whole thing would go out the window. Why would I be called to believe the difficult things in scripture if some of the easier truths weren’t actually true. God was very tender and patient in His pursuit of me. As a result my faith today is no longer based on what I can intellectually understand but rather who He has shown Himself to be in my life.

    In regards to your comments on human involvement in writing the scriptures, I have a question. When Jesus says “…you do not have His word abiding in you…” it could be read more like: “…you do not have His Word abiding in you…” Jesus is the Word. Know what I mean? So based on your point, a simple capitalization of the word could change its implied meaning. Is that an example of what you mean? The part that scares me a little is if the scriptures are faulty in some specifics because of the humans involved in writing and editing it, then we are all left to pick and choose what doesn’t work for us.
    Leave it to God to not give us all the answers so that we need Him! Thanks for your post. I’m looking forward to part 2!

    1. Thanks for the reply, I enjoyed reading it.
      It’s not about Scripture being faulty, it’s about our inability to understand or apply it properly without Jesus or the Holy Spirit explaining it to us. Jesus is the full revelation of God to us and Scripture serves as the primary testimony to Jesus. It is reliable and miraculously well-preserved, which is the work of the Holy Spirit itself. But for all that, we are no better position than the Pharisees and scribes, we are unable to read, understand, and apply Scripture apart from the Lord’s help. And He only helps us with… us. If I am using Scripture to tear you down or deny your God-given call, then I have misused Scripture as badly as they did when they got on the healed man for carrying his bed. Too many people have gotten away with bad and harmful teaching by hiding behind bad interpretations of Scripture. That’s what I’m calling into question, not Scripture, but the way we (mis)use it.

  7. Paul described all scripture as “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). He meant the Old Testament. By faith we also apply that to the New Testament. Biblically, the phrase “word of God” narrowly describes a quote from God, and broadly the message about God, the Gospel. The Bible does not describe Genesis-Revelation as the word of God. By faith we call the Bible the word of God. Jesus also called God’s word truth (John 17:17). However, he specifically referred to the message that he passed on from our Father in heaven. By faith, we call the entire Bible truth, believing that it also came from God through humans. Is it inerrant truth? The word inerrant is a counter-cultural argument, a negative way of saying truth, but applies only in theory to the original manuscripts which we don’t have. Biblically and by faith we believe the Bible is “God-breathed” and “truth.”

Comments are closed.