Why do we read the Bible as the Word of God?

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

What would you say about the Bible?

Imagine you’re driving along listening to HOPE 1032 and there’s a pop quiz on the Bible, and the prize for the person who calls in first with the correct answer gets a $1000 gift voucher to spend at Koorong. Your ears prick up… the lady on the radio explains this question was taken from an application questionnaire to a local Bible college. She poses the question: “Which of these statements best describes the relationship between the Bible and ‘the Word of God’?

  1. The Bible contains the Word of God
  2. The Bible is truth from God about himself and the world
  3. The Bible is a faithful record of God’s Actions and Words to reveal Himself
  4. The Bible is the Word of God
  5. The Word of God is the Bible
  6. The Bible testifies to the Word of God
  7. The Spirit uses the Bible to speak the Word of God

What do you say?

You pulled over to listen and you’d typed in the phone number ready to call… you thought this was going to be easy. Now you’re not so sure. Is it the obvious one? Is this a trick? Are you meant to call and say it’s all of the above? Is there really any difference??

Well, what do you say?

Today we want to explore this question – what is the relationship between the Bible and God’s Word – his personal, self-revelation? And the related question is, why does it matter? You might be thinking, I don’t know which answer to give, and frankly, who cares!? What difference does it really make? That’s what we’re going to explore, and hopefully you’ll have a clear sense of what the Bible is and why that actually is really quite important for you and for this world.

 

Recap – Knowing God as He has Revealed himself

We’re halfway through a mini doctrine series on Knowing God. We’re exploring how we limited creatures can know the unlimited, transcendent creator God and how this God has actually revealed himself to us. We’ve seen that we can know God personally, because he wants to be known and has taken the initiative to reveal himself to us. And we’ve seen that he has revealed himself, fundamentally by speaking to us. He has revealed himself by acting – by creating, sustaining and intervening to redeem his people in this world. But he has also spoken to give meaning to his actions and to reveal himself more fully. He has revealed his purposes, his nature, his will and his promises by speaking to certain individuals and groups so that ultimately the whole world might know him as they ought. We’ve seen how this revelation came particularly through the mouths of prophets, people appointed by God to represent him and deliver his messages. Their message was first spoken, and then written down to be passed on and remembered by generation after generation. But finally, God has most fully revealed himself in the person of Jesus, who is God the Son in human flesh – fully man and fully God. In his words and actions and the good news about what God has done in him, God has given his full and final self-revelation to this world. In Hefin’s words from last week, God has revealed himself, by himself.

 

God’s Revelation & The Bible?

But how does the Bible fit into all this? How exactly does the Bible relate to God’s Word to us, his self-revelation, ultimately in and through Jesus Christ?

Because from most of what we’ve seen, it would seem fair and true to say that the Bible is best understood as a faithful record of God’s revelation to the world through history – his actions and his words, culminating in his self-revelation in Jesus.

This would mean the Bible also contains the Word of God, or at least some ‘words from God’ (especially those bits we are convinced are true reproductions of what God directly spoke via the prophets or through Jesus). We would also presume it tells us true things about God and ourselves and the world – truths that have come from God himself. We would assume as a faithful record, it testifies to God’s Word and the event or reality of God’s personal revelation. We might even suppose that God could use this faithful record or testimony to his self-revelation to speak to us personally at a moment and in a way of his choosing.

 

Now I think all of this is true. They are not misunderstandings or false statements. But they stop short of the full picture. This understanding of the Bible stops short of saying that the Bible itself, in its entirety, is the Word of God.

And that’s the orthodox (the traditional and accepted) view of Christianity, because that’s what the Bible itselfsays about itself! It’s not just truth from God and about God, it’s not just a faithful record of revelation, it’s not just a testimony to God’s personal revelation. It IS God’s personal revelation to us. The words of the Bible, it its entirety, are the very words of God to us.

 

The Big Idea: The Bible is ‘God-Breathed’

The key verse that declares and sums up this idea is 2 Timothy 3:16, which is from one of the passages read out earlier.

In this passage, Paul makes this very important statement: “All Scripture is God-breathed”.

He’s writing to Timothy, the young man he’s been mentoring and preaching the good news of Jesus with. And in this passage, he’s encouraging Timothy to continue in the truth he has learned and become convinced of. He’s talking about the gospel, the true teaching about Jesus Christ. And he encourages Timothy to continue on in the truth of the gospel for two reasons: 1) he knows those from whom he’s learnt the gospel (i.e., it’s not just ideas off the back of a cereal packet!), and 2) ever since he was a little boy he has known the Holy Scriptures, which lead ultimately to salvation through faith in Jesus – ‘they are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, says Paul.

And at this point, he underlines the trustworthiness of the message of Scripture, which lays the foundation for the gospel, by declaring that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed.’ And then he goes on to explain that all scripture is thus useful, because it is breathed out by God himself, for ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.’ Because all of Scripture has come from God – it is breathed out by him – it is a sure foundation for the gospel we trust and proclaim, and it’s supremely relevant and useful for changing lives and shaping us into the people God wants us to be.

The Greek word Paul uses here is a unique word, not used anywhere else in the Bible, and used only very rarely in pre-Christian literature. And the NIV translation is very good. It literally means ‘God-breathed’. It’s a compound word made up ‘God’ and ‘breathed’. In the past, and in some translations today, it has been translated as ‘inspired by God’ – i.e. “all Scripture is inspired by God”. And that’s why Theology books talk about the doctrine of ‘Inspiration’, because of how this verse has sometimes been translated.

But God-breathed is better. That’s what it means, and that’s a clearer statement. You see this verse isn’t saying that the Bible writers wrote in an ‘inspired way’ through God’s influence. And it doesn’t mean that the book itself is an ‘inspired text’, or an ‘inspiring text’, like a piece of poetry or music that makes you feel like you’ve heard from God. It doesn’t mean the Bible actively ‘breathes out’ the Word of God to us in some undefinable and mysterious way. It means that whatever else we say about the writing and production of the books that have been collected as ‘Holy Scripture’, we can ultimately say that God spoke them. They say what they say, because God breathed the words out. All of them. All Scripture is God-breathed.

Now that’s the big idea. But I want us to see how this is not just an isolated statement – a ‘one off’ proof text. I want to show how this statement summarises and reflects the way Jesus himself and the NT writers view and talk about Scripture. And that this is built on the foundation of the way the Old Testament presents itself to us.

 

Jesus & the NT writers: Scriptures says = God says.

So firstly, we’re going to step through a few passages in the gospels and the letters of the New Testament to note the way that Jesus and his Apostles all viewed Scripture as ‘God speaking’. It’s not how we normally preach from the Bible, because we won’t be able to explore the overall meaning or message of each passage. Often, we’re really just noting an incidental point of the passage – the way Jesus and the Apostles refer to the Scriptures while they make some other point. But we’re still observing something they are indeed saying, and the big idea that we quickly see, is that for Jesus and the Apostles, what Scripture says, God says.

 

Jesus: The Scriptures are God’s unbreakable Word

One of the most significant passages for noting Jesus’ view of the Scriptures is in John 10, verse 35. He’s responding to the Pharisees, who want to kill him for claiming that God is his Father, making himself equal with God. And so Jesus replies, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods” ’? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?

Now, this passage is a bit confusing on face value, and like I said, I’m not going to explain it all. But there’s some clear things to note about Jesus and the Bible.

First, when Jesus says, ‘is it not written in your Law’, he’s referring to the whole Jewish Scriptures. We know this, not just because ‘the Law’ can be used like that, but because he goes on to quote from Psalm 82!

Secondly, do you notice how in the space of two sentences, Jesus uses ‘Law’, ‘Scripture’ and ‘Word of God’ all to refer to the same thing? Jesus uses them here as synonyms. And he really just assumes this point as common understanding with the Jewish leaders he’s speaking to – it wasn’t controversial. But it’s still something he clearly affirms: Scripture is the Word of God.

And finally, almost as a side point, he reminds them that ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’, or in many translations, ‘broken’. And this of course, it because it is the Word of God. What Scripture says, it says, because God has said it. Even the little random bits. So you can’t change it or cut bits out that are inconvenient. It is the unbreakable, undeniable Word of God.

 

God has said what is written in Scripture

And this belief that all of Scripture is God’s Word often leads Jesus and the Apostles to introduce a quotation from Scripture as ‘God has said’, whether or not the OT passage in question is reporting dialogue from God.

So for example, when the Pharisees come to test Jesus by asking about divorce in Matt 19, Jesus replies, 4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’.

Did you see what Jesus does here? Jesus says that God, the Creator, said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother…”. But when you go back and read Genesis 2, God is not reported to be saying anything in the narrative. It’s just the narrator, the human author, whether that was Moses or someone else. But for Jesus, it doesn’t make any difference. The statement is part of Holy Scripture, so God said it.

And there are countless examples of the same thing from the Apostles. Hebrews Chapter 1 lists a whole bunch of verses from the Psalms which together highlight the glory of the Son compared with the angels. But the interesting thing is that all these quotations are introduced as ‘God said’ or ‘God says’ or ‘he says’… all referring to God as the speaker, whether or not God is the one actually speaking in the Psalm.

As another example, in Acts chapter 4, Luke records for us the prayer of the Apostles after they’ve been harassed by the religious leaders for preaching in the name of Jesus. And they pray,

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  “ ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot in vain?’”

This verse is revealing quite explicitly who they think is ultimately speaking when it comes to Scripture, and how that relates to the human origins of the text. “You [sovereign Lord] spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David.” It couldn’t be clearer! Yes, David spoke the words. They were written down as David’s words. But it was God speaking them, by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of David. And again, that section of Psalm 2 is not dialogue from God, it really is David speaking for himself. And that’s the point – it’s not whether text is reportedly spoken by God in the first place, it’s whether it’s written in Scripture. That’s the basis for assuming God has spoken it.

This belief and assumption is so strong for Jesus, for the Apostles, for the whole Jewish people in fact, that they didn’t really think about whether they were saying ‘God said’ or ‘the Holy Spirit said’, or ‘scripture says’, or ‘Moses said’ or ‘David said’ or even just ‘it is written’. It’s all the same! It’s the words of Scripture, so it’s the Word of God.

In Romans 9:17, Paul declares that ‘Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this reason I’ve raised you up”…’ when it was actually God himself speaking! In Hebrews 3:7, the Holy Spirit is the speaker of Psalm 95. In Mark 7, Jesus explains that Moses said ‘honour your father and your mother’, but then goes on to describe these commands as the Word of God in contrast to the traditions of man.

The simple point is that for Jesus and the Apostles, if it’s written in Scripture, it’s the Word of God. That’s why Jesus is constantly saying ‘it is necessary for Scripture to be fulfilled…’, or simply, ‘it is written…’ as an appeal to ultimate authority. If it’s in Scripture, God said it. And if God has said something, we’d better take it seriously.

 

The Old Testament: The Words of God given through his Prophets

Now that should really be enough for us. If we confess to be Christians – people who submit to Jesus as Lord and Saviour and who trust in the witness of his Apostles – then we should probably take Jesus’ view of the Scriptures seriously. If Jesus, the resurrected Lord of the Universe says that Scripture is God speaking, then it is – who are you, who am I, to argue?

It is, however, helpful to see how this view of the Scriptures is built on the nature of the Old Testament books themselves as the written message of God’s prophets – his appointed mouthpieces. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to do that – sorry!

[For those interested, you can find an overview of topic below the manuscript for this sermon]

The key thing for now is to appreciate that the books of the Law and the writings of the Prophets were received as the Word of God, because they were accepted first of all as the written record of the words spoken by God through his prophets. And around this core of the commands, warnings and promises accepted as God’s own words, was all the narrative, reflection, poetry and commentary that was also accepted as God’s word to God’s people, because it came through God’s prophets.

 

2 Peter 1 – All Scripture has its Origin in God

And so, building on this, we get to the New Testament, with Jesus and the Apostles treating every part of the Scriptures as God’s Word. And along with 2 Timothy 3:16 and all the incidental references we find in the NT to this view of Scripture, there is one other really significant passage.

In Peter’s second letter, as he encourages his readers to keep trusting in the message of the Scriptures, he writes:

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The human dimension of Scripture is taken for granted. No one thought it fell out of the sky as some kind of divine book from another dimension… it is the writings of the prophets.

But what they wrote did not ultimately have its origin in human will or the prophet’s own understanding. Though they were human, they spoke from God ‘as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.

It’s important to appreciate this wasn’t some kind of process where God overrode the mind of the prophet. They didn’t become possessed puppets. Nor is this saying that God dictated the words of Scripture to the prophets. Religions like Islam and Mormonism believe their scriptures are essentially copies of heavenly texts dictated by angels. We don’t think that. Certain parts of the Bible are presented like that, for example when God gives commands to Moses or messages to the prophets to pass on. But most of it was the thoughtful and prayerful writing of the prophets themselves, seeking to teach and warn and encourage God’s people. But Peter reflects the belief of Jesus and the rest of the NT when he affirms that what they wrote was ultimately what God wanted them to write.

The phrase ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’ is getting at the idea that God, in the mysterious way of his sovereign rule over all creation, by the agency of his Holy Spirit, essentially treated the prophets like his own pen. They wrote what they thought they should write, but God wielded them – their whole reality, their experiences, their minds, their creativity – as his mighty pen to write his word to us. That’s why we can trust what it says, because it’s not just a human word – it’s the word of God himself.

 

The Scriptures, the Gospel, and God’s final revelation

But how does all this relate to Jesus as God’s full and final revelation?

 

issue #1: aren’t the Scriptures second rate compared to Jesus?

Hefin showed us last week, pointing out from Hebrews chapter 1, that all the speaking God did in the pastthrough the prophets, which was the basis for the Old Testament Scriptures, has now been superseded through the way he has spoken once and for all through his Son Jesus.

The letter to the Hebrews opens with, In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

There is a finality and fullness to God’s self-revelation in Jesus. It’s personal. It’s him, in the flesh. The Son isthe Word of God made flesh. In Jesus we meet God fully and we hear from God directly. In Jesus, we truly know God.

So even if ‘the Scriptures’ were breathed out by God, haven’t they now been superseded by God’s final and personal revelation in Jesus? Why do we bother with them anymore?

 

issue #2: how do we know the New Testament is God’s word?

And the other issue with what we’ve said so far about the Scriptures is that it’s not clear how it all relates to the writings of the New Testament! When Jesus, Peter and Paul talk about ‘the Scriptures’, they are talking about the Old Testament Scriptures. The ones that hadn’t been added to or changed for hundreds of years! How do we know we should view the New Testament gospels and letters in the same way Jesus viewed the Old Testament??

Now, rather conveniently, these two issues actually help answer each other. They’re certainly connected at any rate!

The big idea I want us to grasp is that God’s final revelation to us in the Son comes to us in the end through the OT Scriptures & the NT writings about Jesus, received and understood together. The Bible is the complete package of God’s word in written form. Covering what was revealed through Moses and the prophets, down to Jesus and the testimony of His disciples, the Bible is how God has fully and finally spoken in his Son.

 

The Gospel of Jesus & the Scriptures

The first part of that is to be clear that Jesus and the good news about him is not a different ‘word’ from the Scriptures – he is the fulfilment of them.

Throughout the gospels, the preaching of the Apostles in the book of Acts, and the letters of the Apostles, one of the primary concerns is to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises and plans in the Old Testament. You could almost flip open your Bibles to any page in the NT and see an example of this!

One of the most important examples is after Jesus has been raised from the dead, he explains to his disciples: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” And then Luke explains how Jesus ‘opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.’ (Luke 24:44)

And then in Acts 13, Paul is preaching to Jews in their Synagogue about Jesus. He first recounts the story of Israel from beginning to end, and then concludes: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. (Acts 13:32-33)

God’s revelation in Jesus and the message preached about him by his eyewitness Apostles is not a ‘new’ thing that replaces the old. Jesus doesn’t actually ‘supersede’ the Scriptures – he finishes the Scriptures.

The New Testament scholar and bishop Tom Wright explains:

“The earliest apostolic preaching was neither a standard Jewish message with Jesus added on at the end, nor a free-standing announcement of a new religion cut off from its Jewish roots, but rather the story of Jesus understood as the fulfilment of the OT covenant narrative, and thus as the euangelion, the good news or ‘gospel’…” (NT Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, p35)

 

And it’s really important for us to appreciate that this good news, this gospel, proclaimed about Jesus was no less the Word of God than the Scriptures that pointed to this message:

We read from 1 Peter 1 at the start of the service, where Peter explains that the prophets of the Old Testament ‘spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.’ (v12) And he explains that this word that was preached to them, by the Holy Spirit no less!, is ‘the living and enduring Word of God’ (v23-25).

God’s final revelation in Jesus doesn’t replace the Scriptures, it finishes the story. It’s the same word of God, expressed fully and completely.

 

Jesus & the New Testament

The second part of this big idea – that the Bible as a whole is God’s final word to us – is that the good news about Jesus, the testimony and writings of Jesus’ Apostles, can’t be separated from God’s self-revelation in Jesus.

Just like we don’t say God’s revelation was contained to the event of the burning bush or the event of the Exodus or the moment of God speaking on the mountain to Moses, but that God’s revelation includes the writings that spoke of these things from one generation to another… So we see that God’s revelation in Jesus isn’t contained to the moments he walked around speaking and healing and driving out demons. It isn’t just the reality of Jesus’ death on the cross and his world changing resurrection from the dead. God’s revelation of His Son is the good news of these things and the significance of them proclaimed, written down and passed on by Jesus’ disciples. This is the Word of God in all its fullness.

In the other passage read at the start of the service, the opening verses of the Apostle John’s first letter, we see this profound connection between the written message of the Apostles about Jesus with God’s personal revelation in Jesus.

1   That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

We experience God’s revelation of the Son, we have fellowship with him, by reading and hearing and trusting the words of the New Testament that proclaim Jesus to us, as the fulfilment of the Old Testament.

 

Kevin DeYoung, in the book we’ve been encouraging you all to read lately, ‘Taking God at his Word’, he sums it up like this:

“In these last days, God speaks to us not by many and various ways, but in one way, through his Son. And he speaks through his Son by the revelation of the Son’s redeeming work that we find first predicted and prefigured in the Old Testament, then recorded in the Gospels, and finally unpacked by the Spirit through the apostles in the rest of the New Testament.”

 

OT + NT: More than just the sum of their parts

What I really want us to appreciate here is that the Bible as the full package – the Old Testament that points to Jesus and the New Testament which witnesses to Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old – this package is the full and final Word of God to us. It is the full and final reality of God speaking to us in his Son.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea from movies and books of certain special objects coming together to create something more than just the sum of the parts. They create something new and powerful. Like the Infinity Stones in Avengers, which are just stones on their own, but together give infinite power. The OT Scriptures and the writings of the NT are (kind of!) like that. Together, as one book, the Bible, which reveals the gospel of the Son as the fulfilment of the Scriptures – this book is God’s personal, full and final word to us.

The Bible doesn’t just record bits of God’s revelation and stick them together. It doesn’t just contain God’s word, and it doesn’t just testify to it or give us truth from God. We don’t need something else other than the Bible to really know and encounter God. The Bible IS God’s Word. And in fact, God’s Word – in as much as we can know and experience it in this life – God’s word is the Bible.

Should you throw away the Scriptures and just ‘listen to Jesus’? No, you meet him in the Scriptures, new and old. Do you need a time machine so you can go back and be there and experience Jesus to really hear God’s final Word to us? No. You encounter God’s full and final Word in the Bible.

As Kevin DeYoung explains:

“there is nothing more to be done and nothing more to be known for our salvation and for our Christian walk than what we see and know about Christ and through Christ in his Spirit’s book.”

Jesus, the eternal Word of Life is fully revealed in God’s book, the Bible.

 

Realise what you have in your hands

So do you realise what you have in your hands when you read the Bible?

It’s not just a book – it’s God’s personal, living, unbreakable word to you and to me and to the whole world. Because the Bible is God’s Word, we hear God speak every time we open it and read. Because the Bible is God’s Word, we can trust it absolutely. Because the Bible is God’s Word – his full and final Word – there is nothing more we need when it comes to knowing God.

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it’s living and active and ready to change our lives:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

 

 


 

Appendix: A (rather simplistic!) overview of the development of the Old Testament Canon

The idea of a text representing the authoritative word of God to the Israelites begins with the ministry of Moses. He encounters God personally, and God appoints him and affirms him as his true prophet. God marks him out through miraculous signs as his mouthpiece, appointed to deliver his Word to his people. We see that particularly in Exodus 3 & 4 with the burning bush episode, and really through the whole event of the Exodus from Egypt.

God then speaks his Law to Moses on Mount Sinai in the presence of the people, who are at the base of the mountain, and who hear and see the terrifying reality of God speaking with Moses. We read through Exodus 19 and 20…

19:9     The LORD said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”

10        And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people…

16        On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

20        The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain…

(God delivers the Ten Commandments)

Ex 20:8             When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses then passes on ‘all the commands of the LORD’ to the people, who receive it as God’s Word to them, and Moses writes down ‘all the words of the Lord’ (Ex 24:3-4,7). He reads from this ‘Book of the Covenant’ and the people respond, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” (A little overconfident you might say if you know the rest of the story!)

At various points God commands Moses to write down all the law of the Covenant as it grows and God continues to speak with him (Ex 34:27). And we read at the end of the five books of Moses, in Deuteronomy 31, that Moses wrote ‘all the words of the law in a book to the very end’ and charges the Levites to preserve it as a testimony to the people of God for the future (Dt. 31:24–26). And within this Law, it is clear that God will hold his people accountable to all that is written in the Law of Moses as his own word to them (Duet 26:16-27:8; all of chapters 28-30).

 

On the foundation of the ministry of Moses, future prophets then present their message as ‘the Word of the Lord’. Take for example the call of Jeremiah:

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

 “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4–9)

 

When you read through the books of the prophets or accounts of the prophets’ messages in the historical books like Samuel and Kings, you see over and over again, literally hundreds and hundreds of times, phrases like, “Thus says the LORD God…” and “The Word of the LORD came to the prophet Isaiah, saying…”, and so on. And in a number of places, God tells these prophets to write down all the words that God has spoken to them as a witness for the future (e.g. Isaiah 30:8; Jer 30:2). The messages delivered by the prophets and the books written by them are accepted as God’s Word to them.

 

In the end, the great problem for Israel and Judah was their failure to listen to word of God spoken and delivered through Moses and the prophets he had sent to warn and encourage them. In Jeremiah 7 we read:

“When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them… I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.”

 

And what’s important for us to appreciate is that the message of the prophets and the books given through them contain more than just commands and quotations of direct speech from God. There is large sweeping narrative, accounts of great acts of judgement and redemption, reflection and interpretation on the significance of these events and others, poetry, songs, dialogue between human characters, and so on… All of it, whatever was contained in the writings of the prophets and accepted as representing their authoritative message, all of it was taken together as God’s Word to them – the Holy Books given by God to his people to rule over them and reveal God’s purposes. And so when we get to Jesus and the Apostles, they treat all of Scripture as God’s words. If it is written in Scripture, God has spoken it. All Scripture is ‘God-breathed’.