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About 20 years ago, I was on a phone call with a man that seemed to be going fairly well until I made the “mistake” of referring to the Bible as the word of God.

“Oh no, brother. The Bible is not the word of God. Only Jesus is the Word of God!”

This naturally led us down a lengthy and unexpected rabbit trail. It wasn’t that I’d never heard of this point of view before. I had. But I’d never spoken directly to anyone who held it.

“But what about all those Bible verses that refer to Scripture as the word of God?” I asked.

He said, “Those don’t refer to the Bible. They refer Jesus.”

“So, when Hebrews 4:12 says ‘the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,’ it’s not talking about Scripture but about Jesus?”

“Yes. Whenever you see phrase ‘word of God’ in the Bible, you can substitute the word ‘Jesus,’ because that’s what it’s referring to.”

I thought this idea was bizarre when I first heard it. Now, it seemed even more so.

Test Cases

Since this issue has come up again recently on social media, I thought I’d do something I’ve done before: look at Scriptures that use the phrase “word of God” to test this thesis.

So, when the prophet Samuel said to Saul (who would later become King Saul), “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God” (1 Sam 9:27 ESV), are we to believe he meant, “…that I may make known to you Jesus?”


Because the problem is, when they stopped, Samuel anointed Saul with oil and said, “Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel?…” (1 Sam 10:1a ESV). So, it seems clear from this context that “the word of God” Samuel made known to Saul was not “Jesus,” but the fact that he would be king. Now, that “word of God” wasn’t in Scripture at the time, but it is now.

So, it stands to reason that when the “word of God” that was originally spoken is the same “word of God” that is now written and located in the Bible, that we should be able to keep calling it the “word of God.” Substituting “Jesus” here seems impossible to justify.

Moving on, when Agur son of Jakeh tells us, “Every word of God proves true…” (Prov 30:5a ESV), did he really mean “Every Jesus proves true…?” How does that even make sense?

In the Old Testament, we find the phrase “word of the Lord” much more frequently than “word of God,” but it seems obvious that they’re synonymous terms, especially when they refer to prophecies that were written down at the time, as they do in Ezra 1:1 and Daniel 9:2, which speak of “the word of the Lord” that had come through Jeremiah and was already in Scripture.

You can’t simply substitute “Jesus” in those verses and expect it to remain intelligible. Clearly, Daniel didn’t mean, “…I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to Jesus to Jeremiah the prophet…” (Dan. 9:2a ESV). This doesn’t even make grammatical sense. No, Daniel was referring to the direct special revelation Jeremiah received which was at that time part of the Scriptures he had.

Fast-Forward to Now

These problems have not kept people from advocating strongly for this notion. A few years ago, a former pastor wrote:

I have given the Bible a lot of influence in my life, but not nearly as much as some. I don’t worship the Bible. Many Christians, or should I say “most” Christians, have the opinion that the Bible is the “Word of God.” Let me say up front; the Bible is not the Word of God.1Terry Austin, “Jesus, not the Bible, is ‘the Word of God,” Baptist News Global, September 21, 2021.

So, if the Bible is not the word of God, what are we to do with all those references to “the word of God” (or “the word of the Lord”) in Scripture?

As was the case with the man on my phone call 20 years earlier, he finds the answer in the title the Apostle John gives to Jesus:

In the familiar opening words of the Gospel of John, the identification of Jesus as the Word of God is clearly laid out. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There is no way those words apply to a book.2Terry Austin, “Jesus, not the Bible, is ‘the Word of God,” Baptist News Global, September 21, 2021.

Well, sure, there is no way the title “the Word” in John 1:1 and 14 can apply to a book. But it’s not only clear from the whole of Scripture that John is using “the Word” in a unique way, it’s also clear this idea runs into problems all over the Bible.

Nevertheless, as if he’d been listening in on the phone call I had two decades earlier, he wrote:

When you read the Bible with this perspective, you will find that it makes much more sense. Every time you come across the phrase “Word of God” or “God’s Word,” substitute Jesus.

      • Hebrews 4:12 — For the word of God (Jesus) 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.
      • Psalm 119:105 — Your word (Jesus) is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
      • Luke 11:28 — He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God (Jesus) and obey it.”
      • Psalm 33:4 — For the word of the Lord (Jesus) is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
      • James 1:21 — Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word (Jesus) planted in you, which can save you.3Terry Austin, “Jesus, not the Bible, is ‘the Word of God,” Baptist News Global, September 21, 2021.

The fact that hardly anyone in all of church history ever used this way of reading these verses doesn’t seem to bother him, or perhaps even occur to him. But if the Bible isn’t God’s word, what is it? As far as he’s concerned,

It is a collection of men’s (again, it’s a shame we have no women) experiences with God and what it meant to them. As they gathered these experiences and the teaching passed down to them from others, it all was lumped together with community legends and folklore and put together with the breath of God. In other words, Scripture is not God’s word; it is men’s words about God.4Terry Austin, “Jesus, not the Bible, is ‘the Word of God,” Baptist News Global, September 21, 2021.

And it doesn’t seem to bother others who take the idea one step further by weaponizing it. Recently, someone on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) wrote: “Equating Scripture with The Word of God is heresy. Only Jesus is the Word of God.” 5Magister Nic/@Zed_Berazel, October 4, 2023, 6:39 AM,

Apparently, the vast majority of Christians in recorded history are heretics. Who knew?

Where did this idea come from?

It’s tempting to lay the entire blame for this weirdness at the feet of the highly influential Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). One author wrote, “Karl Barth believed that the Word of God is Jesus, not the Holy Bible…”6Wyatt Houtz, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Word of God in Threefold Form,” PostBarthian, August 20, 2018; updated May 15, 2019,

This may be true, but so far I haven’t found where he’s actually said that.7The most likely place to find such a statement would seem to be in Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics (CD), particularly Volume 1, “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” Part 2, Chapter III “Holy Scripture,” (London and New York: T&T Clark International, 1956; 2004), 455-740. Alas! I was unsuccessful. I have, on the other hand, found where he quoted German-American theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1964), saying something very similar: “…for Christian theology Jesus Christ is the Word, not His words but His being…”8Karl Barth, quoting Paul Tillich, Religiöse Verwirklichung (“Religious Realization,” 1930), 49, in CD 1/1, 138.

Of course, this tells us what Jesus is, but it doesn’t tell us what the Bible is supposed to be. It’s here where seems Barth seems to have made a significant contribution to the point of view I’ve been describing by teaching two things: (1) Jesus is the revelation of God, and hence the Word, and (2) the Bible is merely a fallible witness to the revelation of God in Christ.9For a helpful summary of Barth’s teaching on Scripture, I recommend Mark D. Thompson, “Witness to the Word: On Barth’s Doctrine of Scripture,” in David Gibson and Daniel Strange, eds., Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, (New York and London: T&T Clark, 2008), 168-197.

But this doesn’t necessarily go all the way to saying, “Jesus, not the Bible, is ‘the Word of God.” And reading Barth on this point can be confusing, since he sometimes has no problem with calling the Bible God’s word.10Cf. Mark D. Thompson, ibid., 183. But whoever gave it its final form, the view of Scripture we’re discussing here does seem to be downstream from both Barth and Tillich, and perhaps others.

What Did Jesus Call “the Word of God?”

We’ve already looked at some verses as test cases for the thesis that Jesus and not the Bible is the word of God, and they were considerably damaging to that view. But when we look at the way Jesus Himself used the phrase “word of God,” we’re left with no doubt that he used it to refer to Scripture:

4 “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matt. 15:4-6 ESV)

Notice the steps in Jesus’ argument here:

  1. He begins by quoting Scripture, specifically, Exodus 20:12.
  2. He shows how scribes and Pharisees used their tradition to nullify that biblical text.
  3. He characterizes what they did as making “void the word of God.”

Here Jesus is quite obviously calling the book of Exodus “the word of God.” Contrary to what some people will tell you, it not only doesn’t make “much more sense,” or even any sense at all, to “substitute Jesus” for “the word of God” here, it actually destroys the sense Jesus intends to convey.

Meanwhile, it’s absurd to think that Jesus was saying, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void Jesus,” or even “you have made void me.” What would that even mean?

Well, we know what it does mean that people are willing to accept preposterous notions such as this one. It means they are willing lobotomize whatever portion of their intellect they deem necessary as long as they don’t have to obey God’s holy word and give up on Satan’s promise, “…you will be like God…” (Gen. 3:5 ESV)Ω.

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