“word of God”
appears often in the Bible and can have a slightly different meaning depending on context and the Hebrew or Greek word used. John 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Here, Word is a title of the Lord Jesus. The term translated “Word” is logos, which basically means “the expression of a thought.” Logos can be thought of as the total message of God to man (Acts 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). Jesus embodied that total message, and that is why He is called the “Logos,” or “Word,” of God (Colossians 1:19; 2:9).
Logos is also used many times when referring to the written message of God (John 17:17; 1 Timothy 4:5; Revelation 1:2; Colossians 1:25). Hebrews 4:12 says, “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.” Jesus showed a link between the written Word of God and Himself, in that He is the subject of the written Word: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).
Another Greek word used for “word” is rhema. Rhema refers to the actual spoken/written words of God (Hebrews 6:5). When Jesus was being tempted by Satan, He answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word [rhema] that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We are told in Ephesians 6:17 to “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhema] of God.” Jesus demonstrated we need the actual recorded words of God to overcome Satan’s attacks.
The phrase “word of God” means more than the printed words on a page. God is a communicator and has been speaking into the human realm since the beginning. He speaks through His creation (Psalm 19:1), through ancient prophets (Hosea 12:10; Hebrews 1:1), through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 16:6), through Scripture (Hebrews 4:12), and through the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:9). We can learn to know God better by seeking to hear Him in every way that He speaks.
Revelation 22:18-19 contains a warning to anyone who tampers with the biblical text:
“For I testify together to everyone
who hears the Words of the prophecy of this Book:
If anyone adds to these things,
God will add on him the plagues that have been written in this Book.
And if anyone takes away from
the Words of the Book of this prophecy,
God will take away his part out of
the Book of Life,
and out of the holy city,
and from the things which have been
written in this Book.”
The question is whether these verses refer to the whole Bible or just
the Book of Revelation.
This warning is given specifically to those who distort the message of the Book of Revelation. Jesus Himself is the Author of Revelation and the giver of the vision to the apostle John (Revelation 1:1). As such, He concludes the book with a confirmation of His testimony to the finality of the prophecies contained in Revelation. These are His words, and He warns against distorting them in any way, whether through additions, subtractions, falsifications, alterations, or intentional misinterpretations. The warning is explicit and dire. The plagues of Revelation will be visited upon anyone guilty of tampering in any way with the revelations in the book, and those who dare to do so will have no part in eternal life in heaven.
Although the warning in Revelation 22:18-19 is specific to the Book of Revelation, the principle applies to anyone who seeks to intentionally distort God’s Word. Moses gave a similar warning in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, where he cautioned the Israelites that they must listen to and obey the commandments of the Lord, neither adding to nor taking away from His revealed Word. Proverbs 30:5-6contains a similar admonition to anyone who would add to God’s words: he will be rebuked and proven to be a liar. Although the warning in Revelation 22:18-19 applies specifically to the Book of Revelation, its principle must be applied to the entire revealed Word of God. We must be careful to handle the Bible with care and reverence so as to not distort its message.
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Gospel of John begins much like Genesis, the “book of beginnings.” The account of creation in Genesis begins with the phrase In the beginning (Genesis 1:1), which is translated from the Hebrew word bereshit. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), which shares the same language as the Gospel of John, the words used in Genesis 1:1a are identical with John 1:1a: en arche, or “in the beginning.”
“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). To the audience receiving the gospel, John’s intentions in this statement would be clear—“the Word” is connected with the God of Israel, the Creator of all things. John further explains this idea two verses later in John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (NASB). “The Word” is the sole means by which reality finds its existence—He is the Creator of all things, and without Him no created thing would exist. Before anything was created, “the Word” existed.
“The Word” is used within the first chapter of John four times. The context for each occurrence is used to
• describe the eternality of “the Word” (1:1a)
• describe the distinction of “the Word” from God (1:1b)
• describe the identity of “the Word” as God (1:1c)
• identify the person described by the phrase the Word (1:14)
Jesus Christ is “the Word” that was in the beginning (see John 1:14–18). “Word” comes from the Greek term logos. Logos would have been a familiar concept for both the Jews (Psalm 33:6) and the Greeks. The Jew would understand the word of God to point to creative and communicative acts of their personal God. Greek philosophers utilized the concept to identify the reason, thinking, or mind of divine authority as words were utilized to explain the thinking of the one using them. To both potential groups receiving John’s writing, the emphasis on the object behind “the Word” was clear.
Interestingly, John utilizes Logos in the first verse of his prologue (John 1:1–18) while explaining it in the last verse of the prologue. Much like Paul explains Jesus as revelatory (Hebrews 1:1–3; Colossians 1:15–20), John shows that Jesus is the complete revelation of God when he states, “He [Jesus] has explained Him [the Father]” (John 1:18, NASB).
“The Word” also finds connection with the Hebrew word dabar, which means “word, matter, word of God.” This Hebrew word, in connection with God’s name, Yahweh, appears 261 times in the Hebrew Old Testament and is translated most typically as “the word of the Lord.” The repeated usage of the phrase establishes a foundational connection between God and His personal interaction with His creation. Not only was everything created through the use of words (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26), but God continues to interact with that creation through the use of words (2 Timothy 3:16–17) and the Word (John 14:6).
“In the beginning was the Word”
encapsulates the eternality of the Word,
the creating power of the Word,
and the revelatory nature of the Word.
As John later defines
Word as being Jesus
the purpose of the
Gospel of John
—“that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that by believing
you may have life
in his name”
Jesus is the revelatory and actual eternal Creator—the object of the Christian’s faith. He is not simply a representation of God, but He is God, and He has always been so: “In the beginning was the Word.” The remaining chapters of the Gospel of John endeavor to show this statement to be true.