What does the "Word of God" mean?

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Often people use the "Word” and the "Bible” interchangeably, but that is inaccurate because it’s too narrow a definition. While believers accept scripture as the inspired word of God, it’s not the only way God speaks. God spoke originally at Creation and these words became the world, Genesis tells us. John’s gospel also says that this divine word present at the beginning of the world was spoken into time in a new way in the person of Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory” (1:14).

So how can we better understand the Word? By way of human language, which has communication as its purpose. The divine Word is God’s self-revelation; it’s the means by which God communicates with us. God reveals the divine nature and intention in Creation as “good”—a word repeated after each act of creating. God also reveals the divine will in what we call the Ten Commandments: The Book of Deuteronomy calls them simply the Ten Words.

In this law of words we come to appreciate that the word of God has a binding force to it. It is a promise, a covenant. Unlike us, God never talks only to hear himself speak. Divine words are the seal that holds us and God in vital relationship. As in creation, these words are “efficacious”: They take effect as soon as they’re uttered.

The word of God continues to be expressed in prophecy and wise teaching. Such divine self-revelation can lead to miraculous doings, as in the time of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus. Or it can be heard through powerful oracles that begin, “Thus says the Lord,” told by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and most of the “minor” prophets. It’s heard more softly but no less empathically in the teachings and parables of Jesus. Because God’s word contains divine intent, it’s meant to evoke change in those who hear it—just as divine words divide day from night, create a path through the Red Sea, or heal a blind man.

With oracles, however, the effect of the Word depends on the freedom of the human will to accept or deny it. When God’s word acts upon matter, it moves. When God’s word encounters the human person, he or she is free to remain unmoved and unchanged. As the psalmist says: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts! (Psalm 95:7-8).

Genesis ch. 1; Deuteronomy 5:5, 22; 10:4; 1 Samuel 3:7-18; Psalm 33:6-9; 95:7b-8; Sirach 42:15-43:33; Isaiah 28:13-14, 23-29; John 1:1-5, 14; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:1-4

• The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum
The Power of Words, by Alice Camille (videotaped parish talk)

The Names of Jesus (Threshold Bible Study) by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 2004)
God’s Word Is Alive by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2007)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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