I could devote several posts to this topic; for now, however, I’ll simply “stir the pot” with some introductory thoughts.
Many Protestants I know are quick to equate the Bible with the Word of God. They will, for example, cite scriptures that refer to the “Word of God” (e.g., Hebrews 4:12) and substitute “Bible” for “Word of God” in those passages. It is not uncommon for churches to declare that the Bible is their sole authority.
But is the Bible (and the Bible alone) the Word of God? All Scripture is God-breathed (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16) – yet I feel that a simple Yes or No ignores the complexity of the question. I’ve listed a few reasons and questions that lead me to conclude that the answer is a little more nuanced below:
1. Are the biblical autographs (the original manuscripts) the Word of God, or are all Bibles the Word of God?
2. Are all of our English biblical translations equally the Word of God? Is the Message Bible as much the Word of God as the ESV? Is there some hypothetical optimal English Bible that is better than any of our versions?
3. When Paul says that “most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14), are we to believe that they were reciting biblical passages verbatim…or simply preaching the good news?
4. “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
5. The Word of God is “living and active” (cf. Hebrews 4:12) and lives in us (cf. 1 John 2:14).
6. In Acts 17:13, we learn that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea. Yet his sermon to the Bereans is not recorded in Acts. Similar instances occur in Acts 13:5
7. “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” (Acts 12:24; cf. Acts 6:7).
8. Acts 2:40 tells us that Peter spoke more at Pentecost than what was recorded in the Bible. Was part of his sermon more inspired than the other parts?
9. Not all of Jesus’ words and actions were recorded in the Bible (cf. John 21:25). Were those words and actions that were not recorded less inspired?
10. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1b). According to this verse, visions can be the Word of God. Were all such visions recorded in the Bible?
11. Most importantly, Jesus is the Word of God (cf. John 1). Jesus was not simply God incarnate, but the Word of God incarnate.
What, then, do we say? I think that the Word of God is the message of God – Christian truth, the Gospel, inspired writings, inspired visions, and Jesus himself. And I believe that the Bible is far and away the best vessel we have today for communicating and understanding this message. But I am not sure it is the only vessel. I’ll have to think more about that.