Jesus is the Word

Karl Barth is reputed to have said:

Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way,

only nobody knows when or where he said it.

I’m glad someone said it, because it encapsulates the conservative’s rejection of fundamentalism. (No, you do not have to be a liberal to reject fundamentalism.) Fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (up until the last ten years) has maintained that the Bible is inerrant in wording, theology (and often science). Conservatives who do not express inerrancy as one of their beliefs, view the Bible from the viewpoint of Jesus. Jesus is the Word, not the Bible. Yes, the Bible describes Jesus, and therefore the Bible is revered, but the Bible is not “the Word of God”, Jesus is. 

When the church fathers gathered together the writings of the early church, and put them together, they discussed back and forth which books should go in the accepted pile (the Cannon), and which books were weaker. The main criteria was how each book testified about Jesus. Jesus was the template they held up to each book to see if that book deserved to go into the accepted pile. 

That is why Martin Luther did not like James. He said James did not point to Jesus very much. I disagree with him. I find the law of liberty (James 1:25) and how it makes us live (James 2) if we really believe in it, a tremendous encouragement, and a contretemps to the guilt motivations so common in fundamentalist churches, and an utter contradiction of the belief that the “law of liberty” is the five acts of worship. The five acts of worship do not motivate people to love the poor people that walk into the assembly. I heard my parents say that up into the 1960s it was common practice for a deacon (in Churches of Christ in the south) to quietly whisper to any black family, that accidentally came into the (all white) assembly, directions to the black Church of Christ across town. They were expected to leave immediately. (The deacon thought he was doing them a favor. After all, wouldn’t they be more comfortable there? This behavior is worse than the worst behavior James can imagine in an assembly in James 2.)


Karl Barth, who opposed Hitler in Germany, on the cover of Time Magazine, April, 1960

Each one of us actually does the same thing as Luther did when we choose favorite Bible passages or favorite books. We are saying, “This book breathes God’s breath into me more than the other books.” We do the same with hymns, preachers and writers. 

The Bible never describes itself as inerrant. First of all, the Bible seldom (actually never) describes itself as a whole. Paul told Timothy that the Hebrew Scriptures that Timothy had known from childhood that had been taught to him by his mother and grandmother (this is before the New Testament was written) were God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, etc…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” II Tim 3:16

It is ironic that Paul thought the Hebrew Scriptures were sufficient to make a man perfect, in conflict with the Churches of Christ who teach that the book of Acts and the letters of Paul are what makes a  man perfect, and to prove it they quote II Tim 3:16, with a straight face.

Notice that Paul said the Hebrew Scriptures were God-breathed. He never said, “inerrant”. He never said, “scientifically accurate even in allegorical stories”. All he said was that when you read the Hebrew Scriptures you are breathing the breath of God. 

The Ten Commandments are referred to by the Hebrew writers as the Ten Words. Then along comes John who says Jesus is the Word (John 1). When we replace the New Testament Greek Bible as the focus of our allegiance, or make it equal to our allegiance to Christ, we do something that no early Christian ever did. Jesus is the Word. Not the New Testament. Jesus. 

I remember one of my preaching mentors (yes, in the hard line Church of Christ) saying to us young preachers: “Don’t say, ‘We have no creed but the Bible.’ Say, ‘We have no creed but Christ.‘” Now isn’t that amazing?


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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6 Responses to Jesus is the Word

  1. noblethemes says:

    Interesting, informative and well written. Thank you. It might be stating the obvious, but in addition to what you’ve mentioned above, for centuries Christians didn’t have “the Bible” anyway. Congregations might have a couple of scrolls (or more); otherwise they relied on oral transmission and tradition.

  2. Read the sermon on the mount. Start paying attention to what Jesus taught. Read the great commission and Acts 3:22,23 and II John 9-11. Most importantly, Jesus said it was His words from the Father that will be our judge on that day – not some pretended doctrine of man. What Jesus taught is needful to abide in if you do believe He is who He claimed to be.

    So what Church is teaching this truth? Can you name one? If yours isn’t, what right do you have to criticize the CoC – especially over the actions of a Deacon in the south in a time of prejudice – why not take a straight shot at truth instead of throwing stones when YOU live in a glass house?

    Get real with Jesus.

    • Hi Richard, I like what you say, but am puzzled by your comment about glass houses. This blog is to support people who have left hard line churches of Christ, who have been rejected by their churches, their relatives and friends because they disagree with them about the Bible and worship. These people are brave enough to leave or be thrown out, but saddened and frightened by their loss of fellowship and fellow faith travelers. Freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are fundamentals that have helped Americans examine their government, examine their past, look at the present and plan for the future. The same would help the hard line Churches of Christ, who claim to be the One True Church, with the One True baptism, and the One True method of interpreting the scriptures. If these claims are so, then why are there so many glaring mistakes they have made over the years, and why have they lagged behind the rest of the community in correcting some obvious sins? I bring up racism that happened several years ago, as well as during the civil war, and as far back as the Trail of Tears, to demonstrate to those who are newly condemned by the hard line C/C that the group that says they are the One True Church cannot possibly claim that title when they so obviously have ignored the core of Christ’s commandment over the space of 170 years (1801-1978). Have the hard liners suddenly now discovered and obeyed it? I think not.

  3. Phil says:

    As an ex-coC’er I am refreshed by your ability to see and express what I have seen for so many years that have caused me to leave the coC and then be rejected by my coC family for doing so.
    Thank you!

  4. Phil says:

    Yes! The simple truth get’s so convoluted by all of the details that the coC inserts into the Gospel that was intended to set one free. Instead it creates fear, shame and guilt and is the antithesis of what God intended. I’m sorry for losing my family but am finally happy to be free in Christ. I wouldn’t go back. Never! That being said, I do support their right to worship as they see fit. I just wish they would keep it to themselves instead of having to prove the world wrong with their self-righteousness.

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