The "Word of God" as Used in the Old Testament

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When exploring the word of God in the Old Testament (OT), it is important to locate the texts into a social and historical context. It is in this context that the word of God is mediated by human expression. To deny the human expression is effectively to place a barrier between the word of God and it’s invitation to revelation. The OT can be seen as a “record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22). Thus the theology underpinning the OT meaning and understanding of the “word” is deep and rooted in “a Semitic conviction of the power of the spoken word” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21). The OT is based upon oral tradition. In oral traditions, the reliability of a story, message or tale rested solely upon the authority of the person who uttered the words. As such, in the OT, the phrase Word of God conveys that the words shared by the authors and “sacred writers” is drawing upon the ultimate authority.

It is this context that many fundamentalist readers of the Old Testament fail to recognise. In considering the OT meaning of “the Word of God”, it is important to recognise that the voice of God found in the canon of scriptures known as the Old Testament still speaks strongly to us thousands of years after it was recorded due to deep truths embedded within them that transcend a time and place while definitively set within a distant social and historical context. These truths are revealed in a timeless and familiar human experience and calls the reader to a spiritual exchange with God. Revelation through the word of God in the OT is an invitation to humanity to enter into a relationship with God (Harrington, 2011). Rohr and Martos further point out that if the Word of God is not heard by us, “we have not yet entered into dialogue” with the Lord.

It was this “revelationary” relationship with God that was experienced by the authors of the OT as writers of sacred texts. “Somehow they were a people who learned how to listen to and hear the Word of God” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 23). In this process of listening and hearing, God’s work of self-revelation became a lived experience for the Hebrew people that is reflected in the OT. As such, the OT becomes a ‘record of God’s self-revelation” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22). The bible itself is not divinely written (as it appears that some fundamentalist Christians may believe). Nor were any of its constituent parts such as the Old Testament.

It is based on experience. The book did not fall from heaven. It was written by people listening to God… The Israelites knew the power and the reality of the Word of God” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 22).

The phrase “word of God” is found throughout many parts of the great narrative that is the Old Testament (OT). In fact it forms one of the great themes of the OT. This is especially true within the books of the prophets “where Yahweh’s words are communicated” (Gimpel, 2011, p. 21). The Hebrew people had a great sense of history and their place in it as God’s chosen people. In their world view, they stood between the time of God’s word of “promise and fulfilment” of this word (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 26). They were a people “in the middle, waiting for the Word of the Lord to be realised, to be made real” (Rohr & Martos, 2011, p. 26). In Genesis and Exodus, promises are made. In Jeremiah, Psalms and Isaiah the Word of God is received, shared and lived. In the many different genres and styles of the OT, the reader is challenged to uncover the word of God through the lived human experiences of others. The word of God becomes for the reader, in the lives of the Hebrews, a creative force that directs history and shapes the destiny of believers. Gimpel points out, therefore, that in the OT, the Word of God is seen as revealing, generative and binding.

In speaking the Word, God acts and by speaking the word the Word. God reveals. Nature and history are God’s Word, revealing God who speaks in them[1]. (Gimpel,...
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