While you’re diligently reading the scriptures this year, if you’re looking for a book that helps you think about what the written word of God actually is, look no further. My wife bought The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame for me last Christmas, and that was my January 2011. I couldn’t put it down. (Truth be told, I found it so “warm” and helpful I made it the first part of my morning devotion time).
Frame’s writing is extremely easy to read, like a long conversation about a deep subject with a friend you know really well, at a diner over burgers. Also this friend thinks so clearly it’s almost impossible to lose him. Also this friend is really smart. It’s more than 600 pages long, but don’t let that scare you because, actually, it’s only about 300–the second half is all essays, book reviews on other books on “bibliology” (he reviews books by Peter Enns and N.T. Wright, for instance), and other articles. You can pick it up in the bookstore, and then come tell me how much you love it.
The main line of thinking in the book runs like this:
- God is Lord, which means He is all authority.
- When God speaks, His words carry all the authority that He is in Himself.
- When someone (like a Prophet) hears those words and faithfully repeats them, the words the prophet speaks are as authoritative as if God were speaking the words Himself.
- When a prophet writes down God’s words, the written words are as authoritative as God’s very speech.
- And when those words are faithfully copied (and even translated) and I read them thousands of years later, what I read is as authoritative as if God Himself stood in my room and spoke them to me audibly. In other words, the Bible is God speaking to us.
For a sense of how Frame develops these ideas, here’s a couple pdfs to download and read. For some fun, read the endorsments. PhDs gushing. Chapter one is quick to read and very edifying.
And here’s a couple quick tastes of his writing:
God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately…My thesis is that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from Him to us. (p. 1)
Now, to be sure, there are questions about where we can find God’s personal words today, for he does not normally speak to us now as He did to Abraham…And there are questions about how we can come to understand God’s words, given our distance from the culture in which they were given…But the answer cannot be that God’s personal words are unavailable to us, or unintelligible to us. If we say either of those things, we lose all touch with the biblical gospel. The idea that God communicates with Human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture. If God has, in fact, not spoken to us personally, then we lose any basis for believing in salvation by grace, in judgment, in Christ’s atonement–indeed, for believing in the biblical God at all. Indeed, if God has not spoken to us personally, then everything important in Christianity is human speculation and fantasy. (p. 6)
The power of the word brings wonderful blessings to those who hear in faith, with a disposition to obey. But it hardens those who hear it with indifference, resistance, rebellion. In considering this biblical teaching, I often warn my seminary students to pay heed to what God is telling us here. For seminarians typically spend two or more years intensively studying God’s Scripture. It is so important that they hear in faith, lest the Word actually harden their hearts and become a fire of judgment to them. God’s word never leaves us the same. We hear it for better or for worse. So we should never hear or read God’s word merely as an academic exercise. We must ask God to open our hearts, that the Word may be written on them as well as in our heads. (p.52)