Why do we think of the Bible as the Word of God

Oh what a fool I am! I signed up so that I could discuss some of my scientific views re evolution, not what the Bible says. Neither to squeeze a scientific account into the Biblical narrative, nor vice versa. But I’ve been drawn into this! Because the line of argument seems straightforward: if the Bible is the revealed Word of God, and surely God cannot lie, then should we not expect the Bible to be true, including about nature and the cosmos? However it does seem that some who follow this logic, become anti-scientific (in my view), which (I think) discredits the gospel. So it was this that, about 20 years ago, led me to question the premiss – why do we think of the Bible as the Word of God? We can cite 2Tim3.16, but if we do so authoritatively, is it not a circular argument? It seems to me that the strong Protestant view of the Bible being the Word of God is primarily a church tradition, reinforced if not originating at the Reformation. However, I am genuinely interested to hear people’s views. I don’t expect to contribute/debate much, because I’m (a scientist,) not a theologian or Bible scholar.


Hi, Leyton - and welcome to the forum!

Despair not - the science of evolution has been and can continue to be amply discussed here or in other threads to your heart’s content. We embrace science around here! And while belief is not a prerequisite for forum participation, a good many of us are believers who also learn from scriptures and attend to various religious traditions around all that too.

That is also a question worthy of its own thread - and you could probably find multiple threads that have really delved into this question already - or start a new thread if you want fresh discussion. We can look for prior threads if you’re interested in seeing what has already been discussed about it.

One short answer just here and now from me is that, while yes - most believers here would claim that the written word of God - compiled into the various libraries we loosely refer to as “the Bible” are indeed inspired (and some would choose even stronger descriptors … like inerrant) - we also nonetheless believe that not all understandings of said Bible are themselve infallible. So, many teachings or recent traditions that pass themselves off as being “straight from the Bible” are not in fact what we think scriptures actually teach. That would be the distinction that most of us will probably draw. If you must do a dance and arrive at the label ‘inerrant’ for scriptures … fine (though many believers here don’t find that dance to be particularly helpful for their engagement with scripture); but what many of us refuse to do around here, is extend such infallibility (or whatever term you apply) to every resulting teaching and tradition that claim to come straight and ‘uninterpreted’ from scripture. Especially when those teachings make claims that have been observed to be false (often via science).

That’s my view anyway. Feel free to push back or ask questions.


Thanks Mervin for your welcome and comments. However, you seem to address ‘What do/might we mean by calling the Bible the Word of God, rather than Why is it commonly believed to be such.

To use what I hope is a straightforward example. At the beginning of his gospel, Luke says he’s done his research so that he can write a reliable account of Jesus’ life. Notably, he doesn’t claim any special inspiration/insight or whatever. He doesn’t even claim that God inspired/prompted him to do it. So why did (at least some of) the church give it (along with other NT books) the special status of being (part of) the Word of God? I understand that the church fathers wanted to have a canon of what they considered to be reliable /authentic accounts, and in general based it on apostolic sources. But that is still not the same as saying they’re the inspired Word of God. Where (and when) did that come from?

As I indicated in my previous post, I wonder if a major factor was the Protestant desire to reject the authority of the Roman Church, and to ensure that Christian beliefs had a Biblical basis. But did they go too far? In their desire to have an authority, did they attribute to the Bible an inspired status that it doesn’t really have? John Barton in What is the Bible?: Until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, no Christian church had ever really defined exactly how the Bible was inspired or possessed authority for Christians. (And I’m not competent to judge how true that is.)

So the straightforward question is: when and why did the church start to consider the NT to be the Word of God?

Just to be clear - there have been some here (myself among them) who have long insisted that if we really believed what the Bible teaches, we would recognize that the Word of God in the highest and truest sense is not a book, but a person. Some have gone on to clarify that “well -okay, but we can perhaps at least commonly recognize the Bible as being at least a written form of the word of God.” And while some still want to die on that hill, attacking or defending it, others of us haven’t spent our powder and shot on that particular battle. So think of me as just being more culturally compliant in my acceptance of that usage, rather than promotional of it. So when it comes down to it, if somebody else wants to defend the Bible as the Word of God, I’ll leave them to their own devices to defend it as best as they awkwardly can, and I don’t join them in it, given that the very thing they strive so to defend is the very thing that points them beyond itself. But nor do I want to be attacking people for it either. It’s just our cultural shorthand for saying: ‘hey - we’d better really attend to this.’ So read all the rest of this with that in mind.

I think you’re right that the Protestant Reformation exacerbated much of this, though I don’t think it was the origin of it. One of the objections might run: “well, it’s fine and all to see Christ as the highest authority, but how are you going to know any truth about Christ if you didn’t trust the Bible first?” … which you might notice is an echo of “If you can’t trust Genesis (really meaning - our modern understanding of Genesis), then how can any of the rest of the Bible be trusted?”

In all these games, notice that the things taken to be of alleged foundational import keep getting further and further removed from … Christ. One might be forgiven for thinking that it appears there are many other necessary cornerstones for our foundation, and that Christ doesn’t even appear to be chief among them. Instead of understanding scriptures underneath the light of Christ, we are asked to understand Christ under the light of scripture. To be sure, we are obliged to draw heavily - I’ll even say primarily from scriptural testimony in how we understand Christ, yes, - but there is no question (at least in my mind) about where the true primacy of headship lies among those two things. Subtract just one of those things from existence and the other falls into irrelevant worthlessness, and that only works one way, not the other, as any of the New Testament disciples would quickly inform you. The Bible is of extreme - even essential value to us precisely because of Christ, and not the other way around. Am I demeaning the Bible by saying this? Absolutely not. I’m elevating it even. Trying to put it back on it’s true foundation where it belongs.

To your query: “why is it commonly believed to be such” I suppose one answer to propose might be: fear. In much of Christian culture there is a perception that it is all a huge tapestry, and if you start to pull on a thread … any thread, you’ll undo the whole thing. We can’t have that, right? And all our elaborate and protective wall-building projects commence.


I like Mervin’s answer to your question, which is one I have as well. One another level, I think the Bible became considered the Word and God and we got into the whole inerrency argument because it is our nature as people to desire legalism and rules. Thus we become the older brother in the prodigal son story, feeling righteous in our good behavior and our adherence to rules, preferring the sharp thorns of legalism and self reliance than the brokeness of the younger son, and not knowing we are more in need of grace and repentance than he.
As mentioned, Luke had no pretense about being inspired, and even Paul’s letters, while written no doubt as inspired, had no indication that he considered them more than just advisory letters, and requests for someone to bring his coat. One might argue the that gospel of John, and Revelation are a bit more indicative of being inspired at the time of their writing.

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Before there was a New Testament, there were: Matthew’s Novel; Mark’s Novel; Luke’s Novels; and John’s Novel. “Tom, Dick, and Harry’s Novels” are “Ho-hum” Collected Novels. “Holy Scripture” and “Word of God” are worth paying more attention to and money for".

I’m not asking anyone to defend anything (at least not yet!) I’d just like someone who considers the Bible to be the Word of God in a literal sense to explain why they do so.

For my part, like many, I was brought up to think of the Bible as the Word of God. But when I came to question why, the main reason I came up with was that I’d been taught it - that it was, or at least had become, an evangelical tradition; but I’m far from sure what the basis is for believing it. And whilst the NT might be the major source of information about Jesus, if our claim for the truth of that info is a special status of the Bible, then surely we have to ask what that belief is based on.

I’ve come (or on the way) to share the view of some that God has revealed Himself primarily in what He has done - in nature and in history – and the Bible bears witness to the latter, rather than being a verbal revelation per se. (Of course it claims to include some direct revelations, such as Revelation and some OT prophecies. (Phil – why do you suggest John’s gospel might claim to be inspired?)) It seems to me that this is what the Biblical writers claim (if/when they claim anything) such as Luke, 1John1.1-3.

So it seems to me to be more satisfactory to see the Bible as a collection of historical docs and weigh them as such. (And of course part of the historical evidence is the weight given to them by the 1st century Jews and the early church.) I think Richard Bauckham makes a good case for the gospels being based on eyewitness accounts (Jesus and the eyewitnesses). And Gary Habermas makes a point of arguing for the truth of the resurrection based on NT passages taken as merely historical documents, not inspired / revealed in any way.

I think it’s also a stronger stance apologetically. Christianity claims to be based on actual historical events, the truth of which can be supported on historical grounds. If the claim for truth is based on a claim to special verbal revelation, then what’s to distinguish it from eg the Qur’an (I’m sure this point must have been made many times).

Finally (I sound like a preacher, but I’m not) I think Phil is right that belief in the Bible as the Word of God is maintained partly out of fear. We’ve been taught to be ‘Bible-believing Christians’, so if the absolute truth of the Bible is questioned it feels like the truth of Christianity is being undermined. What we need, and taught from the pulpit, is a sound doctrine of what the Bible is. No doubt some (maybe including me) will fear a slippery slope (unravelling all the threads). But I think I’d rather be struggling to find a ‘right’ position on the slope than trying to keep to what looks like an untenable position at the top. Of course, if there is good reason to think the Bible is the Word of God in a revealed / literal sense, then let’s hear it.

Largely my perspective, but from the first it is written not as a historical account, but as a theological revelation, somewhat mystic in its content, and not giving the impression of originating from John, but from outside of him. Sure, it could be argued he just got hold of bad mushrooms, but that is what faith is for.

As many here might expect, my mind quickly (inasmuch as my mind does anything quickly ; - ) goes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic:

We had a long, somewhat productive but eventually not so productive discussion about this a while back where people dug up some of the history of calling the canon “God’s Word” or the “Word of God.” It’s a tradition that predates English.

The texts that make up the Christian canon were not “the Bible” when they were written, so of course references to God’s word in Scripture mean something other than “the Bible” and an oblique reference to Scripture that existed at the time as “God-breathed” is not a full-fledged doctrine of inspiration of the canon. Formal theology around the idea that the Bible is the inspired word of God came into Christian tradition much later.


Hi Leyton.

Others have made good comments, but I think 2 Timothy 3:14-17 need a little more comment.

Have you read the passage in a Bible that puts the added words in italics? Those added words and added punctuation change the meaning considerably.

Taking a fairly literal translation (the NAS) and removing an added “is” and replacing the added “.” with a colon and changing two uppercase letters to lower case yields this:

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus: all scripture inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work

You are correct that the passage becomes circular about the entire canon with the translator-supplied punctuation and case choices and added words.

Very minor changes (especially the deletion of a word not found in the original text) completely change the meaning. And neither the punctuation nor the upper/lower case differentiation were in the original text.

In the text that I posted above:

  1. the passage is not about the Bible as we know it, rather it is about the sacred scriptures that Timothy knew from his youth (the Old Testament)
  2. all inspired scripture profitable…for every good work, not all scripture is inspired.

One additional point: we may be misled by the term scripture. When 2 Timothy was written, the Koine Greek word graphe did not mean “holy writings/documents,” it simply meant writings and referred to secular and religious writings. A literal reading of “all scripture (every document) is inspired would say your grocery list is inspired, so that added “is” can be quite misleading.

We don’t believe in Jesus because we have a perfect book. We believe in Jesus because we have the expert testimony of eyewitnesses (Peter and John and James) and the report of those who had discussions with eyewitnesses (such as Luke and Paul).

May God bless you.

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I would give another answer, a simple one: we believe it because we heard it from someone we trust.

There is much we believe because someone told us. For example, how did God create the world? Very few Christians have the competence and knowledge to try to answer the question based on facts. All the rest have an opinion they adopted from someone they trust. Often an opinion that is a very much simplified version and possibly distorted one because the person telling it had heard it from someone (s)he trusted, that person heard it from someone, etc.

I do not believe in the Bible. I do not even see any reason why I should believe. I believe in the God that the biblical scriptures tell about. Biblical scriptures just happen to be the most reliable source of information about God and His will.

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I agree and bear witness to that.

I no longer “believe and know that Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so”. I believe and know because the Spirit of Truth bears witness to that Truth in the core of my being.


@Christy Thanks for drawing my attention to the earlier discussion on whether the Bible should equal the Word of God, which I’m working through. It seems a bit unfair to question you on what you said 3 years ago, but with that apology …

I completely agree with you that in common usage the Bible and the Word of God are synonymous (although, of course the latter has other meanings, and I’m not wanting to go over that old ground again).

However I’m not so sure about

‘Calling the Bible God’s Word doesn’t have anything to do with how people view the Bible.’

In my experience – predominantly in evangelical churches / groups – the ‘Word of God’ is not just another term for the Bible, but for most who use it (so far as it seems to me anyway) there is a real sense in which they think of the Bible as God’s words to us. And I think for many that conveys an authority, typified by the statement of faith of the Evangelical Alliance

The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God – fully trustworthy for faith and conduct

My personal view of the Bible, (which I sometimes call God’s Word), is that humans wrote things, inspired by God, and that God uses those human words from the past to communicate with us and relate to us as a Person today through the power of his Spirit. I do not really care much about inerrancy. I think there is plenty in the Bible that is unavoidably constrained by human language, culture, and limited perspective

I would probably go along with much of this, except that I probably (again!) reckon only parts of it are inspired, notably where the writers are claiming to bring a particular message from God. But even there I wouldn’t assume that all claims are correct (even if entirely sincere), and that would go for some of the apostles’ (esp Paul) words.

For me the question remains: if I am right that many Christians regard the Bible as the inspired Word of God (and I think some of the responses to these threads indicate there are at least some who consider it to be normal Christian belief), then what is the basis for that? There seems to be a reasonable consensus that the belief has developed over time.

I’ll read at least one of the books recommended in that earlier thread – but probably not for a while.


I honestly believe, this is an issue of conscience for every believer to decide for themselves

I think I disagree with this. I think it’s important to know what the status of the Bible really is (objectively, how does God see it?!) so that we can have an appropriate attitude toward it. (And of course different statuses may apply to different parts.)

Thanks to all for your comments.


I think you and I would get along well Herr Dietrich.

Certainly calling it God’s Word is not entirely inappropriate

Sure, I think that view of the Bible has a long tradition in Protestantism and throughout church history. The word of God in Scripture refers to God’s revelation and our doctrines about the Bible position it as God’s revelation, so it makes sense to link the ideas.

The part you quoted I believe was in response to people who were asserting that if you called the Bible the Word of God you were ascribing the Bible something like worship and making it a god. Which I don’t think is the case. Lots of people throughout histroy have called the Bible the word of God for the reasons you state (believing it is God’s revelation, believing it is inspired and authoritative) and not because they idolize the Bible.

Yes, I think it is a normal Christian belief, and yes, the canon itself and the doctrines around Scripture developed over time, but have a long history in the church and Christian thought. It certainly wasn’t invented by 20th century evangelicalism.

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Thanks for your thoughts, Leyton, always happy for people to disagree with me. In defence of my point: I would suggest that Christian traditions haven’t historically agreed, and don’t seem likely to agree any time soon, on whether the Bible is or is not the Word of God, what that term means, and/or the proper usage of it. Where such divergent views exist, with no obvious right or wrong option outlined in the Bible, there is only one course left to a believer. Namely, to weigh the options and decide for themselves according to their conscience, trusting in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is, I believe, an issue of conscience.


What is the BioLogos position (if any) re the Bible? What does it mean by referring to it as God’s Word?

Apologies if you’ve already been referred here - but just in case you haven’t: The Biologos ‘what we believe’ page is the best place to find official Biologos positions.

Points #1 and 2 are where scriptures are addressed.

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The normal Christian meaning that it is God’s revelation of who he is and what he wants from people. Actually, Word of God capitalized in the first statement is referring to Jesus, the Word (Logos) a concept used in John 1. Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation.