word vs. Word

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We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, that from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
– 
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1

When we capitalize a word that is not following a period, we are ascribing to it a sense of authority that other things do not have. My house is not on par with the White House, for example. When we REALLY want to express an intensified emotion, we are prone to use all-caps, and the reader naturally reads these enhancements without trouble, as you just did. By and large in orthography (conventions for writing a language) we see that capitalization is used to distinguish what is common from what is proper. Of course, methods and the origins of these practices are a bit muddled, but our common understanding in English and language is that what is capitalized carries a sense of weightiness and authority in it.

So when we come to the words in John 1:1, some of us find an interesting use of capitalization.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

You’ve probably heard this verse before. But what is actually happening here? What is John really saying when he talks about this Word, and why does he capitalize it?

It’s not like this “word” of God is always capitalized, after all, even in Scripture. We see phrases like “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord” dozens of times with a lowercase “w” (i.e. Gen. 15:4; Ex. 9:20; Num. 36:5; Jos. 8:8). But for some reason, the apostle John uses an uppercase “W” when he says “Word” (Jn. 1:1, 14; 1 Jn. 1:1; Rev. 19:13), though not in every instance (i.e. Jn. 10:35). So the question of the hour is, what is John trying to teach us here? And what are we saying when we say “Word” instead of “word?”

First, a word about the words of God (are you tired of the word “word” yet?). God does not just communicate. Rather, His very nature is communicative. Because God is a Trinity, and therefore tri-personal, God’s being is made up of communication. He is a speaking God. His speaking is one of His attributes, just like love, and justice, and goodness. God’s speaking is a part of His nature, and therefore, it is a necessary attribute. It is something He is, not just something He has.

There are major implications for what is being suggested here. If all of the above is true, then we must make a claim about the Bible that makes many quake in their boots: The Bible says that God’s speaking is identical with God Himself.

This is part of what John 1:1 is saying.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Word was God.¹

In God’s words, we see God’s personal presence. We see God’s presence in and through His words throughout the Old Testament. As Deuteronomy 30:14 summarizes, “the word [of God] is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” In this word Moses is describing, he highlights the presence of God. We see God create with words (Gen. 1:3 ff.). His word has omnipotence (Isa. 55:11). These words carry in themselves righteousness and impart understanding (Ps. 119:129-130). These are definitely the words of God, and the words are definitely God.

But in John 1:1, the capitalization has changed. The Word is distinguished from the word. This is because The Word (capital “W”) is Christ. Christ is the Word of God par excellence. He is the Logos, meaning that Christ Himself is the communication and revelation of God the Father to humanity. He is message and Messenger. He is the Word. He is God. The Word is God.

The opening verses of the letter to the Hebrews further drives home the point.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

The words of God litter the Old Testament. For thousands of years, God’s words pervade human history and are an observable part of the times. Yet it is not until the moment of Christ’s incarnation that this world has received “The Word made flesh.” This is the pinnacle moment. This is the moment where God’s words have become God’s Word, in the flesh. As Irenaeus said, “The Gospel has come down to us.”

Why is this important? What does it matter the difference between “word” and “Word?”

When we hold the Scriptures in our hands, whether on Sunday mornings or Monday evenings, we are holding the very words of God. And not just “words,” but the “Word” indeed. Contained between the covers is the speech and revelation and communication of God Himself.

There is much more here than good advice.

These words are so much more than historical documentation.

We possess something greater than mere human words.

The word of God, Scripture itself, has divine attributes that no creature can claim. What does this mean? Theologian John Frame helps us here:

The fact that the word of God has them implies that it is divine, that it is nothing less than God himself speaking. So the word of God is an object of worship (Ps. 56:4, 10; cf. Ps. 119:48, 161). Such worship may be given only to God; giving it to anything else is idolatry. Therefore, the word of God is either an idol or it is God himself. Scripture clearly says that it is the latter. ²

When Irenaeus calls the word of God “the ground and pillar of our faith,” he is acknowledging the authority and the necessity of Scripture itself. Some accuse those who hold such a position of bibliolatry, or idolizing their Bibles. But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible is. If we truly believe that God=the word=Jesus, then we cannot divorce God from His word. As Frame says, “You can’t have God apart from his word, or his word apart from God. God is a speaking God, and the word is God’s speech.”³ So, while we don’t lay our Bibles on the table and bow to the material thing, we do revere that these are the living and active words of God (Heb. 4:12). Indeed, this Word is Christ come to us, and anything that suggests otherwise is to be rejected.

The only reason we know of God at all is because of His word, and further, because His word became Word, coming to us for our salvation and to His glory. This mystery was hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed to the saints (Col. 1:26). The implications for such truth are endless. We read the Bible differently when we treat what we read as divine words, not just human words. We stand for the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, not because it’s a random theological argument, but because it is the essence of God Himself. We read the Old Testament with more longing, and the New Testament with more relief. God has spoken in His Son, by His Son, and with His Son. Let’s take His Word seriously.

“The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Pet. 1:24-25)

1 – A quick note on the word “was” in this verse. “Was” does not imply that the Word/Logos was previously or at one time God, and now is currently not. Since John is setting the stage to pronounce the incarnation, the moment where Christ came into the world, John uses “was” to communicate that 1) Jesus Christ is not a created being, but rather has always been, and 2) Jesus Christ has not always been an incarnate, made-of-flesh human.
2 – John Frame, “Foundations of Biblical Inerrancy.” From The Inerrant Word (Crossway, 2016). p. 191.
3 – Ibid.
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