The Inscripturated & Incarnate Word of God
As I teach my homiletics students not only how to publicly preach the Word, but read it as well, one of the tips I give them is "do not close the Bible after you read." As the sermon should be grounded on the sermon text, the preacher wants the congregation to know that he is truly preaching from the Bible. Having an open Bible on a pulpit which has center place in the service represents the Lord speaking to His people. If a preacher closes the Bible then proceeds to preach, it can subtly and symbolically communicate to the people, "You heard God's Word read. Now it's time to listen to me."
Of course, this is just a tip, not law. Indeed, someone can easily point out (and students do!) that Jesus in essence did this very thing in his hometown of Nazareth. When He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, he then "rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down" (Luke 4:20). So one might argue that closing the Bible after reading it is actually following Christ's example.
Well, hold on. To that argument against my tip I would respond, "Do you remember what actually followed in that Biblical scene?" Luke tells us. "And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:20-21). It was proper there in Nazareth for them to take their eyes off the inscripturated Word of God, for the incarnate Word of God was standing before them!
Yet that leads to a further question, one a student recently asked me in so many words. What is the relationship between the Word of God as found in Scripture and the Word of God who is known as Jesus? For clearly both the Bible and Jesus are called the Word of God.
Regarding the Bible being God's Word, Paul said that "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16), meaning the Bible comes from the very lips of God. Even preaching of the Bible is considered to be God's Word. The Apostle Paul had this response to those in Thessalonica who received his preaching ministry from the Biblical text:
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of mere men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe. (1 Thes. 2:13)
Likewise, Peter said,
For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' And this is the word which was preached to you.
With respect to Jesus being the Word, we have these statements so clearly made by John in his gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
So with both the Scriptures and Jesus being clearly referred to as the Word of God, then what are we to make of their relationship? Let me put it as simply as possible, then give several proper ways to respond. The Scriptures are the Father's means of the Spirit revealing Jesus to you so you can know God. Therefore, though you should distinguish between them, you should treat the Scriptures as you would treat Jesus.
Here are some proper responses to that end.
Since both the Bible and Jesus are the Father's communication to you, believe and receive them as such. As seen in the verses above, both the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus are called God's Word. That means the heavenly Father desires to communicate to you through giving you His very self. So you should thankfully receive the Bible as a gift from the Father. Likewise, you should also receive the Son of God as a gift from the Father. He gave both to you!
Whenever the Bible is read, taught, or preached, you should listen to it as you would listen to Jesus. Following His resurrection, on the road to Emmaus with those two dejected disciples, Jesus perked their spirits up and made their hearts burn when "beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets, He explained to them the things written about Himself in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27). To know the Scriptures is to know Jesus. Yet we need help!
Rely on the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible so that you can understand Jesus. We know the Bible's ultimate author is the Spirit of God, for "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21). And what the Spirit was moving men to speak in Scripture, as we see in the Luke 24:27 reference above, was to testify about Jesus. So closely united are the Scriptures, God's Spirit, and Jesus that Peter in his first letter says of the prophets that "the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating (Jesus) as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." Thus, Jesus could tell His disciples to wait and rely on the Spirit of God, for "when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come" (John 16:13).
Indeed, recognize that the Spirit of God brought both the incarnated Word and the inscripturated Word to the world. Is it not amazing to think of how it was the Holy Spirit who caused Mary to conceive Christ (Luke 1:35) and also give us the Bible through human authors (as referenced above in John 16:13, 2 Peter 2:21, 2 Timothy 3:16)? That both the inscripturated Word and incarnate Word are the union of the human and divine, though understood in different ways? And that just as the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to do ministry (Luke 3:21-22; 4:1) and raised Him from the dead (Rom. 1;4), so the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ to give power to the church as witnesses (Acts 1:8) and make God's Word powerful and life-giving (Acts 4:31)?
You should regard both the Scriptures and Jesus as holy. As God's Word and the Holy Spirit's inspiration, it is fitting that the words "Holy Bible" are stamped on the cover of nearly every copy. For God's Word is perfect and holy (Ps. 19:7; 105:42). So of course is Christ (Heb. 7:26-28). Thus, we should approach both the Bible and our Savior with fear and reverence. No wonder my God-fearing grandmother would not let me place a toy, cup, etc., on the Bible prominently displayed on her coffee table. She did not want me to forget the specialness of God's Word and the Son of God that it reveals.
However, you should always treat the Bible as the means and Christ as the end. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks in Question 88, “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” The answer is,
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
The Word of God is a means to Christ and the salvation He has given to us, not the end itself. By way of analogy, we must experience Christ and His presence in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but not fall into the error of seeing the bread and wine as actually Him. Similarly, the printed words on the page of our Bible are not Christ Himself. So when I put my Bible in my messenger bag (with respect remembering Nanny), still it does not correlate that I just put the Lord of glory in there.
All this being said, that is still why I do not want my students slamming their Bibles shut before they preach. For opening the Bible is to opens hearts to Jesus.