The Word and the WORD

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” –- John 1:1 and 14 (KJV)

Jesus, John says, is the Word and in nearly every translation of this passage into the English language, translators capitalizes the word “Word” (“logos” in the Greek) out of respect to the deity. 

In Romans 10:8, we find “logos” again. Paul says, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” You will find that in most versions, translators opt for the lower-case w even though it’s the very same noun that John uses in the first chapter of his gospel.  

Jesus is the Word of God, but the word of God that we preach when we preach Jesus is not the Word of God. What we have here is a difficult but important distinction. Jesus is the Word made flesh, but he is not the Word made paper, glue, and binding or (in the case of a digital Bible) the Word made circuits, silicone, and pixels.

Throughout the scripture, we find God using mouthpieces of a seemingly endless variety. His voice can be heard in creation (Psalm 19:1), in the word of the prophets (Hosea 12:10; Hebrews 1:1), in the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 16:6), and in the warnings spoken by pack animals suddenly endued with the power of speech (Numbers 22:28).

In his book on the Reformation, Thomas Martin Lindsay talks about why we capitalize logos in John 1 but not in Romans 10: “This distinction was real and not merely formal; it was more than the difference between the Word of God and the Word of God written; and important consequences were founded upon it. . . . The Reformers uniformly teach that the substance of all Scripture is the Word of God, and that what is no part of the record of the Word of God is not Scripture. Finally, the distinction between the two need not prevent us from saying that the Scripture is the Word of God. . . . Only it must be clearly understood that the [verb] is does not express logical identity, but some such relation as can be more exactly expressed by contains, presents, conveys, records.”

The Bible is not Jesus. As Lindsay would put it, the Bible contains, conveys, presents, and records Jesus. The Word is to be found the word, especially the Red Letters, those passages in the New Testament that present the words of Christ. “To whom shall we go?” Peter says to Jesus in John 6:68, “thou hast the words of eternal life.”

It is important to that it is entirely possible to receive the Word without hearing or reading the words that Peter is talking about in this passage. That is to say, you can know God without having access to a Bible you can understand, but it is by no means easy. King David, who only had the Pentateuch said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Christians who without access to the lower-case word, must settle for the upper-case Word as related to them by His sundry interpreters. To borrow a metaphor from King David, such light is dim and by no means safe to walk by. Unfortunately, it’s how most believers get by. 

According to The Gospel Coalition, 200 million Christians do not have access to a Bible that they can read and understand, and that’s in Africa alone. Only half of Chinese Christians own a Bible they can read, not to mention the hundreds of languages that still do not have their own translation of the Scriptures. As Loren Cunningham likes to say, the church is suffering from Bible poverty, but it doesn’t have to. 

Due to recent technological advancements, it is now economically feasible to deliver the Scriptures on digital media. Not only can SD chips, thumb-drives, DVDs, and even solar-powered audio/video players, go where books cannot, but they can also meet the needs of the blind, deaf, and illiterate. Furthermore, the virality of digital media allows even a single file to be duplicated indefinitely. True, there are situations in which mobile technology is unfeasible, but even then, advances in print-on-demand publishing allow distributors to print Bibles as needed, to one believer or a thousand so that those who have in their hearts the living Word of God would not have to go through life without the written Word of God.


The Rebirth of Print

Print on Demand Bibles at the Digital Bible Society

In the last blog we rung the death knell for print (as we know it) but that (as is always the case) is not the end of the story. Yea verily, the bookstores are heading for the precipice and news papers the antique shop, but ink and paper are still a valid means of communication and have an exciting future ahead of them. 

You’ve probably heard the words “print on demand” before in conversations and wondered if it meant what you thought it meant. Well, it does. Printing tech has gotten to a place where we can, with a relatively cheap printer set up, mill out a single ready-to-read book in a matter of minutes.

So, what do these recent advances mean for world missions? Nothing if we don’t take advantage of them. Mobile printing tech makes it possible for someone with a bare minimum of technical savvy to turn a church with an electrical outlet into a Bible factory, location irrelevant. Metropolitan New York is not too near nor Africa’s sweltering heart too far. We like to talk about the people who floated New Testaments across the English channel in the early 1500’s or hollowed out their Volkswagen for secret Bible smuggling storage space in the late 1950’s but today all a burgeoning Bible smuggler needs to get God’s word “in” is a micro SD chip with the Bible on it (or what have you) and the wherewithal to find a working printer which is, of course, much more feasible than trying to sneak 300 Bibles into Mauritania on a camel like this guy did. 

A round of applause please. It’s important to note that when we describe the Bible printing process as feasible, we’re referring to the technical side of things. 500 years after Tyndale was burned at the stake, Bible publishers are still being murdered. If this were any other book, the persecution would have scared off publishers and the Bible would have died with the many other works of art that censorship has destroyed but the scriptures survive because the Word of God is as worth printing as it is dying for. Watch the DBS Print-on-Demand Video here.

Here’s another short video detailing how the people at Arizona State University are using print on demand technology to democratized the book making process. 

The Death of Print

Jehoiakim Burns the Scroll of Jeremiah

You’ve heard it all before, the eBooks and eReaders are going to be the death of print.

Paperback sales are down. Magazine sales are down. No one even reads the news anymore. Anything and everything you’d ever want to read is waiting for you online.

If you’re reading this in 2019, chances are you’ll live to see the day when the great American newspaper chains shut down their presses and live on only as web pages. People are calling this the digital revolution. It’s affecting the way we make movies (film vs. video) and has already changed the way we listen to music. For example, when was the last time you broke out your record player? The revolution’s also changing the way we see scripture. Personally, I could never imagine a world without tangible Bibles: gold-leaf, the place-marker ribbon, passages underlined in red ink, those little plastic indexing tabs, etc. But just because I can’t see a world without The Gideons, doesn’t mean my grandkids won’t. Recent websites and downloadable apps like Bible Gateway and YouVersion are making the scriptures accessible from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Why carry a pocket New Testament when the whole bible will fit on your smartphone? And not just the testaments (Old and New) but audio scriptures and more commentaries than you could read in a lifetime. Now, I’m hard pressed to see this as a bad thing but then again, many of our most beloved bible publishers will, if they fail to adapt, go under. Revolution’s are rarely pretty things. Think European history. The Digital Bible Society is all about riding that wave and it’s allowed us and people like us to turn the way we think about Bibles on its head. One of our favorite people, Brother Andrew, used to smuggle Bibles into communist countries by cramming New Testaments into a special compartment of his Volkswagen beetle.

Now with the new high capacity SD chips, smuggling a thumb-drive into a closed nation would be the equivalent of sneaking several train cars loaded down with the entirety of Christian literature in every language and file format, no railroad required. Yes, the leather-bound bible will one day be a novelty but that doesn’t the bible’s going anywhere. In fact, it is my belief that the Digital Revolution is a big part of the Great Commission. Furthermore, and I know this may seem controversial, but I believe that God gave us binary so that we could do just that, give everyone everywhere a chance to hear the gospel. In the meantime, stay tuned. Drop us a line and get involved with the conversation. I’ll do my best to update the blog as I am able.