Is the Word of God Impersonal in the OT?

wpid-wp-1433137781246.jpegDenying the Personality of the Word

The assertion that the New Testament does not identify God’s Logos as personal is frequently made by unitarians. A staple belief among unitarians is that the Logos of God was a-personal, but through the influence of Greek philosophical traditions began to be incorrectly identified as a divine personal being. This has been demonstrated to be both exegetically untenable and historically/philosophically wrong (for instance here). There are some unitarians, however, who because of this exegetical and historical/philosophical evidence argue that the a-personality of the Word of God (i.e. the Dabar) is clearly taught in the Old Testament. However, is this true?

Not for the attentive reader of Scripture. Beginning with the book of Genesis, the attentive reader will note that there are instances in which the Word of God is addressed as Yahweh, as the Lord, as God. And God is hardly an a-personal entity. How then can the unitarian assert that God’s Word in the Old Testament is a-personal? Whatever their reasoning is, they are not deriving it from the Scriptures, as the following article aims to demonstrate.

Here are just a few instances of this phenomenon.

The Voice of the Lord

1. In Genesis 3:8, the Holy Spirit says Adam and Eve heard the “sound” of the Lord God walking in the garden. The word for sound is a Hebrew word which is usually translated as voice. This fact is reflected in the King James Version, where the reader is informed of the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. This voice calls out to Adam and his wife, who are hiding, and reveals their sin, judges them, and promises them redemption through the Seed of the Woman.

Contextually, Hebrews 4:12-13 echoes this narrative and states that the “Word of God” is “living and active” and “no creature is hidden from his sight.” That is to say, the Word (here, logos) of God is living and active, judging the wicked and saving the elect, and there is no one hidden from his sight. Note how swiftly the writer moves from “Word” (i.e. Logos) to the personal pronouns “his” and “him.” Note further  that before him, i.e. the Logos of God, “all are naked and exposed,” even as Adam and Eve were when the Voice of God walked through the garden and confronted them with judgment and salvation. Hebrews 4:12-13 seems to be directly alluding to the Garden of Eden in which the Voice of the Lord, the Word of God, walked among the trees and called out in judgment and salvation, revealing hidden sinners and exposing them completely. [For a devotional treatment of the same subject, see this previous post].

2. In Psalm 29, the identification of the Voice of the Lord with Yahweh himself is impossible to deny. Specifically, verses 5-9 identify the Voice of the Lord as Yahweh, via the use of parallelisms. Thus, the Voice of the Lord is said to break the cedars in v.5a, but in v.5b the Lord is said to be the one who breaks the cedars. The personalization of the Voice of the Lord, moreover, is carried over into the next verse where the personal pronoun “he” refers back to the Lord, i.e. the Voice of the Lord in v.5a. Likewise, vv.7-8 transition from “the Voice of the Lord” in vv.7-8a to “the Lord” in v.8b. The climax of this worship of the Voice of God can be seen in v.9 where the transition is the smoothest. Psalm 29:9 states that: “the Voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” Note that the transition from “the Voice of the Lord” to “the Lord” is even more explicit. Here the writer says that the temple is the temple of the Voice of the Lord. Do a-personal utterances have temples?

The Word of the Lord

1. Throughout the Old Testament, in addition to the Voice of the Lord propositions identifying that Voice as Yahweh himself, there are also verse which clearly identify the Word of the Lord as Yahweh himself. The first appearance of the phrase, for instance, is in Genesis 15, where “the Word of the Lord” comes to Abraham in a vision, and Abraham responds with these words: “O Lord God…” (Gen 15:1-2) Lest any confusion occur, the Scriptures go on to say that “the Word of the Lord” came to Abram and “brought him outside” (vv.4-6). Throughout this passage, the Word of the Lord is identified specifically as Yahweh and he/him/his.

2. Similarly, in Jeremiah 1 we are told that “the Word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] and said…” (v.4). Jeremiah’s response is clear: “Ah, Lord God! . . .” (v.6) The prophet clearly identifies the Word as the Lord himself, and this is made evident by the following verse, where we read: “But the Lord said to me…” (v.7) Note the transition from “the Word of the Lord” to “the Lord,” a transition which we have already noted in Ps 29. The identification of the Word of the Lord as Yahweh-in-person, i.e. as a Christophany, is made even clearer when we read that “…the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me…” (v.9a)

This Word of the Lord is not a-personal, or even intangible. Rather, the Word is the Lord and he stretches out his hand and touches the mouth of his prophet, Jeremiah.

Concluding Remarks

The Word of the Lord, although primarily a technical formula introducing a prophet’s message as legitimately obtained directly from God, at times designate the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord God himself: the Logos of John 1. It is simply not the case that the Word of the Lord is a-personal in the Old Testament.

-h.

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