One thing early Christians did was to teach the word of God. We read of this happening in Acts chapter 18: 11 at Corinth. Paul stayed in the city for 18 months and followed his usual practice of teaching publicly as well as from house to house.
We are used to God’s word being in written form only, but for the earliest Christians this was a spoken word, not written. Acts 18.11 shows us it was spoken one – spoken by a human- a living apostle. Luke tells us some of the things Paul said at Corinth in Acts 18 and in his later letters. However when he first visited Corinth those parts of our NT were still in the future.Even though Paul remained at Corinth for 18 months Luke condensed the time into only 17 verses. Obviously he spoke much much more than that – we only have a few hints.
My point ? The word of God initially came to the Corinthians in oral form. The Bible is God’s word in written form, and it refers to a form of God’s word in another media – the oral form mentioned in Acts 18.11. The Bible shows us that in early church’s understanding God’s word could be either form: written or oral…or even both. (See 2 Peter 3.16 where Peter refers to Paul’s writings as scripture.)
In learning about our earliest faith we see God trusted people more than writings. He wanted his words to firstly come to the church wrapped in people rather then written firstly. This is the case with Jesus too, who wrote nothing; and with all the other NT writings which came to people first and then were written down. In other words, for God, people were more valuable and trustworthy then written Gospels or Epistles.
We also see there was an expectation amongst Paul and his community that God would continue to speak in this way. For example, his instructions to Corinth about what to do in church also show how meetings were conducted during his 18 months there. That is, the word of God was understood to come through various people including teachers and prophets – 1 Corinthians 14: 26f.
What can we learn from this?
That people carry words from God – this is the case even if they are written down afterwards such as in the rest of the NT; however, note they always come to people first.
This means we should align our definition of the word of God with the Bible’s own use – that is, sometimes God’s word is written, sometimes spoken.
Other examples of spoken words from God are
- Acts 11.28 where the prophet Agabus predicts a famine.
- Acts 13: 2 where God through a prophet calls Barnabas and Paul.
- Acts 18.9f where Jesus spoke to Paul.
Each of these of God’s word were initially spoken by persons to persons, and later written down. And each is entirely consistent with what Jesus knew would happen when he poured out his Spirit as recorded in Acts 2.17f, summarised as “you will see visions and prophesy”. That is, the vision will come from God, his people will then speak it out – remarkably similar to Paul’s instructions to Corinth as mentioned above in 14.26f.
Perhaps it is time we honoured the Bible’s own descriptions of what constitutes the word of God?