"But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2Ti 3:13-17)
It is a common for Christians to say that the Bible is the Word of God. Certainly the Bible is "good for doctrine and reproof" as Paul said. However, to use the terms "Bible" and "Word of God" interchangeably can lead to misunderstandings.
In the English translation of the New Testament, "word" is used to translate several different words from the Greek. Most of the time "word" translates either "logos" or "rhema." Logos and rhmea are related and have the same basic meaning but with slightly different connotations. Both have to do with something that is spoken. When the New Testament writers want to talk about scripture they use the Greek word "graphe" or "grapho" or "gramma" or a similar word. Those words are used to refer to something written in contrast to something spoken.
This is why I say the Bible is not literally the "Word of God" and we should make a clear distinction between the two ideas. To equate the two things is to make the writings themselves equal to or more important than what God speaks. Although the source of the Bible is what God has spoken, the two are not exactly equivalent and to try and make them equivalent causes all sorts of problems. It should be obvious that a writing must be copied and there is always the possibility of introducing a small change in the writing during copying. In addition, we often make editions of a writing with additions or small changes. There is evidence that both copyist errors and changes to the Bible text have occurred through the centuries. If you equate the writing with what God spoke you get into a problem right away. You also have to translate these older languages into modern languages for most of us to be able to read them. Then you have to interpret the writing.
The end result is that people get upset over various versions, translations and interpretations of the Bible and argue endlessly as to which one is the true "WORD" and which ones are in error. If the writing is the exact, literal thing that God spoke, then you better be able to point to just one version as the true one. Otherwise you have the problem that God is being inconsistent in what He spoke!
My own attempts to sort all this out led me to conclude that we can't ever point to just one Bible or commentary and say, "That's the one." There are too many variations in source manuscripts, and too many assumptions about the process of transcription and translation to make a definite statement one way or the other. I know that may irritate some, but it is what I have found out. However, it's only a problem if you try to make the writing and the speaking exactly the same thing. As long as the writing is treated as one means to understand God's revelation, then it really isn't much of a problem if there are minor variations. For the most part, and in the abstract, the many variants say exactly the same thing.
When I hear people get upset about this I don't get upset with them because I do understand their concern. But, these questions got me going in a certain direction to try and trace down where this idea of the importance of the scriptures comes from. What I eventually came to understand was that equating the scriptures with the God's Word comes about because of desire for authoritative truth combined with conflicts over authority. When someone stands up and claims to be speaking forth the WORD of God, and their interpretation is different than your beliefs, how do you know which is correct? Are they a false prophet or is your understanding incorrect? It's not a trivial question to answer.
The argument over whether or not inspired teaching supersedes the current understanding of the writings is not a new controversy either. It is the same problem Jesus faced when talking to the Pharisees. Jesus was teaching an interpretation of the Law of Moses that was in conflict with the interpretations of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were putting the writings and oral tradition of the Law in the position of being the final word from God. Then, Jesus comes along and starts putting himself above the Law in importance. In effect, Jesus was saying that his interpretation was the only correct one because he came directly from heaven and that when he spoke you were hearing God's voice!
In that context you can better understand why Jesus had to say that he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. In the mind of the Pharisees, that was exactly what Jesus was doing. (Sadly, some people today will claim that Jesus only came to correct the misunderstanding of the Law of Moses. That claim, however, denies the position of Jesus as savior and puts the scriptures above Jesus in importance. If all you need to be righteous is a correct understanding of the scriptures, then there was no need for Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead.)
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We have also a more sure word of prophecy; … Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2Pe 1:16-21)
The Apostles encountered the same problem and the quote from 2 Peter is a perfect example. Peter is pointing out that the word the prophets spoke were not of themselves, but rather God speaking through them by the Holy Spirit. Peter equates the message of the Apostles to the words of scripture since both had the same source in the Holy Spirit. Thus he claims that the preaching of the Apostles was on a par with the scriptures as they existed at that time.
That conflict between the writings themselves and what people say they mean has been a constant source of conflict since the beginning of Christianity. It is that conflict that led to the Church councils such as the Council of Nicea. It is same conflict that Luther had with the Catholic authorities. In very simple terms, Luther said they were wrong because what they were saying was in conflict with the scriptures. The Catholic Bishops said that they were the ones who decided what was consistent with scripture and that Luther was wrong to disagree with them. From that came the Protestant doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" - scripture alone defines what is authoritative. That doctrine is what has gotten us to the point today where many Christians equate the Bible with the Word of God.
If you stand back and look objectively at this conflict you can come to understand why we need the Bible. Without some definitive, authoritative writing, men would start inventing new doctrines to justify whatever they want. The Holy Scripture provides a touchstone to evaluating what a Christian teacher or evangelist says. If what they are saying is in conflict with the Bible, then it is wrong. Of course, every Christian preacher is going to tell you that his preaching is Bible-based. After all, can you even imagine a preacher telling you his teaching is in conflict with the Bible? Yet, there are many doctrines that are in direct conflict with each other, all claiming to be the truth of the Bible. It can get very confusing.
This is why I say that we can't just equate the Bible with the Word of God. Man always has the tendency to read his own desires, pre-conceived ideas, and self-justifications into the text. Just because someone quotes the Bible doesn't mean he is speaking a Word from God. And, just because someone doesn't quote existing scriptures shouldn't be taken as meaning he isn't hearing from God either. After all, the prophets recorded in the Bible are not just quoting scripture. The Apostles are not just quoting scripture either. In both cases they are speaking what God spoke to them. If what was spoken is proven to be the truth, that inspired word eventually gets written down and preserved as a revelation from God.
Determining who is right and who is wrong requires several things. First, you have to develop an approach to Bible study that will lead to correct answers. That's what hermeneutics is all about, and no one should try to study the Bible unless they first grasp the principles of hermeneutics. Second, much of the Bible contains highly symbolic and poetic writings. Unless we learn to spot where the writing is symbolic and where it is literal, we will never truly understand the meaning. Most conflicts in Bible exposition arise from differences in understanding of what is symbolic and what the symbols mean. Finally, we have to seek and trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can't just assume that we will figure it all out with our intellect. Inspiration was involved in the creation of the writing and inspiration is needed for the reader to properly understand. In short, pray first, read second.
Most important of all, we have to remember that it is God's revelation of Himself we are seeking. It should not be our goal to understand the Bible, really. It should be our goal to use the Bible as a tool to understand God's ways. After all, we are not saved by a book, and we are not saved by our understanding of a book. We are not told to put our faith in a writing. Our salvation is not by the Bible, but by the one the Bible speaks about, Jesus Christ. We put our faith in him because he is the Living Word of God. He can speak to our mind through the Bible and he can speak directly to our heart as well. It is His speaking to us that is the Word of God for us today.