Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – What are the different forms of the Word of God?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In Wayne Grudem’s second chapter of Systematic Theology, he explores the different forms of the Word of God and explains the difference between them from a biblical perspective. To begin, he demonstrates the two major forms of the Word of God: as a person in Jesus Christ and as speech from God. There are multiple manifestations of the Word of God as speech including decrees, personal address, through human lips, and in written form in the Bible. Finally, Grudem affirmed that the focus of his book would be on the written form of the Word of God since it “is available for study, for public inspection, for repeated examination, and as a basis for mutual discussion.”

Forms of the Word of God

In this foundational chapter, we learn there are several forms of “the Word of God”. For one, Scripture affirms Jesus as the Word of God in John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. Although the Bible does not refer to Jesus as the Word of God in many places, it is significant because Jesus is the unique embodiment of God’s communication to us.

The other major form of “the Word of God” is the speech of God. In this more expansive section, we learn that God has regularly spoken to people in several ways. 

To begin, God has spoken in the form of ‘decrees’. A decree of God is a word of God that cause something to happen. These happened both at creation (ex. “Let there be light” – Genesis 1:3) and continue to happen even now (ex. “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” – Hebrews 1:3).  

In addition to God’s decrees, the Word of God will come in the form of personal address – or when God personally speaks to people. In Scripture, we see this many times when God spoke to Adam (Genesis 2:16-17), to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-19), at Jesus’s baptism (Matthew 3:17), and at other times. It’s important to note God’s word of personal address are in ‘human’ words and the language is immediately understandable by the hearers. Some theologians have argued God’s words cannot be understood because of human limitation or God’s transcendence, but their argument does not respect how humans were expected to understand and obey God’s words in biblical times.

At other times, the Word of God comes through human lips. This was the case with prophets in the Old Testament like Moses (Exodus 4:12), Samuel (1 Samuel 15:3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9), etc. Like God’s words of personal address, God’s word through human lips were expected to be understood and obeyed. And to disbelieve or disobey any of them was to disbelieve or disobey God himself.

Finally, and most importantly for the study of systematic theology, is the Word of God in written form (the Bible). In Scripture, there are several places we see God’s word in written form. For instance, when the Ten Commandments were written on tablets of stone by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). God also instructed Moses to write the law (Deuteronomy 31:9-13) where it was placed beside the ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). Joshua wrote God’s words (Joshua 24:26), along with Isaiah (Isaiah 30:8), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 30:2). In the New Testament, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit would bring to mind all that Jesus had spoken (John 14:26) so the disciples could record his words in the gospels. Finally, Paul wrote “a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37) and we have it recorded in the epistles.     

Conclusion: The Importance of the Word of God in Written Form

Because the Word of God in written form is the most reliable form of the Word of God and is more accessible than any other form, it is the focus of study in systematic theology. The other forms of the Word of God are helpful, but not suitable or simply inadequate as the primary basis when studying theology.

Moreover, there is a blessing attached to anyone who studies the Bible. David said, whoever “delight(s) is in the law of the Lord” and “meditates day and night” on it will be blessed (Psalm 1:2). The reason is this Word of God “breathed out by God” and profitable for “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). 

Special Terms

  • Decree
  • Word of God
  • personal address

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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