The Word of God Spoken, Heard, Written, Read

by Frank Jones


Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Norah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD which he had spoken to him. Jeremiah command Baruch, saying "I am restricted; I cannot go into the house of the LORD. So you go and read from the scroll which you have written at my dictation the words of the LORD to the people in the LORD's House on a fast day. And also you shall read them to all the people of Judah who come from their cities (Jeremiah 36:4-6)

"In a tight chain of events, God’s speech is conveyed by a prophet’s lips, recorded by a scribe’s hand and read off the page as divine speech again. ... Before engaging some of these modern debates, it will help to set out clearly Jeremiah’s understanding of the relationship between author, scribe and written words. Five links make up the chain:

1.    The prophetic authorship of the words is crucial to their status as divine words.

2.    There is a complete identity between spoken and written words.

3.    In written form they are always words, never word.

4.    When read, they have the same power as the words originally spoken by the prophet.

5.    The hearer of Scripture read may hear the word of the Lord in the same way as the hearer of prophecy spoken.

Words pass from God to prophet to scribe in unbroken succession. And having done this, they can equally be described as the prophet’s words or as God’s words. ... The prophetic words written count as God’s words written in a unique way by virtue of their authorship.

Through the act of writing, divine words take up residence on paper, and by means of their inscribed presence amongst us can be proclaimed again and again, venturing forth into the world to do their job of tearing down and building up. The voice we hear is not the voice doing the reading; it is the voice of the prophet who first spoke, and it is the voice of God whose words the prophet spoke. Written words enable the word to be heard into the future, and, more than this, enable the word to shine more brightly than ever it did by preserving it until it can be illuminated by its eventual fulfilment.

Prophetic proclamation and public reading are equally proclamations of the words of God. To the extent that the prophet’s words came to their hearers embodied by his person and works, so the written words can come embodied in the record of the prophet’s person and works. Of course it is not necessary that there be a literary presence of the prophet—his words can speak with perfect clarity in his absence. And yet it is worth noting that completely disembodied voices are the exception: Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s lives enter their message by symbolic actions in the same manner as we have seen in Jeremiah, as well as more prosaically, and the same goes for the Book of the Twelve through the life of Hosea at the start of the collection. The antitype to which the prophets point is a Word made flesh whose person, works and words come to us together, as an inseparable whole.

The response when the word of the Lord is heard by either means is dread and repentance. This response is generated by the word in its own power, not through a reasoned evaluation of the word as divine—indeed, such a process of reasoning is possible only to the mind already transformed by the word in its own power. To hear the words is to hear the word. By the same token, in Jeremiah 36:29 the king’s rejection of the words counted as rejection of the word, by which he was therefore destroyed." (Shead, Andrew. A Mouth Full of Fire, New Studies in Biblical Theology. 242-243 )