There is a teacher who states:
"One translation says, 'For sword take that which the Spirit gives you – the words which come from God.' The Greek word here for word is rhema, which means 'a saying, that which is uttered by the living voice.' This is the word made alive in our spirit as God speaks to us…Some make the mistake of thinking a mere confession of the Word of God has power in itself."
He goes on to say that only the rhema will accomplish God’s purpose:
"This kind of word which goes forth from [God’s] mouth is a Scripture which the Holy Spirit makes alive to us. This personal word to our hearts will produce an effective result.
Apart from the Spirit, the Word is the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death (2 Cor. 3:6). However, the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power – making it active, operative, energizing and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword…(Heb. 4:12)….We cannot presume, however, that spoken words (even biblical ones) in themselves have power."
First of all, I believe he is mistaken on these points. In this teaching, he places great emphasis on rhema as superior to that which is not rhema. He defines rhema in the following terms: 1) a saying, that which is uttered by the living voice, 2) the word made alive in our spirit as God speaks to us, and 3) a Scripture which the Holy Spirit makes alive to us. He teaches that only that part of the Bible that is rhema has power to accomplish God’s purpose. Only a “personal word to our heart will produce an effective result.” Moreover, he teaches that not all biblical words have power.
Conversely, the implication in his teaching is that if a Scripture is merely logos, then it does not have power to accomplish God’s purpose. In fact, he clearly states that if it is not rhema, then “the Word is the letter of the law,” and it “causes spiritual death.” He uses Hebrews 4:12 as a proof text for this. Yet the Greek in the Hebrews 4:12 passage for the Word of God is logos. So the Scripture does not support this teaching. In fact, the very proof text he cites contradicts his own teaching. The writer of Hebrews teaches us that the logos is alive and full of power, active, operative, sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing between soul and spirit, as well as between bone and marrow.
Paul’s Teaching on the Word of God
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he says: "The entire law is summed up in a single logos: Love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14). If we follow the line of reasoning of the rhema teachers, we must incorrectly conclude that since “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a logos – not rhema – then it is merely “the letter of the law,” and it “causes spiritual death.”
In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he urged the young man of God to “correctly handle the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Greek here for word is logos. If Paul wanted Timothy to focus on the rhema or “now” word, why would he direct him as he did here to correctly handle the logos? Some would teach that if it wasn’t rhema, then it was merely “dead letters of the law” “without any power” to accomplish God’s purpose. But Paul made no such distinction.
Paul also stated: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…I give you this charge: Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season: correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2). The Greek word for all in this passage is pana. According to the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon, in this passage pana is scarcely different in meaning from the word all. The lexicon states that pana here emphasizes the individual members of the class denoted by the noun every, each, and any. So we can correctly interpret Paul’s words to Timothy to mean each and every Scripture is theopneustos or God-breathed. Yes, any Scripture! All of it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. It’s all inspired, breathed forth from the mouth of God. Thus Paul could exhort Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, without distinguishing between reading rhema or logos (1 Timothy 4:13).
Quite notably, when Paul said, “Preach the Word” in 2 Timothy 4:2, the Greek for Word is not rhema. Paul charged Timothy to preach the logon without wavering. Therefore, if we follow the line of reasoning used by the rhema teachers, we must conclude that before God, Paul charged Timothy to preach portions of Scripture that were merely “dead letters of the law” “without any power” to accomplish God’s purpose.
Paul went on to say in the context of that second epistle to Timothy cited above: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit there own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4). One of the dangers of this heresy on rhema is that it gives leverage to those who will not put up with sound doctrine. It creates a false illusion that parts of God’s Word are merely letters with no power, and which bring death. To make it even more dangerous, the test to determine which parts of the Bible are rhema and which are logos is very personal and subjective. In other words, if I feel a passage causes spiritual death, I may conclude it is logos to me, not requiring my attention. This gives me an excuse to stay away from any portion of Scripture that makes me feel uncomfortable. Those who embrace this heresy could incorrectly conclude the Bible is not the Word of God, but that only portions of it are the Word of God – only the rhema portions that have become personalized. This is the very practice that leads men to refuse to put up with sound doctrine, turn away from the truth, and gather around them many teachers who say what they want to hear.
Peter’s Teaching on the Word of God
Peter also had a warning to his readers about the last days, the day of the Lord when scoffers will come. These scoffers would come, scoffing and following their own evil ways. In fact, in Peter’s day the scoffers had already emerged. He said that these scoffers “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s Word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:5). Was it by God’s rhema that the heavens existed or the earth was formed? Upon a careful examination of this passage, we find that the Greek for the Word of God here is logos. It was by the logos that God powerfully created the universe! Again the rhema teachers have not examined the Scriptures with great eagerness to see if these things are true before teaching them.
Peter wrote both his epistles to remind his dear friends to “recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). The Greek for the holy prophets’ spoken words here is proeiremenon rhematon (proeirhmenwn rhematwn). In the context of this passage, it is clear that the use of rhema refers to “spoken words”. This is an excellent example of how the word rhema is to be correctly understood. The word logos would not make sense here, since Peter was referring to words the prophets had spoken.
However, if we follow the rhema teachers’ rationale, we must interpret the use of the word rhema in this passage to mean Peter urged his dear friends to remember only the “Scripture which the Holy Spirit makes alive to” them. Of course, this is not what Peter meant. Peter used rhema to refer to words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, which had been written down in what was known then as the books of the Prophets. To verify this is what he meant, all we need to do is look at the context. At the beginning of this epistle he refers to “the word of the prophets made more certain” (2 Peter 1:19). What word of the prophets? The Greek for word of the prophets here is propheticon logon. In the context, it was the words of the prophets predicting the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” that had been made more certain by the apostles’ eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty (2 Peter 1:16). By recalling “the word of the prophets made more certain” Peter’s friends would not be led astray by the false prophets and false teachers among them (2 Peter 2:1). Thus it is clear that Peter’s use of the term the word of the prophets (propheticon logon) in chapter 1 refers to the same thing as his use of the term the holy prophets’ spoken words (proeiremenon rhematon) in chapter 3. Peter’s use of the word rhema in one instance and logos in another are two different ways of saying essentially the same thing. He certainly was not implying any of the things the rhema teachers of today would have us to believe.
One clear proof of this is that Peter also exhorted his dear friends to recall the “command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). The Greek here for command is entolas (entolhs). We know that the command he was referring to includes that which the apostles had written down and which is found in what has come to be known as the New Testament Bible. This includes the command given by our Lord and Savior through the apostles Matthew, John, and Paul. So we know the command given by our Lord and Savior is not rhema, it is entolas. Thus if we follow the rhema teachers’ line of reasoning, we must come to the following conclusions: 1) Since the command of our Lord and Savior here is entolas, it is not rhema, and 2) In urging his dear friends to recall entolas, Peter was urging his dear friends to recall written portions of Scripture that are merely “dead letters of the law” “without any power” to accomplish God’s purpose. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus’ Teaching on His Word
- “I know that His command [entolas] leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:50).
- "Heaven and earth shall pass away but my Logos shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35.)
- “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my Logos and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
- “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear my Logos” (John 8:43).
- “Therefore everyone who hears these Logos of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these Logos of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus explicitly taught that we must hear his Logos and put it into practice if we want to survive the storms of life and avoid perishing in hell.
Peter’s Teaching on the Word of God
Peter clearly taught that the holy prophets who spoke did so by divine inspiration. He said, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). The term “prophecy of Scripture” here is propheteia grapha. According to the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon, grapha means writing, and here in this passage it is specifically used as a “designation of Scripture as a whole” (p. 166). Peter states here that the men spoke as the Holy Spirit was carrying them along. The Greek for being born along is pheromenoi. According to the BAG lexicon, pheromenoi here means to be moved, to be driven, or to allow oneself to be driven (p. 855b). This means Peter’s intent here is to uphold the Scripture as that which was uttered by men while the Holy Spirit was moving them. In other words, Scripture originated with the Holy Spirit, not with men. He contrasts this in the very next sentence with the words of “false prophets” and “false teachers” who “secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).
Peter went on to say, “By the same Word the present heavens are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). The Greek here again is logos. If it is logos and not rhema, how could it have such power to bring down fire and judgment to destroy ungodly men? Those ungodly men about whom Peter wrote were the scoffers, false prophets, and false teachers who scoffed and said, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?” (2 Peter 3:4). To these scoffers, the logos Peter referred to (or Scriptures about the Lord’s return) were something to be scoffed at. Yet their scoffing and unbelief does not render the logos any less powerful. In spite of their refusal to believe the logos, they will be destroyed by it.
John’s Teaching on the Word of God
Jesus Himself is the Word of God. Was He the Logos or the Rhema? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). This passage obviously refers to Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The Greek here for “word” is logos. Thus if we follow the rhema teachers’ line of reasoning, since Jesus is the logos and not the rhema of God, he is merely “dead letters of the law” “without any power” to accomplish God’s purpose. How blasphemous is this logical conclusion to their reasoning, even though they may not teach this explicitly or intentionally. We know that in Him is Life (John 1:4), and all who believe in Him have eternal life (John 3:36).
Luke’s Teaching on the Word of God
Luke wrote of the incident where Peter preached to those in the home of Cornelius, the Gentile centurion. "While Peter was still speaking these rhema, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the logos" (Acts 10:44). While both rhema and logos are used in the same sentence, the Scripture says it was those who heard the logos who received the Holy Spirit. In other words, correctly interpreted, this passage means that the Holy Spirit came on those who heard the word that Peter was speaking. If the logos produces death, then how could those who heard it be baptized with the Holy Spirit?
Mark’s Teaching on the Word of God
Mark wrote, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord confirmed His logos by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:19-20). The Lord confirms the logos! He stands behind His Word.
James’ Teaching on the Word of God
James teaches that we should not “merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:22-24). The Greek here is logou, not rhema. So James taught that we must be doers of the logos, not just the rhema.
James went on to say “the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). The Greek here for law is nomos, not rhema. In the context, James used logos and nomos almost interchangeably to say that if we do what it says, we will be blessed. This flies in the face of those who would have us believe we will not be blessed unless it is the rhema we seek to obey. To them, the logos and nomos are merely “dead letters of the law” “without any power” to accomplish God’s purpose.
James did not use the word logos in this way at all. In fact, he taught that the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18). The Greek here is not rhema, but logos through which the Father gave birth to us. How could the Father give birth to us through dead letters devoid of any power? Of course, we know He could not.
Paul’s Teaching on the Word of God
Now let us turn to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. The rhema teachers use the third chapter to teach that apart from the Spirit, the Word is the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death (2 Cor. 3:6). In the next sentence, they contrast this with the rhema, “the Word that God speaks”. In doing so, the implication is that any portion of Scripture that is not rhema word is “the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death.” If we follow that line of reasoning, we must conclude that logos (word), entolas (commands) and nomos (law) are all “the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death.” In fact, we would have to conclude that all Scripture, aside from rhema as defined by these teachers, is “the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death.” Is this really what Paul taught?
On the contrary, like James, Paul taught, “the Law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8). The Greek here for the Law is nomos. He went on to say, “the “Law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murders, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me” (1 Timothy 1:9-11). And in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explained the purpose of the law to lead us to Christ as a schoolmaster or a tutor that shows us we fall short of God’s glory (Romans 7). In that passage, he states, “the Law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14).
So if Paul did not teach that all non-rhema Scripture is merely dead letter which kills, then what did he mean when he wrote his second epistle to the Corinthians? In the context of that passage, Paul refers to some apostles who had come into Corinth with letters of commendation (2 Cor. 3:1). He also referred in that same verse to men who had ministered among the Corinthians and asked them for letters of commendation, so that they would be able to enter other towns where the Corinthian believers had connections. The word for letters there is epistolon, from which we get the English word epistle. Paul goes on to say that he did not need such commendatory epistles, since the Corinthians were his epistle. He said, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2,3). Paul was saying that these believers who resulted from his ministry were his letter. They were written on the tablet of his heart by the Spirit of God, not with ink or on tablets of stone. This is the first reference to letters written on tablets of stone. Paul emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in the Corinthians over and against ink and paper.
He then goes on to refer to the confidence he and Timothy had due to the competence given them by God as ministers of a new covenant (2 Cor. 3:4,5). He pointed out to them that this new covenant of which he and Timothy were ministers was not of the letter, but of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). For the first time in this passage, Paul uses the word grammaton, which also means letter. At this point we observe here Paul’s repetition of the concept of “letters” which he had just begun discussing. We might ask why this repetition occurs here. Perhaps the answer is that there is a parallel between the remarks about epistolon and the remarks on grammaton, both of which are translated by the English word "letter". The table below shows the parallels observed. Compare and contrast each line item in the left column with its corresponding item in the right column:
|Epistolon Passage (2 Corinthians 3:1-5)||Grammaton Passage (2 Corinthians 3:4-17)|
|Letters of commendation written with ink||Old Covenant engraved in letters|
|Letters of commendation needed by those who commend themselves||Old Covenant and those whose minds are made dull|
|Corinthians were written on the tablet of his heart||New Covenant was written on the tablet of the heart|
|Corinthians written on heart reflects work of Holy Spirit||New Covenant written on heart reflects a ministry of the Spirit, too.|
Having now observed a parallel between the written letters relative to the Corinthians and written letters pertaining to the Old and New covenants, we may observe how Paul begins to contrast and compare the Old and New Covenants. In the following table, compare and contrast each line item in the left column with its corresponding item in the right column:
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Of the letter (v. 6)||Of the Spirit (v. 6)|
|Kills (v. 6)||Gives life (v. 6)|
|Engraved in letters on stone (v.7)||Ministry of the Spirit (v.8)|
|Brought death (v. 7)||Gives life (v. 6)|
|Condemns men (v. 9)||Brings righteousness (v. 9)|
|Came with glory (v. 9)||Came with glory (v. 9)|
|Fading (v. 11)||Enduring (v. 11)|
|Has no glory now (v. 10)||Much greater, surpassing glory (v. 10,11)|
|Moses (v. 13)||“We are not like Moses”, referring to Paul & Timothy (v. 13)|
|Put a veil over his face (v. 13)||Boldness, no veil on Paul or Tim’s face (v. 12,13)|
|Veil remains to this day covering their hearts when Old Covenant is read (v. 14, 15)||Only in Christ the veil is removed whenever anyone turns to the Lord (v. 14, 15)|
Having used these tables to show the observed contrast and comparison of the Old and New Covenants and the preceding parallel between the living epistles and the letters of commendation, let’s go on to ask some questions. First of all, why did Paul draw such parallels? What was his point in doing so? My answer to these questions is that he wanted to point out the difference between the Old and New Covenants was just as radical as the difference between men’s letters of commendation and the living epistle the Corinthian believers were to Paul. If we correctly handle this passage, we will not draw the false conclusion that “apart from the Spirit, the entire Word of God is the letter of the law, which causes spiritual death.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It is plain to see what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 3:6, when he said, “for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” He was clearly referring specifically to the Old Covenant of Moses here, as those outside of Christ, who have not turned to the Lord, read it. He is not referring to the entire Word of God.
Putting it All Together
In conclusion, I want to be clear that there is some truth in what the rhema teachers proclaim. Here are the points where I agree with them:
- Rhema in the Greek New Testament refers to a word that proceeds out of the mouth, or a spoken word, when that is the connotation the writer wishes to convey.
- God speaks to people today through the Holy Spirit and through the Scriptures.
- When the Holy Spirit illuminates a passage of Scripture, it seems to come alive. At those moments, we may be encouraged, comforted, strengthened, edified, or convicted of sin.
- The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’words. He gives us what we need from a practical viewpoint for what is happening in our lives currently.
- When we have ears to hear what the Holy Spirit says to us, we obey and see the good fruit of it.
Here are the points where I believe the rhema teachers are in error:
- The Scriptures do not teach us that rhema is more spiritual, more important, or more powerful than commands (entolas) of Jesus, the logos (word), or the perfect law (nomos) that gives freedom.
- There is no teaching in Scripture to focus our attention on rhema or emphasize it rather than logos.
- The Scripture does not teach that unless it is rhema the Word of God is dead letter. We cannot section off parts of the Word as dead letter, because we consider them not to be rhema.
- We are to recall the commands (entolas) of Jesus, and his words (logos). We are to practice them, since they save us from destruction and lead to eternal life.
- All Scripture originated with the Holy Spirit, whether God speaks it to me personally or not.
- The entire Bible is God-breathed (theo-pneustos), and it’s all the Word of God whether I believe it or not.
- While all Scripture is found written in our Bible today, the first step in the inspiration process for all Scripture was that God breathed forth His Word. Therefore, it was all a spoken word from the Holy Spirit initially.
- The Word of God is our sole rule of faith, not our subjective feelings and not just certain passages that we select because we consider them rhema.
- The Word of God does not need to be changed, I do. If there is a portion of it that I am supposed to be practicing and am not practicing, then I am not to disregard it as dead letter that I am free to ignore. Instead, I must acknowledge that I fall short of the glory of God. I must admit that I am spiritually depraved apart from God, and completely incapable of obedience to His Word apart from walking in the Spirit. My salvation must rely daily on the grace of God in Christ by faith.
- Every born again believer in Christ has the Holy Spirit dwelling within. So the ministry of the Spirit should be a regular part of the believer’s time in the Word.
- The Spirit has to reveal to you the thought or concept behind what is being said.
- Those who espouse this rhema teaching should be careful, because "every idle rhema (word or utterance) that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36.)
Indeed, we must be very careful in the way we handle the original Greek and Hebrew languages of the Bible. We should be very careful not to add to the Word or teach things based on meanings of words in the original languages that were not taught in Scripture. As with the Biblical languages, there are also English words that carry similar meanings but have different connotations. For example, take the words vehicle and car. A car is always a vehicle, but a vehicle is not always a car. Similarly, an oil painting may be considered a picture, but a picture is not always an oil painting. While I admit they have different connotations, I would also be mistaken to exaggerate or misuse the grammatical differences between these words to make distinctions that were never intended in the English language. For example, it would be incorrect to state that all vehicles get poor gas mileage, but all cars get good gas mileage.
Likewise, one can also show that these two words – logos and rhema – have different and distinct connotations. But one would be mistaken to exaggerate or misuse the grammatical differences between these words to make distinctions that were never intended in the Greek language. The Scripture does not teach all of the points being made by the rhema teachers, nor does it create this false separation of itself into the rhema and logos categories. It’s my responsibility as an individual to combine the Word with faith. But my lack of faith or lack of hearing does not make the Bible or any passage of Scripture any less the Word of God.
By once again embracing all Scripture as useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, we are free to Preach the Word, not just certain portions. When this begins to happen, the Holy Spirit will move in a mighty way in our lives and in the Church, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. "Wise and Foolish Builders" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist.
Author's note: I also recommend my other articles, Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?, Is Obedience Optional?, The Scripture Must Be Fulfilled, The Bible is the Word of God, Scripture Alone, The Law of Christ, Faith Works!, What Then Must We Observe?, Obedience by the Spirit, Read the Bible for All Its Worth!, The Rise of Antichrists, Called to be Blameless, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, and Ask for the Ancient Paths. You can also find my complete collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org