One of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years ago was “sola scriptura,” which means scripture alone reveals God’s word to humankind. For any Christian who holds the bible in such esteem, what they believe about the book is more predictive of their thought, behavior, and emotion than what they believe about God. If the book is the supreme authority revealing God’s nature and relationship with us, then how we interpret the printed word dictates how we hear God’s word.
The Greek of the New Testament uses two different words we translate as word. The most common one is logos, which signifies the constancy of the written word: the underlying meaning, reason, intent behind it. The other, lesser known and less used, is rhema—the spoken word, a call, the action of uttering a thing said. It is always immediate, present, personal, and spoken now. Plato used rhema as the verb/action that drives the logos, noun/proposition, into being.
Rhema is the living voice of God, the call that requires a response.
In Luke 5, Jesus is beset by such a large crowd at the shore of the Galilean sea, that he climbs into Peter’s boat, already pulled ashore for the day, and asks Peter to put out a little way from the land. Sitting in the boat, he teaches his word to the people on the shore and then tells Peter to put out into deeper water for a catch. Peter resists at first, saying they were fishing all night and caught nothing, but then stops, takes a breath, and says, but upon your word, we go. The word heard by the people sitting safely on the shore was logos. The word Peter hears, the call to the risk of deeper water and a miracle breakthrough, was rhema.
We tend to think in terms of sola—this or that alone. Both logos and rhema are necessary for moving from hearing to listening, passivity to action, understanding to knowing. Logos gives us a paradigm, belief enough to put out a little way from the shore, gain the confidence for something more.
Logos is not the final answer. It’s only mind deep, but prepares us to hear rhema, the call to put out to deeper water and drive logos into being.