For the reformers the Bible was a treasure trove of divine wisdom to be heard, read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested, as the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the second Sunday in Advent puts it, to the end that “we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou has given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” In his commentary on Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” John Calvin declared, “Whenever the Lord accosts us by His Word, He is dealing seriously with us to affect all our inner senses. There is, therefore, no part of our soul which should not be influenced.” The study of the Bible was meant to be transformative at the most basic level of the human person, leading to communion with God. The spiritual power of the Bible emerges for Christians from the fact that the “Word of God” is not just a matter of words. Jesus Christ is the substantial Word, the eternal Logos who was made flesh— verbum incarnatum—for us and for our salvation. Thus the “Word of God” involved the spoken word; the preaching of the gospel is a sacramental event, a means of grace. As Heinrich Bullinger put it boldly in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566): “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”
Whether read, preached, or heard, it was the Bible that stood at the center of the age of the Reformation, a time of transition, vitality, and change. In 1522, looking back on the recent and dramatic events of the previous years, Martin Luther saw God’s Word as the agent of change. “I opposed indulgences and all papists,” he observed, “but never by force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”
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