We say a lot by the little words we choose as short-hand for large and complex things.
The biblical Book of Acts spins out its eventful story of the early Jesus movement, pausing from time to time to summarize. It abbreviates with the dense little expression the word of God.
But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24 ESV)
Murder and intrigue, desperation and redemption, bold public confrontation and the quiet joys of new family formed and flourishing. Luke the historian compacts this into five syllables, just four in English: the word of God.
How, a careful reader might wonder, can he get away with this kind of egregious reductionism? Who does he think we are, we erudite fans of multiple causation and plot complexity?
But Luke knows exactly what he is doing. This is no merely human social movement, no activist energizing of small masses of humanity towards a craftily focused goal. Instead, Luke purports to describe the catalytic, unpredictable, risk-laden dynamic that is unleashed by a powerful message from heaven.
All that Luke has narrated—the full panoply of moving parts and re-purposed personalities, all this drama—is for him sufficiently described as the word of God. He is clear on the root and clear about the branches, so he does not confuse them.
If the entire tree can be described by these four words, so in a more focused way can the root.
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. (Acts 13:6–7 ESV)
If the reader inquires into this Lucan abbreviation—what it stands for—one comes away with a message about persistent divine attention to the fate of created humanity, newly manifest in space and time; of a divine redeemer sent to love, die, and return to life for that same humanity; of ancient, Israel-bound promise bursting its boundaries and flowing out into the lives of the unwashed, the ill-formed, and the untrimmed; of many-colored skin washed clean of toxic guilt and shame; of an unstoppable movement laced through with courage and care that were not among such common folk just yesterday; of lame men dancing, outcasts welcomed home, orphans and disposable children embraced; of an open rather than a closed future, redolent of purpose and praise.
In short, the word of God.