Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November

Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.

I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.

In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your bibles. And this is why they exalt their bibles: It’s the only thing they have left of God. It’s like if your mother abandoned you as a child, but left you a note saying she loves you: You’re gonna cling to that note, and make it the most precious thing you own. (Or you’re gonna bitterly throw it out, but I’m not discussing apostasy today.) It tends to become a substitute for your mother—and for cessationists, the bible’s become the substitute for their Father.

Or the Holy Spirit, ’cause they imagine his only job nowadays is to give ’em a warm fuzzy “inspired” feeling whenever they’ve correctly understood the scriptures. Or Jesus, ’cause they argue the only way to have a relationship with him is to read about him—as opposed to talking with him, obeying him, getting empowered by him, and all the stuff which constitute the actual Christian life. Nope, if they reject such experiences ’cause they imagine they don’t happen anymore, they won’t know him. Just about him.

So insult the bible, or show it what they consider a lack of respect, and they figure we’ve committed blasphemy. They’ll even call it that; as if we could slander a bible. It must be treated with nothing but the greatest reverence. Never set your bible on the floor. Never doodle in it. Never toss it onto a table. Protect it in the biggest, thickest bible covers. To treat it as an ordinary book, is as if we treated God with anything other than majesty.

Heck, some of ’em aren’t even hiding their idolatry. They’ll actually say God and the bible are equivalent.

The word and the Word.

Lest you think I’m kidding, I’m not. The bible’s the word of God, right? Well, John 1.1 describes Christ Jesus as the word of God. So some of these bibliolaters will actually claim Jesus is kinda the same thing as the bible. Both are the word of God. Both are holy.

In logic, we call this a “fallacy of the undistributed middle.” In the type of logical argument we call a syllogism, we take two true statements, each of which is called a premise, and we use ’em to deduce another true statement, a conclusion. Looks kinda like yea:

  1. The bible is the word of God.
  2. Jesus is the word of God.
  3. The bible is Jesus.

If x=y and y=z then x=z. True in algebra; true in logic. The “middle” is what we’d call y: It’s the idea we find in both premises, which helps connect ’em together into the conclusion. In this case “the word of God” would be the middle.

Why doesn’t this particular syllogism work then? Because “the word of God” has two different meanings. Sentence α is using one meaning. Sentence β is using another. Jesus is the memrá Elahín/“word of God” whom the Pharisees identified as a person of the Godhead who acted as God throughout the Old Testament. Ge 15.1, 1Sa 15.10, 1Ki 12.22, 1Ch 17.3 John identified him as Jesus, and We Christians later recognized him as the second person of the trinity. Whereas the scriptures are not this person. They’re simply stuff God and his prophets said and wrote.

Commonsense should tell us there’s an obvious difference. Thing is, biblioaters aren’t all that abundant in commonsense. Their worship and emotions get in its way.

Let’s not confuse the person of Jesus, with God’s messages to his people. After all, Jesus is vastly greater than any one message, or even all the messages. Calling Jesus the same as the bible is like saying your brother is the exact same thing as one of his emails. Not only is this a stupid thing to say, but it doesn’t say much for your brother. Or it makes far too much of his emails. Either way, you’ve gone really wrong.

In calling the bible a form of Jesus—or believing it’s as good as Jesus, claiming it’s as authoritative as Jesus, believing it’s a perfect substitute for anything Jesus might have to say today—we degrade Jesus and hugely over-exalt the bible.

Grandiose claims about the bible.

Even non-bibliolaters have a bad habit of claiming big huge things about the scriptures. We wanna show our love and respect for the scriptures, so sometimes we go too far in saying nice things about them. Hence the following beliefs or doctrines. Some of ’em are obvious exaggerations. Others are blatantly not true.

  • The bible is perfect.
  • It has absolutely no errors, contradictions, or discrepancies.
  • It contains every answer to every question ever.
  • If you add to or delete from any part of it, it’s blasphemy.
  • It’s the foundation of our faith.
  • It needs to be treated with respect and reverence.
  • It’s okay to quote bible out of context because the verses will, magically, apply to every context we put them in.
  • It needs to be interpreted literally. Even metaphors should be interpreted literally. Even the parables: It would ruin the integrity of the bible’s perfection to say that Jesus made up fiction. So all his stories were actually about real people. (As were any parables which taught truth, which would include Jotham’s story about the trees electing a king in Judges 9.7-15. How about that, trees have elections!)

Oh, there are even stranger claims. But notice the bible makes none of these claims for itself. Yes, Deuteronomy and Revelation warn people to neither add nor subtract from these books. Dt 4.2, 12.32, Rv 22.19 Commands, I should point out, the Pharisees violated when they reinterpreted the Law to suit themselves—and commands the “prophecy scholars” violate whenever they insist the bible hasta follow their End Times timelines.

Look, the bible’s an extremely important book collection. But in the end it still consists of books. And books, like humans, have no power unless the Holy Spirit empowers ’em. Like humans, these books can go horribly wrong when worshiped. You’ll notice how bibliolaters regularly construct a really complicated system of beliefs to defend and disguise their idolatry. How they’ll insist everyone follow that, and less so Jesus. How they define Christianity by whether people believe all the “correct” beliefs about the bible, and not so much by fruit of the Spirit nor obedience to Jesus. In fact, in their defense of their bible-worship, they’ll violate every fruit.

After all, their relationships aren’t with God. They’re with God’s book. A book they divorced from him.

Fighting bibliolatry.

If we ever slide into idolatry, the first step out of it is to be rid of our idols.

That’s a big problem when it comes to bibliolatry. Because we Christians shouldn’t get rid of our bibles. Used properly, it’s a really valuable tool. Problem is, once we’ve started worshiping it, we need to do something to eliminate the worship. So here are some steps to take that’ll knock the bible off its pedestal so we can put God back up there.

Be rid of your favorite bible. Just about every bibliolater has a favorite bible. It’s the one they use more than any other. The one they turn to first. Sometimes they don’t even have another. (Their idol is a jealous god.) My own personal favorite used to be my Thompson Chain-Reference Bible; once I bought it, I figured I didn’t need any other.

Take that bible and give it away.

No, not to your spouse, nor your kids, nor some other family member. Give it to someone who doesn’t live with you. Give it to a newbie who needs a bible.

I know. You might’ve spent a bit of money on it. You got the leather cover and the gilt edges and tabs, and your name is engraved on it. It might have huge sentimental value to you, because it was given to you by someone special, or you wrote some family history in it. (Which you can write down again someplace else.) None of that matters. It’s an idol. The sentimental value is a chain which is keeping it attached to you. It’s getting in the way of your relationship with God. Give it away.

Don’t replace it. Usually when something happens to the favorite bible—it wears out, gets ruined, gets lost, gets stolen—Christians replace it with a new favorite. Sometimes they buy the very same edition of that bible. Sometimes they upgrade: They get a newer edition, or a “better” translation, or “better” notes. Or this time they splurge on a leather cover, gilt edges, tabs, and engraved name.

It’s like when an earthquake knocked down a really old Zeus statue, so the pagans built another, better statue. We’re trying to avoid that. We’re trying to break a habit, not replace it.

I’ve found the easiest solution is to replace the one favorite bible, with multiple bibles. Get a bible for the bedside. Another for your desk. Another for the magazine rack in the bathroom. Another for the car. Another loaded onto your phone.

Make sure none of them are the same edition. Or even the same translation. (Certainly not the same translation that your favorite bible was.) We need to get in the habit of reading multiple translations anyway, and break the idea there’s a best translation. One of the fastest routes to bibliolatry is the insistence there’s only one translation for you.

Don’t buy expensive bibles. If you imagine buying several bibles sounds expensive, it’s because you’re planning to buy expensive bibles. So don’t. Buy inexpensive bibles. None of your new bibles should cost any more than $10.

See, sometimes a little bit of Mammonism gets mixed in with the bibliolatry. The reason Christians revere a particular bible is often because they spent a lot of money on it. And the reason Christians spent a lot of money on it is because they revere that particular translation, or commentator, or edition, or whatever. The monetary value helps discourage us from breaking away from the idol.

So don’t get sucked into that. Buy paperback. Buy discount bibles. In fact the cheaper they are, the easier they are to give away. And any time one of these bibles threaten to become your new favorite bible, that’s what you oughta do the instant you realize it.

Does this mean you can no longer own one of those awesome all-in-one study bibles? Usually yes.

But that’s okay. Replace them with reference books that aren’t all-in-one study bibles. Buy bible commentaries and encyclopedias. Buy study guides. Buy devotionals. You don’t need a feature-packed bible. You’ll actually have more features once you own these individual books.

Okay, so much for the physical print bibles. Now to repair your way of thinking. It’s time to double-check all your beliefs about the bible.

Good theology needs to follow a proper interpretation of the scriptures. So if we believe anything about the bible, these beliefs oughta be based on a proper interpretation of the scriptures. We need to find proof in the scriptures, for anything we believe about the scriptures.

Back up and look at that list of grandiose claims about the bible. Do the scriptures actually make any of those claims about themselves? Now don’t just quote verses at me: Look up the verses. Make sure you’re quoting them in context. Make sure what you think they mean, is what they truly mean. Bibliolaters are notorious for not caring what they mean: They only care about what they want ’em to mean. Consequently they miss God entirely:

John 5.37-44 KWL
37 “The Father who sent me: He testified about me.
You’d never heard his voice, nor heard his form, before.
38 You don’t have his word living in you.
He sent it to you, and you don’t trust it.
39 Study the scriptures! You expect life in the age to come to be there?
They’re a witness about me— 40 and you don’t want to come to me so you can have life.
41 I don’t accept people’s opinion, 42 because I know you:
You don’t have God’s love in yourselves.
43 I came in my Father’s name, and you don’t accept me.
Yet whenever some other person comes in their own name, you’ll accept them.
44 How can you trust me?—you who accept the opinions of one another,
and never seek the opinions which come from God alone.”

Jesus said this to the Pharisees, who thought they believed in Moses, since they quoted him all the time. But they’d taken Moses so far out of context, they weren’t really quoting him anymore. They were stating their own beliefs, disguised as bible. Bibliolaters do this all the time.

As do a lot of Christians who have been taught, intentionally and unintentionally, by bibliolaters. I certainly was. Which means all us Christians have to dig through our beliefs, and make sure we’re not repeating their faulty teachings. As Jesus pointed out, the Pharisees who did likewise didn’t know the Father as well as they thought they did. As a result they missed Jesus completely. Scary, huh?