There generally seems to be confusion when I have made the claim that some readers are denying the authority of the scriptures when they disagree on matters of orthodoxy (i.e. Trinitarian teaching, homosexuality, women pastors, and even pastoral blunders). Most will come back with a pithy reply that I am guilty of reductionism or even more simply, that I have a high level of arrogance in the confidence placed in my interpretive abilities. Others will make the charge that I am guilty of Bibliolatry, elevating the scriptures to a status that was never intended, usually because they sense the scriptures are merely the product of a less intellectually rigorous people.
Simply defined, Bibliolatry is an excessive adherence to a literal hermeneutic – but most people aren’t using it in this manner. It is meant to be a pejorative term to denote that I am indeed worshiping the Bible rather than the God of the Bible (Bible + Idolatry = Bibliolatry). The term Bibliolatry is designed to be a ploy, or buzzword, to reject the Bible rather than actually deal with the substance of what the text dictates, and the tracks carrying this train are built upon the foundations of denying the inspiration, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible.
Try as some might to say this is idol worship, the reality is that I follow a Protestant distinctive: scripture is the norma normans non normata, or more plainly, it is the norm that norms which cannot be normed. In other words, scripture is the final authority, even when I don’t initially like where that conclusion takes me in my studies. I don’t get to impose what I like upon the text; the text imposes upon my own faulty thinking and brings me into submission to it rather than the latter. If I am to study the scriptures properly, I must allow the text to speak for itself rather than make it say what I’d like it to say.
This means that ultimately, the scriptures are the authoritative means by which we develop a worldview and come to understand our culture through – not the other way around. The scriptures speak into cultural issues of the day, lending either credibility or incredibility to them. The scriptures determine morality and ethics, what is to be sanctioned, and what is to be practiced. The scriptures determine what is sinful and what is not – and it makes no qualms doing so.
The scriptures bring all ideologies, worldviews, and thought processes under submission and conform them to God’s own thoughts, placing one’s own thoughts (or the culturally sanctioned ideals) to secondary importance, and these respective processes are often in opposition to the scriptures. Most importantly though, the scriptures determine who God is and how He is to be worshipped and man has no freedom to treat this frivolously, and yet this is precisely what so many do.
Often, it is these same people would accuse me of bibliolatry, committing the ultimate heresy of placing the scriptures on a pedestal as “the fourth member of the Trinity.” However, I am going to suggest that what most people label “bibliolatry” is simply a pejorative expression that masks one’s biblical illiteracy or unwillingness to submit to the scripture’s teaching on some matters. In a more plain sense, those willing to throw around such a term are often the same who would adopt post-modernism or relativism when it comes to understanding of the scriptures, and subsequently, the authority of the scriptures is severely undercut.
Thus, they view the scriptures as ambiguous, unclear, subjective, and uninspired, and as a result, they are then free and clear in being able to reject what they will. This applies to the religious and the non-religious, for both have a set of particular blinders on that obstruct the clear meaning of the text. Part of this is due to the nature of sin, being that those in darkness love remaining in darkness, yet there are some subtleties and nuances particular to the individual. More clearly, subjectivism and relativism are the guiding hermeneutical principles, as they relate their own experience and understanding upon the text. The three dollar word for this is eisegesis.Lest I am guilty of assuming I am incapable of some interpretive blind spots, I am the first to admit that we all have certain predispositions and biases that we come to study the text through. Quite naturally, I am going to see some things through Western eyes that my sub-Saharan brothers and sisters will see differently than I – yet again, scripture is the norm that norms, not our respective biases.
When I studied the scriptures as an atheist, my literary background forced me to reconcile with just how much I wanted to take certain genres out of their genre and read my atheistic views into the text. I had to let the scriptures be the norm that norms, meaning that I had to seek to the best of my abilities to let the text speak for itself. Scripture has one, clear, unambiguous meaning. Passages may have many applications, but they always have one intended meaning. The reader is obligated to draw this meaning out and submit themselves to it. The three dollar word for this is exegesis.
So why then would I be so bold to say that many are guilty of committing eisegesis on things like homosexuality, women pastors, the Trinity, the importance of the Virgin birth, etc.? Quite simply, for many, scripture is not the norm that norms which cannot be normed. There is a particular effort on their end to seek to “norm” the scriptures with the sentiments of a world opposed to God. Often enough, these arguments are peppered with enough bible verses shrouded in obscurity to cast aspersions on the clarity of the Bible, only to effectively save face. In a manner similar to Peter Enns, the only sin they see is the sin of certainty.
If you are to claim Christ, there is no other means by which you can effectively know the God that is. Many others have and will continue to deny the authority of the scriptures, whether by placing authority upon tradition, obscuring the text, seeking to find revelation of God elsewhere, and so forth. In the end, to them, the scriptures are not a sufficient and objective means to know God. To them, the scriptures are not the norm that norms all other things. Interestingly, the means by which we know of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation, is due to there being a Genesis through Revelation. We know the early church was a literary church inasmuch as they were an auditory church; the contents of what was taught and heard in the early church is what we have today.
The aim of the piece is not to suggest that God could not, nor has not, used other means to reveal Himself to people throughout the ages – but simply that the scriptures are the primary means we know God and He has given us them for our benefit. Because this is the case, the scriptures are to be the norm that norms all other things. We are to submit ourselves to the teaching of the scriptures, understanding our rightful place under the authority of this God-given revelation. For those who claim Christ, it shouldn’t be a shocking thing that they submit themselves to the text, for Christ Himself believed this to be necessary.
Christ regularly demonstrated His wealth of knowledge in the scriptures by quoting it at length as He expounded upon the meaning (Luke 18:20; Mark 7:9-13; Matt. 7:12), denounced others for not truly knowing the scriptures because they did not know Christ (Matt 22:29; Mark 12:24), denounced taking away from or adding to it (Mark 7:1-12; Matt. 25:31), He did not do anything of His own accord, but submitted Himself to the Father’s will and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (John 5:19, 6:38-39; Matt. 26:56), He astonished the religious leaders of His own day who knew He did not have formal training by His knowledge of the scriptures (Jn. 7:15), and He also maintained that the scriptures contained the same authority as His own spoken words, serving as a greater witness to the truth than His miraculous deeds, in bringing people to faith and obedience (Luke 16:29-31).
While one can have a deep affection for theology and the scriptures – yet miss the grand narrative of scripture, a high regard for the inerrancy, sufficiency, clarity, and necessity to ground one’s beliefs in them does not equate with the oft claimed bibliolatry. Instead, it displays a willingness to stand corrected by the text rather than seek to correct the text; it places man in his rightful place under the authority of divinely inspired, God-breathed revelation. Perhaps the idea here is more summarily presented by Johann Albrecht Bengel who wrote, “Apply yourself wholly to the text; apply the text wholly to yourself.”