“The Bible is not the Word of God and if we believe this to be true then we have made the Bible into an idol.”
That’s all it took for the internet to become hysterical!
A number of years ago I wrote a controversial article titled, “THE BIBLE IS NOT THE WORD OF GOD: A POLEMIC AGAINST CHRISTENDOM”.
The article was a polemic on the idol-like status that many within Christianity attribute to the Bible. I wrote two follow-up articles expanding on the idea which you can read here and here. These articles are still relevant and good in and of themselves (in my humble opinion.) However, what I want to do in this article is cobble together the ideas in the previous articles and add some new thoughts that I think are important for us to consider as the Church continues to reshape its’ theology into the new year.
The Bible is our Golden Calf.
The Bible is the Golden Calf of Christianity in the Modern Era. The ancient Hebrews took the God of their forefathers and formed Him into their image. They made Him take on their identity because they could not grasp to what extent the WORD OF GOD was already present with them.
The same is true today. Many Christians need something physical they can point their adoration towards. They need something they can base their identity on. Think about how many “Bible” churches there are. Or how many churches find it necessary to assert the Bible’s inerrancy within their doctrinal statements. Some people place such importance upon the Bible’s divinity that their faith would completely unravel if they began questioning its inerrancy.
For many of these individuals, their faith and the Bible are inexorably tied together. Despite how heavily flawed the logic is, there is a logic to it all.
- If the Bible is not the Word of God, then it is not authoritative.
- If it is not authoritative, then it is not trustworthy.
- If it is not trustworthy, it cannot inform the Christian faith.
- If it can’t inform the Christian faith, then there is no truth to the Christian faith.
What Does the Bible Being the Word of God Mean?
I’m not sure that most Christians understand what they are saying when they refer to the Bible as the Word of God. What they are doing is placing upon the book a divine attribute. They are making the book coequal to Jesus who, according to the Apostle John, IS the eternal Word of God.
Some argue that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God, but this is incorrect. In THE BIBLE IS NOT THE WORD OF GOD Part Two, I discuss in detail all of the occasions the phrase “Word of God” appears and what the phrase is in reference to. Suffice it to say that when the Bible refers to the Word of God, it is always referring to either the actual words of God (e.g. through prophecy or some other divine revelation), or they are referring to the Jewish Torah. The Christian Bible is never referring to itself in its current form because it wasn’t compiled until many years later.
The Problem with the Word of God.
If the Bible was the Word of God, the first question I would have is which Bible? The Western Catholic? The Western Protestant? The Eastern Orthodox? The Ethiopian? Since each canon is different, it would be important to know which version was the inerrant version. The second question would be on what authority was the original biblical version established as the Word of God? Even during the time the canon was being established there was great controversy as to what should and should not be included. These controversies provided the foundation for the Early Church heretical movements.
What’s more, attributing a divine nature to scripture does not add to its value or utility, but diminishes it by making it into something that it is not. Instead, when we respect Scripture and allow it to speak to us on its own terms, then we are laying the foundation for the Spirit to transform Scripture into the Word of God.
It also creates a significant textual problem. If scripture is divine in its entirety, then it means that all scripture is of the same weight. That is, the Book of Numbers is of equal importance to the words of Jesus. Not only is this nonsensical, but it also leads to the methodological fallacy of proof-texting.
When the Bible Becomes the Word of God.
At the core of Christian doctrine is the idea of the Trinity; that God exists as one essence in three persons. These persons are referred to as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit is part of this triunity, it rarely gets the attention that it deserves, particularly within non-charismatic sects of Christianity.
The primary function of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate scripture for the individual. This illumination occurs between the Christian and God. It’s based upon the special relationship the two have through faith in Christ. (1 Cor. 2:6-10).
“…these are the things God has revealed to us by [H]is Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (v.10)
The Bible becomes the Word of God when it leaves its pages behind and infuses its words within the human soul. And when the stirring of the soul is so great that it becomes alive and active within the believer’s life, then and only then does the Bible become the Word of God.
Believe it or not, the doctrine of illumination is a core Protestant doctrine within Evangelical denominations, and yet, the same people who hold to this doctrine deny it in practice.
I believe the primary reason that Evangelicals cannot accept this (even though they do in theory) is because it is messy for creating theology. It relinquishes the certainty that they have become so accustomed to. The Bible ultimately renders a highly subjective (as opposed to objective) theology where it is difficult to reduce it to factual propositions. They believe these objective propositions are necessary for them to overthrow the current power brokers of knowledge (e.g. the scientific community). Ultimately, this means that they care more about maintaining the authority of scripture over and above its actual truthfulness.
It also means that they are committing the same sin they accused the Catholic Church during the Reformation – they have placed the authority of scripture above and beyond that of Jesus Christ, Himself.
Let me leave you with a quote from the end of my first Word of God article:
The WORD OF GOD is a moment that a human being encounters. It is Jesus Christ in His full glory and revelation. The WORD OF GOD occurs through a compilation of acts that bring forth the WORD OF GOD within the individual – prayer, reading, and meditating on sacred scripture, fellowship, and worship.