My Bible… My Idol?

holding-bible-lr

Periodically, the accusation of “bibliolatry” pops up in a book or a blog, usually as a shot at those who hold to a high view of Scripture. The idea that the Bible is the written Word of God, authoritative and free from error in all it teaches, is an uncomfortable one in an increasingly pluralistic and relativistic culture. It’s too… absolute, so it doesn’t sit right with many people today.

But is it fair to call a high view of Scripture—one that takes Paul’s words in 2 Tim 3:16-17 seriously, and therefore demands that all aspects of our lives be brought under Scripture’s authority—idolatry?

Can someone really make a false god out of the Bible?

As I’ve considered this question, I wonder if the accusation isn’t confused—that it’s not that people are not making an idol of the Bible; rather they are making an idol out of a preference or position?

Take the ”King James Only” crowd for example. While some might be a bit more hostile toward them, a lot of these folks are legit brothers and sisters in the faith—they’re just convinced that the only translation worth using the is the King James. While I don’t have an issue with having a preferred translation (I prefer the ESV myself, but enjoy the HCSB a great deal), where things get a bit dicey is when we start taking our preference and making it a primary issue. At that point, we risk turning our preference for a translation into an idol.

Still not bibliolatry. KJV-olatry maybe, but not Bible worship.

Then there are things like the Conservative Bible Project, which started up a few years ago to translate the Bible into modern English “without liberal translation distortions.” That… that’s just a whole mess of something that I don’t want to get into. But do they risk turning the Bible into an idol? Not exactly. They risk turning their political and/or theological position into an idol (from what I’ve read, they’re far closer to the outer fringes of conservatism than most theological conservatives). One might make a similar argument about those who put together the Poverty and Justice Bible, Thomas Nelson’s The Voice translation, or any other number of examples.

Whether it’s a theological position, political view, or translation preference—all of these can easily become idols when we try to give them authority over the Bible, rather than the Bible having authority over them.

But I don’t know if the same can be said about the Bible itself.

Truthfully, I don’t know that it’s possible for someone who truly believes what the Bible says to worship The Bible doesn’t allow for that, because it continually points us to the only one who is worthy of our worship—that is, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. And I’m not sure that it’s possible to have too high a view of that which reveals Him to us.

But who knows? Maybe I’m out to lunch.

It’s something to think about, anyway.


An earlier version of this post was first published in October 2009.

Get new content delivered to your inbox

  • Donna F.

    very interesting! Gives me a new perspective on conversations I’ve had in the past where people get a bit pompous saying their version is the only one worth considering. Thanks Aaron!

  • david carlson

    I agree with Dan Wallace – I do think that some have replaced the holy spirit with the holy bible – He has a very interesting series on the topic
    http://bible.org/series/whos-afraid-holy-spirit-investigation-ministry-spirit-god-today

  • http://edsslipper.net/ Pierre

    Yes, people *do* take a shortcut when they’re saying theirs Bible-idolatry. Like you say, all that can be the object of idolatry is our own perception of the Bible – whether slanted by our translation of choice or by our own outlook, still, it will be a biased perception.

    But then, in practical terms, that is the only thing we have access to… Submitting to the Bible is going to look like submitting to our own perception of the Bible. And that only becomes worse when people insist on a given type of hermeneutics, e.g. literalism; because in hiding behind that methodological smokescreen, they conflate the Bible (as originally given, etc.) with their own perception thereof.

    What do people who are accused of Bibliolatry actually do?

    (oh, and, just as an aside… it always gets me when people use 2 Tim 3:16-17 to justify the place of the whole Bible; because -a- Paul could only be referring to the OT, as NT did not have scriptorial status when 2 Tim was written, -b- it should be self-evident anyway)

  • Ben Thorp

    I’ve sat in churches where the liturgy includes everyone standing whilst the Bible is brought in and placed on the lectern. That’s getting pretty close to idolatry.

    Whilst I agree with your points, I think we need to be honest and admit that there are many people who don’t truly read or believe the Bible, even though they are attendees of a church and may label themselves “Christian”. For some of those, I suspect they do skirt the border of idolising the BIble, not least because they do not have a living relationship with God. (They also skirt the border of idolising the minister, or the church building, etc)

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Great comments, Ben. You bring up an excellent question in your example of standing while the BIble is being brought in and placed on the lectern—where is the line between appropriate reverence and idolatry?

      I know some traditions say after the reading, “This is the Word of God” and the congregation responds “Thanks be to God.” That strikes me as appropriate reverence (if arguably a bit formal).

      But some definitely do idolize the minister or the building—that strikes me as far easier to do than idolizing the Bible (if you crack it open, that is :)).

  • http://www.facebook.com/porter.p.stephen Stephen Porter

    I’ve been thinking about this topic and studying it for a little while now, and I hope you don’t take this as being argumentative; it’s not meant to be; it’s just what I’ve found biblically for where the idea of bibliolatry stems from, and it’s basically an expounded version of your final paragraph.

    I wouldn’t say that the accusation of bibliolatry comes from having a high view of scripture; I’d say bibliolatry occurs when people hold reading the Bible and doing what it says over coming to Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus accuses the Pharisees of doing in John 5:39 (You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

    John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

    There are going to be a lot of people who know their Bible really well and even followed it really well, except for the coming to Jesus part, who don’t make it in the end; I mean even Satan knows the scriptures. And vice versa, there will be many who make it who never picked up the book like the thief on the cross or those who come to Jesus on their death bed, not to mention all the patriarchs that predate Moses who had no scriptures whatsoever. The key is knowing God not necessarily the Bible.

    I do believe the Bible is 100% authoritative for instruction and correction but only because of who the Author is, but in order to know the Author’s intent, we need to know the Author, otherwise we end up with all kinds of wild interpretations. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 1 Peter 1:20-21

    And it’s the Holy Spirit that teaches us what the scriptures mean: “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (John 16:13-14)

    Private interpretations without the Holy Spirit’s input lead
    to bibliolatry because they lead people to serve a god of their own invention rather than the one true God, which we can label as whatever -olatry we want, but ultimately it is what all idolatry is. Whether it’s done with the Bible, a translation, a theology, some other religion’s scriptures, or a block of wood, I don’t see any difference. No one comes to the Father except through Christ Jesus. And if studying the Bible doesn’t bring us to Him,
    and through Him the Father, daily in repentance and worship because of the Spirit’s instruction, then we’ve elevated the Bible beyond it’s intention.

    Just my thoughts. God bless!

    • Janet

      Thanks for this, it helped clarify the issue for me so now I can articulate what bothered me about it. Modern pharisees are not ‘bible idolaters’ because the scripture isn’t what they are worshipping. The pharisees in the bible were actually worshipping the idol of themselves. What they loved was the praise and approval of men – thorough knowledge of scripture and church leadership was just their means to self-deification. The way becoming a celebrity is now.

      According to your explanation none of the so-called bible idolaters are worshipping scripture. It’s not possible to worship scripture – it’s the inspired word of God. By that I mean, suppose you studied the writings of Nietzsche obsessively and lived your life by them, then your idol would not be the word’s themselves, your idol would be Nietzsche.

      The people who are doing what you’ve explained aren’t making an idol of the bible – they are idolising various other things but not the bible. I responded basically because the phrase bible idolatry concerns me. I see the damage those words could inflict. I can easily imagine the phrase ‘bible idolatry’ being used to convince people that they commit sin by reading the bible. Especially in the dangerously unstructured world of the Emergent Church. It’s illogical, true, but in my experience of people and the devil’s capacity to twist anything to mislead the vulnerable it’s a legitimate danger.

      So please continue explaining. Satan’s attacks start small and seem ‘harmless’ at first. Then by the time the implications play out it’s too late to take the threat seriously. So I will say it now. It is NOT possible to make the bible an idol. Knowledge of scripture is crucial for Christian growth. Idolatry which in some way involves the bible is possible, but the scripture itself can';t be made an idol. Scripture is the inspired word of God – we should hold it highly and we should seek to know it as part of our relationship with Jesus.

  • http://www.boldlion.blogspot.com ‘Guerite ~ BoldLion

    Great Post! It is interesting how different people would view that. We all should be eating His Word faithfully every day. That wouldn’t be bibliolatry. I do think it would be the motivate of their heart and how they treat the Bible. Are they walking around with Big Bible in a way everyone can see how proud they are (like a Pharisee) would be doing without being grounded in His Word and without Christ in their Heart? That would be Bibliolatry to me. I think that I have met a very few that way when I asked them about their faith or what the favorite passage or what church they go to. Some of them draw blank and couldn’t answer my questions. Very Sad! I do wish that I would be Bold to challenge them more often when I do see them. As for KJV only, they are so headstrong into KJV only. Mostly, I couldn’t deal with KJV only but a very few I can talk to.

    I did rather be eating His Word and learning a lot from that and be challenge from someone what I have learned.

    Hungry to eat His Word,
    ‘Guerite ~ BoldLion