Recovering From Bibliolatry

The decision to open the most recent session of the U.S. House of Representatives with the reading of the Constitution has sparked a national debate regarding the nature of our governing document. Is the Constitution a “living” document, dynamic and flexible in it’s interpretation? Or is it more static, a “says-what-it-means, means-what-it-says” document that should be read as such?

Of course, the truth is that the constitution was written in a particular context to communicate a particular message. The “meaning” of this document has not changed in the 223 years since it was written. Yet, the Constitution itself makes provision for amendment and modification, making it contemporaneous and relevant in the ever-changing American political landscape.

All of this has prompted me to think about the way many Christians interpret scripture. Over the course of my life, I’ve heard Hebrews 4.12 quoted as testimony regarding scripture’s “living” quality: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But as my friend Brett points out, the context here leaves us wondering if the Hebrew writer is even talking about scripture at all. In the course of a conversation about the eternal Sabbath rest of God and the very real possibility that disobedience might exclude some from that rest, the Hebrew writer then makes his statement. To say the Bible is living and active isn’t saying enough; the Hebrew writer has in mind the utterances of God. This is the source of all life and creative process (see Genesis 1). And it is this key element that gives scripture it’s vibrancy, authority, and relevance for my own life.

And I find all of this very helpful. I was raised to revere the scriptures, almost to an unhealthy degree. In my raising, the Bible was held in hallowed regard as an icon of God Himself. If you’d asked me as a child to identify the Holy Trinity, I’d have probably said, “God, Jesus, and the Bible”. (You think I’m joking. I’m not.) All of this to say, I’ve wrestled for some time with reading scripture properly. Don’t misunderstand; I wouldn’t trade anything for my upbringing and the appreciation my parents and teachers had for the scriptures. But what’s taken a long time to piece together is the final move, to understand that the words on the page only have meaning as conduits for the Living Word, the Word behind the word. To put it differently, the Bible is only relevant insofar as it is the living Word of God, from God. To stop short of this is to commit bibliolatry.

[10] “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
[11] so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. — Isaiah 55:10-11

May God continue to speak His promises to accomplish His purposes. May we have ears to hear.

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2 Responses to Recovering From Bibliolatry

  1. Randy Harvell says:

    These comments remind of a book my son Adam gave me to read recently. The name of the book is The End of Christianity (William Dembski)and it has a lot of challenging thoughts to chew on. I can’t do his detailed arguments justice here, but one of the things espoused by the author caused me to look at the God’s Word as the physical utterances of God. I, too, was raised thinking of the word primarily as written scripture, but the author of this book challenged me to see that the God’s Power is expressed through His SPOKEN word. He SPOKE the universe into exisitence, He sent HIS WORD in human form (Jesus) to SPEAK His word directly to us.
    He spends quite a bit of time walking through his ‘proof’ of this concept and applying it to his theocracy, but I must admit it gives a new depth of meaning to a lot of scriptures. Many of the thoughts in his book address weighty matters. His reasoning seems both radical and yet somehow more reasonable than the lightweight explanations we sometimes hear. Food for thought, certainly. Happy to let you borrow it some time.

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