A few years ago, someone scolded me on Facebook for holding to the “dead letter of a book” rather than enjoying a “living relationship” with God through His Spirit. I thought of her reprimand a couple days ago when one of Tim Challies’ links to a Kindle deal providentially misdirected me to Tom Olson’s January 22, 2015 blog post, Is It Possible for Christians to Idolize the Bible?
Olson produced helpful arguments as he reasoned from 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 (please read both verses). He maintains that Scripture is breathed out from the Holy Spirit. That being the case, it makes little sense when people try to represent Scripture and the Spirit as being mutually exclusive (as my Facebook critic suggested). Olson explained that God’s Word, as given through the agency of the Spirit, facilitates our relationship with God.
Consider the primary descriptions of Scripture from the Bible itself:
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16)
- “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
Add to this that one of the favored names of Jesus Christ is “The Word,” and you have a Trinitarian testimony that the Bible is not divorced from the Godhead, but is the tangible work of the Trinity in perfect harmony speaking to us.
Simply put, the Bible is the voice of God. The Father breathes out the Word. The Son is the Word incarnate. The Holy Spirit carried along the biblical authors so that they would speak “from God”. The Bible is the voice of God – not just the red letters – the whole Bible. As such, the question “Is it possible for Christians to idolize the Bible?” is inaccurate, because it forces us to drive a false wedge between God and his voice. Prioritizing God’s voice is prioritizing God, and thus prioritizing his voice cannot be thought of as idolatry.
Please know, I get it. The Scriptures and Jesus Christ are different entities. The Bible and the Spirit are unique from one another. But that does not mean we can or should treat them as such, divorcing them from one another.
So why did my love for and reliance on the Bible’s authority offend the woman on Facebook? I can’t judge her motives for certain, nor should I try to do so, but I can think of two possible reasons. Usually, people who accuse Christians of bibliolatry operate from one of two positions.
The less prevalent of the two (I hope) comes from a desire to accommodate sin without outright rejecting God. If we can minimize Scripture’s authority by hearing from “God” as we imagine Him, perhaps we can wiggle out of some demands that the Bible imposes on us. Maybe translators made mistakes, or maybe culture has advanced beyond the antiquated notions of the prophets and apostles. Surely God wouldn’t confine His expectations of us to a 2000-year-old book!
Typically, however, the people who make that accusation believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to people directly. They do agree that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, and they’ll even say that it’s the final authority for Christians. Furthermore, they actually do wish to live in obedience to its precepts. But they also insist that “relationship” with Jesus must extend beyond the Bible through personal communication from Him. They want to feel His presence and to believe that they have unique relationships with Him.
Yet His Word does retain its authority and it is able to speak to us personally.
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. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
As we read these precious Spirit-breathed words, He shows us how they apply to us in the 21st Century. Far from being a dead book, the Bible overflows with more treasures than we know what to do with! In holding the Bible in high esteem, we use it as a vehicle to worship its Author in spirit and in truth.