What Is Bibliolatry?

Those who hold to a high view of Scripture have often been accused of “bibliolatry,” or the sin of worshiping the Bible as a false god.  This charge has never made sense to me, and here is why.

In any personal relationship, when you have a high regard for what someone has said or written, you have a high regard for that person.  If a soldier who is away from his wife receives letters from her regularly, and every time he gets one he quickly runs to a quiet, secluded place to open it up and linger over every word she has written to him, would you accuse that soldier of having a deficient love for his wife because his attention has been drawn away from her and placed on what she has written?  Yet the charge of bibliolatry is often given in this kind of way: “You’re so obsessed with a book that you have missed the living God himself.”  But if the Bible is nothing less than God’s Word written, then it is an act of divine communication, and for us to hold it in high regard is to hold God in high regard.  You cannot separate a person from his words (unless he is a politician, and God is no politician).

The Bible itself bears out what I have argued here.  God’s Word is an object of praise in Scripture (Psalm 119; Psalm 56:4, 10).  The spoken/written words of God are of more value to our lives than bread (Deut. 6:8; Matt. 4:4).  At times Scripture and God are interchangeable as subjects (note how in Galatians 3:8, Paul says “the Scripture” preached the gospel to Abraham, but he quotes the direct words of God to Abraham; note how in Hebrews 1 the words of Scripture, even though spoken through the voice of the psalmist, are attributed directly to God).

Yes, it is possible to be obsessed with the Bible and not know God.  Jesus accused the Pharisees of this sin in John 5:39-40.  But notice that Jesus’ point is not that the Pharisees held too high a view of Scripture.  It is, rather, that they did not see the Scripture leading them to him.  When Jesus says the Scripture testifies to himself, he is not demoting the place of Scripture in God’s purpose.  He is elevating it.  The Pharisees were not guilty of bibliolatry.  They were guilty of unbelief.

There is only one sense in which I can imagine that bibliolatry might be an issue that we confront in churches today.  If someone views the Bible as a kind of talisman, a magic charm that we can use to manipulate God or other spiritual forces, then that may qualify as a form of bibliolatry.  If you think the Bible, as a physical object, has some kind of energy that can fight off evil spirits, or if you think that quoting verses with no regard for their context is a way to give you spiritual power, you may be guilty of bibliolatry.  But that is not normally what someone means when he or she makes the accusation of bibliolatry.  Normally, what is meant is that someone believes that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word that should be believed and obeyed in everything it says.  If that is bibliolatry, then Christianity itself is a bibliolatrous religion, because that view of Scripture has been dominant in the church for 2,000 years.

Never separate God from his words.  Never oppose Christ to the Bible.  That is a well-worn path that leads to destruction.

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2 Responses to What Is Bibliolatry?

  1. Pingback: Edification Station » Blog Archive » What is Bibliolatry?

  2. transientglory says:

    thought provoking post. I looked up “bibliolatry” and your post came up. I recently wrote something on this topic also. While not accusing anyone of “bibliolatry,” I do express my concern over what kind of fruit an obsessive study of the scriptures has produced in my own life.

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