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Is It Possible for Christians to Idolize the Bible?

January 24, 2018

A few years ago, I read the following in an article by an author who self-identifies as an evangelical: “While the Bible is an important and authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice, it isn’t the foundation or center of our faith—Jesus is…Studying Scripture is valuable, but nowhere near as valuable as cultivating a day to day relationship with the God incarnate.”

This author has a number of views that make him a bit of an outlier in the evangelical movement as it’s been traditionally defined. However, I’m finding that his view of Scripture is increasingly common. More and more I hear sentiments within the church like:

  • “Many Christians are putting too much emphasis on the Bible instead of Christ and the Holy Spirit.”
  • “The Trinity is not Father, Son, and Holy Scripture.”
  • “Beware of making the Bible an idol.”

Hence the question: Is it possible for Christians to idolize the Bible?

The Importance of the Question

We should not dismiss this question too quickly. It seems to me that those who express the above sentiments have had a bad experience with a church or with Christians when it comes to the Bible. They’ve encountered numerous Christians who, though they know the Bible inside and out, seem “puffed up” by their knowledge, having little love for Christ or for others. The worry is that putting so much focus on the Bible will only replicate these experiences.

Scripture says that some knowledge “puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1), but that other knowledge is intimately interwoven with love (Philippians 1:9).  So, we must test ourselves:

Is my study of the Scriptures bearing the fruit of the Spirit, or is it bearing the fruit of arrogance?

The Bible has been misused widely in its history, so certainly we must be wary of misusing it ourselves, turning it into a vehicle for pride over how much we know, rather than being rightly challenged by it to humble, loving service of God and others.

Further, Christ rebukes the Pharisees in John 5:39-40 for knowing the Scriptures inside and out, yet not receiving and believing in him as the Christ. So again we must test ourselves:

Is my study of the Scriptures merely the accumulation of knowledge, like studying a textbook, or is it helping me follow Christ as my Lord and love him as my Savior? 

In other words, we must understand that it’s possible to know the Scriptures yet ignore Jesus. We must also admit that many Christians have had interactions with believers or churches who treat the Bible just like the Pharisees did.

We must not be surprised by the question, but challenged and helped by it.

The Inaccuracy of the Question

Yet, as important and challenging as the question is, it’s rooted in an inaccurate understanding of Scripture. 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 they would speak “from God.” The Bible is the voice of God, not just the red letters, but 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 doesn’t mean we can or should treat them as such, divorcing them from one another.

An Illustration of the Question

Consider your best friend. How, precisely, are you in relationship with him or her? You may work together and have shared hobbies, but primarily, you know your friend through his words. Your conversations and every verbal interaction are essential to your friendship.

Sure, there is much about him that isn’t verbal—his character, talents, personality—but even then, most of what you know about his character, talents, and personality is known to you because of what he has said to you over the years.

You wouldn’t try to separate your friend from his words. They are distinct entities, yes. But they go hand-in-hand.

The Importance of the Question, Revisited

So we return to the question, “Is it possible to idolize the Bible?” The answer is a resounding, “No.” Prioritizing the Bible is far from idolatry. Prioritizing the Bible is prioritizing God’s voice to us, and thus God himself.

You can misuse the Bible, as we’ve earlier described. But if the Bible describes itself accurately, it is the voice of God speaking to us.

To know the Bible is to know God: his voice, his character, his attributes, his kingdom, his plan to save us!

This is where I’d like to ask the author quoted earlier: How can you and I “cultivate a day to day relationship with God incarnate” apart from the Scriptures? How can we separate Christ and his voice to such an extent that we can set one against the other or claim that listening to his voice can become an idol? If the Bible is how Jesus speaks to us, how can we grow in relationship with Christ without emphasizing listening to him through his very Word?

This is where I find the question and the sentiments described at the beginning rather dangerous. At best, these sentiments warn us of misuse, as we’ve seen. But at worst, they provide us with a massive reason to distance ourselves from the Scriptures, thus distancing us from the voice of God speaking into our lives.

The Encouragement in the Question

The Bible cannot be emphasized enough in our lives, in our small groups, in our churches, for it is how we hear the very voice of God speaking to us! To cultivate a day-to-day relationship with God incarnate, we must listen to his voice. How bizarre would it be to worry that you over-prioritized your best friend’s words? If you long to know your best friend, you will listen to their words.

Don’t miss the encouraging truth in the midst of this discussion: If the Bible is the voice of God, that means that you can hear from God!

So friend, let’s heed the important challenge that comes with this question, “Is it possible to make the Bible an idol?”  Let’s be Christians who grow in love and faith through the Scriptures. But let’s not be confused: God has spoken to us through the Scriptures, so if we would truly know him and love him, we must make listening to him a passionate priority in our lives.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

The Author
Tom Olson

Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.

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