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Which poses the bigger risk of idolatry–a high view of the Bible that sees Jesus submitting to the Scriptures or a low view of Scripture that sees Jesus standing apart from the Scriptures? Some Christians fear that if they have a high view of the Bible they will end up denigrating Jesus and being guilty of bibliolatry. But what if the danger of idolatry is much more likely when you try to place Jesus above the Bible?

J.I. Packer explains:

Others tell us the final authority for Christians is not Scripture, but Christ, whom we must regard as standing apart from Scripture and above it. He is its Judge; and we, as His disciples, must judge Scripture by Him, receiving only what is in harmony with His life and teaching and rejecting all that is not.

But who is this Christ, the Judge of Scripture? Not the Christ of the New Testament and of history. That Christ does not judge Scripture; he obeys it and fulfills it. Certainly, He is the final authority of the whole of it. Certainly, He is the final authority for Christians; that is precisely why Christians are bound to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Christ teaches them to do so.

A Christ who permits His followers to set Him up as the Judge of Scripture, One by whom its authority must be confirmed before it becomes binding and by whose adverse sentence it is in places annulled, is a Christ of human imagination, made in the theologian’s own image, One who attitude to Scripture is the opposite to that of the Christ of history. If the construction of such a Christ is not a breach of the second commandment, it is hard to see what is.

It is sometimes said that to treat the Bible as the infallible word of God is idolatry. If Christ was an idolater, and if following His teaching is idolatry, the accusation may stand; not, however, otherwise. But to worship a Christ who did not receive Scripture as God’s unerring word, nor require His followers to do so, would seem to be idolatry in the strictest sense.  (Fundamentalism: and the Word of God, 61-62)

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29 thoughts on “Is Bibliolatry the Real Danger?”

  1. Phil Long says:

    This feels very much like a false dichotomy to me. Perhaps I misunderstand. Not that these extreme positions do not exist, but, that they are not the only explanation. Imagine a man in whose mind is every word of scripture and in whose heart is its understanding and intent. Imagine a man who, in his youth could engage the brightest theologians and leave them in wonder. Imagine a man who is not only revealed to be the Son of God by scripture but who reveals scripture to mankind. Imagine if the wisdom and knowledge and heart of God could be embodied in human flesh and we could behold the glory of God through the Only Begotton Son of God. And imagine if this man told the theological experts of his earthly days that the life they seek in scripture is Himself. Imagine that. I try and try but it’s so very unmanageable. Perhaps a couple more thousand years of mankind’s concerted effort and we’ll be able to sum it all up neatly in a simple formula. Until then, I am in wonder.

  2. Michael B. says:

    Except the Bible as we know it didn’t even exist until many years after Jesus died. Jesus could have no more read the Bible than he could have played around on Windows 95.

  3. Tom says:

    The danger is placing Jesus below the Bible, not above it. God’s inerrant Word is the means, but God in Christ is the end. As always, there is more than one serious error to avoid. We must never turn means into ends, but neither may we reach the end, except through the appointed means.

  4. Bill says:

    I must be confused, because I’ve always read John 1:1 as a sort of binding agent between Jesus and our Bible today. The eternal logos was incarnate, and we hold the logos in our hands. Can one really be above the other?

  5. DRT says:

    I will state something parallel to Phil Long in the first quote.

    The problem is that most don’t realize that their interpretation of scripture is what they actually follow. You feel that the bible is actually telling you on its face that god created the world in six days. I and many others feel that, on its face, the exact same way you do, the bible is clearly telling us that god created the universe, but the six days is not important. I have a high view of scripture yet I disagree with you.

    And more directly to Phil Long’s point, the people studied the old testament for generations and did not get it right. It required Jesus to set them straight. What makes you think that your way, which I am pretty certain you label as THE high view, is right? My way is a high view of scripture! I view the bible as absolutely authoritative. But I view your interpretation as not being correct.

    So yes, Bibliolitry is a real danger, but you have to realize that it is only a polite way for us to say that you are idolizing your own interpretation.

  6. Brian says:

    I think Christians should love the Bible and love God. I think one of the signs a person has been born again is that the Bible becomes that persons spiritual food or sustenance. People who have been born again love their Bibles. Searching scripture can be a good thing. The Bereans were known for searching scripture. People who are saved have an appetite for God’s word.

  7. John says:

    Thankfully, thinking Christians everywhere realize that this is an artificial and unnecessary dichotomy.

  8. Scott C says:

    DRT says,
    “You are idolizing your own interpretation.”

    This sounds so much like the doubt and uncertainty that postmodernism celebrates and then turns around and tries to shame those who hold to the perspicuity and certainty of Scripture by casting such catchphrases in condescending language. If it is a virtue to always doubt your interpretations of Scripture then I think there are some other idols that need examining. If we are under the authority of Christ and Scripture than as a matter of course we must have certainty and conviction concerning the very content, meaning and force of the authoritative source of our lives. If you want to name that Bibliolatry than tell us what other authority you stand under?

  9. DRT says:

    Scot C.,

    You are joking, right? If not I would hope that you read “The Bible Made Impossible” by Christian Smith. Perspecuity of scripture is a myth, I clearly do not agree with your interpretation, and why do you think there are 38,000 denominations? Perspicuity simply is not even close to true.

    And if you want to equate your interpretation of scripture with the word of god, then you need to take the ego down a notch or two. Your interpretation is your interpretation, not the word of god.

  10. Scott C says:

    “Perspicuity of scripture is a myth.”

    Well that’s unfortunate. I am not nearly so pessimistic. I believe that God has spoken clearly and cogently. I believe in an inspired text where God does not find it difficult to communicate to His creatures. I believe He gave the Church His Holy Spirit whereby He illuminates the minds of those regenerate servants who are diligent in the study of the text and submit to its authority. Such committed believers will find themselves in line with historic orthodoxy because submission to Scripture has the divinely empowered force to bring about such unity in the fundamental message of the gospel. The Spirit confirms His truth by bringing to bear a clear understanding of that message. To the degree that some do not humbly submit themselves to the clarity of the message usually corresponds to prior commitments they are unwilling to part with. That happens in Protestantism, but that is no blight upon the authority and perspicuity of the inspired text because God makes certain that His word never comes back empty in accomplishing what He set it out to do. If you think that makes my ego big, well I’m sorry you have ‘misinterpreted’ me. My confidence is in Christ and His divinely powerful word not myself. And I am perfectly at rest in this conviction.

  11. DRT says:

    Scott C,

    Do you feel that you are one of those who understands the plain meaning of scripture? Do you believe that you could be one of those who is bringing prior commitments? Maybe it is the Roman Catholics who understand the scriptures better since there are over 1 billion of them and they read it differently. Don’t you see that it can’t have perspecuity?

    This sentence is priceless

    ” To the degree that some do not humbly submit themselves to the clarity of the message usually corresponds to prior commitments they are unwilling to part with.”

    So, you are saying that if I disagree with your interpretation of the bible that 1) I am not humble, 2) I am unable to see the bible for what it is saying because I bring thoughts that are incorrect.

    Don’t you see that the bible is, therefore, not characterized by perspecuity because everyone brings presuppositions?

    I would still like to hear if you feel you are one who does “get it” while I don’t. Your logic is that of the “No True scottsman” fallacy.

  12. Scott C says:

    I think your skepticism has overcome you. Paul says He is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The message of the gospel has been clearly and cogently inscripturated in the Bibles we hold today and it is the means by which God sovereignly causes people to be transformed with spiritual life (James 1:18). Your argument is not with me, it is with the authority of God and He has invested that authority and power in His word.

    My family has been reading “God’s Smuggler” by Brother Andrew. This man was used mightily of God to bring the Bible into the Iron Curtain during the 1950’s and 60’s. The transformation that took place in those places when the Word of God penetrated a dark world is quite remarkable. God has been providentially opening blind eyes with His word for thousands of years. I’m sorry my friend for your skepticism. I love what a monument to Parisian Huguenots says, “Hammer away ye hostile hands; your hammers break; God’s anvil stands.” I hope you will reconsider the power and clarity of Scripture and its ability to bind truth to the hearts of its true hearers.

  13. DRT says:

    Scott C,

    You are missing my point,. I am not speaking as to whether the gospel is good for everyone, or that Jesus will change people’s lives. I am arguing that the bible is not characterized by perspicuity.

    It seems you are equating all of those things and that is not appropriate. Let’s test it.

    Here is a definition of the gospel from one of the worlds most influential writers/theologians:

    “The good news is that the covenant had been fulfilled and that new creation had begun. The great apocalypse had occurred revealing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Jesus was, therefore, Lord of the world and Caesar was not.”

    I am willing to bet that you would not sign up to that without reservation.

  14. Scott C says:

    I never said there were not false gospels. Most definitely there are as Scripture so plainly says. I am saying that truly regenerate believers committed to the full inspiration, authority, sufficiency and YES perspicuity of Scripture will whole-heartedly agree on what the true gospel is because God promises in Scripture that we will.

  15. David Carnes says:

    1. If Jesus is God, must God submit to His own creation (the Bible)?

    2. Jesus changed the Old Testament laws on divorce. He deliberately violated the Sabbath, saying “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” And He inspired the New Testament, a massive addition to the Scriptures. Is this submission?

    3. Is the Bible the Word of God? Let the Bible answer:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”

    4. Did Jesus submit to the Scriptures?

    “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39,40).

    5. The Bible on itself:

    NOTHING. The word “Bible” appears nowhere in the Bible except on the cover. Where the term “Scriptures” is used, the reference is clearly to the Old Testament (Jewish) Scriptures, because it wouldn’t make any sense for Jesus to speak to people about a book that hadn’t been written yet..

    6. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura (“by scripture alone”) forbids the use of any extra-Biblical source of spiritual knowledge. Yet the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is itself extra-Biblical. The Bible doesn’t mention the Bible at all, because the Bible wasn’t written until the Bible was written.

    7. Three challenges:

    (i) If Christianity was meant to be based on a book, rather than on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, why didn’t God see fit to allow a single original manuscript survive?

    (ii) If Christianity was meant to be based on a book, rather than on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, why didn’t Jesus write the entire New Testament in His own hand?

    (iii) What would you do if you went into a trance and a being that identified itself as God ordered you to perform an act specifically forbidden by the Scriptures? Attribute it to a demon? See Acts 11:4-15. Peter trusted Jesus over the Scriptures.

    You can read every book Ernest Hemingway ever wrote, and not know Ernest Hemingway. It’s the same with Jesus.

  16. David Carnes says:

    A little historical background (some of it from Wikipedia, admittedly): The Protestant Reformation began in 1517, 66 years after the invention of the printing press. Many historians believe that the printing press sparked the Protestant Reformation. Before the printing press, all copies of all books had to be handwritten, and about the only people who could read were lawyers and clergy. After the printing press, Catholics started reading the Bible, and discovered that what the Bible actually said and what the Catholic church taught them were two different things. They then chose the Bible over the Pope, and the Reformation began. Unfortunately, however, they simply exchanged one idol for another. Jesus must be feeling awful lonely…

  17. The Whyman says:

    ‎”To be sure, the worship of any leather-bound book would be unscriptural and idolatrous, but we have never known or heard of a single case where a Christian advocates or practices Bible worship. As far as that goes, we have known countless Christians who respect (revere) the Bible as being the inspired Word of God; now if that were a point deserving criticism and condemnation, then we would necessarily need to place the apostle Paul under such scrutiny for having said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Was Paul a Bible worshiper? We know he was not…

    ….There is an attack on the Word of God. That’s no new thing–secular humanists, New Agers, and philosophers have attacked the Bible for centuries. But this attack of which we speak comes from within the ranks of Christianity out of the halls of highly respected universities and off the presses of successful Christian publishers, and it is being carried forth by those who gain access into the hearts of men and women through their use of contemplative spirituality.”

  18. Wayne says:

    “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” ~ John 5:39-40

  19. David Carnes says:

    “Christians who respect (revere) the Bible as being the inspired Word of God; now if that were a point deserving criticism and condemnation, then we would necessarily need to place the apostle Paul under such scrutiny for having said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).” The Scripture that existed in Paul’s day was the Old Testament, the only Scripture that had yet been written. Or was he writing to Timothy about a Testament that hadn’t even been written yet? Also, to quote the Bible to prove the Bible is circular reasoning: The Bible is true because the Bible says the Bible is true, and since the Bible is true, the Bible mist be telling the truth when it says it’s true, therefore it’s true.” Does the use of logic qualify me as a “humanist”? No wonder atheists think we’re all idiots. A Muslim could just as easily say “The Quran is true because the Quran says the Quran is true…” To establish the Bible as the Word of God you need external corroboration, something outside the Bible that confirms it. And that “something” is Jesus. Which puts Jesus above the Scriptures. The Bible is not going to sprout wings and fly you into Heaven when you die.

  20. David Carnes says:

    If you refuse to put Jesus over the Bible, then you’re making the Bible at least equal to Jesus. Congratulations, you’ve just added a fourth member to the Trinity. And if that’s not idolatry, what is?

    One of the main temptations of idolatry is the preference for something you can see and touch, like the Bible, over something you cannot, like God. That’s why the Philistines made statues of Baal.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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