Bibliolatry – what the Bible should have said

I was musing, not for the first time, upon how in the Science-Christianity debate, the first casualty is usually the authority of Scripture. That’s, perhaps, somewhat understandable from Catholic or Orthodox commentators, for whom the Bible has always shared its authority with tradition or the heirachy. But given that both in ID and TE discussions a majority of Christians appear to self-identify as Evangelicals, the emphasis on the human authorship of Scripture at the practical expense of divine authorship is surprising.


Hardly less so is the frequent strand of argument that the letter (ie the written word) kills, whereas the Spirit (ie Jesus, the true Word of God) gives life. Trust in the actual words of Scripture is bibliolatry. Close to that is the idea that the Bible has no particular authority except what the Holy Spirit gives it in the heart of an individual. Christ does not intend us to rely on the Bible for propositional truth, but on him directly for spiritual sustenance.

For a long while that seemed completely specious to me, as well as flying in the face of Christian belief down the millennia and the teaching of the Bible itself. . But sure enough, by tracing a lesser known, though clearly more original, set of textual variants I’ve now come to see how Jesus himself endorsed this modern view. What a pity corruption (deliberate, perhaps, by Calvinists and the like?) of the text has kept the truth hidden for so long. Look then, at what your Bible should have said:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’

Jesus answered, ‘Your worldview might include supernaturalism, but don’t expect me to abandon scientific reason too.”’

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’

Jesus answered, ‘Much Jewish tradition doesn’t accept you’re a personal agent anyway, so what’s to worship?”’

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

‘“He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’

Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “What’s with all this Bible-quoting stuff – you’re talking to the Logos himself here, you know.’

Then the devil left him and went off to found the Gideons.

(Compare Luke 4.1-12)

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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4 Responses to Bibliolatry – what the Bible should have said

  1. James Penman penman says:

    In spite of having just privately said I’ve no time for responses, I’ll quickly throw this one in. The relationship between human & divine authorship seems to more far more complex than is often allowed by those who exclusively highlight the human author’s original intention. What about 1 Peter 1:10-12? Not even the prophets themselves fully understood their own utterances. The Spirit speaking in them had a fullness of meaning which eluded the human writers’ understanding. So I don’t think we’ve exhausted the meaning of a text by showing what it would have meant in the mind of the original human author/audience.

    Not sure how this plays into the overly-liberal-type-TE/EC theology, but you can pick up the baton from here & run with it…..

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Absolutely penman. It’s the underly-evangelical Evangelicals who concern me most, and who predominate on the boards I visit, at least. It demands a complete Biblical apologetic on every thread, which just isn’t possible – especially on BioLogos, where everyone just goes strangely quiet if you respond.

    As for the Temptation, the gospel accounts mean either:
    (a) That the Incarnate Logos used the authority of OT Scripture even against a supernatural enemy, or
    (b) That the Incarnate Logos told his disciples that’s what he did (falsely) as an example for them to follow, or at the very least
    (c) That the apostolic writers believed in using the authority of the OT Scripture even against a supernatural enemy.

    Any of those cases prove that the present attitudes to Scripture are innovations. Which view is better, the new or the old? Maybe comparing their evangelistic record would be more conclusive than which predominates in the Academy.

  3. James Penman penman says:

    That of course should have been “seems to me far more complex”. Sorry for the silly typo. Alas, I fell asleep on the train this morning, was woken up at my stop by the dulcet mechanical tones of the train’s auto-announcer, stumbled off just in time, & didn’t get into gear for the next few hours…. Double strength Douwe Egberts coffee helps.

    In your scenario, (a) and (c) are both true. (b) frankly renders scripture almost worthless as a sacred text. Do you have in mind those who dismiss all historicity from (say) Genesis 1-11, & therefore also dismiss the testimony to that historicity by the canonical Christ, but still claim to be evangelical or creedally orthodox?

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    I’m just trying to cover all the bases, but of course only regarding those who believe Jesus is the incarnate Son of God.

    (c) had in mind the Evangelical form critics who are strong on the faith community’s beliefs and equivocal about “authentic sayings of Jesus.”

    (b) maybe regards those who regard the Scriptures as divine and useful but factually unreliable. I suppose that Jesus was in the know and approved.

    The bottom line is that all the discussion about the authority of the Bible has to take into account that the Bible itself does, contra many modern assumptions, presuppose it.

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