Bibliolatry

This concept came to my attention today because BioLogos has printed a response to Ken Ham’s response to a testimony piece by a chap called Daniel Hamlin. Daniel used the word to describe the Scylla and Charybdis of “bibliolatry” and atheist dismissal of all biblical truth between which he was trying to steer. I don’t want to comment either on his article, or on whether I agree that his theological ship is on course, but on that word itself.

“Bibliolatry”. You can find definitions for it, of course, but it is significant that it is not a synonym for any historically accepted theological term, or even for a standard English word. It is, in fact, a buzz-word, and regular readers will know that my antennae always go up when buzzwords like “puppet-master” or “robots” are used to drive theological debate. Or even words like “kenotic“, “logos” or “incarnational“. Give me an emotionally-loaded buzz-word and I’ll show you a theological confidence trick.

Now I could remark on the misuse of the Bible that sometimes provokes this terminology, particularly in the individualistic and anti-intellectual Evangelical desert of the USA. Or I could go into a defence of the Bible as God’s word, and point out the morass of heterogeneous doctrine that results when one begins to erode its authority. I could suggest that to use, say, liberal scholarship to judge inspired Scripture is … what shall we call it? “Scholarolatry” perhaps. Using science to judge the Bible ought to be “scientolatry“, but that’s too much like “scientology” so let’s not go there.

Instead I’ll just attempt something more modest, that’s easy for anyone to do. “Bibliolatry” is proposed as an aberration of Evangelical Christian truth, an over-reliance on the Bible, making it into the rule of doctrine and practice, and failing to draw attention to its shortcomings and limitations. With that in mind, I suggest to you a challenge.

Try and establish the unchristian nature of such overdependance using:

  • (a) The words and teachings of Jesus,
  • (b) the teaching of the Bible itself,
  • (c) The writings of any of the Patristic writers,
  • (d) The writings of any of the mediaeval Catholic or Orthodox writers,
  • (e) The writings of any of the mainstream Protestant Reformers, up to and including Arminius if you like,
  • (f) The writings of any of the early Methodists,
  • (g) The writings of any Victorian Evangelical leader (maybe we have to exclude America from this point on – that’s when the rot set in).

Good luck.

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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2 Responses to Bibliolatry

  1. pngarrison says:

    How about this: “You search the Scriptures for you think that in them you have life, but it is they that testify of me.” If you miss what the Scriptures are really about, you are likely to end up obsessing about whether a fish could really swallow a man or whether hares really chew the cud or some other irrelevancy.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Interesting one, that, because there the Lord is not so much downplaying the Scripture, as giving its key interpretive principle as an inspired text, ie he himself.

      Absolutely agree that obsessing about Jonah’s fish (on either side of the “miracle” question) is foolish – Jesus himself uses the incident as the sign of his own death and resurrection. So the person who identifies the species of whale, and the person who writes the scholarly paper on why it couldn’t have happened are both failing to see Christ in Scripture. The person who does careful scholarship on its sitz im lieben etc is taking it seriously as inspired – provided they see it as the Spirit’s testimony (ultimately) about Jesus. As for the hare and the cud … well, off hand I can’t think of an example of Jesus using that one of himself… but both the fundamentalist who insists the biologists should classify them as ruminants and the biologist who thinks he’s he’s scored a point against inerrancy are failing to hear God’s word (dabar) in it.

      I think there are some who would interpret your passage in the sense of “Stop believing those Scriptures – concentrate on me.” But they forget the affirmation he’s making about the OT’s prophetic role, and also forgetting that later in the same passage, v45, he refrains from accusing them because Moses will accuse them before the Father for not believing what he wrote – about Jesus. In other words, they’d have been ready for Jesus had they relied on Scripture more adequately.

      That presumably is why the apostles cite torah so extensively throughout the NT.

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