Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Bibliolatry n. an extreme devotion to the Bible itself. (from the Greek biblion "book" + latreia "worship")

In his regular Monday feature, Stephen Douglas posted a short George MacDonald piece on the purpose and limits of the Bible. Excellent quote. Drop by and read it!

The quote prompted me to think about this question, “Christian Faith: is it about a book? or is it about a person?”

For some time now, I find myself cringing every time I hear some good-hearted Christian refer to “the word of God.” They are nearly always talking about a book! which totally distorts the term, and misrepresents Christianity.

I have never found a Biblical reference to "the word of God" that does not either expressly refer to the person of Jesus, or to revelations of God ... specific, in the moment, revelations (in which cases, we have Jesus speaking via the Spirit). Among the 60 or so Bible references to "the word of God" or "the word of the Lord", I have yet to find one that refers to a book, (though it may be possible to construe a couple in this way). Since the Bible itself clearly declares Jesus to be THE WORD OF GOD, the quintessential manifestation and revelation of God to man, the term ought surely to be reserved for him!

Makes one wonder how we got from this simple and profound truth to preachers wielding their embossed leather-bound Scofields far above their heads and, in their most sonorous, quaking voice, shouting out something about "THE WORD".


Arcaemede said...


Does this resonant with you ...


Cliff Martin said...

Yes, Arcaemede. A fitting anecdote! I would probably go a bit farther than this writer. I question whether it is appropriate to call the anthology we read "the word of God", small or large case "W". I love the Bible. It is, perhaps, our primary point of contact with Jesus. And, as Barth famously observes, it certainly contains the word of God. But to refer to the book as the word still seems inappropriate to me.

Dan W. said...

Hey Cliff,

The closest verse I can think of that has to do with calling the Bible the Word of God is Ps. 119:105--"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" which is referring to the law. What's your take on that passage?


Cliff Martin said...


Because of the way we evangelicals use the term, we are predisposed to conflate "word" in Psalm 119:105 (as well as the other 35 or 40 occurrences of "word" in this single Psalm) with our Genesis to Revelation books. But David is writing of the ways in which God speaks and reveals himself to man, sometimes in the written word, sometimes in direct communication or other ways.

But the Bible does not ever speak of itself, because it did not exist in the form we have it as it was being penned. Surely God speaks through the written word, and David is celebrating that in Psalm 119. God inspired the authors (he roused them, stirred them, stimulated them, placed specific messages upon their hearts and moved them to write) and the result is an invaluable journal of discovery and wisdom. But to take this collection of chronicles, epistles, apocalyptic encryptions, prophetic utterances, genealogical records, ancient mythologies, poems, etc. and call the sum total "God's word" is a leap.

Like a Child said...

It is a shame that so few Christians know the history and origins of the Bible (and I think that is what leads to the Bibliolatry).

On a side note - as I was searching for my 2 year old's lovey blanket the other day, I was thinking how inerrancy is a security blanket for Christians, and how I'm now learning to sleep without it....it will take time! (A good topic for a future post, perhaps, with a photo of my son with his dear taggie blanket;)

Cliff Martin said...


Yeah, I don't know if the ignorance you note actually leads to bibliolatry, but it is certainly exploited by those who seek to establish artificial boundaries for the purpose of controlling the sheep. (Those are strong words, but that is my opinion.) Sheep are easier to keep happy when they have a security blanket. They are easier to herd when they are kept inside of fences.

And you are so right: Inerrancy is like Linus's blanket!

Moses said...

Curious if anyone has any insight on how the Bible came to be known as the "Word of God"?

Cliff Martin said...

I've wondered the same thing, Moses. I would like to know if a reader has any insight.

Don't be Swindle! said...

The most common argument I've seen about the Bible being the literal 'word of God' is the 'God-breathed' argument. 'God-breathed' from 2Tim3 is translated from theopneustos. No one knows what that means, pastors and professors just speculate based on their bias and proclaim it as truth.

The incorrect translation of theopneustos would be 'inspired' which is ispirata 'to breathe into'.

If anything it probably means inspiring rather than inspired... or uninspired, I'll take inspiriting.

The other issue is what scripture was he referring to?
Certainly not the Bible, he didn't say Hebrew scripture, which would have been helpful when talking to a greek audience.

It's possible he meant God can inspire man through any and all scripture, thus making it useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness...blah blah blah (that is not to imply any thing about authority, just usefulness).

Cliff Martin said...

I mostly agree with you, DBS. However I do not follow your reason for why "inspired" cannot properly translate the Greek, theopneustos. Inspirata is Latin, not Greek; and I've always consideted the two words roughly synonymous, and that the English "inspired" best translates either word. But we can only speculate, since as far as I know, theopneustos is found nowhere else in Greek literature. The caveat would be that when we use the word "inspired" we might source that in-breathing to God, or to nature, or to s song etc.; but the Greek, theopneustos, would presumably always imply "inspired by God." But we push that meaning too far with words like "God-breathed" together with its typical explanatory "God-dictated".

Don't be Swindle! said...

I think I got mixed up there. I'll have to check what the greek word for inspired is and see how it's used in the NT.

At the risk of being too literal, Inspiration, in terms of breathing (which i think is appropriate when talking about 'God breathed' things) is taking air into the lungs, not breathing them out.

If theopneustos is not 'inspiration' then perhaps 'spiration'. Spiration is pointing or directing things up, a translation which could have great spiritual implication.

The difference is to ask is Deuteronomy inspired or can it be inspiring? Can God use it to inspire? Given the purpose of the book there is no need for it to be divinely inspired and to suggest so creates too many problems.

Also, if all scripture (Hebrew or not) is inspired then our OT canon is really messed up. Inspiring just makes more sense to me.

Cliff Martin said...

What makes sense to me is that God can inspire someone to paint, compose, or write, without unduly influencing the final product. That is, if God inspires me to write a song, and I do so, that does not mean that my song is the "Song of God", infallible and inerrant. If God inspired Moses to write down the things he was learning in his dynamic (and imperfect) walk with God, that does not mean the the product is the "Word of God", infallible and inerrant. Rather, it might mean that Moses had gotten ahold of some truths—not the whole truth, not perfect truth—but enough truth so that God encouraged him to write! That is how I understand inspiration.

Don't be Swindle! said...

I think we agree. I have no doubt that the writers were divinely inspired. I'm sure there were and continue to be many more divinely inspired writers. As for the council of Trent, a discussion for another blog?

I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of a 'thing' being divinely inspired versus a person. Inspiration is something that is experienced by sentient life (I'm sure there are some that think the Bible is a sentient life form). I can accept a thing being a vehicle for divine inspiration.

BUT, back to your original post.
I heard seminary prof say that Jesus is the full revelation of God, not the Bible. The Bible is a guide to God, but it is not God.
Personally, I think that all religions demonstrate that they are more than their sacred texts.

Cliff Martin said...

Ah, now I understand some of your earlier comments better. Yes, I think you and I are pretty much on the same page. Thank you for your comments.

Jim Burge said...

Cliff said, "It is, perhaps, our primary point of contact with Jesus"

I wonder, how absolutely disturbing such a statement, to me at least, concerning the relationship of the personhood of Christ Jesus to His Body. It comes across as, the primary point of contact with my wife is through letters she had someone else write. The Church historically is the primary contact with Christ Jesus in which we partake of the very person of Christ by choosing to enter into Him and communion with Him. Christ is more than just a God-Man sitting on the throne as one, He is also the many who come into Him. Every point in the Church is relationship with Him.