Has The Bible Become Our Idol?

#024: Has The Bible Become Our Idol? [Podcast]

This week I posted multiple status’s about the Bible on Facebook and it really blew up.

I knew some of what I had to say would be considered tough to swallow by some and rejected by others… but I always want to challenge people on what they believe. Especially if I strongly believe that belief to be incorrect.

The biggest point I raised was that many of us in Christianity today hold the Bible in such high regard that we have managed to make it an idol. We value the book over the person who gave it to us.

In fact many still insist on calling the Bible – the “Word of God” which of course it isn’t.

Have we let the Bible become our idol? That’s what I want to discuss in this week’s podcast, I really hope you enjoy it!

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I’m just back from Switzerland and Germany and will be back over to England again in July.

If you want to find out more about these trips and other trips I have scheduled for later in the year you head over to my itinerary

If you are in one of the areas I’ll be visiting this year and would like to host a meeting please do send me an email and we can discuss the possibilities of this. I’ve also got a couple spots open towards the end of 2014 for completely separate trips if you would like to host me.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts, insights and any questions you may have about today’s podcast in the comments section below – thanks for sharing!

Intro/Extro Music used with permission from St. Theodore

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  1. Awesome! I love that you talked about how the Bible can be used to justify anything. I’ve been thinking that for a while and it’s nice to see that you believe it too.

    • Not to appear contrarian, but the same could be said of any document (of antiquity, modernity, or postmodernity). Everything depends on how it is read and the approach one uses in interpretation. In fact, any thing or person (his words, example, or life) can be taken out of context and be made to justify anything.

      Responsible reading of the Bible cannot be used to justify anything. Only when one reads a text without concern for context or the historical-cultural milieu, then justifying anything is possible. I think of the famous passage of Romeo and Juliet:

      Romeo! Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

      Over the years thousands of comedians (and would be comedians) have used this line as a jumping point for a joke or gag. And almost always it was interpreted to mean “Where are you, fella?”

      But that’s not the meaning.

      Juliet is asking Why are you Romeo? Why are you a Montague? Why couldn’t you be anyone else? In the same way the Bible has been used to demand even contradictory things.

      That the text can be misused is not really much of a point. Any text can be misused. The challenge is getting people to read the text the way a text would be normally read. Read poetry as metaphor and verse, read narrative as narrative, read legal codes as legal codes. Read a letter (e.g., Philippians) all the way through in one sitting and interpret it as you would a personal letter. Understand the forms of letters in the first century, do your homework in understanding nuances of language and culture, and you should be able to have at least a pretty good understanding (not misunderstanding) of the text. And keep the following two rules in mind:

      1) Jimminy Cricket’s rule: “Always let your context be your guide” (What? he didn’t say that?)!
      2) A text cannot mean what it was never intended to mean.

      And this is where the Holy Spirit can be misused, also. (Actually, he can’t, but people can make contradictory and illegitimate claims about what he says). One can misquote the Bible, and one can also misquote the Holy Spirit by claiming certain feelings and impressions are from the Holy Spirit, when they are not. Even feelings and impressions that are rather innocuous with no real bad consequences (e.g., the Holy Spirit told me to drive up to the front of the parking lot–and look there’s a parking spot!). Granted that’s bizarre and extreme–but some of how we interpret the Holy Spirit’s working amounts to little more than that.

      So not only can the written word be taken out of context–the Spirit can be misread (forget the Bible, how many preachers have claimed a “word from the Lord” and really led people astray without having to use the Bible?).

      I would suggest the spoken word (rhema) can equally be taken out of context, and yes, is it possible that Jesus, the embodied word can be taken out of context?

      So, ultimately what does the argument prove? That somehow the Bible is less important? Or does it prove that human beings are really good at misunderstanding things?

      Now to reiterate what I said in an earlier comment: I don’t particularly disagree with Phil’s point. The Bible can be worshipped and thus made an idol. The Bible can be misread and misunderstood. The Bible is not the embodied Word (Jesus). The Bible points us to God, but is not over God.

      But let’s not oversimplify the issue or the various parts of the issue.

      • Ok, I’m really sorry to keep on blathering on and on. But an example of taking Jesus out of context just came to mind. This is my last comment (sorry!). 8^)

        But I’ve seen posted on Facebook, “When asking What Would Jesus Do? remember that making a whip and turning over tables is an option.” Cute. Funny. Completely wrong.

        This would be an example of taking Jesus out of context. As Messiah, he had the right to do what he did. Cleansing the temple is what Messiah does. As God, he had the right to do what he did. For us to use his example as an excuse to get harsh, obnoxious, or violent is to misinterpret his actions. Yes, it is text–but it is also a picture of his life. He is embodying the will of God in this incident. He curses the fig tree and then cleanses the temple (both incidents tied together to make his point).

        Ok. Enough said. Again, sorry to blather.

        • That is a brilliant passage – I saw that picture too – I found it really funny but yes the context was wildly misplaced.

          Jesus wasn’t violent, there is nothing to suggest in that passage that there was any violence acted out towards people and ultimately it was a prophetic reenactment of Jeremiah as a sign of the destruction of the temple and the ransacking of Jerusalem in 70AD.

          Not a great answer to WWJD… a rather dangerous question in and of itself at times anyway! :)

        • That’s fair and essentially what I meant; I just oversimplified it. People interpret the Bible in a way to suit them and then say that they are correct because it came from the “Word of God” and that’s the end of the discussion because “the Bible says it, I believe it, end of discussion.”

          On a separate note, it is quite unfair to use the temple situation as a instance where Christ was violent because that simply isn’t the case. Jesus turned over the tables because He was freeing the animals in the cages underneath them (the animals couldn’t get out had He not done so) and He used the whip to herd the animals out with the cracking noise as was custom, not to strike any person or animal.

      • Great point Darryl – we read everything through our own lens… even our experiences of hearing God at times. Although the benefit is that God can stick up for Himself all by Himself. The Bible can’t.

        The argument of people misinterpreting the Bible is not to diminish the importance of the Bible. Rather it is to help people see that the Bible is not “infallible” when being read by those who make it ever so fallible.

        • Phil, unlike some folks you have referenced, I have not interpreted your statements as diminishing the importance of the Bible. While we can disagree with each other at times online–I pretty much see your point and, again, agree with much of it.

          The Bible is important, no question about it. And I do not consider anything you have said to diminish its importance or to somehow mitigate its power. But you know, we who make comments–even in replies to bloggers are open to be misunderstood! 8^)

          As always, enjoy the discussion.

          • Sorry for misinterpreting what you were saying Darryl! All too easy to do here on the internet :)

    • Absolutely John – there are huge steps we can take towards interpreting the Bible well which i talk about over here – http://phildrysdale.com/2014/02/5-five-minute-tips-to-help-you-get-the-most-out-of-the-bible/ and http://phildrysdale.com/2014/05/performing-huge-mistake-reading-bible/

      But in saying that we are still biased in many ways of our thinking and will always tend to read our interpretations into the scriptures.

      A movie that really made this point well was the Book of Eli. A great movie if you haven’t seen it.

  2. Phil, I don’t completely disagree with you. However, I think you are oversimplifying the use of logos. Certainly, John uses this word to describe Jesus. But not in every situation. John 6:60 – “this is a hard (logos) saying…” it isn’t “this is a hard Jesus”! Also, you have to agree that other writers in the NT use logos in a different way than John.

    Acts 10:44, Acts 13:44 uses the “logos” in a way similar to rhema or the proclaimed word of God. Also 1 Peter 1:23-25 seems to use both words interchangeably. Other passages Luke 22:16, Hebrews 4:12 make it clear logos refers to something other than Jesus.

    Now I agree 100% that “God is bigger than the Bible” and there is a tendency for bibliolatry–that is not my contention. I just dislike oversimplification. For instance when people make a hard fast distinction between agape and phileo when often the words are used interchangeably.

    Personally I feel graphe is better translated “writings” than scripture–which is truly a better translation–“script” is not as commonly used today as is the word “writing”. But even then, “word” (or words) is not a terrible way to translate graphe. In my own description I describe the Bible as the written word.

    Someone’s misunderstanding of what the phrase “word of God” means does not mean the phrase itself is a bad phrase. (Even you called it “the word of God” in this podcast).

    Frankly I have used the three in a metaphoric way as a “three-legged stool”. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes. But I would never suggest that each leg is equal. Every metaphor breaks down. But my use of the metaphor is to say if any form of the word is effective in and of itself then all three used together are effective exponentially. (In this case I use logos not as a description of Jesus but as the embodied or lived out word).

    People have made an idol of the Bible, true. But we shouldn’t oversimplify the problem either.

    • Actually to follow up on the three-legged-stool metaphor–it is when we describe each leg as “written word”, “spoken word”, and “embodied (by the Christian) word” that it makes most sense. In this way, I am not saying the written word is more important than Jesus, because logos in this sense is clearly not in reference to Jesus but to you and me as we embody the written and spoken words of God through our lives (and through the Spirit’s indwelling).

    • Hi Darryl – I agree it is overly simplified in the podcast – something that can’t be avoided when dealing with something in just a short 25minutes.

      However I do hold pretty hard and fast to the logos and rhema having specific meanings.

      Rhema always does refer to an active spoken voice (typically of God unless the context points to something else)

      Logos is a little less clear but typically refers to Jesus as a person or the message of Jesus Himself. It is probably more grey in it’s interpretation but is never used to reference the “scriptures” in general from my studies.

      I personally don’t see anywhere they are interchangeably used – the passages you refer to each seem to use rhema and logos for specific reasons which may not be clear on a cursory glance but upon looking at them I feel they highlight some distinct points.

      Heb 4:12 for example is very much talking about Christ in my opinion.

      1 Peter 1:23 references being born again of the Logos of God (Jesus) and then in v25 Peter finishes contrasting the temporary things in v24 with the eternal spoken word of God v25.

      Again though this isn’t very clear in every instance – especially with the word Logos which as we’ve said is more complex than a black and white meaning Jesus every time.

      In fact Acts 10:44 which you cited is a great example of the complexity of the use of logos and rhema in contrast. Karl Clark posted about this over on another one of my blogs recently which you can find here – http://phildrysdale.com/2014/04/bible-really-word-god/ – they are clearly speaking of a difference. There is something of what Luke is communicating there where He states that Peter is speaking the Rhema word of God to everyone but the Holy Spirit only fell on those that heard the logos word of God. Something interesting is in that and I think we’d be remise to gloss over it and say the words are just used interchangeably.

      As you say… more complex than I could do justice in just 25 mins :) Hopefully it helps people understand where I’m coming from and hopefully see that calling the Bible itself “the word of God” only causes great confusion when we read the word “word” in the Bible.

      Thanks for sharing your insights, they are very helpful in adding to the conversation of the podcast.

      • Thanks for your reply. I understand the challenge of explaining something in 25 minutes! And to reemphasize, I do agree with you in spirit on the overall point.

        But I still have to respectfully disagree on the hard fast rule of logos referring to Jesus. In John, certainly in many cases. But Paul is not John and neither is Peter. There is no real reason to believe they use the word in the same way.

        You say, “1 Peter 1:23 references being born again of the Logos of God (Jesus) and then in v25 Peter finishes contrasting the temporary things in v24 with the eternal spoken word of God v25.” But I fear you are begging the question with that argument. You are in effect saying, “because I believe ‘logos’ means Jesus then when Peter uses ‘logos of God’ then he means Jesus.” The context does not demand your interpretation.

        Again, John 6:60 pretty much kills the idea that logos only refers to Jesus. (Now, if you want to use the “or the message about Jesus” you can, but please–one can argue that all of the graphe, rhema, and logos focus on the message about Jesus. That hardly advances your point.)

        The same would be true of the Hebrews passage and the Acts passage. It seems to me you begin with the premise that because John uses logos to refer to Jesus then it cannot mean something else and then you interpret the text according to that premise.

        I think we have to be very careful with “word studies” because often we end up making points the authors may never have had in mind. It’s like demanding that anytime an author uses the word rendezvous that he can never mean something that happens between ships because rendezvous originally meant a meeting on dry land! Remember, too, Johannine writings were some of the last written of the New Testament documents, so it is highly likely that John came up with his usage of logos independent of Paul, Peter, and the others.

          • I totally agree Darryl – we have to remember that while some of the NT authors probably had read other texts found in the NT it’s unlikely they had all read each others letters.

            The word logos ultimately is a secular word and so I think first and foremost we have to recognise that it is something we choose to interpret one way or another as with everything.

            While I’m not saying it can’t mean anything else I just hold firm that our first interpretation should probably lean towards Jesus or a message of Jesus and if that isn’t the case we should probably delve a bit deeper.

            Bless you bro!

  3. I agree with you. And totally get what you’re saying. God brought that revelation to me years ago while clearing out my book shelf. He opened my eyes to see I treated my bible differently than the other books. I treated it like I thought a cherished possession should be treated. I took particular care to lay it down gently, unlike the other books, having no regard for how I stacked them, or tossed ’em aside. The bible HAD to be on top, and I couldn’t bring myself to just toss it, even gently. I had to take precise care when placing it anywhere. I became convicted that I treated the bible with more gentleness than I did people. Even my own children! I held it with a higher regard of holiness and value than I did His most cherished possession: MANKIND.
    “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. 9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,[a] for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. 12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own[b] by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.” (Ephesians 1:7-14)

    • Great thoughts Tina – I sure do love my Bibles and have to confess I still cherish it greatly and love to look upon my collection of Bibles they each mean a lot to me… but not because of the Bible itself… because of the ends to which it is a means. (one of many means)

      Thanks for sharing!

    • No. I believe the scripture is graphe. It is inspired by God, given to us for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

      But it is only rhema when God’s living voice through the Holy Spirit speaks through it. For some this might happen every time we turn to the scriptures other times not so much. Without the Rhema word speaking through the scriptures they are merely that… scriptures. The letter kills it is the spirit that brings life.

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