TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.
Back in December of last year, immediately upon the completion and subsequent publishing of my article on “Christianity’s Idolatrous Tendencies”, a reader submitted a comment in which he discussed the right and left fringes, their penchant for being the most vocal, and also suggested that I compose an article on the topic of Bibliolatry. So, I did what I often do before committing nouns and verbs, consonants, vowels and punctuation to article space; I started reading…
Although the simple concept of worshiping religious texts wasn’t foreign to me, this word was. “Bibliolatry”. I’d never heard it boiled down into one word, one nice little eleven-letter package, before now. It turns out that the word has been used in some pretty heated theological debates lately, on exactly how certain denominations view the scriptures in their entirety. (At the end of this article, I will be furnishing you, my fine young readers, with some links on the topic that you can follow and read, in order to expand your understanding of the word, as I have.)
As a result, that’s going to be more or less what this article is about; expanding our understanding of the concept, and how it relates to the wider realm of theological debate. In order to best accomplish this, we’ll take a simple “six essential questions” approach. I suspect that’s also what this particular reader, the one that suggested the article in the first place, was also after; for me to expand my knowledge, and become a better writer in the process. (Good looking out, Chris Randolph!) It’s pretty easy to point a finger, but it takes diligence to drill into an issue! (Please by all means, try digesting this article in sections, lest it become “TLDR”!)
What is Bibliolatry?
First of all, we need to get a firm idea of what “bibliolatry” is, exactly. If one googles a quick definition of the word, they get the following:
bib·li·ol·a·try: noun /ˌbiblēˈälətrē/
1. An excessive adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible.
2. An excessive love of books.
Another word that often comes up within this context is the word “worship”, and the idea that some people of faith “worship” their bibles. What does it mean to “worship” something? Once again, let’s look to the “Webster Word” definition of worship:
wor·ship: noun \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\
1. (chiefly British) - a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
2. reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3. a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4. extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>
So, within the scope of Christianity…Bible worship. Does it exist? The answer to that greatly depends on who you ask, and from which “school of thought” that their answer comes…
Who is engaging in Bibliolatry?
One of the first questions that I was posed with, right from the outset of researching this topic, was if this idea, this concept of “Bible worship” even exists. There is the perception by some observers that some of the more fundamentalist denominations within Christianity often engage in bibliolatrous behaviors and statements. (Try saying that three times, really fast!) Make no mistake though, this issue is not limited to Christianity. I’m sure that at least some of you have noticed the tendency of fundamentalist and / or radical Muslims to react violently when the Qu’ran is, in their opinion, defiled or disrespected in some way. (Unless you’ve been dwelling under a rock, or in some remote mountain community without access to media since 2001, you’ll know full well what I mean.) In addition, the idea of worshiping religious texts also seems to be found in the Sikh faith, by virture of the manner in which their sacred text, the “Shri Guru Granth Sahib” is viewed. But I digress…
In the process of researching this article, I had the opportunity to speak with ministers from a few different faiths. The Lutheran pastor that I spoke with seemed to think that bibliolatry is nonexistent, while the pastor from the local Assemblies of God church acknowledged that some of the more conservative denominations may in fact be engaging in the practice, based upon their view of scripture.
Likewise, some on the outside of mainstream Christianity have also asserted that those fundamentalists who refuse to accept scientific fact, in favor of a literal interpretation of their bible, are indeed engaging in a form of bibliolatry.
How does the Bible address Bibliolatry?
First of all, the Bible itself would seem to prohibit its own worship, by virtue of the first of God’s “ten commandments”, also known as the “Decalogue”:
1 – “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
The entire crux of the bibliolatry debate seems to come down to the way people of faith view their bibles, and there are indeed a few passages with regard to this. Denominations such as the Southern Baptists, who hold the Bible and its authority in high esteem, point to verses such as 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, in which the epistle’s author (believed to have been the apostle Paul) states the following:
(16 )”All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
(17 ) That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (KJV)
Critics of this school of thought also find biblical reinforcement for their position, in passages such as John 5:39-40, where Jesus himself is quoted as saying;
(39 )”Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
(40 )And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (KJV)
I think this might be a good point at which to stop, so that you all have a chance to digest what I have posited here thus far. In the next article, I will address the remaining three questions on the topic…so stay tuned! In the meantime, here are a few links to articles on the subject of bibliolatry, and church responses;
1) Article on “Bibliolatry” at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliolatry
2) “Bibliolatry: A Fraudulent Accusation”, article by Dr. A. William Merrell, Vice President, Southern Baptist Convention.
3) “Postcard from San Diego: Fighting ‘Bibliolatry’ at the Evangelical Theological Society”, article written by Ted Olsen, at Christianity Today.
4) “Is Bibliolatry the Real Danger?”, short article by Kevin DeYoung, at The Gospel Coalition.