Saturday, July 02, 2005

Calling All Fellow "Bibliolaters"

At first blush, it might seem that "bibliolatry" refers to the religious devotion of some sort of highly-specialized cargo cult (here or here) where the practitioners idolize bibs rather than radios or British royalty. Close, but no cigar. "Bibliolatry" is a disparaging term used to portray believers in sola scriptura and other closely-related concepts such as the inerrancy/infallibility of Scripture, and this term is employed by wildly divergent groups like Mormons and the so-called "Emergent Church Movement" (comments).

It appears that these detractors insist upon setting up a false dichotomy between God and his Word. For example, some in the ECM would say, "Yes, the Bible is a record of absolute Truth (which is found strictly in the persons of God/Jesus) and is given authority by that Truth to be instructional for the Christian. Yet also, the Bible is not God, nor should it replace God." But does anyone seriously believe that adherents to sola scriptura actually advocate, either implicitly or explicitly, that the Bible "replaces" God? Would they level this charge at the psalmist who penned Psalm 119, a lengthy paean to the Word of God? No, the Bible does not "replace" God as the object of our worship, but since all Scripture is divinely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16, citing Scripture here to substantiate the sola scriptura position as well as annoy the detractors), it carries the same divine authority as God himself. Ergo, obedience to Scripture is equivalent to obedience (and love, John 14:15, 21; 15:10) to God, and to belittle Scripture is to belittle God.

Historically, the Reformed understanding of the nature and import of Scripture reflects a high regard for the Word of God. Of the first three questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, two relate directly to Scripture (emphasis mine):

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God (Psalm 86; Isaiah 60:2; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 31; Revelation 4:11), and to enjoy him forever (Psalm 16:5-11; Psalm 144:15; Isaiah 12:2; Luke 2:10; Philippians 4:4; Revelation 21:3-4).

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 19:4-5; Genesis 2:24; Luke 24:27, 44; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Peter 3:2, 15-16), is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him (Deuteronomy 4:2; Psalm 19:7-11; Isaiah 8:20; John 15:11; John 20:30-31; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 John 1:4).

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God (Genesis 1:1; John 5:39; John 20:31; Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15), and what duty God requires of man (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:105; Micah 6:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith illustrates the Reformers' attitude towards Scripture (emphasis mine):

CHAPTER I.
Of the holy Scripture.

I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

II. Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:
Of the Old Testament

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
I Samuel
II Samuel
I Kings
II Kings
I Chronicles
II Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
The Song of Songs
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

Of the New Testament

The Gospels according to
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
The Acts of the Apostles
Paul's Epistles to the Romans
Corinthians I
Corinthians II
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
Thessalonians I
Thessalonians II
Timothy I
Timothy II
Titus
Philemon
The Epistle to the Hebrews
The Epistle of James
The First and Second Epistles of Peter
The First, Second, and Third Epistles of John
The Epistle of Jude
The Revelation

All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.

III. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.

IV. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decress of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
(Interesting to note that in both documents, the nature and purpose of Scripture is discussed straight off the bat. Gee, y'don't suppose that a proper understanding of and attitude towards Scripture was considered foundational to Christian belief, do you? Hmm...)

Now, why would someone professing to be a Christian believer have trouble with such statements? Why resort to puerile name-calling like "bibliolaters" or "biblians"? I suspect that those who resort to casting aspersions on adherents of sola scriptura do so in part because they have drunk deeply at the well of postmodernism and thus are hesistant to affirm much of anything, falsely assuming that any assertion or "truth claim" must of necessity be "arrogant." (Somehow, though, it escapes their notice that their labelling assertions as "arrogant" is itself an assertion, which, in keeping with their logic (such as it is) is likewise "arrogant." But I suppose that it's alright for the pomos to be inconsistent, since they eschew absolutes to begin with.)

I suspect, also, that such an attitude arises from a sense of guilt, the light of conscience convicting them of their cavalier attitude towards God's self-revelation. After all, if you don't like the message, a time-honored way of taking care of that problem is to assassinate (literally or figuratively) the messenger. They did that to Stephen (Acts 7), and they'll do the same thing to anyone who provides by word or deed a reminder of God's truth (I Peter 2:12-15; 3:13-17; 4:4)

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