Have We Made the Bible into an Idol?

The Bible shouldn't be worshiped. It should help us seek the One worthy of worship.

The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

You’ve heard that phrase before. You’ve read it on bumper stickers. You may have even said it a time or two. It’s an odd little religious mantra that perfectly captures the strange, often paradoxical relationship we modern Christians have with our mysterious ancient text:

Many of us have made The Bible the single pillar of our faith, but not all of us have a complete grasp on what it actually says. (eEspecially not the earlier, weirder stuff).

We’ll agree without question that it is filled with words from the very mouth of God, and yet we can’t really be bothered to crack it open all that often, (and again, definitely not the earlier, weirder stuff).

We so crave a Bible that we can use quickly and neatly to support our various arguments and discussion points, but that Bible doesn’t really exist.

That doesn't mean the Bible isn't true, or divinely inspired, or "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." It just means that it is not a simple book, and should not be treated like one.

Try putting any well-meaning, good-intentioned, faithful handful of seminary students, pastors, or pew sitters in a room, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any two who can find unanimous agreement on very much, let alone the totality of its 800,000 words.

Rather than admit and wrestle with the obvious complexities we face in historical context, writing style and author intent, too many Christians simply hide behind some incendiary, line-drawing, black and white, all-or-nothing rhetoric.

Maybe that's because the Bible has become for so many believers, a fourth addition to the Trinity; something to be blindly worshiped, rather than something to help us better seek the One worthy of worship.

Maybe that’s because the Bible has become for so many believers, a fourth addition to the Trinity; something to be worshiped, rather than something to help us seek the One worthy of worship. We’ve come to treat Scripture as the destination of our spiritual journey, rather than what it was for the earliest believers: essential reading material on the way to the Promised Land.

You can see this misplaced worship everywhere; on message boards, and on talk shows, and from pulpits, and in conversations over coffee. Many of us wield the Bible like an oversized power tool that we couldn’t be bothered to consult the manual for.

The difficult reality to come to terms with, for so many who claim Christ, is that those who have come to a different conclusion about the Bible, in both large and small ways, have done so through the same thoughtful study, the same prayerful reflection, the same sincere desire to know the very heart of God that they have.

The real problem, is that too many of us are choosing to simply deify the Bible as Divinity itself; something the Bible itself never asks us to do. It is not, as we so often mischaracterize it, “The Word of God” from John 1:1, Jesus is.

We’ve decided that The Bible speaks every necessary thing that God ever has or ever will say, and that He’s said it exactly as we’ve determined, translated, and believe it to be.

In other words, by elevating the Bible to the same level as God, and by leaning on our own understanding of its 66 books, we’ve crafted a Divine being who upon closer inspection, seems to think a lot like we do, vote like we vote, hate who we hate and bless what we bless.

The question we need to ask ourselves as modern believers, is whether or not we really trust God to speak clearly and directly to someone, independently of the Bible. We know of course, that God can and does communicate through Scripture, but must that be the only method He employs?

We believe that the fixed words of the Bible are, as it says, “living and active“, but do we believe that God is not?

The only religious worldview that makes the Bible the last and only word, is that of a God who is no longer living.

If we read the Scriptures like the will of a dead relative who is never coming back, then yes, we will cling to them as the sole voice through which He speaks. However, if we trust in a Jesus who is alive, and in a God who is fully present to individuals through His Holy Spirit, we will be fully expectant and confident that His voice and vocabulary are not confined to 66 books and 800,000 words. The Bible commands us not to add to the Scriptures, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t. That’s what prayer often yields; not God reciting the ancient text verbatim, but speaking anew to us.

If we trust in a Jesus who is alive, and in a God who is fully present to individuals through His Holy Spirit, we will be fully expectant and confident that His voice and vocabulary are not confined to 66 books and 800,000 words.

Regardless of how much we trust in it or revere it, the Bible can never be God, and it doesn’t need to be. We don’t pray to the Bible, though we can pray through and with it.

God is purely God, and the only entity capable of being so. The Bible and God can never ever be the exact same thing, and if we can't honestly admit that, we'll never be able to have meaningful discussion about either.

So what do we do in light of the acknowledgement that Scripture in itself, is not Deity?

We cherish it dearly, as a photo album of the family of faith we come from; those whose legacy we now steward.

We dig deeply into it, excavating the immeasurable treasures to be found there for each of us.

We sift it well, to find the irreducible truth in its pages, until we can see clearly the character of God.

We continue to pour through its lines, both in solitude and in community, allowing God to speak to us, both in the process and in response.

We use every resource at our disposal to strip away the layers of time, and tradition, and language, and culture, to find the writers' very hearts.

We see in it, the faith, the character, and the mistakes of those who've come before us, to aid us as we walk our leg of this great journey.

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We use it as an invaluable tool, to help craft a workable, usable faith in the everyday in which we live.

We pray endlessly for wisdom, humility, and faith, as we navigate its words, and seek its truth.

We do all of it, resting in the truth that for now, we will know only in part, but one day we will know completely.

As Christians, we should read, study, reflect on, respect, and where we feel personally convicted, obey the Bible, but we should never worship it.

The more honest option when coming to difficult parts of the Scriptures, might be for us to say: “The Bible appears to say that in this particular passage, I think I believe that interpretation, and now, let’s talk about it.”

A version of this piece originally appeared on JohnPavlovitz.com.

Top Comments

Caleb Pipes


Caleb Pipes commented…

Interesting Article here. Some good stuff. It pretty clearly shows this pastor's view of the authority of scripture. I wonder, however, if this is really an issue in the Evangelical world. Perhaps in the Fundamentalist camps that would see the KJV as the only inspired English translation. But even that is a misunderstanding of the role of the original autographs.
The biggest issue I have in this article is in this line, "As Christians, we should read, study, reflect on, respect, and where we feel personally convicted, obey the Bible, but we should never worship it."
Of course the Bible shouldn't be worshiped, and I don't think many churches who hold to a high view of Scripture (Inerrancy and Infallibility) would say that they worship the Bible, but the God so clearly portrayed within it. Can God communicate now? Of course, but what He would communicate would never contradict what he had previously revealed. That would make God a liar. What the Holy Spirit reveals to us personally would always line up with what is found there, not because I want to make scripture something that it isn't, but because God simple wouldn't contradict Himself. Anything that God might "add" would be consistent to what he has already shown Himself to be.
That isn't worshiping the Bible. That is recognizing it for what it is: God's revelation.
It isn't a matter of opinion. It is if you believe that the Bible isn't inspired, and you may believe that. Whatever. But from somebody who does believe that the Bible is inspired, I can say that just because I hold a high view of Scripture does not mean that I worship it or consider it the fourth part of the trinity, which is just a ridiculous thing to say. What it means is that the God who revealed Himself in a specific way (Through Scripture), wants me to know specific things about Him, and about the way that He interacts with us. I can trust that what I read about Him is true, because it is inconsistent with the very character of God to reveal something about Himself that isn't true.
Interpreting, understanding, and following Scripture is not a matter of personal opinion, but a matter of the objective truth revealed by an objective God that we as Christians try to follow.

Nathan Pifer


Nathan Pifer commented…

I'm over this guy. I knew it was going to be a John Pavlovitz article just by the title. I read the whole thing, read several parts twice, and none of it surprised me. While there are a few little nuggets of gold here and there (as with many of his articles), there's just way too much dirt to wade through (as with all of his articles.)

The problem, with this and other articles, is that he's bought into the post-modern idea that "we should not ever claim to know". This is an idea that has washed over western society like a flood. We pride ourselves on what we claim not to know. His hypocrisy is unmistakeable though; while he tells us we should not claim to know anything for certain, he certainly seems to think he knows, and knows better than those he is writing to. This is why his articles seem so condescending, its because they are condescending.

John, its clear from your articles and blog that you don't understand people who hold a high view of scripture, because your not one of them. We don't worship the Bible, it's not an idol to us. That's just silly and slanderous. We don't offer sacrifices to it or refuse to let it touch the ground or whatever. We don't pray to it. We just take what it says seriously. We take the parts that are clearly meant to be taken literally, literally. We take the parts meant to be taken figuratively, figuratively. We take the commands, as commands. And the narrative, as narrative. For the parts that don't agree with our feelings, culture, prejudices, and self righteousness, I think we'd hopefully try to conform our life to what the word says rather than vice versa. The Bible's not easy, but its not that difficult.

The Bible is meant to be understood, it would be of no use to us at all if it were not. There's no secret to it, and God's Holy Spirit helps us with understanding. But the way you write about the Bible makes it seem that people get so stuck in their own translation of it that they miss the truth of the Bible. I can't think of more of a plank-in-eye situation than this one right here. It's false teachers and leaders who want to lead people astray that are constantly trying to convince others of their inability to understand God's word. And that's what your articles constantly declare with incredible amounts of false humility.

John, come on. Maybe before you post something that "needs to be said" to your blog, perhaps think about if someone was coming at you with the same message. I hope you'll realize that while God's word isn't "a god" it is the word of God. It's not only above your opinion or my opinion, it's far above it. God's word is reflective of God's Character, just like my writing or your writing is reflective of our character.

God does not speak through you like he speaks through his word. Yes he can use you to be his hands and feet, he can even speak through you when you speak the truth and the truth will stand up when tested against scripture. John, too much of the things you think need to be said don't hold up to scripture. You do exactly the thing you preach against when you quote scripture and then use it to prove something that is entirely un-biblical. This has given me an uneasiness in my soul when I have read many of your articles and I know others feel it too.

I know you see yourself as some sort of rebel pastor, please don't rebel against God and his word. It didn't work out for Saul. 1 Samuel 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
It won't work out for you.

Relevant, please stop giving this guy a platform. Just because he has an opinion, doesn't mean it's a good one.


Tania Harris


Tania Harris commented…

Thanks John for your article. Timely and spot on. Interesting that when Jesus left he said, It will be better when I go, because I will send you my Spirit to help you... Too often we replace the Spirit's working with the Scripture. We've forgotten how to hear God's voice speaking to us in the ways he always has (Acts 2:17) The main purpose of the Scriptures is to testify to Jesus - who as you've said is ultimately The Word of God.

Jacki Cunningham Mayer


Jacki Cunningham Mayer commented…

Wow. I applaud your courage for pulling down this sacred cow! As a devoted Bible knower, I SO appreciate having all that the Holy Scriptures supply, and am thankful for it as a road map to the Truth, rather than being the destination itself.

Barry Pierce


Barry Pierce commented…

If "all scripture is God-breathed," then how is it "not... the Word of God" as the author asserts?

Seems this author has significantly over-stated his case, saying things that are simply untrue in order make us consider things we may have over-looked. Not good.

Tim Liechty


Tim Liechty replied to Barry Pierce's comment

In our age of "logical" thinkers isn't just as easy to presume that if God is all powerful and mighty (which He is) then He can get His point across even if the author writes something wrong down?

Even IF the flood didn't happen, do we not get the point that God's mercy is great?
Even IF evolution did exist (whether with animals only or humans included), do we not get the point that God DID create the universe and allowed things to go through motion. Did God put your father's seed into your mother's egg and allow you to be created? Or did he set things into motion (seeing how He can see time in many dimensions; i.e. knowing the future) that would allow your existence?
Even IF the walls of Jericho didn't fall by the vibrations of the soldiers feet, do we not get that through God's commands ANYTHING is possible?

We quote all the time that "Through Christ all things are possible," yet we can't assume that an imperfect text can lead to a perfect God...

Clifford Dunn


Clifford Dunn commented…

I find it is an interesting title, however as one who believes that the bible is not a guidebook or a how-to book, I believe that it's in error, the title not the bible.

The Bible is the very word of the living God.
So do I worship it?. You bet.

Worship is shipping worth to someone or something and giving it value.
And there's absolutely nothing more valuable than God and His word.

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