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 (Especially 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 worshipped, 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.
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.
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.
is a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. He recently released his first book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community.