Many modern Christians, particularly from Protestant, Evangelical, and Fundamentalists traditions, place the Bible as the center, and foundation of their faith. To them it serves as the rule of faith and practice, the center of Christian unity, the standard that tries human conduct, religious opinions, creeds and is the ultimate authority in the church and in the lives of individual believers.2 For them the Bible serves as an interpretive lens to the world, the gospel, and Jesus. But do the Scriptures deserve such a place in our lives, indeed in our faith? Is this the place they have always held? My Bro Crush, Old Testament Scholar Peter Enns says it this way,
“The Bible is not the center of the Christian faith. The Bible has always played an unimpeachable role in Christianity, and I certainly do not mean to suggest otherwise. It is not, however, the central focus of Christian faith. That position belongs to God, and Christians are called to trust him. Of course, as Christians believe, Scripture bears witness to God and what he has done in Christ, but Scripture’s witness-bearing role should not be confused with the one to whom Scripture bears witness-and when the American landscape is dotted with ‘Bible’ Churches and seminaries, we see such confusion in full swing.”
When we began to look into the history of the church we see that the bible held a different place in the faith of the early church. In his book Early Biblical Interpretations, Rowan A. Greer, an Anglican Scholar, discusses the role of Scripture in the early Church (30-180 C.E.). Citing a number of early Christians, he quotes Ignatius (107 C.E), an early Apostolic Father, from his letter to the Philadelphians in response to possible Jewish Christians stating that the “gospel” must be proven from the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, for them, the Hebrew Scriptures I.e. the Bible of the early church was their primary authority. What they called their “charters”, or “ancient records” depending on the translation. Ignatius responds, “But to me the charters are Jesus Christ, the inviolable charter is his cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is through him.” Greer states that to Ignatius, the Hebrew Scriptures only embodied authority when read through Jesus, and the message of Jesus, e.g. the gospel. Greer continues, “If we may take Ignatius view as the one that prevails in the early church, we may conclude that while the Hebrew Scriptures were the Bible of the church, their authority was secondary to that of the Christian Preaching.” In other words Jesus, not the Bible was the center of their faith, the Church’s Primary authority was Jesus and what he did (Christian Preaching), and he and his story had “prior authority and must determine the meaning of the Hebrew Scripture.” Said another way the Bible was to be read and reread in light of Jesus and his story.
In reading the word, “word” in the bible through an Evangelical lens we understand this as referring to the bible. Most evangelicals have the presupposition that the Bible is God’s Word, from this presupposition we interpret everything else from. What I mean by this is that when the bible refers to the “word of God” we assume without question that it is synonymous with the Bible. But is this what the bible itself teaches? For example, we assume Hebrews 4:12 is referring to scripture when it says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Greek word being used here, translated as “word”, is in fact “logos,” which actually does not seem to refer to scripture. The word used and translated as scripture is “graphe.”
Another word in Greek that can be translated as word is “rhema.” Both “logos” and “rhema” do not mean scripture as far as I can tell. The only word used exclusively to refer to scripture is “graphe”. The early church seems to call the bible scripture, and seems to reserve the word “logos” for Christ or his revelation which is distinguished from scripture. Athanasius, a fourth century church father, himself seems to see Hebrews 4:12 as referring to Jesus the Word of God not the bible. “For the Son of God ‘is living and active’ (Hebrews 4.12), works daily, and effects the salvation of all.” Or St. Irenaeus of Lyons in speaking about the nature of the Holy Trinity says concerning the Son, “And the second article: the Word of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ..” Or a couple pages later in his book On The Apostolic Preaching he says, “..for those who bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son..” Again he says, “..resting upon the Son of God, that is the Word in His human advent..” Or “This God, then, is glorified by His Word, who is His Son..”
Even in the books of Acts we see it’s author use “Word” and “Scripture” not synonymously but as two different objects. Acts 17:11 says, “These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the word (logos) very eagerly and examined the scriptures (graphe) every day to see whether these things were so.” Or in 2 Timothy we see it’s author using the two words separately once again. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture (graphe) is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
And in the next verse, which starts in chapter 4 its says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim (kerusso) the word (logos); be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” 4:2 is often said to be referring to scripture which was just mentioned a few verses earlier. The Greek word “kerusso” translated here as “proclaim”, sometimes “preach” is connected to sharing the gospel. When “kerusso” is used it does not mean to preach a sermon prepared from scripture, rather it means to share the gospel. Here then its seems most likely that to “proclaim” the “Word” (“kerusso” the “logos”) the “Word” in this context is clearly the spoken gospel not written scripture.
Or in John 1 it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Although I could give many other examples, because of the nature of this essay I must refrain from doing so. In light of all this we have good reason to believe that the Evangelical mind which associates the phrase “word of God” or “word” with the bible is a reading onto the biblical text a meaning to those Greek words “logos” and “rhema” that is foreign to their meaning and use by the New Testament authors. And is possibly not how the early church saw the Bible. At the very least the early church’s emphasis was on Christ as the “Word.” It would seem that when we read the phrase “word of God” we should not assume the author is referring to the bible.
In light of all this I propose that “Christological” should replace the term “Biblical” when denoting the theological goodness or acceptance of a thing. Using the term Biblical in the way we often do to establish the veracity of something is idolatrous because it sets the Bible as the foundation for truth (Which is based on the epistemology of Classic Foundationalism) and for the Christian faith; or maybe sees the Bible as Truth itself. While many Evangelicals do not see this as a problem, this replaces the unique role of Christ as both the foundation of our faith and the source from which all truth flows for He is Truth. In the gospel of John it is recorded, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (emphasis mine) The Scriptures themselves never claim to be the Truth, what they do claim to do is point us to the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He does not say the scriptures are. But many evangelicals make the bible their standard of truth. But it seems that Jesus said that he is our standard of truth.
I’m sure at this point someone is asking the question, “Isn’t the Bible how we know Christ?” This presupposes the Scriptures as our ultimate authority and as our primary way of knowing God, and that Christ is limited to them. But only is someone limited to a set of writings after they have died. Only is your primary way of knowing someone through written texts, after the person themselves have died. This seems to lead us to a dead Christ and a denial of the Resurrection. Charles Spurgeon is limited to texts, but that’s because he’s dead. You can only know Charlie boy through written texts because he’s dead! Yet if Christ is really the Living Word of God who has been Resurrected then surely he is not limited to a set of writings. Surely we know Him primarily in person through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Not to say that any written texts about him are totally useless only that they are not primary or necessary for our knowing of Christ.
In Matthew 23:10 Jesus is recorded to having said, “Nor are you to be called instructors for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” If read from a Biblicist perspective Jesus rather should have said “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Bible.” But this is not what it says. Rather when Christ said he is our Instructor he actually meant it. George Fox had it right when he said, “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” Christ as recorded in the Gospels, saw himself as a higher authority than the Bible.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” This of course was a reference to a command from the Torah. You might think because it was in the Bible that Jesus would then go on to affirm it, but this is far from what he did. “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” It is recorded he continued to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven.”
Jesus places himself as a greater authority above that of the Torah. He doesn’t say, “This is what scripture says so listen to it.” Instead he essentially says, “You have heard the bible says do this, but I’m telling you to do something different, because I’m Jesus the Living God.” This might be scary for some, but it gives us the opportunity to ask this question. Does the idea of Jesus and therefore God contradicting the Scriptures make you uncomfortable? If so, maybe the Scriptures are your god, and not Christ. With the Bible as the foundation of our faith, the moment we start to discover the messiness, complexity, and diversity of the scriptures there is a good chance we will very likely lose our faith. But then again maybe we need to lose our faith in the bible so we can gain one in Jesus.
Christ is the source of Truth, and Christ should be the source of our faith, as it historically has been. Not only is he the source of Truth He is Truth for Truth is not propositional but IS the person of Jesus. There can be no other foundation than Christ; once there is we create “Christianity” with the Bible as our God, which ironically then becomes something entirely different than Christianity, Bibli-anity. When the Bible is central to our faith something has been replaced – Christ has had his throne stolen. Evangelicals have replaced their King with another, the Bible. As I see it, this is the underlying idolatry of using the term Biblical to denote anything from who is “in” or “out” of the faith, to who has a “justified” or “good” theology or to what is a “biblical” Christianity, which ironically, is unbiblical.
I should make a clarifying note regarding how I am using the term “Christological.” When I use the term “Christological” I am not necessarily referring to the study of the work and person of Christ so much as I am using it to denote the underlying reality, truth, veracity and accuracy of the cosmos as created by God. When I say something is Christological I am making a truth claim, I am saying that it is accurate to reality, that it is good, and reflective to who God is. I am placing Christ as the rule of faith and practice. I am making Christ and ultimately the Trinity the measuring stick, so to speak, by which we measure all other things. This may seem to be a problem because we can’t physically grasp the Trinity. We can’t control someone so infinitely expansive, this God won’t fit into our box, or book. But then again maybe we were never meant to be able to fully grasp the infinite.
One unconsciously uses the words that best describe what one truly believes and trusts. However, one must be aware that “bad terminology always leads to bad theology.” By using the term Biblical, which suggests a foundation based on the bible instead of Christ, we are making plain that our belief and trust is actually in the Bible, and not God. When we see “Bible colleges”, and “Bible churches” it is quite plain what, rather than who their trust is actually in. I think we see the Pharisees falling into a similar idolatry when Jesus is recorded to having said, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life: and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” It is my suggestion and proposal that Christological should replace the term Biblical in daily use. The Scriptures are wonderful and are the written witnesses from our spiritual ancestors, but when we replace them from a position of witnessing to the center of our faith we prevent the witness of the biblical authors from doing the very job they were written to accomplish.
I will end here with a quote from a man who deeply loved Jesus and knew him to be his firm foundation: “Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever-unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them?” George MacDonald.
The Bible is not the third part of the Trinity, somehow replacing the Holy Spirit, and he is certainly not the fourth person of God for those who want to somehow maintain a spirit filled life. Neither is trusting the Bible and trusting God the same thing.