Before discussing the main point of this article, let me be clear up front:
There are no other writings that have had greater impact on my life than the collection of writings we commonly refer to as “the Bible.” *
Though I’m as human as everyone else and often get too busy, too tired, etc. I try to make it a discipline to read portions of the Bible – whether it be a chapter, a paragraph, or sometimes even a single word or sentence if I get hung up on it – every single day. No other work have I read as many multiple times.
Single readings have literally altered my life. A single verse forever changed my career direction, certain verses have gotten me through some of the most desperate, hopeless-seeming situations, and a single sentence once literally caused me to quit my job, uproot my family (back when we had two small children) and move to another state without a new job or specific place to live.
I do not regret any of those decisions or moments because to this day I have no doubt that God was behind them and specifically led me to those verses.
And though I think there is much carelessness and confusion when we use words such as “inerrant,” “infallible” and “authoritative” in relation to the Bible, and though frequently passages have been interpreted outside of culture, context, and literary form – often abusively – I do believe there is something miraculous about how the writings have been preserved for us through all these years to be able to read today.
I do believe there is power behind the words.
And I do not take lightly the fact that there are people out there in parts of the world who would give anything just to have a copy and that many have died just for possessing it or for trying to get copies to people who don’t.
With that made clear up front then let me say it…
I do not believe that something is true because the Bible says.
Very often we hear someone proclaim, “Well, the Bible says…” Sometimes people argue that something is “unbiblical” or will use phrases like “biblically correct,” or even more recently “biblical definition.” By throwing in the word “biblical” the user is trying to give their argument more weight…as though making their statement “more true.”
But I will say it again…
I do not believe that something is true because the Bible says.
I believe something is true because…it’s true.
The Bible does not create truth. Truth already exists and existed long before the Bible ever came along.
Now what I’m not saying here is that what the Bible says is not true. Nor am I implying that the Bible cannot or should not be used as a barometer of truth. The word “canon” has often been used in relation to the Bible and its Greek origin implies a “rod” or a “measuring line” (like a measurement ruler) – in other words, it becomes a standard by which truth can be measured.
I am one of over 7 billion people on this earth, with billions having lived before me and with parts of the universe completely unreachable and aspects unknowable. Consequently, there is no way that my individual thinking can be used as a measurement of truth.
And in spite of our postmodern culture that tends to teach there are many truths, I do believe there is central truth (for how can the idea of many truths be true if truth can’t be known). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to turn to a central, outside source of truth to measure your beliefs against.
Additionally, as I wrote in my article Losing My Religion I think it is the height of arrogance to somehow believe you have a better understanding of Judeo/Christian teachings than the founders of the faith who either composed the writings of the Bible or were quoted in them. Therefore, it is important the Bible remain a standard against which any Christian measures his or her beliefs.
Thus, the Bible can be used both as a measuring line and as an expositor of truth.
But the Bible cannot create truth; it can only reveal truth.
The truths of the Bible would exist whether the books, letters or poems in it had been written and collected or not.
Truth is not made powerful because it is in the Bible. The Bible is made powerful because it speaks truth.
Now all this may seem like a silly exercise in semantics and some of you may even be thinking, “Well, duh, I already knew that,” but this very fine line of difference of thinking has had a very profound impact on more than we realize.
Two significant problems occur:
1) When we allow the Bible to be thought of as the creator of truth rather than a revealer of truth we inadvertently end up creating two separate types of truth.
In the same way that we have created a false line of separation between the supernatural world and the natural (as discussed in my article I’m a Christian and I Don’t Believe in Miracles), we have also tended to create a false line separating “biblical truth” from what I will call, for lack of a better term, “secular truth.”
For example, because there is not a verse in the Bible that explicitly tells us, a “secular truth” would be that 2 + 2 =4 (I’m speaking mathematically here and not linguistically). This would be true whether mathematics had ever been discovered or any of us had ever been taught in school.
A “biblical truth” would be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” because it is recorded in Matthew 7:12. It would also be true whether Jesus ever said it or not.
Both truths would have significant effects on your life should you choose to live life not believing or practicing them. Both are equally true.
If you refuse to believe that 2+2 = 4 you will not only have great difficult handling more complex math problems but more than likely you would not be able to pass grade school. In addition (no pun intended), you would have a hard time with the most basic functions in life such as cooking, budgeting or even paying cash at the store.
Likewise, if you refuse to believe that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you then you will have extreme difficulty in relationships throughout your life. But the fact that it is biblical does not somehow make it “more true.” In fact, both truths were created by God.
Now both of these examples are pretty non-controversial as they are widely accepted by everyone with even non-Christians accepting our “biblical” example as “The Golden Rule” or a variation of “Karma.”
But what happens with concepts that are less agreeable? What happens when at least outwardly they seemingly contradict?
The result is that we often end up assigning one type of truth as having greater weight than the other and, furthermore, inadvertently give permission for people to opt out of one.
Christians, in arguing their position, often use the phrase, “Well, the Bible says…”
I hate to break it to you, fellow Christians, but to those who have already decided they don’t believe in God or in the Bible, the phrase “the Bible says” has absolutely zero weight.
In fact, it often does the exact opposite because that person has already decided they do not believe in “biblical truth.” By stating “the Bible says…” you just gave them permission to opt out of what you are about to say next.
Now some will counter with the verses, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12a) or “so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty” (Isaiah 55:11a). But, aside from the fact we need a better examination of what God’s “word” means, it is not that “the Bible says” which gives the words the power. It is the fact the words express truth.
It is the truth expressed that penetrates the deepest parts and does not return empty.
Of course, it would still be unwise for non-Christians to ignore something simply because “the Bible says…” Truth exists apart and separate from the Bible or religion. By choosing not to believe in something, does not suddenly make it disappear.
But as a society becomes increasingly secular, “biblical truths” become less and less valid.
The reverse can be said for Christians who sometimes ignore “secular truths” such as science.
Because a certain piece of scientific evidence does not seem to fit with your interpretations of the Bible, does not give you permission to automatically ignore it. Ask questions, examine the evidence, re-examine your own interpretations – yes. But often the real truth falls somewhere in between and to find that truth requires that both sides enter into honest-seeking conversation and to dig a little deeper. Both sides ignore either “secular truth” or “biblical truth” at their own peril.
One extreme example is new earth creationists who refuse to believe in the possibility that the earth and its creatures may have been created over a longer period than seven days and naturalists who refuse to acknowledge the possibility the universe may have been created by an intelligent, personal being. To them there is either “biblical truth” or “secular truth” but not both.
This way of thinking has also entered the public and political sphere as important truths are ignored because they are deemed “biblical” or “religious” and, therefore, cannot be put into practice because of “separation of church and state.”
One example is the removal of the Ten Commandments from public buildings. Interestingly, at least six of the ten commandments are ones that the majority of people could agree with. Most anyone, whether they believe the words of the Bible or not, would agree that kids should honor their parents and that it is wrong to: kill, steal, commit adultery or spend your time coveting your neighbor’s spouse, home or belongings.
They are true because they are true. Not because they are “biblical.”
Even with a little further examination of the other commandments, most people would agree that taking at least a day of rest is a good thing, idolizing a person or a thing can be a problem, and we should never inappropriately misuse someone’s name in authority. And when it comes to “no other gods before me” many would argue that modern science would not exist without the “monotheistic” belief that there is one central truth and even one central source law that created it all. Ever hear of the Theory of Everything?
Yet, because the Ten Commandments are “biblical,” we have somehow deemed that they are not valid for those who don’t believe and, therefore, the truths must be removed from any discussion in the public square.
By separating “biblical truth” from “secular truth” we avoid an honest search for real truth. We avoid certain truths that are true because they are true.
2) When we allow the Bible to be thought of as the creator of truth rather than a revealer of truth we avoid going to the ultimate source of truth.
I have often heard Christians proclaim, “All of life’s answers can be found in the Bible.” But is that really true?
In our example earlier, could we have learned that 2+2 = 4 if we depended on reading it in the Bible? And if all of life’s answers are found in the Bible, what does that mean for all the teachers, scientists, doctors, psychologists, etc. that God has specifically gifted to have impact on our lives? Do we ignore important truths they may share unless every word from their mouth is a direct quotation from a Bible verse?
And what about life’s more complicated situations:
…when you’ve raised your teen up “in the way they should go” and they still rebel?
…when you’ve been tithing but bills come in that you still can’t pay?
…when your child is still suffering from an incurable disease after the church elders have anointed and prayed over them?
…when a friend confides in you that their spouse has not cheated on them but is physically or verbally abusive?
…or when you simply need to know if you should take the job in L.A. or the one in rural Kentucky?
I have also heard Christians talk about relying on the “authority of the Bible.” But what does that even mean?
Does that mean that you turn to 600 + sheets of paper, marked with man-made ink comprising of around 800,000 translated words (translated into multiple variations), bound by leather or fake leather or paperback to be the ultimate source and authority of your life?
Sometimes in trying to find answers to a difficult situation I hear people say, “Well the Bible says…” and I want to respond, “But what is God saying to you?”
Because while I get the intent of what they are trying to do and believe the Bible contains profound wisdom and agree anything you think you are hearing should be measured against its truths, if you turn to it as your source rather than as a revealer of the truth you have missed the point.
For while the Bible can be useful for teaching, reproof, correction and training it was never meant to be the end game.
And what is the end game?
Jesus told us when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).
Not “The Bible is the way, the truth, and the life” and not “No one comes to the Father except through the Bible.”
For when you make the Bible your source rather than Jesus or God you are guilty of what has been termed Bibliolatry – when the Bible becomes your god rather than God…
…ironically breaking the first and second commandments
…and, thus, “biblical” becomes “unbiblical.”
Jesus did not come to earth, die on the cross, and rise from the dead so that you could have a relationship with the Bible. He came so that you could have a relationship with him and the Father.
As he said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39).
Unfortunately, I’ve known far too many Christians who can quote scripture left and right but miss out on relationship with Jesus himself, and I have too often been guilty of it myself.
The result is that when people are confronted with life’s difficult questions they turn only to the Bible as their source and end up with an inadequate and legalistic list of rules and regulations twisted and turned in order to try to make scripture answer every situation and become an authority over their lives.
But that is not relationship; that is just another bunch of Pharisaical laws – the very thing that Jesus tried to confront.
And because no one can live up to all the rules, it brings about shame – so rather than life, it only brings death.
But people tend to like the feeling of control that comes with rules, rather than the unpredictable aspects that come with having a real relationship with the ultimate source.
Add in the multiple translations and multiple interpretations of scriptures and you end up with not just the two types of truths but multiple truths – ironically just like the postmodern culture you may be trying to overcome.
For when the Bible is your source of truth rather than a revealer of truth you end up with:
Baptist truth and Catholic truth and Orthodox truth and Presbyterian truth and immersion truth and sprinkle truth and no alcohol truth and pro-alcohol truth and dancing truth and no dancing truth and charismatic truth and non-charismatic truth and Calvin truth and Wesley truth and Paul truth and Apollo truth and pro-life truth and pro-choice truth and pro-gay truth and biblical-definition-of-marriage truth and women pastors truth and women-must-be-silent truth and segregation truth and equality truth and social justice truth and small government truth and “once-saved” truth, post-trib truth, grace truth, election truth, etc. etc.
What if all of us got beyond our search for truth in solely printed ink and dedicated our lives to communing with the truth? Would we finally be united in truth?
Jesus said, “I came that (you) may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
As the source of truth, he is a dynamic relationship and not a bunch of rules. He is far more amazing, far more loving and far more intimate than any book could ever be.
The Bible is an incredible tool given by God. Study it, recite it, even memorize it…but remember its purpose is to lead you to relationship with the source.
Then and only then, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)
*Note: I realize there are different editions of what could be referred to as “the Bible”: Protestant Bible, Catholic Bible, etc. For the purposes of staying focused, I chose not to address that here.