Monday, June 19, 2006

Can We Make the Bible an Idol?

Over at Carla's blog awhile back, there was a question posed about loving the Scriptures too much--and putting them in the place of loving Christ. I didn't care for the wording of that question, because I think it obscured the real issue.

If we use a biblical definition of love, I don't think you can say that folks love the Scriptures too much. If you really love the Scriptures, you'll love Christ, too.

But if we ask "can we make the Bible an idol," then we've got a question worth consdering.

The answer is "yes," and here are some ways people do it.

1) When we elevate any one translation to be true Scripture, and decry all others as false. This is exactly what the King James Only folks have done.

A correct understanding of Scripture recognizes that all translations are just that, translations, and are good to the extent they are faithful to the Hebrew & Greek originals. That's not to say there isn't a place to debate methods of translation, but just to recognize that no translation is completely perfect and no faithful translation (even if we disagree with how it was done) is completely bad, either. (There are some bad translations, but that is a separate issue).

To be sure, I have strong opinions about what type of translation to use; but I am concerned that the current debate over the TNIV may be on its way to crossing this line.

2) Relating to the Word in a mystical or superstitious way. Here, I have in mind making the Bible an object of veneration. It is the Word of God, but that does not make it a sacred object. (Interestingly, my pastor suggested that I might be doing this very thing when I ask folks in church to "please stand for the reading of God's Word.")

3) Focusing on the letter vs. the spirit. It's this last one I'd like to spend a minute on.

This is the heart of the issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. They thought they knew the Scripture so well, but Christ pointed out over and over that they didn't know it at all, because at the heart of Scripture is the heart of God. And if we don't have that heart, Scripture is a closed book to us. It is truly worth nothing more than an idol.

It's one thing if I point out to a brother that he is in error; it's another thing altogether to assert that I am more righteous than he based on that fact. Any time we come away from the Scripture feeling self-righteous instead of humble, I think we have mishandled Scripture, and we may be making it an idol.

But while I agree that a legalistic approach to the Scriptures will eventually lead to this error, I disagree with those who go a step further and assert that someone who advocates orthodox belief is automatically legalistic. To be dogmatic about one's beliefs is not the same thing as being a Pharisee--there's also the matter of the heart. And at center of every Pharisee's heart there exists, not a love of God, but a love of self.

That's why I don't think we can love the Scriptures too much--we can't love the Scriptures unless we love God. I don't think those who were zealous for the letter of the law (along with their own rules), while ignoring the "weightier matters," can be rightly characterized as "loving the Scriptures," any more than it can be rightly said that a martyr for Islam truly loved God.

13 comments:

Kim said...

Excellent post, Matt!

Re: bible translations. I guess in a perfect situation, we'd all be fluent in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.

Even So... said...

In John 5:39, Jesus gives us a perfect example of what you are pointing out. They knew the scriptures, but not the Savior.

I do have the congregation stand for the reading of the Word, and that could be a problem, but it depends on the teaching undergirding it.

There are those who use the bible, the name it and claim it, who may reverence the Word, but for their own selfish lusts.

That being said, I want our folks to be able to rest in the authority of the Word, not question it at every uncomfortable turn. So I believe it is an important item, along with a steady expositional diet, in my church today.

A ditch on either side...

To wit, I was about to post my talk about people using the bible and its "promises" as a "magic book" today, but it will have to wait, 'cause I just had to post about ECUSA, Ichabod.

Bob Kauflin said...

Matt,

Thanks for this balanced, carefully thought out, helpful, humble post.

centuri0n said...

Matt --

Because I love you, I'm going to antagonize you. But first, I am going to agree with you.

I agree that, for example, my love of the ESV borders on cultic fetish, but alas I cannot read Greek, and my 40+ year old brain has atrophied to the place where the Greek letters ... they're Greek to me. I'm stumped, so I use the ESV. When I say that it is the only useful translation in English, I go too far.

But that brings us back, for example, to the Greek NT. Particularly, the NA27. You said this:

"all translations are just that, translations, and are good to the extent they are faithful to the Hebrew & Greek originals."

What would you say to someone who said to you, "Gummby, you scorn my high admiration for the ESV as the best and only useful edition in English, but you have placed the same admiration on a synthetic text which is not the autographs. And even if it turns out to be identical to the autographs, I think you have made the error you are accusing me of: you are confusing the symbols on the page for the substance of the revelation of God. You're just as big an idolater as I am -- you just push your idolatry into the magic Greek rather than into the magic English."

This is what you get when Dan Philips links to you at TeamPyro. And for willingly being my sidekick. And for not keeping in touch with me even though I don't keep in touch with you, either.

Trinian said...

Uh huh. I'm probably not understanding the question here.

What is the "substance" of the revelation of the Holy Spirit if not the words that it inspired the writers to write?

Does it have to be the original paper? the ink? Where is the truth if not in the "symbols"?

A faithful translation that conveys the identical and complete understanding of that truth that the writers were given when writing it would then be just as revelatory, yes?

And sure, I would be proud to say that I have made the revealed person, nature, and truth of God an idol (if only it would be more true). He's my God, right?

Or have I completely missed the point?

~Trinian

BugBlaster said...

Frank,
I'm not Gummby, but here's what I would say:

#1 You ignored Gummby's 2nd and 3rd points, which clearly show that he is not idolizing the magic greek.

#2 The magic greek (for example NA27) may very well be a synthetic text, but it is the most reliable representation we have of what the original autographs said. And where the original reading is unclear, the footnotes make clear what the alternate readings are, and which manuscripts record them, and it gives a rating on the confidence that the editors have in the reading that was chosen... A - highest = very certain, down to D = up in the air.

#3 Anybody who idolizes ESV is all wet. Clearly, NASB is where it's at, with a dash of a good dynamic equivalence translation thrown in for balance.

centuri0n said...

I am going to de-link you, Buggy, for interfering with the tutilage of my sidekick.

BugBlaster said...

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

But I thought you were Matt's sidekick. Did I get it wrong somehow?

Dan B. said...

interesting post, Matt, and good thoughts. For me, I have to be careful that in discovering the doctrines of grace that I do not idolize the doctrines rather than love the grace of God that flows from them.

Gummby said...

Cent said: What would you say to someone who said to you, . . .I think you have made the error you are accusing me of: you are confusing the symbols on the page for the substance of the revelation of God. You're just as big an idolater as I am -- you just push your idolatry into the magic Greek rather than into the magic English.

In his Basics of Biblical Greek book, Bill Mounce says this:
God used the common language to comminicate the gospel. The gospel does not belong to the erudite alone; it belongs to all people. It now becomes our task to learn this marvelous language to help us make the grace of God known to all people.

He also has this to say: The main purpose of writing this book is to help you to understand better and communciate more clearly the Word of God. . . . Remember the goal: a clearer, more exact, and more persuasive presentation of God's saving message.

The point here is to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of God. Not just knowledge of God, but relationship with Him. This is how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us, and so it behooves us to use every means (and language) available to us to understand it.

Trinian said: A faithful translation that conveys the identical and complete understanding of that truth that the writers were given when writing it would then be just as revelatory, yes?

Speaking hypothetically, I might answer this question "yes." But such a translation does not exist--cannot exist, because of the nature of translation. God did inspire the very words the writers wrote, but their words are never perfectly clear to us in translation, try as we might.

Dan B.: Me too. That's one of the reasons I wrote this.

BugBlaster said...

Yes, I would agree. A perfect translation is not humanly possible.

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Lance Roberts said...

Since John says the Jesus is the Word, then you can't idolize the Scriptures above Christ, they are Christ, and he is them.