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Pious Assertions About the Bible

There is a whole category of assertions about the Bible that I call “pious,” that reflect people’s desire to respect the Bible and uphold its authority, but that are often inaccurate and poorly considered. I would ask whether a statement can be truly pious and respectful if it is also not true. My suggestion is that we consider carefully whatever statements we make about the Bible to be certain that the reflect what the Bible actually is and its purpose in the Christian community.

For example, there are exaggerated statements of obedience. “I do everything the Bible says,” someone announces. Do they really? That’s quite unlikely. There actions are probably more nuanced than that, but it just sounds so good to claim that you do everything the Bible says. Every theological position I know of has some element to limit certain commands to particular times or places, as well they should. But further very few of us, at best, could claim to always carry out God’s will for us in everything, can we? Perhaps we should say something more like, “I do my best to obey God’s commands as they apply in my life” or “I do my best to follow God’s will with his help or strength.” That sounds more like respect, combined with honesty.

A second category is those statements that treat the book almost like a person. At our daughter’s wedding the little Bible boy was a fairly lively individual. He was carrying my very most favorite Bible, a Cambridge NRSV with wide margins, two markers, and decent sized print. I have a number of full sets of sermon notes in the margins of that Bible. My daughter wanted him to carry it. During rehearsal, he grabbed it, folded it over backward, and started beating the altar rail with it. May I say that it got on my nerves? But my distress was due to my love of books, and to my desire to have that particular book in good condition, not out of fear that God might be angry at the mistreatment of the book. I have encountered people who are afraid to mark their Bibles, write in the margins, or even carry them under tough circumstances. There’s the standard admonition to put the Bible on the top of any stack of books. But the bottom line is that your actual Bible is still just ink and paper. It’s the divine inspiration, the message, that is holy, and that will not be damaged even if the original is flushed down the toilet.

Finally, there are the bad analogies. My favorite is the “boy scout manual.” Whenever someone gets that saintly smile on their face, and tells me that the Bible is just like the scout manual, I am pretty sure they’ve either never read the scout manual or never read their Bible–usually the latter. The Bible is actually almost, but not quite totally unlike a scout manual. I say “almost” because the Bible is a book with paper, ink, covers, and so forth. Apr├Ęs church has a good post related to this here (HT: Wayne Leman of Better Bibles Blog).

The problem is what I call the “Sunday School” answer. We know we’re supposed to respect the Bible as God’s Word. We know it’s important. But often in the modern Christian community we don’t actually know what’s in it, so we can’t make our own accurate statements of why it’s important to us. Thus we use just any comment that sounds pious and respectful, so we can appear to respect the Bible without the effort of digging into it.

For me, the Bible is an important companion as I commune with God. Over the years my times of prayer and Bible study have become more and more blurred. That’s because I see prayer as communion with God, and I see Bible study in the same way. God speaks to me through the Bible. My understanding of his will is enlightened by the Bible.

There’s a good old statement that does well for me: Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. — Psalm 119:105

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