Christianity is NOT a Book-religion

Though often perceived as the "religion of the Book," Christianity is only rightly understood as an ontological relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God.

©1998 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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Christianity is NOT Religion series

   Do you know what an iconoclast is?

   An iconoclast is an idol-smasher, an idol-breaker. Throughout the history of mankind and religion there have been men and movements which have been iconoclastic. They are always hated by the religionists because religionists do not like to have their "sacred cows" smashed. They worship those idols. In fact, on many occasions in history the religionists have risen up to kill the iconoclasts.

   I can almost see the stones. I can almost feel the tar and feathers. I can almost hear the flak and the abusive railings that will be the probable result of my idol-smashing. But iconoclasts believe in what they are doing, and often rush in where angels fear to tread.

   I want to be very delicate and selective in my idol-smashing. I know that I am at great risk of being misunderstood and misconstrued. Religionists will hate me for my radical departure from their traditionalism. They will likely misrepresent what I am saying in trumped up charges of treason and by black-listing me for blatant blasphemy.

   Can it really be that bad? It could be, but I trust that you will understand what I am saying in this article.

   With a big backswing I take my first big swipe at the idol by declaring that "Christianity is not a Book-religion." Many have said that "Christianity is not a religion" that binds us to something. I am simply amplifying that statement by declaring that "Christianity is not a Book-religion." Nor is Christianity the "religion of the Bible" as many have declared.

   What is the Bible? The Bible is a book. The word "Bible" is derived from the Greek word biblion which means "book," or more accurately "papyrus scroll" as this was the material used for writing in ancient times. The Bible is a book which is in one sense like every other book in the world, but in another sense is unlike any other book in the world. It is like other books in that it is black printing (sometimes red and other colors) on white paper, and it is a tangible, perishable object. It is unlike other books in that it represents and enscripturates the revelation of God, and is the only book in the world where you have to know the Author to understand the book.

   God never intended that we should worship the Book. That is bibliolatry, making the Bible into a physical idol. The reverence that many Christians attach to the book is dangerously close to idolatry of the Bible.

   Christianity is not the religion of the Book. Christianity is Christ! Christianity is the dynamic, personal Spirit of God functioning in man. It is not the study of, memorization of, or adherence to the principles and propositions and precepts of a bound-book.

   Do you see the distinction I am trying to make? I am attempting to exalt Jesus Christ over the Bible. Frankly, that is a dangerous thing to do these days in contemporary Christian circles, for you begin to smash people's idols.

Unbiblical Understandings of the Bible

   Driving through Vista, California in March of 1990, I observed this statement on the marquee of a church building called Calvary Chapel: "The traditions of men cannot save -- Trust in the Bible."

   What kind of salvation can be effected by trusting in the Bible? It is true that "the traditions of men cannot save," but neither can the tradition of "trusting in the Bible." Scripturally speaking, we are only encouraged to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation for He is our Savior, not the Bible. The personal indwelling life of Jesus Christ alone is effective for salvation. We receive Him (Jesus) by faith, not by "trusting in the Bible."

   I received in the mail a tract written by James R. Urban and entitled, "The Bible: Man's Only Hope." The title itself made me suspect that this was misguided hope. The contents only served to confirm such:

"The Bible is man's only hope for salvation." 1

Paul indicates that "Christ our hope" (I Timothy 1:1). Luke records Peter's telling the Jewish leaders that "there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), other than "the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 4:10).

"Abraham Lincoln said, 'I believe the Bible is the best gift that God has ever given to man.'" 2

The best gift that God has given to man is His Son, Jesus Christ. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." (John 3:16). "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

"Horace Greely said,...The principles of the Bible are the foundation of human freedom.'"3

The foundation of human freedom is in Jesus Christ. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free." (Galatians 5:1) "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32); "I am the...truth" (John 14:6).

"You will do well to remember this simple formula: 'The best thing to do with the Bible is to know it in your head, stow it in your heart, sow it in the world and show it in your life. For the knowing, stowing, sowing and showing Christian will be a glowing and a growing Christian.'" 4

A Christian is to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18), not merely by Bible knowledge. The dynamic of the life of Jesus Christ is the basis of our Christian living, not static information of the Bible.

   A bestselling book by John MacArthur, Jr. contains what is perhaps the classic defence of bibliolatrous reverence for the Bible. The following quotations are but a few of his assertions:

"God's Word (the Bible) is true and absolutely comprehensive." 5

Only God is absolutely comprehensive. The attributes of God are non-transferrable and we cannot attribute an attribute of God to a book.

"its (the Bible's) truthfulness produces a comprehensive righteousness in those who accept it." 6

The Bible does not produce righteousness. Righteousness is only produced in the behavior of mankind when the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (I John 2:1) dwells in man and the Righteous character of God is expressed in man's behavior as we walk by faith.

"There is no substitute for submission to Scripture." 7

James admonishes us to "submit to God" (James 4:7), but we are never admonished to submit to scripture.

"trust in the inexhaustible sufficiency of our Lord's perfect Word (Bible)." 8

Our sufficiency is of God (II Corinthians 3:5) from whom we have "all sufficiency in everything" (II Corinthians 9:8). We are to trust in His sufficiency, not that of a book.

"If we obey it (the Bible), we will be blessed in whatever we do." 9

Christian obedience is obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:2), not obedience to a book. Nowhere in scripture is a Christian encouraged to obey some"thing" such as a book. What kind of a "blessing" does one get from a book? Paul indicates that "God...has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

"His (Christ's) perfect wisdom is available through His Word (Bible)." 10

Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that as Christians who have received the Spirit of God, they have wisdom. "Christ is our wisdom" (I Corinthians 1:24,30).

"If you're a need the Word (Bible) for training and spiritual growth. 11

What about Christians who do not have the Bible translated into their language, or those who cannot read a book even if were available? Spiritual growth is by the Spirit of God, not by book-knowledge.

   If that were not enough, MacArthur goes on to attribute to the Bible what can only be attributed to God in Christ concerning the regeneration of men.

"The Word of God (Bible) is perfectly able to open an unbeliever's eyes to the truth of the gospel, convict him of sin, or even do radical surgery on his soul."12

Jesus Christ carefully explained to the disciples that He was going to go away and would send the Holy Spirit who would "convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment" (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit "convicts of sin," not the Bible itself.

"Scripture itself is...adequate for evangelism" 13

MacArthur implies this by referring to "liberalism's legacy" that "Scripture itself is inadequate for evangelism.." Jesus said that He would "draw all men to Himself" (John 12:32). How then can scripture "itself" be adequate for evangelism?

"He (Jesus) knew the saving power of God's Word (Bible)." 14

"Paul was certain that God's Word (Bible) itself was sufficient to provoke true saving faith in the hardest unbeliever's hearts." 15

"God's Word (Bible) is the seed that produces salvation." 16

"If you're not a need the Word (Bible) for salvation." 17

"Scripture imparts salvation." 18

How can any Christian with any degree of knowledge of the scriptures make such statements? God's saving power is in His Son, Jesus Christ, not in the Bible. The Bible "itself" is not sufficient to provoke saving faith; God alone provokes such. Salvation is produced only by the action of the Savior, Jesus Christ, not the Bible. Salvation is not some"thing" imparted or dispensed; rather it is the on-going saving activity of Jesus Christ our Savior.

   But the real clincher of misunderstanding is evident when MacArthur states:

"Believing God's Word (Bible) results in eternal life." 19

What did Jesus say? He said to the Jews, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me" (John 5:39). Later Jesus prayed, "this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3). John MacArthur, Jr. has apparently placed himself in the company of Judaistic Phariseeism!

   Robert P. Lightner, professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary has made similar assertions concerning the Scriptures:

"The Written Word and the Living Word...(as the article is entitled)...These Words from God (Scripture and Jesus Christ) are two impregnable forces, the pillars upon which Christianity stands or falls." 20

What does he mean that the Bible is a "force"? Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, might be said to be a "force," i.e. to have power, God's divine power, but how can a written volume of a book have "force" or divine power? There are not two pillars on which Christianity stands. Christianity IS Christ! Christianity is the dynamic of Christ's life functioning in His people; not some"thing" that stands on two pillars. Such an assertion as Lightner makes is tantamount to making the equation that "Christianity = Christ + Bible." That is an abominable falsehood. Throughout Paul's writings, and particularly in Galatians and Colossians, Paul indicates that the Christian gospel is Jesus Christ alone; "Christianity = Christ + (nothing)."

"These two (Written Word and Living Word) are inseparable from each other and from biblical Christianity." 21

To state that Jesus Christ and the Bible are "inseparable" is to equate the book with Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ is "inseparable" from Christianity, for Christianity IS Christ.

"The Written Word of God and the living Son of God...both unquestionably constitute divine revelation from Him." 22

"God's Written Word...reveals the person and work of God while at the same time it is His own divine revelation." 23

Jesus Christ alone, as the living Word of God, reveals the Father. Jesus said, "No one knows the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Matthew 11:27). Only God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit can reveal Himself. It is a personal revelation, not an impersonal revelation. The book called the Bible does not "constitute" divine revelation. God constitutes the revelation of Himself.

"Both Words (Living and Written) claim the same authority." 24

"The Written Word is as eternal as God and therefore as authoritative as God Himself."25

To thus equate the Living Word, Jesus, with the written scriptures is to deify the book. The attributes of God cannot be attributed to created matter. Divine attributes such as eternality and authority must not be attributed to the Bible as Lightner has done.

"The authority which He (Jesus Christ) claimed for Himself and the authority which He claimed for the Scriptures is identical." 26

Jesus does not claim authority for scripture identical to His own authority. Jesus claimed exclusive authority when He said, "All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 38:18).

" receive one (Written Word or Living Word) is to receive both." 27

What an outlandish and heretical assertion to claim that to receive the Bible is to receive Jesus Christ! One can only give mental assent to sentential statements and propositional premises of written material in a book. To receive Jesus Christ involves spiritual receptivity of faith, which is far more than mental assent.

"Invariably, those who reject the Bible as God's Written Word also reject Jesus Christ as the Living Word." " reject one is to reject both..." 28

The first statement is an overly inclusive assumption. The second statement is simply fallacious. The continued capitalization of "Written Word" in reference to the Bible alongside of "Living Word" in reference to Jesus Christ, evidences the author's deification of the scriptures.

"Perhaps our devotion to the Written Word sometimes gives the impression that we are worshipping a book..." 29

   It most certainly does! If the author means what he says by the words that he uses, then he is indeed guilty of bibliolatrous worship of the Bible. The "devotion" of our worship is to be directed toward God alone. "God is Spirit, and we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).

   Fundamentalist authors such as MacArthur and Lightner have assumed fallacious presuppositions of thought. They make invalid equations of numerous ideas and words with the Bible: "word" (whether logos or rhema)=Bible; "law"=Bible; "commandment"=Bible; "ordinance"=Bible; "teaching"=Bible; "doctrine"=Bible; "authority"=Bible; "revelation" = Bible; "truth" = Bible; "precept" = Bible; "testimony" = Bible; "preaching"=Bible; "gospel"=Bible; "Holy Spirit"=Bible; "Christ"=Bible. These authors read through the scriptures, and whenever they find these words or concepts they eisegetically presuppose that it is referring to the Bible.

   These authors often equate the action of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the Bible. Attributes of the Godhead are transferred to the Bible. Attributes such as eternality, absoluteness, authority, power, sufficiency for living, truth, life, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, faith, salvation, exaltation and inerracy are all attributed to the scriptures. To do so is to deify the Bible. To thus elevate the scriptures is to engage in the superstitious mysticism of Bibliolatry. To attribute to a book, to attribute to any"thing" or anyone, what is only attributable to God is to engage in idolatry. God's attributes are essential, exclusive and non-transferrable. God is the only One who is who He is and does what He does, as expressed in His attributes. Only God is God! To attribute God's attributes to a book is to make the book a "god," and to relativize God's attributes. Persons who hold such a view of scripture need to do a thorough study of the attributes of God and to recognize that these are attributes of God alone! Heresy usually commences with a deficient understanding of God.

An Historical Review of Biblical Understanding

   By reviewing Biblical history we can gain some perspective of how God expresses Himself. God is a God who must express Himself as who He is. His prime function is active expression of Himself consistent with His character. He is the living, active God who personally expresses Himself.

   God expressed Himself in creation expressing "out of" Himself. (Cf. Romans 11:33; I Corinthians 8:6) This ek theos process of creative Self-expression was for the purpose of allowing His invisible character to be expressed visibly in His creation, to the glory of God.

   This was God's intent for man when He created mankind with the "image of God" in man (Genesis 1:26,27). The expressive agent of God, the Son, the "Word," was to "image" God's character in the behavior of man. "Christ, the image of God" (II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15) was to be the spiritual resource for imaging God's character within godly behavior in man, manifesting "godliness," to the glory of God.

   The expressive agency of the living, personal God (that is the Word, the Image of God, the Son) in man was lost in the fall of man in sin. That does not mean that God ceased to express Himself, though, for to cease to express Himself, He would cease to be God. But in that God's intent was to express Himself in the highest form of His creation, i.e. in man, for a glorification of His character that was not possible in the lower created orders without behavioral freedom, God's ultimate purpose was temporarily thwarted by sin.

   On Sinai there was given to Moses an enscribed law, engraved and written on stone, the purpose of which was to reveal God's intention of expressing His character in man through the expressive agent of His Son, Jesus Christ. All Old Testament law and function points to Jesus Christ.

   Men being men (natural systematizers, categorizers, formulizers, moralizers and theologizers) took the enscribed law and made it into a textualized book-religion. Men foolishly think that a written record can contain, or can adequately describe and define the Living Word expression of God. The natural tendency of man is to think that if they see it in print, it is to be taken as gospel. Men take that which is of God and attempt to objectify, tangibilize and absolutize. God can never be contained in some"thing," including a book. When men think that the expression of God is contained in a book, it becomes mere sacramentalism.

   Judaism became a book-religion based on the textualized Torah and reinforced by rigid, written tradition. Rabbinic theologizing and moralizing became inflexible and legalistic. Jewish religion centered around exegeting, interpreting and implementing precisely the truth of the Torah text, precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10,13). The minutia of the written record became absolutized. The Torah and its traditions were regarded as eternal, inerrant and absolute. Religious reverence and allegiance to the Torah became idolatry. They had made an idol out of the Law and were worshipping the Book, the Law, the Torah, rather than God.

   The stage was set for the show-down confrontation between Judaic and Pharisaic book-religion and the personal, living Word of God expressed incarnate in Jesus Christ. John's gospel narrative, known as "the spiritual gospel," was intended to be the antidote which would prevent early Christianity from falling victim to the deadly trait of textualism. The apostle John begins his writing, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1,2). "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Who is the Word who is eternal, inerrant, Divine expression? Jesus Christ! The Who, the personal Word, Jesus Christ, confronted the what, the written record of words that Jewish religionists regarded as eternal, inerrant, divine expression.

   Jesus explained to the Jews, "you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life." (John 5:38-40). The scribal Pharisees "searched the scriptures," they stalked the game, traced the tracks, counted the syllables, but they could not fathom that the Word of God, the Life of God, the Truth of God was in a Person, rather than in written propositions or sentential statements. They insisted on playing Torah-trivia games. There was a perverse unwillingness to accept Jesus Christ as the source of all life. Coming from their perspective of book-religion, they could not accomodate into their thinking, and would not receive Jesus Christ as the Living Word of God. They chose to stick with their "picture-book;" to peruse the catalogue rather than receiving that which it pictured.

   When Jesus came in the flesh, He did not come teaching like the scribes, proscribing and prescribing from written texts. He did not come imparting information for a revised belief-system. He was not like the temple theologians with their abstract theological theses. Jesus told stories. He painted parabolic pictures of commonplace phenomena. He knew that the living, dynamic expression of God was in Himself and could not be contained in precise doctrinal definition, in sentential sematics, in theological treatises.

   Jesus did not write anything as far as we know, except, perhaps, a few words in the sand as He pondered the perversity of the scribes and Pharisees in the midst of their "set-up" with the adulterous woman (John 8:6). As the living Word of God, He expressed divine character and truth. Again to the Jews, Jesus said, "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63).

   As He neared the conclusion of His physical, earthly ministry in the upper room with the disciples, Jesus did not tell them that He would leave them a written text of scriptures to take His place and to reveal all they needed to know. Rather, Jesus told His disciples,

"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another (just like Me) Encourager, that He may be with you forever; the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you" (John 14:16,17).

Jesus continued by saying,

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Encourager, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:23-26).

   It is not the Bible which is to "teach us all things." The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the continuing personal expression of God to man, the Word indwelling in us teaches us all things and expresses God in man. Every Christian has the indwelling presence of the Word, Jesus Christ, or else they are not a Christian.

"You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know" (I John 2:20). "The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it (He) has taught you, you abide in Him" (I John 2:27).

   Can you see the problem the Jewish scribes and Pharisees had with Jesus? Jesus came claiming to personally BE all that they ascribed to the precepts of the law and commandments of the Torah. Jesus came saying, "I AM the Word, the Life, the Light, the Truth, the Wisdom, the Way, etc.

   The living expression of God can never be codified in the definitions and descriptions of written words. Such is the anomaly of Christianity. Could this be what John meant in the very last word of his gospel narrative when he wrote, "there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written" (John 21:25). The world could not contain the books if man even attempted to reduce to writing the expression of God in Jesus Christ, which is, of course, impossible. The activity of God cannot be reduced to volumes written in the vocabularies of man. The apostle John was combatting the tendency of textualism in the early church.

   The historical story continues. Jesus, the living expression of God, the Word, was crucified in order to take our death that we might have His life. His death did not silence the living expression of God. It only served as the nuclear fusion to explode God's expression unto all men. For in the resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus Christ by the Spirit, the personal, living expression of God, His Word, could spiritually indwell all mankind as they received Him by faith, man's receptivity of God's activity.

   The early Christians were not propogating a belief-system. They were not dispensers of theological information about God. They were not Book-bearers. They were bearers of the Living Word, the Life, the Person, the Power of Jesus, "who is the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).

   Paul had to correct the Galatians and the Corinthians when they were misinformed by Judaizing legalists propogating book-religion. Jesus came to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17), not by providing an impersonal impetus of additional committment to help men to perform it, but by His own indwelling expression to be the "law written on our hearts" (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) ­ the divine law-expressor, character-expressor in us. To the Galatians Paul wrote, "if you are led by the Spirit (all Christians are), you are not under the Law" (Galatians 5:18). To the Corinthians Paul wrote,

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? (II Corinthians 3:5-8)

From an autobiographical perspective Paul shared with the Romans,

"we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me." (Romans 7:6-11)

   When we operate by the letter of the law, a written code of conduct, all it does is make hypocrites of us. We cannot perform according to the standards contained therein; only Jesus can, for He is the expressor of the character of God in man.

   In the early church most of the Christians were simple, illiterate people. Many were from slave backgrounds and could not read or write. It is estimated that as many as eighty-percent of the early Christians were illiterate. Most were Gentiles with no Bible-background. They possessed no Bibles as either individual or community property. The Old Testament papyrus scrolls were, for the most part, maintained at the synagogue and were not "on loan" to the Christian congregations. In the early decades of the church what we know as the New Testament had not been written yet.

   What did the early Christians do when they assembled together? I am convinced that they did not do what we so often "do" when we gather together. Today, evangelical Christians assemble together to "DO" Bible study. It is sort of a "Bible Information Clinic" where one teacher gets up to "throw the Book at you." Hebrews 10:24,25 indicates that the early Christians assembled together to "encourage" one another, not just to "DO" something exegetically and interpretively and motivationally from the written word. They came together to share with one another what the Living Word, the Spirit of Christ, was "doing" in them; how God was expressing Himself in them in their daily lives.

   Jesus did not say, "I am the object of Bible information, and you shall know it most thoroughly and accurately." Rather, He said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6); "I came that you might have Life and have it most abundantly" (John 10:10).

   What if there were no Bibles? What if the New Testament had never been written, or never been preserved, or never been canonized? What if all the Bibles were destroyed from the face of the earth today? Should that make any difference to Christianity? It should not! Christianity IS Christ, the dynamic life of Jesus Christ, the spiritual indwelling of God whereby He expresses Himself, His character, in the highest of His creation unto His own glory. The absence of the book would not forestall what Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18). God's preservation of His people, His church, is not contingent or dependent on our knowing the factual data of a book. It is not what we "do"; it is what God "does" by His expression, His living Word, Jesus Christ in us.

   Within the context of the early church a written record did materialize and come into being. There were gospel narratives recording how the Living Word, Jesus Christ, appeared in flesh. Paul and others wrote epistles encouraging Christians to allow for the dynamic expression of Christ in them. These writings were compiled into what we know as the New Testament. For all the benefit that these writings have had as an objective criteria of Christian understanding, there has been the counteractive risk whereby the natural propensity of man tends to develop absolutism and textualism and legalism, and thus to allow Christianity to become a "religion of the book."

   Robert Brinsmead of Australia writes,

"The written record became absolutized. The gospel became a new law. Faith was confounded with orthodoxy. The Church ceased to be a charismatic community and became an institution. Instead of the Spirit there were rules. Instead of the priesthood of all believers, there was wretched clericalism. Instead of the Spirit and presence of the living Christ there were religious canned goods. Instead of the living gospel there was dead ideology. Instead of freedom there was bondage. Yet, like the Pharisees, we have desperately tried to substitute an incredible devotion to the letter of Scripture for the prophetic spirit." 30

   Jumping many centuries, we arrive in our historical survey at the religious Reformation of the sixteenth century. Roman Catholicism insisted on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Pope; the authority was vested in the Church and its papal proclamations. The Protestants protested, insisting on the inerracy and infallibility of the Bible; the authority of sola scriptura. Despite these contradictory claims for the basis of authority, Jesus said, "All authority is given to Me, in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). Inerrancy and infallibility is inherent in the living expression of God in Christ, and in Him alone. The Roman Catholics were susceptible (and still are) to ecclesiolatry, idolatrous worship of the church institution. The Protestants were susceptible (and still are) to bibliolatry, idolatrous worship of the Bible. In fact, the Catholics chided the Protestants for having a "paper pope" and a "God who was imprisoned in a book." At least the Catholic conception of God and pope was "personal," though mere man.

   The Protestant Reformation fostered static concepts of sola scriptura, justification, salvation, grace, faith, worship, etc. All branches of Protestantism down through the centuries have prided themselves on being "the people of the Book" or "the religion of the Book." G.K. Chesterton once wrote,

"The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of the Protestants." 31

   Bringing the historical survey up to date, we have just witnessed a couple of decades of evangelical conflict and debate. "The Battle for the Bible" has been the issue. There have been volumes of books and articles on inerrancy, infallibility and inspiration of scripture. They miss the point!What about proclaiming the eternal, inerrant, infallible inspiration of Jesus Christ, the Living Word expression of God, in people's lives? We need a Christo-centric Christianity rather than a biblio-centric Christian religion. Christianity IS Christ!

   This was intended to be but a brief historical review emphasizing God's intent to express Himself in Living Word in Jesus Christ. But as we note how man constantly attempts to revert to book-religion, it becomes a long story of religious perversion.

   Man always grasps for a visible, physical, tangible object that he can "hold on to." Men seem to want something visible instead of invisible, tangible instead of intangible, physical instead of spiritual, concrete instead of abstract, some "thing" instead of Some One, an object instead of the Living God. These objects are then made into idols. It is done with the Bible just as with other kinds of objects. When this happens it is called "bibliolatry," idolatrous worship of the Bible. It can take the form of merely an undue reverence for a leather-covered book. For some, the book becomes a sort of magical fetish, a "good-luck" charm, supposedly offering spirituality by osmosis. Sometimes bibliolatry is evidenced in an excessive literalistic method of interpretation that fails to account for varying types of Biblical literature.

   We must beware of regarding the Bible as "sacred" book, having some kind of saving significance in itself. Even the title on the cover of most Bibles needs to be clarified ­ "Holy Bible." Is the Holy Bible holy? Holiness is an attribute of God alone. A created object is not holy in itself and does not convey holiness. When an object is used for the purpose that God intended then that object can serve God's holy purposes. When it is set apart to function as intended, it can serve the holy purposes of God directed toward the divine objective to manifest His holiness by the presence of His Holy Son, Jesus Christ in us. But the book itself is not intrinsically holy. We need to make sure we understand why it is called a "Holy Bible."

   We do not want to be guilty of bibliolatry or the biblicism of mere book-religion. Jesus never intended Christianity to be a book-religion, rigidly controlled by textual research, Biblical exegesis and motivation to implement Scriptural principles and precepts. Such was not the case in the early church, as has been indicated above. They did not gather together to "DO" Bible study, but to share how the living expression of the Word of God in Jesus Christ was operative and functioning in their lives. They shared with one another what God was "doing" and expressing in them.

   It becomes apparent that we have lapsed into an inappropriate teaching model in the evangelical churches of America today. We have become book-centered, teacher-controlled and educationally-oriented. It might be called "the poisonous pedagogy of ecclesiasticism," the perpetual propagation of a belief-system. Bible knowledge is often regarded as an "end" in itself. Paul is clear that "knowledge puffeth up" (I Corinthians 8:1); mere knowledge, including Bible knowledge, creates arrogance, pride, hypocrisy and the like.

   Book-religion creates a mechanistic system, a belief-system or ethical-system. Such systematized religion depersonalizes and devitalizes God, as well as dehumanizing man. We are not functional humanity as God intended unless the Living expression of the Word of God in Jesus Christ is functioning in us.

A Biblical Understanding of the Bible

   The purpose of the Bible is not to serve as a book of rules and regulations, ethical guidelines fixed in the concrete of moralistic legalism. The Bible is not an ethics book. The Bible is not a text-book of proof-texts to defend Christian doctrine as it has been systematized by man. You can attempt to prove almost anything from the Bible. (I recall one individual who maintained that it was wrong to peel a banana on the basis of the reading "whatsoever God has put together, let no man part asunder.") The Bible is not a law or logic textbook to prove one's point. It is not a textbook of theological trivia. The Bible is not a sociological textbook which settles the institutional church into the conservatism of the status-quo. The Bible is not an encyclopedic text that gives every answer to every question on every subject in the universe. This is not the purpose of the Bible.

   What then is the purpose of the Bible? The purpose of the Bible is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, who is the living expression of God, the Word of God. Jesus told the Jews,

" do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life." (John 5:38-40)

   The Scriptures bear witness of Jesus. A good witness in a judicial setting does not focus attention on himself, but to the issue at hand. The Biblical writings do not point to themselves, but to Jesus Christ. The written record of God's expression and revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ is designed to direct a person to faith in Jesus Christ, to receptivity of the redemptive and functionally living activity of Jesus Christ.

   The apostle John explains the purpose of his writing the gospel narrative attributed to him, "these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). The purpose of the Scriptures is to lead one to receive the life that is in Christ Jesus.

   The apostle Paul reminds Timothy of the value of the written record, urging him to "continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:14,15). The translation reads "sacred writings," but there is no intrinsic sacredness or holiness in the writings themselves, as has been previously noted. Paul was simply referring to the "God-given writings." The purpose of the writings is that they are "able to give...wisdom..." The God-given writings serve as a vehicle, an instrument, that the Spirit of God uses to impart the spiritual wisdom and discernment necessary to understand spiritual things in order that one might see their need for functionally restorative salvation, which comes only by the receptivity of the activity of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The Scriptures serve an instrumental means.

   Paul continues his words to Timothy by explaining that "all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (II Timothy 3:16,17) What did Paul mean by "all Scripture?" Could Paul have been referring to the scriptures we call the New Testament, in that they were still in the process of being written? When Christians today refer to the "Scripture" they usually have a very fixated conception of a particular bound volume entitled "The Holy Bible" with sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. As there was no such book in Paul's time, it is inconceivable that Paul was thinking of such an approved canonized collection of writings. The words that Paul uses are more generic. In verse fifteen where Paul refers to the "writings," it is a translation of the Greek word gramma, from which we get the English word "grammar." This word simply referred to written lettering using the letters of the alphabet. In verse sixteen, the word "Scripture" is a translation of the Greek word graphe, from which we get the English word "graphics." This word simply referred to something written. The Latin word scriptus translated the Greek word graphe, and thus it was that the Latin scriptura became the designation of the "writings" used by Christians, and eventually of the canonized collection of what we know as the sixty-six books of the Bible, the Scriptures.

   Paul is indicating that certain "writings" are "God-breathed," that is "inspired." This does not mean that God breathed out verbal words to dictate every word and sentence in precise and absolute sequence unto the passive minds of the writers. Such a concept is called the "dictation theory" of scriptural inspiration. Rather, in a more general sense, Paul seems to be saying that "all God-given writings are designed as the expressive instrument of God's Spirit, who functioned previously to influence men's thinking and use their literary skills to produce and provide a written record of the expressed life of God in Jesus Christ, and functions now to continue to direct us to the ever-dynamic life of Christ. These writings, whether they be of the Old Testament era or the New Testament era, are valuable and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The importance of the "writings" is that they direct our attention to the Living Word expression of God in Jesus Christ.

   The question must be asked then: Is it legitimate to refer to the written record of the Bible as the "Word of God"? When we refer to the Bible as the "Word of God" does this not create a duplicated ambiguity of terminology? (Yes, I know that I am treading on the sacred ground of bibliolatry, but I must press on!) On what basis do we refer to the Bible as the "Word of God"? Is there anything within the Bible itself that says that we are to refer to this book in its collected totality as the "Word of God"? Is there any Biblical justification for that designation?

   I encourage you to make the same observations that I did when I looked at an English concordance of the Bible and searched out all the references to the word "word" and, more specifically, references to the "word of God." Valid exegetical analysis does not indicate that a single usage of the phrase, "word of God," ever refers to the book that we call "The Bible."

   To further explore the basis of this popular designation of the "word of God," I examined several conservative Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, looking up the subject of the "word of God." To my amazement, not a one of them indicated that the phrase referred to the Bible or the Scriptures. Rather, they all explained that Jesus Christ is the personified expression of God, the "Word" (John 1:1,14), and went on to explain that the proclamation of God's expression in Jesus Christ is the essence of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is the "word" (Matt. 13:19; Col. 4:3; I Peter 3:1), the "word of God" (Acts 4:31; I Cor. 14:36; Phil. 1:14; I Thess. 2:13), the "word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15), the "word of life" (Phil. 2:16), the "word of reconciliation" (II Corinthians 5:19), the "word of salvation" (Acts 13:26), or the "word of faith" (Romans 10:8).

   How can it be that we have been so thoroughly propagandized by the Judeo-Christian book-religion, that we so unquestioningly refer to the Bible as the "word of God," and mistakenly identify most references within Scripture to the "word" as references to the Bible instead of to Jesus Christ or to the gospel of Christ? Book-religion is very pervasive!

   None of those who wrote, by the inspired divine influence of God, the writings that now comprise the compilation of writings that we call the Bible; none of them apparently ever conceived that their writings would be collected and canonized into a book called "The Bible" or "The Scriptures," which would then be referred to as the "Word of God." That is not to say that they were not aware of God's influence in their writing, but whenever they refer to the "word" (either logos or rhema), or to the "writings" (either gramma or graphe), or to the scrolls or books (biblion), it is not a reference to the totality of the bound-book that we call the Bible. We need to be honest enough to admit that!

   Some common Biblical examples will serve to demonstrate the point I have been making:

Romans 10:17 - "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." "Word of Christ" in this text does not refer to Bible knowledge. The context has to do with the verbalized proclamation of the gospel.

Galatians 6:6 - "let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches." The "word" is not a reference to Bible doctrine or narratives, but refers to the gospel.

Ephesians 6:17 - "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." How often have we heard the Bible referred to as the "word of God" and the "sword of the Spirit"? This verse is not referring to a bound-book, but to the personalized word of God which God speaks to the Christian.

Colossians 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you..." Paul is not saying, "let the words of the Bible" dwell in you. The parallel passage in Ephesians 5:18 explains that the Spirit of Christ is to fill us and dwell within us.

Colossians 4:3 - "praying ... that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ..." Again, Paul is referring to the gospel, not to the Bible.

II Timothy 4:2 - "preach the word..." Paul admonishes Timothy to preach the gospel of Christ, not Biblical information.

Hebrews 4:12 - "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Jesus Christ by the Spirit is that "word of God" which is living and active and able to penetrate into our being. A textualized book is unable to do so.

   If anyone should choose to refer to the Bible, the collected Scriptures, as the "Word of God," it should be remembered that such a designation can only be made in a secondary sense. The primary and absolute sense of the "Word of God" is in the expression of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Word of God expressed in creation, expressed in redemption, expressed in sanctification, expressed in glorification.

   The Bible is not the "Word of God" in an absolute sense. It is a book comprised of a compilation of "words" about the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, "The Scriptures bear witness of Me" (John 5:39). The written words point to the Living Word, Jesus Christ. In fact, the Bible does not even "contain" the Word of God, for such would be sacramentalism. The Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, cannot be imprisoned in a book. He must be free to express Himself as God in man, and that unto the functionally free humanity through which God intends to glorify Himself.

   As Jesus thus expresses Himself in us, by His Spirit, He will bear inner testimony in our spirit, and unto our minds, of the value of the Book, the Bible, in our lives. Apart from the illumination and enlightenment, the personal revelation of the Spirit of Christ, the spiritual insights, the living characterization factors, that are to be gained from the Biblical literature will never be appreciated anyway.

   The Spirit of God uses the Scripture preserved for us by God. The Living Word of God uses the written words of God. Jesus Christ uses the Bible to reveal how it is that He wants to function in us to reveal God in man. This is why we noted at the outset that the Bible is in one sense like every other book in the world: written words, literature, a bound-book. But in another sense the Bible is unlike every other book in the world. The Living Word, Jesus, uses this book to reveal how it is He has functioned and continues to function as God in man.

   The "natural man" does not understand spiritual things" (I Corinthians 2:14) no matter how many times he might attempt to read the words of the Bible. Jesus told His disciples, "when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.." (John 16:13). The Spirit of Christ, Who is Truth (John 14:6), may utilize the Bible to reveal and disclose Himself, but He does not require the written book in order to do so. The Teacher is not tied to the text! The Spirit is not bound in the Bible! Christ is not chained or contained in the words of a book.

   Apart from the Living Word, Jesus Christ, functioning spiritually in our lives, the book is mere "letter" (legalistic biblicism), and there is no Spirit-action, no genuine divine functioning. To the Corinthians Paul wrote, "God... made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (II Corinthians 3:6,7). Mere book-religion kills, but Spirit-revelation gives life. Mere comprehension of Bible-words kills, but the Spirit of Christ, the Living Word of God, gives life. To the Romans Paul wrote, "we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6). Christians are not "bound" to the "letter" of book-religion. We live and serve in the newness of the Spirit of Christ activating our lives from within.

   Without the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ reading the Bible will be like reading someone else's mail. You cannot understand it because it was not intended for you. Oh, you may be able to chart the history. You may be able to discuss the theology. You might even be able to produce detailed speculations about the future, but you will not be able to receive the living, spiritual implications of the life of Jesus Christ. This is why Martin Luther indicated that if your spiritual condition is that of the unregenerate, being devoid of the Spirit, you are better off reading some other book! That is also why it is said that "the Bible is the only book in the world that requires knowing the Author to understand the book." One must "know" and have a personal relationship with the Living Word expression of God in Jesus Christ in order to spiritually understand the written word expression of God in the Bible.

   As Christians today, coming as many of us do out of a Protestant tradition of biblicism, it is important that we keep our perspective properly focused on the Person of Jesus Christ, not just on Bible-learning. Jesus Christ is the Truth, not mere propositional truths contained in ever-evolving semantics.

   Our faith is not in the Bible. Our hope is not in the Bible. Our love is not love for the Bible. Our faith, hope and love are in Jesus Christ.

   Our base of authority is not in the Bible, as has often been projected by popular Protestantism, the "religion of the Book." Our base of authority is in Jesus Christ, who said, "All authority is given to Me, in heaven and upon earth" (Matthew 28:18).

   Our security is not in the Bible. Many seem to base their security on Bible promises and propositions, on Bible formulas, procedures and techniques. Our security is founded on a vital, dynamic on-going personal relationship with the Living Lord Jesus Christ. I am assured and secure in the reality that God is expressive in my life by Jesus Christ. I know it, not because the Bible makes a statement ("the Bible tells me so") or gives me a procedure. I know it (Him) because the eternal life and eternal expression of Jesus Christ is functioning in my life. This is not mere experiential existentialism. Somewhere between the extremes of objective biblicism and subjective existentialism is the reality of the functional Life of Jesus Christ in man.

   As Christians we want to know Jesus as the Word of God, the expression of God in man, rather than just words from a book. We want to experience the Person of Jesus, not just examine the photograph, the picture, that represents the reality. We want to be sheep who hear His voice, the voice of the Shepherd, not just sheep who "feed" on the fodder of theological canned goods, or Scriptural scrapings.

   The Life of Jesus Christ who is the Living expression of God, the Living Word, is to be expressed in gospel proclamation that shares the "word of truth," the "word of life," the "word of salvation." II Timothy 3:16 indicates that "all scripture/writings are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work" (which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them - Ephesians 2:10). It is true that the Bible is to be taught, and that God has gifted some as teachers (Ephesians 4:11; I Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7). But the process of Biblical instruction (teaching), and the product of the instruction (Bible-knowledge) must not become ends in themselves. It appears to me that there has been the perpetuation of a poisonous and counter-productive pedagogy in evangelical ecclesiasticism, a "teaching model" that perpetuates book-religion, Bible knowledge, and getting "fed" through Scripture instruction. This creates dysfunctional Christianity, mere Christian-religion, which does not issue forth in the outworking expression of Christ's life.

   Christianity is not a book-religion! Christianity is Christ functioning as the expressive Word of God in man.


1      Urban, James R., "The Bible Man's Only Hope", published by Mission to Catholics International, Inc., San Diego, CA, n.d.
2      Urban, James R., Ibid.
3      Urban, James R., Ibid.
4      Urban, James R., Ibid.
    MacArthur, John, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991, pg. 87.
6      MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 87.
7      MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 90.
8      MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 165.
9      MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 99.
10    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 111.
11    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 165.
12    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 144.
13    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 146.
14    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 163.
15    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 162.
16    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 164.
17    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 165.
18    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 164.
19    MacArthur, John, Jr., Ibid., pg. 163.
20    Lightner, Robert P., "The Written Word and the Living Word" in the Fundamentalist Journal, May 1983, reprinted from his book The God of the Bible, Baker Book House, 1978.
21    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
22    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
23    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
24    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
25    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
26    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
27    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
28    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
29    Lightner, Robert P., Ibid.
30    Brinsmead, Robert, "Word of God in the New Testament", Verdict, No. 15.

Christianity is NOT Religion series