What is Bibliolatry?

Bibliolatry: in popular culture, it means, “making an idol out of the Bible.”

The first time I heard this concept was from a email pen-pal, and from Peter Enns, who advices Christians to, “Trust God … Not the Bible.”

I think I understand what he means, but sometimes it can come off as paradoxical. We get knowledge of God from the Bible, so how can we trust the message (trust God) but not the messenger (the Bible)…?

In his thought provoking book, The Bible Tells Me So, he says our expectations of the Bible is that it’s logical and coherent, yet the evidence shows that it often behaves messy, and yet God is said to be reliable (like a rock), the shield, the buckler, the shepherd etc., — from this conclusion he seems to say that the Bible is more so just a medium between man and God … But Bibliolatry (making an idol out of the Bible) is confusing the Bible FOR God.

I get where he’s going with this … But how does one explain this concept in a more coherent fashion without sounding “wishy-washy” or implying that the Bible is One Big Mystery Book with no hope of understanding… Thoughts?



Good question, Tim. How indeed can one claim to know God apart from what the Bible teaches us about God? I do think Bibliolatry is real and is a problem. But the ironic thing is that to know this, I consult … the Bible.

John 5:39-40: “You search 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.”

That is Jesus talking to the Pharisees (the ‘bibliolatrists’ of that day – the experts in the law). Yes, one could reply that in that time it wasn’t the same Bible including the gospels that we have in ours today. But that flies in the face of what Jesus just said: that those very scriptures of their time pointed to him!

I like to think of it this way. Have you seen how dogs don’t get the gesture of pointing? You can point towards something that you know would interest your dog, but your dog is fascinated instead by your pointing finger, not at all understanding what such a human gesture means. I see Bibliolatry as an insistence on being preoccupied with the pointer rather than what (or whom, rather) it points us to. Now this is a bit of a quandary because we don’t stop paying attention to written Scriptural testimony once we accept the embrace of Jesus. I would characterize it this way: after the pointer has done its job (brought us to Jesus), we still attend to its teachings because of our love for Him described and quoted on its pages. It is our love for Him that drives us to search its pages for closer understanding and necessary rebuke to keep us in Him.

So when Enns says it is more important to “get Jesus right” than to “get the Bible right”, I take that to mean that Jesus (the real and living Word of God) is the point of it all, not the Bible. The Bible is just what helps bring us to that necessary truth, which is not a small or unimportant task. But it is important to keep Jesus on the highest end of that prioritized perspective. To get that switched, or to revere the Bible as if it were some fourth member of the holy Trinity --that is not only unbiblical; I think it is bibliolatry.


I’ve been pondering your question, Timothy.

How about something along these lines? :

"To avoid making the Bible your idol, you need to trust (at a general level) the perceptions of your body.
If you think a preacher told you there was no snow on the ground, but you can see snow from the window, you must ignore the preacher.

If you think a preacher told you that the earth was held up by four pillars, but you have seen the pictures of earth from the moon,
you must ignore the preacher.

If you think a preacher (or the Bible) tells you that the earth is less than 6,000 years old, but you’ve seen the geological tests …
You must ignore what contradicts the ordinary perceptions of your body.

George Brooks

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Look no further then KJVO’s!

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Good advice George.

If you think of Scripture as God’s Words and Nature as God’s Works, it can also help to come too a more well rounded picture. Psalms 19 says that the heavens give forth knowledge and speech of God … This seems to say that God is not some sort of cosmic trickster.


I like your analogy of the pointing gesture.

There’s a couple things that get me wandering though… In 2nd Timothy, there’s the passage that gets quoted a lot: “All Scripture is inspired by God.” … This is what Paul says. But did Paul know (or realize) that what he himself was writing was going to be called “Scripture”? Or in Matthew when there’s debates between the Pharisees and Jesus on what Scripture means … Did Matthew consider what he was writing to be Scripture as he was writing about it? What did people think of these new writings early on?

Kind of mind-boggling to me…


Sadly I used to be somewhat in the “King James Only” group. I grew out of that… But the KJV is still one of my favorite translations because it’s what I’m used too (and I often find certain passages to be more poetic in the KJV versus others … But to each their own).


In the circles I run in, I often hear people talk about “putting their faith in the Bible” or saying that their faith “rests on the Bible.” Or that “the Bible is absolute truth.” This seems kind of off to me and those are the kinds of attitudes people are responding to when they talk about bibliolatry.

We put our faith in Christ. Our faith rests on the work of Christ. The Bible testifies to, and reveals, and disciples us in the truth, but God revealed in Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the truth. I know a lot of times people are just taking shortcuts with language and if you press them they explain what they mean, but sometimes they really do mean that their faith rests on their particular interpretation of the Bible being absolute truth. That is kind of a precarious place to be and I don’t think God ever intended us to put ourselves there.

I’m convinced that Paul had no idea that some large and far-future Christendom would hold his own writings as equal to, or even higher rather, than the “law and prophets” that were already held sacred in his day. For one thing, nobody in the early church thought in terms of some far-future establishment because they were convinced Jesus was returning almost within their own life times.

But another reason I think that is because of Paul’s letters themselves. They have his personality oozing out everywhere. He writes in a personable manner that I doubt anyone would choose to use if they thought they were setting down sacred writ that others would be memorizing and reciting down the ages. I mean … how many of us would “boast like a fool” (freely admitting that!) to drive home a point that our own ministry is not inferior to that of our colleagues? Or let our passionate flash-point anger / exuberance show through so freely on so many lines? We would probably clean a lot of that up --get it all polished up if we thought myriads of future strangers would be memorizing and poring over our every word. So, ironically, I think it is the personable nature of his letters – merely meant for distribution just among some local churches in whom he had personal investment and addressing their particular problems that make his letters so powerful and valuable; the very ‘clay jars’ through which the Spirit shines, to borrow one of Paul’s metaphors.

It is true that it didn’t take long before his writings were recognized widely for their value, as Peter refers to them approvingly in one of his letters.

So when Paul writes in 2nd Timothy about all Scripture being inspired, I highly doubt he was elevating his own letters (writing those very words) to be on par with Moses and the prophets. But note that even if my speculation on this is true, it does NOT mean that we are wrong to consider his letters as part of that today. The Spirit teaches us as well, and we can creatively engage the Scriptures as Paul and the Apostles did back then with our own expanded Scriptural traditions as well. Wrestling with God (the very meaning of the name “Israel”) and wrestling with scriptures too (the full canons recognized by our various traditions today) is not the same as dishonoring the same. Quite far from it, in fact. I fully agree with Enns on that. We follow Jesus’ example in doing so. “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” was not in the least bit dishonoring to the law. On the contrary, we have it on good authority that it is the fulfillment of it.

Hey Christy.

One of the Bible Study Groups I’ve attended, the speaker quite often says, “The Bible needs to define our view of reality” or, “Our reality needs to be in accordance with the Bible.” <<< would you consider that Bibliolatry?


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Hey Mervin … I like how you bring up Israel and our “struggle with God”. When I finally decided to actually read the Bible from cover to cover I became frequently surprised by what I read.

Because of my expectations of the Bible were that it was written directly to me, and that the Bible 100% is in agreement with all the rest … Well I would come across passages that I frankly just didn’t know what to do with. When I read passages that came of as bizarre, strange, or even morbid I would either ignore it, or haphazardly try to explain it away … It’s when I came to Enns perspective that I was both made uncomfortable and yet liberated. Struggling with the text should not be looked at as a sign of doubt … Rather it should be encouraged as a pursuit that gets you more engaged with the Bible. I like how the Jews have traditionally read the text … With argumentation, disagreement, struggles … It’s all part of actively engaging and getting immersed in it’s pages … Rather than cracking your knuckles and saying, “I can explain this! I can make it work!”


Not necessarily. It is supposed to define our reality in many ways. Sometimes in ways that are hard to accept.

I think what annoys me is when people start talking about a “biblical worldview” as if there is this one correct worldview you get by reading the Bible, and that you exchange wholesale whatever worldview you used to have for the “biblical” one. Or even worse, that we are somehow supposed to adopt the worldview of the cultures the Bible writes about. (No joke, some people want to go back to bride prices and arranged marriages, because that is part of the biblical worldview for them.)

Everyone comes to Scripture with a worldview shaped by their time and place and experiences. Hopefully, the Bible challenges and refines that worldview in all the places where the person has accepted lies instead of truth and learned to prefer what is bad over what is good. But the way Scripture is going to challenge my worldview as an educated middle class American white woman is not the same way it is going to challenge the worldview of a majority world indigenous subsistence farmer. We aren’t going to end up at the same “biblical worldview.”

I can see what you’re saying, Christy. Obviously the Bible is meant to shape us — otherwise we wouldn’t be reading it. Adding to your distasteful terminology, I don’t like such terms that are catching such as “biblical creationists” … As if to imply all other varieties of origin views aren’t biblical and thus heretical. Nor the term secular history … In the sense that it’s applied in a derogatory fashion. History is still history. It can be false in places an right in other places … But I don’t think we should make special pleads when the Bible’s history is coming in conflict with several other accounts of history. We should read all with honesty and fairness.

Some of the people I talked about saying, “We need to conform our view of reality to the Bible.” also are very against alcohol consumption. Which is fine if it’s a personal belief… But it’s dangerous when one acts like it’s a biblical belief and that, as a Christian, you can’t drink.

I’m not sure what one does with the numerous times Jesus drinks wine. Or how you can coherently explain Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, or the last supper where wine is drank in rememberance of the most important acts in Chrisitianity: the blood shed on the cross. They weren’t drinking grape juice in the first century AD! I don’t find any biblical backing that a Christian can’t consume alcohol … The only prohibition is alcohol abuse and drunkenness.


Amen! And my Worldview has been reshaped in some important ways after reading what you and some of the others have pointed out: I had been giving only one somewhat narrow interpretation of controversial passages in the O.T. This current ‘thread’ of Bibliolatry is an especially good one. I really appreciated Mervin’s recalling Jesus’ accusation that the Pharasees were ‘Bibliolators’ in their day and the similie of a hunting dog who knew how to point with his nose, but could not understand the human gesture of finger pointing.

After Scripture points us in the right direction–of belief in a Creator who loves us–then we should strive to imitate Jesus as the most effective way of fulfilling our purpose in life–a purpose that may be distinctive for each of us as unique individuals.
Al Leo

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