By Graduate, Lucas Hattenberger
Bibliolatry is best understood as placing the knowledge of the Bible over worship of the God of the Bible. The focus of adoration goes to the actual book rather than the God who wrote it. But how does this happen, and when does one know when they have fallen prey to this illusive idol? One must not overlook the tendency that the human heart has in moving toward this sin. Christ portrays such idolatry in one conversation with the Pharisees. They were the scholars of their day, having studied the Bible their entire life. Many would memorize the first 5 books of the Bible, study it intensively, and would inevitably be seen as spiritually superior to others. Seminary and Bible college students do the same thing, studying the Bible as an academic exercise rather than a spiritual one (which is not inherently a bad thing). Christ says in John 5:39 that although they (the Pharisees) study the Bible they miss the forest for the trees. They know the content, and yet miss the fact that the point of the scriptures is to “bear witness about [Him]” (v. 39). If that weren’t insulting enough, he continues in saying that they miss the point of studying scripture, which is to “come to [Christ] that they might have life” (v. 40). What was their mistake? They saw the Bible as the end rather than a means to an end. The point of the Bible is not to study it, retain knowledge, and feel superior. No, the point of the Bible is to see Christ! Instead of seeing God for who he really is, they went to the Bible to feel righteous, to feel spiritually superior. The Pharisees equated biblical knowledge to spiritual maturity and even worse, they mistook studying the Bible with being righteous. Their relation to the Bible was one of studying for hours on end, and at the end of the day feeling morally righteous. Christ pointed out that this practice kept them from actually seeing their need for Christ because they had placed the Bible on the pedestal of God, and offered their studies as a means of atonement. This is bibliolatry. One does not go to the Bible in order to look through and see Christ, but to look at it and gain knowledge as a means of feeling superior. The lines were blurry then with the Pharisees, and they are still blurry today.
Academic studies at seminaries and Bible colleges are not inherently bad. In fact many students find that they grow more than they ever had in years past while attending Bible school. The danger lies in how they see themselves after gaining the wealth of knowledge they are given at seminary and Bible college. Paul expounds on this principle by saying that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought” (1 Cor 8:1-2). What is Paul expounding on? When one truly understands and knows God, being united to Christ in his death and resurrection, a life of humility and genuine loves proceeds forth naturally. The reason is because when one truly experiences the gospel of grace, they understand that they are righteous, clean, forgiven, loved, and accepted solely on the basis of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. But there is another type of “knowledge” that simply “puffs up”. This is Biblical and theological knowledge absent of knowing God. This knowledge of simply knowing the content of the Bible, and as a result of having this content memorized, one has the tendency of feeling morally and spiritually superior. Paul says that this type of knowledge is not knowledge at all, but rather it is void and empty. One may know content in the Bible, but it is not enough to merely understand the content in and of itself, but to experience and know the Writer of the content. This is bibliolatry, and it produces an empty self-righteousness based on one’s superior knowledge, not their superior spirituality. This is a huge temptation for students of the Bible, and will continue to be for a lifetime. The difference lies in whether one is studying to understand God and be immersed in the gospel, or simply to retain knowledge.
In conclusion, how do you know if you are committing the sin of bibliolatry? Bibliolatry will play out in one’s relationships. If you feel a sense of pride in knowing more about the Bible than another person at your church, there is at the foundation of that pride a sense of feeling righteous based on knowledge and not based on Christ’s work on your behalf. Knowledge has never and will never equate to righteousness, but is rather a vehicle to discovering the true source righteousness, Christ. The Bible is not a mirror, nor is it a monument in a museum to be in awe of. No, the Bible is a window through which to see the Messiah, the Savior of your soul. All men are wicked, and must cling to Christ in order to be righteous, and this means that all righteousness comes to men as a free gift. Use the knowledge you have in order to be humbled! As James would say, the scriptures should have a result of causing one to mourn and be humbled because it shows us the greatness of our God and the greatness of his mercy (Js 4:9-10). Be one who looks through the scriptures to a wonderful and fearful Creator, and not one who uses it to gain knowledge and thereby become puffed up.
2 Peter 1:2
Grace and Peace