What if we have made an idol out of the Bible? How would we know it? Thankfully, I think the Bible contains information within it to help us understand if this is taking place or not. The Christianity that is being displayed in media outlets and is represented by the majority of Americans is most certainly the Christianity of the Bible and the New Testament. Unfortunately, it is the Christianity that is causing all the same problems that exist today. Understanding the state of Christianity during the composition of the New Testament will reveal to us important insights on how Christianity is being played out in the media, in politics, in our churches and even in our own homes. We will see that the Bible can definitely become and idol, and this was one of the first difficulties that the early church had.
In order to fully grasp this point it has to be understood that the Bible we all know and read did not fall from heaven. It is not a static book. At one point it had other books in it that we called the Bible, and at other points there was only one authorized language that the Bible could be spoken in. Just recently even, we have discovered clear sections that have been added into the Bible at a later point during the composition stage. Thus, we know that later editors added sections into the Bible and that it became integrated into the works of a single author. Mark’s resurrection narrative was inserted and was not a part of the original work. The story of Jesus sparing the prostitute from the band of men is also an insertion into the original Gospel story. So as much as we would like to think of the Bible as an absolute manual which gives us direct access to the mind of God it is foolish to make this theological leap.
Not only has our Bible, the Christian Bible, changed religions, but two thirds of our Bible belongs to another religion. This is one of the most puzzling aspects of the Christian Bible because the Old Testament is entirely Jewish. Now there are some interesting explanations for why this is. The easiest answer is that Christianity began as a sect of Judaism and then at a later point “divorced” itself from Judaism and became its own autonomous religion with a devotion to the Hebrew Scriptures in tact as a sign of what they believed to be God’s activity to extend the Promise of the Jews to the newly formed Christianity. So if our respective Bibles are the children of our religion, then we got only joint custody of the Old Testament in our divorce with Judaism.
This brings me to what is really the most basic and fundamental aspect of the Christian Bible, and that is that right out of the gate we have to accept it as a work not really “meant” for us. The Judaism of the first century and the Christianity of the first century all had a “Bible” in a relative sense. The New Testament canon was not formed until much later. And so when we think of Christians being devoted to the Bible, the first Christians certainly had this same devotion. Acts says how the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). And we are told from the very start how the first believers devoted themselves to the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). These first Christians were reading their Bibles as faithful Jews! So it has to be made clear that what we know of as the Bible has looked differently throughout the ages. We have held our devotion to it just the same as representing God’s word, but we have to be responsible believers and approach the Bible under the conditions that for all intents and purposes God has given it to us as.
What is “sound doctrine?” This seems to be a very important place to start, because the Bible does not actually say much about doctrine, and so if it is going to then we should pay serious attention to it. In 1 Timothy 1:9-11 it says, “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” Now this author throws out some pretty heavy terms here. He says that the “law” is made for sinners, basically. This “law” seems equal in some respects to “sound doctrine.” The syntax suggests this. We could easily rephrase this pericope to say, “We also know that the law is made for things contrary to sound doctrine. Thus, to uphold the law means to uphold sound doctrine. It is here that I suggest that for all intents and purposes the “law” that we read about in the New Testament was what any first century Christian would know as The Bible. There was the Law and the Prophets, and Wisdom literature. Jesus speaks of this in the Gospels (Matt. 5).
I hear this appeal to “sound doctrine” many times when discussing the Bible with Christians, and I think there is a general error that many people are accustomed to making and that has just been ignored for the most part. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy makes a comparison that when Biblical Inerrancy is rejected then “sound teaching” can be threatened. Thus, we have perhaps accepted into our spiritual DNA this idea that “sound doctrine” means doing what the Bible tells us to do.
The Superiority of the Gospel
But this is not the conclusion that we come to even from this pericope. In 1 Timothy, the law is made for sinners, not to condemn them, but to show them what is contrary to “sound doctrine” that they might come to the Gospel. So the “law” or the Bible in this sense is only a tool to be used to show us “sound doctrine”, BUT (and you have to pay close attention to this) sound doctrine is unrelated to the law itself. The law is made. In this pericope it is sound doctrine which stands above the law, because it conforms to the Gospel which is connected to the glory of God. Thus, in the Timothy model of sound doctrine it is not an issue of doing what the Bible says, but of using the Bible to promote the Gospel. This is the singular New Testament example time and time again of how Christians are to use their Bibles.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul says how he is only allowed to speak because of the Gospel (2:4), which means that all Biblical *words* are submitted to the Gospel. In Galatians 3, Paul holds the Gospel above Scripture again when he says that Abraham received God’s promise (v.8). Continually Paul refers to the Gospel as what he “preaches.” He does not “preach” Scripture. He preaches the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:16, 18, 1:17). Thus, Paul’s words, which would become the bulk of the New Testament were not “inspired” by previous Scripture, but by the Gospel, and Paul even says how previous Scripture is inspired by this same Gospel. In fact, it is the Gospel, which Christians are called to practice, participate in, and align themselves with. It is the Gospel, not Scripture,that we are to follow and obey. This does not diminish Scripture, but gives Scripture it actual scriptural understanding. The Bible promotes the Gospel, not the other way around! In Philippians, Paul says that we participate in the Gospel (1:5), he says that we are confirmed through the Gospel (1:7), our circumstances are views through the Gospel (1:12), we defend the Gospel (1:16), we conduct ourselves according to the Gospel (1:27), and we are companions of the Gospel (4:3). This is important to understand, because in the New Testament the Bible is actually seen as separate and different then the Gospel. In fact, the only significance the Bible can have for the Christians is IF it is perceived and accepted through the Gospel. This is a rather intuitive belief when you consider that Christians were competing for the Bible with another religion. They had to develop a separate mechanism that would make their shared Bible different from their religious perspective.
In the New Testament the Gospel is not only our source for Christian conduct and for how the Bible is to be read, but it is also our connection to God. In Romans the Gospel is given a new status as it actually informs us of God. Paul claims that the Gospel comes directly from God (1:1). It is the power of God (1:16). It gives us knowledge of God’s plans (2:16). Through the Gospel we become priests, preachers, and elected; making it the new standard of how God approves and wills things (11:28, 15:16, 20). The Gospel was given by God to unlock his revelation (16:25).
In 1 Peter, this Pauline standard is further applied to how we are to interpret our Scriptures. It says how the prophets can only be understood as applying to Christ if we look at them through the Gospel (1:12). In 1 Peter souls are judged by the Gospel, not by the Bible (4:6), and it is the Gospel that Christians are to obey, not the Bible (4:17). Other Pauline epistles which may not have come from Paul himself, also confirm the superiority of the Gospel. In Ephesians it is the Gospel, which is the message of truth, not the Scriptures (1:13). And in 2 Timothy it is not the fulfilling of scripture that makes Jesus Lord, but it is through the Gospel (2:8). In Colossians it is the Gospel, which truly informs us of Christ, not the Scriptures (1:5-6).
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