How the Bible Became an Idol


Again I am raising a difficult subject, but again, it’s something that needs to be said. And my title is true. The Bible – the holy book of more or less all Christians – has become an idol. And yes, I do mean idol as in “false god.”

A book, no matter how good, remains a book and should be treated as a book. A deity is something far different.

Not every Christian uses the Bible as an idol of course, but many millions do – probably a majority in North America – including nearly all of the TV preachers.

And if you’re about to start screaming “heretic,” please remember something the book says:

Does our law judge any man before hearing what he has to say?

What Is an Idol?

An idol is something you hold above reality.

A true God – a creator of the universe, for exampleshould be held above reality, since he created reality. If, however, we hold something else above reality, we make it an idol. A created thing should be considered a part of reality, not held above it.

So, when I say the Bible has become an idol, I mean people hold it above reality, putting it into the position of a god.

Christianity Was Not a Book-Based Religion

Christianity very clearly did not start as book-based. When Jesus “preached the good news,” he quoted just a small number of scriptures and usually as a necessity, answering people who questioned him. And several of those were of the “you’ve heard it said… but I say” variety. He read a few lines from Isaiah in his hometown synagogue once, but we see very little more than that.

Even the very literate Paul uses Greek poets in his sermons almost as much as Old Testament passages. (He uses some scriptures in his writings.)

Furthermore, there was no such thing as a New Testament for many generations of Christians. And when we do see them quoting the words of Jesus or the apostles, they are often different from the versions we have today. The fact is that such writings weren’t taken very seriously.

Ernest Renan, one of the finest scholars on Jesus, wrote this:

Little importance was attached to these writings, and the preservers, such as Papias, greatly preferred oral tradition… Hence the little authority which the Gospel texts enjoyed during one hundred and fifty years. There was no scruple in inserting additions, in variously combining them, and in completing some by others.

Whether we like it or not, that’s what happened. The book existed only as separate parts and wasn’t turned into a whole for centuries. It simply wasn’t important.

In fact, the first outside record we have of Christian meetings, a letter of Pliny the Younger from roughly 110 AD, makes no mention whatsoever of scripture readings and expositions, much less altar calls or plate-passing. Their services were very simple and in two parts: early morning singing and oaths, then later in the day, a communal meal… and that’s all.

The first mention I know of reading any sort of New Testament scripture in a meeting comes from Justin Martyr at about 155 AD, a solid four generations after Jesus. And not only does it refer to a small reading, but it doesn’t call the writings scriptures or even holy words; it merely calls them “memoirs.”

The typical excuse regarding this – that God gave a “dispensation of miracles at the beginning, then a dispensation of his Word for us” – is simply a fantasy. There is no real support for such an idea. That doctrine was conjured, being necessary to support current beliefs. People who teach this are openly placing their doctrines above reality.

The Bible’s Flaws

This is the point where authors begin listing the Bible’s flaws and slashing away at them. I, however, don’t want to slash at anything; I find the book to be immensely helpful.

More importantly, anyone who reads the Bible seriously has already seen the flaws.

The problem is not seeing the flaws; it’s facing them.

Those of us who’ve read the book know the laws in the Old Testament that no one follows anymore. We know how the apostles disagreed. But – and this is where idolatry comes in – millions of us pretend that we saw nothing and move on. Or if we’re trying to be very religious, we come up with creative interpretations to resolve the flaws.

And let me be clear on this: Trying to prove everything by the Bible is a deviation from actual growth. If you’ve done this for any length of time, you’ve hindered yourself.

Doing, Or Not Doing

Readers of the book really should know these things. The core of the New Testament – the recorded words of Jesus – require people to do the things he taught. The “Bible as word of God” people, on the other hand, spend endless hours arguing about who Jesus was, comparing scriptures, finding hidden meanings, proving their interpretations right, and proving the interpretations of others wrong. And so they bypass doing.

Because of space I’ll skip past quoting Jesus directly, but any Christian should be familiar with the end of Matthew 7. I recommend rereading it.

The Sad Part

The central requirement for any follower of Jesus is to love. Everything else comes second. Jesus not only taught this again and again; he exhibited it in his life. Christians, however, consistently push it aside in favor of other things. (I could tell you stories, but you probably have your own.)

The reason for pushing it aside of course is that loving is demanding. It forces you to confront all sorts of hidden hatreds, pettiness, envies, and vanities. Once you start to major on loving, you find such things popping up at you. It’s far easier to debate doctrine.

The really sad part of this is that the Bible idolaters – or at least a great number of them – do have experience with the divine impulse, of contact or at least innate yearning for a transcendent ultimate. But they never develop these things, because they’re busy idolizing a mere book, following the traditions and commandments of men.

And they really should have known, because the book says that the letter killeth.

Last Words

A hundred pages would be required to cover this subject sufficiently, but at least this much needed to be said, and rather sooner than later. It could be a very long time before I find the time and energy to produce a book on the subject. Perhaps someone else will take up the job.

* * * * *

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

25 thoughts on “How the Bible Became an Idol”

  1. Paul,
    Thank you for putting into words feelings I’ve held for decades concerning modern Christianity. I’ve always had an innate distrust of the mass media preachers who profess to speak for God while waving a bible in my face. It seems that book is simply used as leverage by those who would rule us, instead of being a reference into the insights and teachings of God and Jesus.
    I do hope you will reconsider your decision about writing at length about this topic. I think you would find an eager audience for it.
    Thanks for your writings. I enjoy and learn from your perspective.
    William Sutton

      1. Paul, read Inspector 12’s comment above so you will understand why you don’t get it concerning the worth of God’s Book, the Bible. In fact you will never get it as long as God hasn’t provided you with the new birth because you will always be Spiritual blind. Satan has been trying to discredit the Bible since inception and hasn’t been able to do it and never will. “There has been many a hammer worn out on the anvil of the Bible”.

          1. Loving God and Keeping the Commandments
            Jun 18, 2011
            A sad situation is enveloping large parts of the evangelical church today, especially those associated with the emergent church. Increasingly we are being told that love is the only thing that matters in the Christian life, and any talk of obedience or keeping God’s commandments is somehow legalistic or in fact counter to love. Thus a new antinomianism is creeping through our churches.
            We hear it said more and more today that ‘love cannot be commanded’ and that the Christian walk has nothing to do with rules, regulations, laws, commandments and the like. It is all about a love relationship – end of story. Now with all dangerous teachings, there is of course a good amount of truth here.
            Yes of course at rock bottom the Christian life is one of a personal love relationship with the Father through the Son via the Holy Spirit. And of course it is true that we are saved by grace through faith, not by seeking to keep the law of God. But once we are justified, there is the matter of sanctification.
            We are to grow in grace as we seek to do that which is pleasing to God. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that once we are justified by faith, we can live however we will. The free grace of God is not meant to become license for us. This truth is found in both Testaments. In the Old Testament Israel was freely saved by Yahweh’s grace. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and freed them to serve him.
            We read about this mighty deliverance in Exodus 1-19. But in Ex 20 we read about the giving of the law. The law followed God’s gracious saving act. Israel was meant to show their gratitude for God’s deliverance by obeying him and keeping his commands. This did not save them – they were already saved.
            In the same way today we are saved by what Christ has done on our behalf. We cannot save ourselves. But once saved, we gratefully seek to do His will and please him. The Scriptures everywhere speak to these truths. Love and obedience go together. Let me cite just a few passages given by Moses:
            Deut 6:5-6 – Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
            Deut 10:12-13 – And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
            Deut 11:1 – Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.
            Deut 30:16 – For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.
            Notice how loving God and keeping his commandments are intimately connected. But I already hear the protests of some: “Yes, but that was in the Old Testament. We are no longer under the law today so none of that applies to us anymore”. Well, sorry to burst the bubble of these critics, but we find the same teachings in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus said exactly the same thing as Moses did. Consider just a few quotes as given to us by John in his gospel:
            John 14:21 – Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
            John 14:23 – Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
            John 15: 10 – If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
            John 15:14 – You are my friends if you do what I command.
            And consider these words from John’s epistles:
            1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
            1 John 3:24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
            1 John 5:2-3 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
            2 John 6: And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
            These eight statements by John should make it crystal clear that there is absolutely no dichotomy whatsoever between loving God and obeying God. There is no disjunction at all between having a love relationship with Christ and keeping his commandments.
            The Moral Law by Ernest Kevan
            Most of Christendom has recognised these truths. The Puritans have especially rightly emphasised this close relationship between love and law. Let me here conclude with the thoughts of Ernest Kevan, the first principle of the London Bible College, who knew the great value of studying the Puritans. As he said in Moral Law (P&R, 1991):
            “The bestowal of the power for a holy life needs to be accompanied by instruction in the pattern of it. In what does sanctified behaviour consist? It consists in pleasing God. What is it that pleases God? The doing of His will. Where is His will to be discerned? In His holy Law. The Law, then, is the Christian’s rule of life, and the believer finds that he delights in the Law of God after the inward man (Rom. 7:22). The Christian is not lawless, ‘but under the law to Christ’ (1 Cor 9:21)….
            “To insist upon this function of the Law of God in the life of the believer is not to become legalistic. Legalism is an abuse of the Law: it is a reliance on Law-keeping for acceptance with God, and the proud or the servile observance of laws is no part of the grace of God. The joyfully rendered obedience of love, however, is a quite different thing and is of the very essence of Christian life. For a man to obey God because he loves to do so is not legalism; it is liberty: but, let it be remembered, it is still obedience….
            “A sovereign is no less a sovereign because his subjects love him. God does not cease to be God as soon as His people are reconciled to Him; He does not forfeit all rights to command as soon as people come to love Him. There is, therefore, nothing incompatible between love and obedience; for in the truly sanctified life there is loving obedience and obedient love.”
            Kevan is of course simply drawing upon the wealth of wisdom found in the writings of those who have gone before, including the Puritans. They rightly knew that the good news of the Gospel makes no sense without the bad news. Grace and law, in other words, are intimately associated.
            Without a clear concept of the law and its demands, we will not have a clear concept of our need for Christ. As John Bunyan rightly stated, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Saviour.”
            The reason so much of our gospel preaching today is so anaemic and ineffective is because we have truncated the good news to a sentimental and sloppy notion of love. We instead need to tie in biblical love with biblical holiness. And until we restore obedience to our understanding of the Christian’s love relationship with Christ, we will continue to flounder and lose our voice.

          2. Scattering the seeds of deceit is never a sign of love. The Bible is never used as an idol among true believers in Christ. It is the true Word of God and you or any other non-believer will never convince us otherwise. You should stick to subjects that you know best, Christian Theology not being one of them. To God be the Glory!

          3. Why didn’t Jesus Christ just write the new testament himself?
            Paul Rosenberg, your post rings true with me. You can’t have a relationship by proxy with God through someone else’s notes. Learning from what they wrote down about their experiences is helpful and insightful, but it is not the actual relationship in itself. Also, idolizing the people and their notes smells like modern day celebritydom to me. It should be obvious that fame is no guarantee that can keep you on or guide you to the narrow path.
            Imagine now, Leon J. Hull, and go back in time to the time of Christ. If you were an expert in the Torah, you would have probably found the new testament to be blasphemous. You see, we all have our own lives to write and experiences to share. “…after those days, I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts.”
            So, create experiences worth sharing.

          4. “The Riddle Of The Sphinx”
            At first men try with magic charm
            To fertilize the earth,
            To keep their flocks and herds from harm,
            And bring new young to birth.
            Then to capricious gods they turn
            To save from fire or floods;
            Their smoking sacrifices burn
            On altars red with blood.
            Next bold philosopher and sage
            A settled plan decree,
            And prove by thought or sacred page
            What Nature ought to be.
            But Nature smiles –A Sphinx-like smile–
            Watching their little day
            She waits in patience for a while
            Their plans to dissolve away.
            Then come those humbler men of heart
            With no completed scheme,
            Content to play a modest part,
            To test, observe and dream.
            Till out of chaos come in sight
            Clear fragments of a Whole–
            Man, learning Nature’s ways aright,
            Obeying, can control.
            The great Design now glows afar;
            But yet its changing scenes
            Reveal not what the pieces are
            Nor what the Puzzle means.
            And Nature smiles –still unconfessed
            The secret thought she thinks–
            Inscrutable she guards unguessed
            The riddle of the Sphinx.
            “natura enim non nisi parendo vincitur”
            – by anonymous or I think maybe Charles Walters, Jr.

  2. :Back in the early 80’s, I ran my wife off. A few months later, I got another job following a one month layoff notice. When I was preparing the mobile home that she never provided the promised power of attorney for for transport to it’s next home, I placed a bible and a Strong’s concordance in the middle of the kitchen floor. The mobile home made a routine stop close to where she was living, and I allowed her to remove her property from it. When the mobilehome reached it’s destination, the bible and concordance were gone. As such, the bible served as an indicator of her hypocrisy, as a self-professed born again. It’s disappearance served as an indicator to me that I should find something else to spend time on than bible study.
    The most useful book I have found to understand existence is Beyond Biocentricity.

  3. Saul of Tarsus (Paul) wrote in 1 Corinthians 2: 14 & 15 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” Peter said scripture was more sure than eye witness testimony. Peter affirmed Paul’s writings (2Peter 3:16). The warning in Matthew 7: 21, 22, 23 is definitely worth study. One final note: Jesus said in Matthew 22: 29 “Ye do err not knowing the scriptures”.

    1. “Jesus said, Ye do err not knowing the scriptures”
      YES! To people who were picking a fight ABOUT the scriptures. No surprise there.

    2. You don’t know what Peter or any other disciple said. You only know what some later writers said they supposedly said. Of course if you think you know that the Bible is God’s word just because you know it, then why do I bother?

  4. IMHO idolatry ends and true worship begins when individual human
    beings begin to recognize reality as a whole without contradiction – one-on-one,
    being-to-being – in human terms. It is my premise that reality as a sum does
    not contradict itself and it is my reasonable service to reflect and share this premise.
    For this purpose, you may enjoy reading Exit – A Long View of the Big

  5. Your really missing some things here. First is that there are about 5,000 pieces of manuscripts extant (in existence) on this earth. This makes up the “Textus Receptus” or “received text” and this is found perfectly preserved in the authorized version of 1611 commonly called the KJV today. If you knew the way the scribes made one copy to another you would understand how PERFECTLY preserved it was right up till the Gutenberg press in the 1500’s its absolutely perfect and flawless. Now, granted there are around 400 apparent contradictions in the bible that can easily be found by those that wont take the time to “compare spiritual things with spiritual” (scripture with scripture always gives the answer and clears up any misunderstandings). Space would not permit to tackle them. Could easily write a book on that alone, but the point I’m trying to get to here is that in Psalm12:6-7 of the KJV it does say the words of the lord are pure words and that God would preserve them forever. And he did. Some key verses to consider are that God said in the Bible that he actually placed his Word ABOVE his very name. Also in the book of 1 Thessalonians (2:13) it talks about how the true believers in the Lord received the words not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God. If you cannot trust the scriptures cause of being riddled with errors, then the books of the Bible in their entirety are not worthy to be read or studied or paid attention to even one bit, because how could you know what to trust? What part is in error? It sets MAN up as God to say: “I am smarter than this book. I can tell what parts are good and worthy and what parts are junk.” Then you become your own God in a sense. Believing in the Bible is not making an idol out of a book but is trusting the Holy spirit that wrote the book and trusting the God who said he would not only inspire it… but preserve it forever. Trusting the God who said he puts his word above his name. Peter called Paul’s writing’s “scripture” and of all his epistles it was told that it should be read to the churches. The churches did read the scriptures every week and a great many copies were made, passed around and read. Your entire article here is WAY off. And I’ve read almost everything you ever wrote. But this one… just really stunning in how far off you are. I mean basically your coming right out and saying your just not a bible believer and condemning others that are, as if they worship a book. That’s fairly poor.

    1. Michael, you’ve given me way too much to comment on, but I will comment on a few items:
      1. I’m saying that people place a book above reality. In particular, they see the places it contradicts itself and say, “no, it doesn’t” (actually, “no, it mustn’t”), placing reality beneath the dignity of a book.
      2. I really like the book; I’ve gotten a lot out of it and thing everyone should read it. But I do not idolize it.
      3. This is not an all-or-nothing: Treating the Bible as a book does not mean that I find it disgusting, or the people who read it dupes.
      4. I’m not condemning anyone; I’m merely calling things what they are. And by my definition, holding anything above reality is to make it your god. AKA, idolatry.
      5. It may be worth your time to study what actually happened among the first generations of Christians. (You’re making a lot of assumptions about them.) I’ll suggest that you start with Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity.

  6. Good for you Paul, for not avoiding a touchy / divisive subject.
    Surely the mark of a Free Man is his open mind; comfortable questioning anything with intellectual honesty. If there be a God, I presume He should be fine with us using our reasoning faculty – which He endowed us with.

  7. Paul, you ask, “What is an Idol?”
    I believe your answer is correct: “An idol is something you hold above reality.”
    Why do we believe this? For the fun of it, please, let’s check our premise.
    Let’s see if we can name/describe just a few of the things we believe we know about reality as a fundamental premise. For example, what are the attributes of reality? What is its character? What is the nature of reality? Let’s have a little open dialog online. I think we may enjoy the exercise.
    As a side note, this exercise may also be fun for those of us who appreciate the Austrian school of economics and its premise as revealed in Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.

    1. Hi Dan. Great topic for discussion. Unfortunately, I’m as loaded as I can get right now and will have to decline. (Sorry.) Someone else interested?
      FWIW, I end up fairly close to John Locke on epistemology.

  8. Without 100% agreement I thank you for the inspiration, Paul. Just before completing my commentary on this article I was informed by your FMP #77, as well.
    Terence Gillespie.
    “On Idolizing the Bible”
    What Is an Idol?
    Not a Book-Based Religion
    Stating the Obvious, Extrapolating the Unnecessary
    Facing the Bible
    The Laws that No One Follows Anymore
    The Apostles Disagreed
    Using the Bible to Prove Everything
    Doing, Or Not Doing
    The Sad Part
    What’s Rosenberg Getting At?
    The Christian Difference
    Faith without Works
    Transformation of Character and Supernatural Power

  9. Paul, I found your article quite refreshing. It saddens me that as human beings we have such a strong need to create idols for ourselves – and sadly the Bible seems to be set in stone for so many. My understanding of Jesus is that he seemed to question the written Jewish laws/scriptures of the day, and that it is the ‘Holy Spirit of God’ within us that we should be turning to for our spiritual guidance and nourisment. However, if people are only young spiritual children of God, it does make sense that our young spirits are likely to seek more structure and routine, and as such a more Bible based bedrock may help to provide a greater sense of security in ones developing spiritualality. However, children do grow up, and likewise, I do believe as spirital children we grow also. Just as it would delay a child’s development if they were continually deprived of healthy appropriate food, relationships, and environments, I also think that similar deprivations can also delay the spirits growth. I do wonder what the consequences might be for those spirits that have experienced unhealthy developmental delays – if such is possible or the case. Maybe this may help explain the extremist militant sections within Islam (and countless other religions throughout history)? Just thoughts.

  10. Check out the tag name Bible is mark of the beast on YouTube. Harlan Hoy is the guys name and he says what you do about the Bible being an idol but then shows that the Bible is the mark of the beast . I never realized the sordid history on how the Bible came together with Constantine and then the wicked bisexual King James. (Who was not on 6-66)

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