Too High a View of Scripture?
by Ray Van Neste

In recent days the charge of 'bibliolatry' has often been hurled at the drafters and supporters of the revised BF&M.  The falsity of the claim that the formulation here exalts Scripture over Christ has been handily exposed elsewhere.  My concern here is with this general charge which comes up from time to time: that inerrantists in general have too high a view of Scripture, i.e. that we are guilty of bibliolatry.

The first question that always comes to my mind (which I always pose to those who bring this charge to me in person), is 'Have you ever really encountered an actual pastoral problem where the people had too high a view of Scripture?'  I certainly have not.  Never in my pastoral experience have I been burdened with the need to go into the pulpit and admonish my people to calm down in their affection for the Bible, to pull back from so much study of it, or to stop talking about it so much, lest perhaps people think we worshipped it.  Of course not!  Rather the problem I have seen in the pastorate is precisely the opposite- people failing to take seriously the teaching of Scripture when it cuts across their plans or current cultural norms, failing to esteem the Scripture enough to read it daily, etc.  Where then is this menacing ogre of bibliolatry which threatens to damage the churches?  Is he real or simply a 'boogey man' invented to scare people?  I must confess to doubting his existence as I have yet to see him.

Of course there have always been some people who do strange things with the Scriptures but the problem in those cases is not having too high a view of Scripture but in failing to understand it properly.  A high view of Scripture doesn't negate the need to interpret it properly as some suggest.  Rather, if one esteems and prizes something, one will study with all the more zeal and care.  We who have a high view of Scriptures often are and should be the ones giving the most diligence to Bible Study because we believe these are the very words of God and therefore we want to know what they mean.

Allow me to ask another question.  Why then are we guilty of having too high a view of Scripture?  Is it because we speak in lofty terms of Scripture, even speaking of loving, delighting in, devotedly adhering to the Scriptures?  If you define that as bibliolatry then count me in.  Fix a label for me and plant it firmly on my back.  I love the Bible, delight in it, rejoice in it, cling to it, and esteem it.  And all of this is entirely right as it is the words of God Himself given as a gift to his beloved people and as such is the only reliable witness to him we have and is the foundation for our contact with Him.  Is it not right for the beloved to cherish a gift from the Lover?  It is in this book that we see the image of Christ.  To fail to esteem and cherish the Bible then would be a slap in God's face.

In esteeming the Scripture this way we simply follow in the path of the saints of old, indeed of the Scripture writers themselves.  Many historical examples could be cited, but the most important example is the testimony of Scripture itself. Take Psalm 119.  In this psalm the psalmist rhapsodizes about his delight in (vv.16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174) and love for (vv. 47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 159, 163, 167) God's word.  He rejoices in God's word (v.162) because they are the joy of his heart (v.111) and because he loves them 'exceedingly' (v.167).  Indeed he stands in awe of God's word (v.161).   Charles Bridges, the great 19th century English pastor whose exposition of Psalm 119 went through 24 editions before his death, commented on this awe of Scripture in Psalm 119:61 saying that the spirit of adoption produces an awe of God.  'And this awe of God will naturally extend to his word; so that we shall be more tenderly afraid of disregarding its dictates, than the most faithful subject of breaking the law of his beloved Sovereign.' He goes on to say, 'But what must be the state of that heart, where the word of the great God- the Creator and Judge of the earth- commands no reverence!'  Then Bridges urges:

    'that we receive it with silent awe, bow before it with the most unlimited subjection, and yield ourselves entirely to its influence.  But if it does not stand infinitely higher in our estimation than all- even the best- books of man, we have no just perception of its value, nor can we expect any communication of its treasures to our hearts.  The holiness of God is stamped upon its every sentence.  Let us then cherish an awe of his word- "receiving it"- not as a common book, "not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess. ii. 13).'

His pastoral exhortation is timely for Southern Baptists.

The psalmist then uses lofty terms in his admiration of Scripture, similar to how he elsewhere speaks of his response to God. Perhaps the strongest statement comes in verse 48 where the psalmist writes:

    'And I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Thy statutes.'

This lifting of the hands is a common expression for worship in the Old Testament, and here scholars basically agree it refers to either intense longing or deep reverent regard.  I wonder how the detractors of the new BF&M would respond to this statement- especially if someone simply stated it without making it clear it was a quote from Scripture.

Does the psalmist have too high a view of Scripture?  As for me, I will gladly side with the psalmist and the testimony of Scripture to itself against any who would claim to know better.

Ray Van Neste is an ordained Southern Baptist minister currently working on a Ph.D in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

 

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