Bible idolatry?

February 26th, 2015

I recently blogged about the heresy of the nation-state, one of three heresies addressed in “Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus.” Our commitment to Jesus must always supersede our commitment to Caesar! Yet, the nation-state is not the only heresy that waylays some along the radical road to the cross. Many within the church have also begun to practice Bible idolatry, acting as if the written word were the highest authority.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. The Bible, to which I dedicate the first moments of each day, is the most important book in the world. But, when Jesus left he didn’t say he would leave us with a book, but with his presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). In interpreting this holy book, I need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and collective wisdom of the community of Christ.

Through the ages and continuing today, the church has used the written word as an excuse or justification for not obeying the directives of Jesus. The written word has been deployed to justify war, slavery, genocide, racism, sexism and a whole host of other “isms” that do not reflect Kingdom values. I believe we are to commit our all, our whole being, to the directive of the Logos, the Living Word, but we are not to subjugate the Logos to the written word.

Jesus himself made it clear that he superseded the written word. Look at Matthew 5. At six points in this chapter, Jesus quoted the books of Moses or other parts of the Torah, and then he changed them. He did this in reference to murder, adultery, divorce, solemn pledges, retribution and love. Jesus began each section with the words “You have heard that it was said,” then followed with “But I say to you....” Let’s look more carefully at one example.

In Matthew 5:38, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.'” This expression appears in the Old Testament in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. Let’s place this law in a contemporary setting. Ginghamsburg Church is just north of Dayton, Ohio, a city once known as a thriving center for the tool and die industry. Through the years many Ginghamsburg members have made their living as machinists in local shops. Let’s say that one of those members was hurt because of defective machinery—perhaps a hand was crushed. Based on the law of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” worker compensation would take the form of the machine shop owner’s hand, or foreman’s hand, being crushed as well— a just retribution. But Jesus said that that type of retribution was not God’s intention. Jesus, noting that his authority superseded the authority of the written word, told his followers, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39). If we make the written word, the Bible, our highest authority, then much of the world would become toothless and blind!

I find much in the Old Testament that does not seem to align with the teachings of Jesus, especially those passages in which God commands biblical heroes to destroy entire communities, killing all men, women and even children. When I encounter those difficult passages, I return to the red letters, the words of Jesus found in the New Testament, and then reread the troublesome passages through the lens of Jesus.

Whenever I teach on this subject, someone inevitably will ask me, “But doesn’t the New Testament say that the word of God endures forever?” In response, let’s take a closer look at 1 Peter 1:23, the passage they’re referring to: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” This is another example in which the English translation is inadequate to express the original Greek text. The “word” referred to as “living and enduring” in the latter part of the verse is Logos in the Greek—a direct reference to Jesus as the Living Word, not to the Bible as the written word. The Logos of God endures forever. When Jesus returns and the perfect comes, we will not need the Scriptures any longer. They are all truly fulfilled and perfected in Jesus.

Mother Teresa once gave a pastor acquaintance of mine some of the best preaching advice I have ever heard. My friend was traveling through India and on a whim decided to visit the Missionaries of Charity headquarters, where he was surprised to meet the tiny yet indefatigable Mother Teresa in person. He asked her, “What advice might you have to offer a young preacher?” Her response: “Preach Jesus, the true Jesus, the real Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, and not a Jesus of people’s imaginations.” As Christ followers, all of us this Lenten season must commit ourselves to realigning our lifestyles with the renegade gospel of the real and rebel Jesus.

Watch our recent interview with Mike Slaughter.

Mike Slaughter is the author of “Renegade Gospel.” He blogs at

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