Biblical is a stupid word

There I said it. It is a stupid word. I cannot stand the word biblical – at least not the way it gets used.

As a concept, “biblical” is a pure one. The progression is easy to follow:

  1. The foundation of Christianity comes from the revelation of God through the Bible
  2. As we travel through life, it becomes easy to buy into ideas about God that have little or no basis in anything God actually says in the bible
  3. Therefore, we ought to make sure that everything we profess to believe and try to do should have some basis in the word of God.
  4. We ought to define ourselves and our actions as being “biblical”.

Now if that was the only motivation behind using the word “biblical”, then maybe I wouldn’t have such a problem with it. But let me give you three good reasons why the word “biblical” should be banished from our vocabulary:

1. It treats the Bible as a set of instructions

How often do you hear preachers referring to the Bible as a “users manual” or a “guidebook”? I don’t understand how you can read most parts of the bible and still believe that. The biblical narrative (OK, there’s a way you can use biblical) can’t be moulded into a clear set of instructions that delineate beautifully between good and evil. When we use biblical to describe our actions, we’re bringing with that the implied authority of the Bible, as though the bible can be read as a list of recommended deeds. It’s primarily a narrative, which leads me to quote Inigo Montoya:

2. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”

Biblical: of or pertaining to the Bible. Slavery could easily be considered as biblical. Polygamy could probably be considered biblical. These sound like they’re a bit of a stretch, but over the course of history the bible has certainly been used to justify these positions, with the thought that because they were a part of the narrative which seems to go unchallenged through the course of scripture, they must be approved by God. When we tag our own actions as “biblical”, we make it far more likely that we’ll make the same mistake. But my biggest frustration with the usage of the word “biblical” in church contexts is that:

3. It has become another way of saying that I’m right and you’re wrong

This is really why I’ve written the post. I’m sick of hearing about churches that embrace a “biblical model” of church, or activists who have embraced a “biblical worldview”. What that is trying to say is: “I’m right, I have the authority of the bible behind me, and if you disagree you are disagreeing with the authority of the bible.” And it stinks. Because there is barely an issue of biblical interpretation where there aren’t honest, genuine, God-fearing men and women holding violently opposite viewpoints. And to call one point of view “biblical” is to call into question the authenticity of someone else’s search for the truth in the word of God. It pushes people to become defensive, rather than allowing for a reasonable discussion around why you might believe in a particular concept.

I don’t like that word, and I do think it’s stupid. But nobody is likely to stop using it because of some nerd in Australia. So if you want to call things biblical, then don’t use it in an argument. Don’t use it to invalidate someone who interprets the bible differently from yourself. Because quite often you’ll find out later that you’re wrong.

8 Replies to “Biblical is a stupid word”

  1. “As we travel through life, it becomes easy to buy into ideas about God that have little or no basis in anything God actually says in the bible”
    This is very true for those that don’t read the bible. I have a real hard time when preachers teach things that are not only in the bible but even worse, go against things that are in the bible.

    “How often do you hear preachers referring to the Bible as a “users manual” or a “guidebook”? I don’t understand how you can read most parts of the bible and still believe that.”
    I need to push back on this one as well. I think it is a guide book or user manual. If you read it word for word and read through it and study it, you are not going to find a specific answer to how to get your neigbor to stop letting his bushes grow into your yard. There is no passage that addresses that specifically. However, there are dozens of passages about how I should treat my neigbor. These passage give me the answer. Also, as a guide book what are you looking for? You looking to find how to get from point A to point B. In order to travel the road between those points you must find what necessary steps must be taken to get there. As a guide book the bible points that out, first faith second repentance third baptism fourth receive the holy ghost and so one. It takes you each step along the way. Its just too bad that so many people just blindly listen to there preacher who doesn’t know what he’s talking about and isn’t able to help them get from point A to B and he teaches them the precepts of man mingled with scripture. Instead of teaching them the word of God, directly from the scriptures.

    Hows that for a little push back?
    Thanks,
    Art Giberd

  2. “This is very true for those who don’t read the bible” – sorry Art, but I think it goes a lot wider than that. As much as it’s easy to demonise preachers on this one, it’s more often than not just being in relationship with other Christians, as they embrace the rituals and approaches of that community together – and start coming up with guidelines and rules that keep their own little christian club safe and secure. It’s a natural human tendency, and something we need to be aware of and regularly evaluate ourselves against.

    And the guide book metaphor still isn’t OK with me. I don’t think that the bible points out a particularly clear four step process that you’ve just described so much as it gives insights into how faith, repentance, baptism and receiving the holy ghost has played out in people’s lives (and I don’t think it’s always happened in that order for people either). And I think that statements like “instead of teaching them the word of God, directly from Scriptures” are the kind of things that this post is arguing about. How exactly do you want preachers to do that? Should they only read from the bible, then sit down? Should preachers only exegete scripture without explaining how this might apply to every day life for people. Are the experiences a preacher has of encountering God in life not worthy of being shared in a preaching environment?

    I’d be interested to hear what you think.

  3. “How exactly do you want preachers to do that? Should they only read from the bible, then sit down? Should preachers only exegete scripture without explaining how this might apply to every day life for people. Are the experiences a preacher has of encountering God in life not worthy of being shared in a preaching environment?”

    I think there is a fine line between teaching from the scriptures and teaching the precepts of man mingled with scripture. I have had many opportunities to speak with dozens of different christian preachers. I walked away from the majority of the conversations with a strong feeling that he was teaching what he either 1) wanted too or 2) what people wanted to hear. I am afraid most of them are more focused on self or growing there numbers and not on what God would have the preach. So, to answer your question, If a man is called of God I think he should use the teachings of past prophets (found in the bible) and modern revelation to teach. These teaching then can be applied to modern day, i.e. crime, economy, pornography and so forth.

    I just feel preachers tend to be more liberal on there own ideas and less reliant on the bible. For example and this is a very hot topic these days, the bible says that man should leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife. Not his partner, but his wife. Where then do preachers find it ok to discuss that God is ok with a Gay marriage. I don’t think God changes, mans precepts do and so do mans teachings and we tend to get further and further away. I think people have always had tendencies towards the same sex, why change churches now? If it was wrong in the past what makes it right now? I’m afraid it’s preachers leaning on their own understanding or the arm of flesh and not relying on God and his teachings.

    I don’t know if I’ve clarified myself or just made it worse.
    -Art

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