This week an anonymous reader writes, "It seems to me whenever I listen to Christians argue over anything, they end up treating the Bible as if it was God itself. Do Christians really worship God or are they worshiping a book?"
Charges of biblio-idolatry have become rather vogue in some circles, especially as "liberal" and "conservative" Christians launch attacks to discredit each other (imagine what could be accomplished in the name of God if we all just got along--oops, wrong soap box). As a child, I can remember being taught that nothing should be placed before the Bible and as I grew I made sure nothing was ever stacked on my Bible and I was even reticent to make notes or marks in it. However, as I studied the scriptures in college and then in seminary I adopted a whole new attitude about the Bible. I discovered the Bible wasn't quite what I was taught, and yet it was so much more.
There are three primary ways the Bible is viewed. The first is supported by tradition and to a lesser extent by John 1.1 and Hebrew 4.12. This view is that the "Word of God," scripture, is an incarnation of God--that is, the words themselves are God on earth. There seem to be few who actually hold this view, but the scriptural support, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1) and "Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12) certainly could allow for this interpretation. However, this notion seems to cast the creator as the created, which is an indication of idolatry.
A second view is that the Bible is "The Word of God." Proponents of this view claim the Bible is the actual words or sentiments of God. These claim the Word is inspired and dictated word-for-word by God and is thus infallible and inerrant. One of the difficulties with this view is in the determination of what should be interpreted literally and what is metaphoric. In the past, abuses have been wrongfully made because of the literal interpretation of the Word of God. People accused of sorcery were burned because the Bible said, "Thou shalt not allow a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18) and scientists were threatened with beheading when they taught the earth rotated the sun in contradiction to the scriptures (Psalm 19.4-6). Slavery has been supported, oppression of women has long been encouraged, and the attempted genocide of Jews has been sanctioned all because The Word said so.
A third view of the Bible is this: the Bible is the book of the church (it wasn't adopted in its entirety until the Council of Carthage in 397); it informs our faith, directs our path, and inspires us to seek and practice the presence and will of God--to love God and to love our neighbors. In this view the Bible isn't treated as a book that denotes scientific fact. It isn't upheld as a documentary account of ancient Judeo-Christian history. And although these proponents assert, "The Bible contains the Word of God," they do so without assenting that everything in the Bible is necessarily inerrant and infallible. Instead, the Bible is elevated as a sacred collection of books, poems, hymns, gospels, and letters that reveal God's relationship with humanity and creation, and calls us to a like relationship with God, each other, and all of God's creation.
Having heard a number of Christians argue in my time, I am inclined to agree with our inquirer; many do seem to worship the Bible more than the God of the Bible. Whenever I hear someone making a Biblical claim that is counter to the pure love of God or contrary to the nonjudgmental love we are called to have for one another, then I am sure the created is being raised above the Creator, a clear case of biblio-idolatry.