A Dangerous Word
There is an odd term that keeps floating around on Christian blogs and articles. It seems to lack a definition but holds immense power of persuasion.
Writers and speakers use “Biblical” to support their arguments without adding additional resources. It is dangerous because when hearing something is from the Bible, many Christians will give it credence without further research.
Using the word “biblical” makes it easy to convince an audience that something is rooted in scripture, without referencing the source, explaining its theological influence or understanding the Christian principle in the first place.
At best it is lazy, and at worst it’s heretical.
And it is tragically common . . .
While studying contemporary Christian writings and narratives for women for my Masters, I scored through piles of self-help, marriage guides, and books on “biblical womanhood.” Shockingly one of the critical errors of each book was: while they claimed to be ” biblical,” they rarely, and in some cases, never cited or referenced the Bible.
While these books used phrases such as, “the Bible says” or “scripture tells us,” they follow with their ideas, not the Bible itself.
This tactic can easily mislead a reader, whether done in a book, blog, or social media post.
For example . . .
In the book Accidental Feminist, Jane Caro discusses her issues with the feminist movement in Christianity. At one point, she references a book by a Christian feminist who is weary that conversations around modesty have taught girls to be ashamed of their bodies.
To argue against this, she begins by asserting that having a body is good and uses 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” to support this idea. Yet afterward, biblical references fall away. Instead, she shares a story about buying a dress.
While at first blush, it may seem this writer is using scripture to support her disagreements with a feminist writer, the verse she uses supports a different idea entirely. Her argument for modesty is not rooted in the Bible but instead in an antidote. To call her arguments for modesty, biblically rooted, is deceptive.
The term “biblical” is presumptive . . .
The history of the current biblical canon is too long for me to break down here. I recommend A History of the Bible by John Barton if you are interested in reading up on its history.
But to summarize: the Bible we know of today has been through a HISTORY in the past 2,000 years. The first acceptance of the cannon was in the 2nd century, but the New Testament was not yet fully formed until the 5th century. So for the first 500 years of Christianity, the Bible as we know it didn’t exist.
Since then, we have had extensive shifts in our understanding of scripture. All accompanied by wildly different interpretations of what various texts mean. These disagreements can be seen during the Protestant Reformation and are common during denominational splits. All this to say, there is no universal understanding of what “biblical” even means.
It’s not a word that points to Christ . . .
So when someone says their opinion about x, y, or z is “biblical,” I have to ask what they mean by biblical?
They are in truth, really saying, “I have observed that Christians generally think this is true.” It means it reflects their pulse on what other Christians around them think, their church’s values, and maybe even the books they’ve read. i.e., it is a reflection of their world.
What they are arguing for could be something you agree with, but that doesn’t mean it is from the Bible.
It does not, however, mean that their understanding is a message in the Bible. Nor does it mean church tradition has supported their interpretation in the past.
Ultimately it does not mean their idea is rooted in love, which is the foundation of Christ, against whom we measure truth.