I have recently written an update, clarification, and retraction of many of the statements in this blog post, but I felt it wrong to remove the original words. Instead, if you do read this post I STRONGLY INSIST that you read the post “Retraction and Reaction: My Words and Andy Stanley’s” The statements in this post are in some cases erroneous and in some cases simply poorly written, so please refer to the adjustments.
The Bible’s not essential to Christianity. Yes, the title is click bait, I know. But it’s also one-hundred percent true.
Let me say now that if you don’t know me you could take my words the wrong way. Believe me when I say I love the scriptures more than Texans fans love J.J. Watt. I consider the Bible a crucial component of a maturing Christian’s life. It is incredibly important. It’s remarkably imperative. It’s extraordinarily significant.
But it’s not essential.
Essential things have a quality about them of foundational essence. Note the similar root between “essence” and “essential.” They are both derived directly from the Latin esse or “to be.”
Without what is essential, you don’t have the thing itself.
Essential things carry the definition of the thing within them. After every peripheral, important, , interesting, special, boring, creative, hysterical, dull, colorful, drab, whimsical, frothy, poignant (or any other adjective of your choosing) thing has been stripped away, the thing itself will still be recognizable if the essence remains.
If the essentials of the thing are there, then the thing is there and I still affirm my title. The Bible is not essential to Christianity.
Christianity is rooted in, finds its essence in, the person and work of Jesus Christ who literally walked around on earth and literally taught things to literal people in literal history. Whether or not the Bible records these events is secondary to the fact that the events happened. To put it another way, Christianity is bigger than the Bible.
There were Christians, actually the best Christians who ever walked the earth, who didn’t have complete Bibles like we do. These are the Christians who wrote the Bible. (Specifically the New Testament, because, as far as we know, Israelites all wrote the Old Testament, not Christians… but I digress.)
The current biblical canon didn’t have any kind of official affirmation until the Council of Nicaea in 325, almost 300 years after Christ’s resurrection. (That’s longer than the United States has existed as a country!) If you want to get even more technical, you could argue that the canon wasn’t decided until much later, because the Protestant and Roman Catholic canons were not officially finalized and differentiated in their current states until the Council of Trent in 1546!
I tell you that to make this point, and to make no other points: There were godly Christians who lived during that period who never read the whole Bible.
Do not use these facts to make some ridiculous argument like, “I shouldn’t read my Bible, because Stephen says I can be a good Christian without it, so why should I?” or worse, trying to make it sound spiritual by saying, “The early Church fathers didn’t have Bibles, I’m just following in their footsteps!” That is utter garbage. You absolutely should read your Bible. In the current age, it’s remarkably difficult, nearly impossible to be a good Christian without good Bible study, but the word nearly is important in that sentence. It is not entirely impossible. (By the way, it is much more likely that you will be a VERY BAD Christian if you don’t study the Bible, assuming you have access to it. You will be in rebellion to Christ’s myriad implicit instructions to understand the scriptures.)
There are two possible errors into which one can fall in regarding the Bible in the current age: one is to deify it; the other is to disregard it. A healthy balance is required.
We cannot set up the Bible, the word of God, as a replacement for God Himself. The Holy Spirit’s interaction in the life of the Christian is crucial to keeping one from becoming a white-washed tomb filled with dead men’s bones concerned only with following a list of rules.
The Bible IS, however, God-breathed and the clearest and most easily understood revelation available to us. Natural revelation (God’s truth revealed through nature) is much harder to interpret than words on a page, and supernatural revelation from the Holy Spirit is even less clear. The Bible is an independent, unchanging, verified standard that all other revelation can be compared to in order to clarify the ideas we have about and from God. For this reason it is almost inestimably important for the Christian. Anyone who claims that “because it’s not essential, it can be chucked,” is missing the point of this post. They need the Bible more than anyone.
All of that being said, the Bible is not essential. What is essential to Christianity is Christ.
If every Bible were destroyed (which I don’t think could ever happen before Christ returns, because God loves the Bible too) and we were unable to accurately reproduce it from memory (which many people in the world can do and have done in the original languages) it would not at all affect the truth of Christianity or what Christ did. Our faith is built primarily on Jesus, and though the Bible is of extreme importance, it is not essential. Yes, the Bible is even where we get most of our information about who Jesus is and what He did, but under hypothetical extreme circumstances God is capable of using other methods of telling the world about Jesus were he so inclined. He is not capable of building Christianity on different essentials than Jesus.
If you are truly of the opinion that “the Bible is all you need to be saved,” and you knowingly or unknowingly mean that you don’t need Christ, you will be sadly disappointed on judgment day, and you will be a miserable and obnoxious sort of person in your everyday life until then.
Do you realize that in the eternal state, there likely will not be Bibles? You won’t need them. You’ll have the author right there as the very source of light for the city you inhabit for all eternity. God will walk amongst His people once more. If He wants us to hear His words then, He will be able to simply speak them to us in an even CLEARER way than the Bible is capable of.
I would be open to hearing arguments that the Bible is the second most important thing in Christianity, after Christ Himself, but you will never convince me that it is THE MOST important thing.
Again, for those who know me, they are probably shocked by this post. They probably thought, from the way I talk and live, that I thought the Bible was one of the non-negotiables of Christianity. I do regard it highly, and I would not be interested in associating with a “Christian” who has access to a Bible but doesn’t see the point in reading it. I think that, in this age, a Christian who doesn’t study his Bible is a very BAD Christian… but not reading your Bible doesn’t mean you are not a Christian. You are a Christian if you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you have life in his name.
Faith in Christ makes you a Christian. Faith in Christ without high regard for the Bible often makes you a bad Christian. Faith in Christ with high regard for the Bible very likely makes you a better Christian.
Faith in the Bible without Christ makes you a non-Christian.
Some might say that this last statement can’t really happen, because if you REALLY believe the whole Bible, then you believe in Christ as well. I agree with them. You can’t have actual faith in the Bible and not have actual faith in Christ. If you think you do have actual faith in the Bible but don’t have faith in Christ, you have no faith in either.
The Bible points us to Christ… but it isn’t a replacement for Christ. Good Christians in the present age highly regard the Bible and affirm that it is the inerrant, infallible, word of God, breathed out by Him, profitable to equip the man of God for every good work. Good Christians in the present age should not affirm that the Bible is “all you need to be a Christian.”
If you think you have faith in the Bible but you actually have little regard for Christ or what He taught, you are just another wandering soul deceived by your own sinful nature. I pray you will repent and look in the direction your Bible is pointing you. Believe IN CHRIST. Accept the grace that is offered to you in his death, burial, and resurrection. You can be saved by no other means from now on into eternity. And then, once you begin believing, go read your Bible.
Again, I STRONGLY INSIST that you now read the post “Retraction and Reaction: My Words and Andy Stanley’s” This later post clarifies many of the statements you have just read. Thank you for thinking clearly and for your forgiveness of my inefficiencies in communicating clearly.