Yesterday, I had a conversation over social media with a couple of people which roughly (very roughly) centered around the use of the word “biblical.” I was arguing that conservative protestant evangelicals are not the only people with a biblical worldview, and the other guys were arguing … well, I wasn’t really sure exactly what their perspective was (we kind of trailed off into a different discussion at that point). But what did come across clear was that when they used the word “biblical,” what they really meant was “what I think the Bible teaches.” And this is a terrible use of the word.
But what does “biblical” mean?1 Because if “biblical” simply denotes what the evangelical subculture believes, then that means that the majority of Christians in the world today2 don’t have a biblical worldview, and that just seems like a pretty arrogant claim for a group that only makes up less than 14% of Christians worldwide.3
So, what is “biblical”? If by “biblical” we mean an idea that people could use the Bible to support, biblical theology supports things like…
By using “biblical” in this way, we basically mean anything that ever gets mentioned in the Bible. Obviously, this leads to all sorts of problems. As Fee and Stuart said, “Every imaginable heresy or practice, from the Arianism (denying Christ’s deity) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Way, to baptizing for the dead among Mormons, to snake handling among Appalachian sects, claims to be ‘supported’ by a text.”4
If by “biblical” we mean a belief that someone can draw from reading Scripture at face value, then the following things are “biblical”…
As crazy as some of these might seem, and as damaging as some of their implications might be, some of these are things that some Bible-believing Christians actually believe. But, what if you want to get away from specifics? “Biblical” theology shouldn’t just focus on select, individual passages, right? It should take into account the overall message of the Bible. If this is what is meant by “biblical” – merely the main message of the Bible – then the adjective “biblical” should only be used when referring to…
If this is all that is meant by the term “biblical,” then pretty much every Christian denomination or cult that claims the name of Jesus Christ could make claim to a “biblical” worldview. This would include not only Evangelicals and all of the other denominations that fall under the label of “orthodox,” but also Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Rastafarians, and Christadelphians. Hell, even the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan could legitimately call their beliefs “biblical.”
If, however, by using the term “biblical” we are referring to a theology that one might draw from Scripture using basic principles of interpretation, then a “biblical” worldview supports…
Now, this is (I think) the proper use of the term “biblical.” However, as you can see, even this definition allows for a rather wide range of theological views… and that bothers some people. This is where I think Christians (especially Evangelicals) make a huge mistake in assuming that whatever doctrines they hold are “biblical” and ones that contradict their beliefs are not. I have heard adherents of Reformed theology say that Calvinism is “biblical,” but open theism is not, even though open theists have just as much biblical support for their views.5 Whether you like it or not, almost all of the major Christian doctrines that you disagree with can be (and historically have been) argued from Scripture.
So, there you have it. Those are your options (unless, of course, you do use “biblical” to mean “what I think the Bible teaches”). It seems like “biblical” gets swung around like a billy club, hoping to lend credibility to one’s beliefs. It sounds much more impressive to label your own ideas as “biblical,” because nobody wants to be accused of arguing with the Bible. It is similar to how the word “science” gets thrown around in an attempt to lend credence to something someone believes.6
So, what do you think? What should we mean when we use the word “biblical”? Which of the above definitions do you think is most accurate? Or, feel free to share an alternative definition that you think works better.
Whatever you do, just be careful how you use “biblical” in the future, and please don’t assume that your views are the only “biblical” ones.
1: Some people make the mistake of assuming that “biblical” is the same as “orthodox,” and therefore anything that the church has ever condemned as heresy in an ecumenical council is rightly labeled “unbiblical.” This, however, confuses the two terms, biblical and orthodox, which are not synonyms. Furthermore, there are condemned heresies that can still be argued from Scripture, and there are beliefs held and accepted by Christians which have no scriptural evidence at all (here’s looking at you, “age of accountability”).
2: … not to mention the vast majority of Christians throughout history…
3: For more information on Christian demographics and denominations, check out this study by The Pew Forum.
4: Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 18.
5: I happen to think there is far more scriptural evidence to support open theism than Calvinism… but that’s a post for another day.
6: You may have noticed that both evolutionists and young earth creationists claim that their view is the truly scientific view.