The term ‘biblical’ has become a convenient way of claiming something is “right” or doctrinally sound according to “Christian” standards, but it’s a catchphrase that’s lost its significance. In most contexts ‘biblical,’ or ‘Bible-based,’ or ‘biblically-centered’ can mean anything to anyone, and is commonly uttered to reinforce a particular viewpoint or partisan agenda. ‘Biblical’ has become the cop-out language for approving something as “Christian” without having to actually refer to the person of Christ.
Every Christian denomination, theological sect, and faith-based organization and political platform asserts their ‘biblical’ status. But if the term ‘biblical’ means justifying something based on verses and ideas that are found within the Bible, then almost everything can legitimately claim to be ‘Bible-based,’ because the Bible can be used to rationalize and support almost any idea or agenda.
Many of Christianity’s largest conflicts and divisions are fueled by differing verses, texts, and interpretations of the Bible. Even the most anti-Christian messages can be buttressed by scripture, and it’s not surprising that slavery, Nazism, the KKK, and some of our world’s most horrible atrocities were — and are — committed under the guise of ‘being biblical.’
Even Satan presented a ‘biblical’ argument when tempting Jesus in the desert by saying, “As it is written…,” referencing Psalm 91 in a futile attempt to cause Christ to sin. Citing the holy scriptures were a tactic often used to challenge Jesus. Just one example is seen in John 8, where Jesus is challenged by his opponents: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?”They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him. (John 8:5-6).
“In the law…,” or in today’s words: “According to the Bible…”
In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans wrote:
If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an outdated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it.
This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not what does it say? But what am I looking for? I suspect Jesus knew this when he
said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If
you want to heal, you will always find the balm.
In a complex society increasingly skeptical about claims related to absolute truth and indisputable facts, it’s increasingly hard to use the Bible to support anything without coming across as biased and prejudiced. But there is a simple solution: start replacing the term ‘biblical’ with the term ‘Christlike,’ because while the Bible can be manipulated to say and mean almost anything, the words, actions, and life of Jesus aren’t as pliable.
“What is the most Christlike way?” is a goal Christians should always be pursuing. The subtle difference from ‘biblical’ to ‘Christlike’ has radical connotations. Because instead of being centered upon a text, we’re now centering our faith on the person of Christ, which is what the Bible was intended for in the first place.
For Christianity, the litmus test should always be: Is this Christlike? Imagine all of the times were read, see, and hear the term ‘biblical’ used. Now practice changing the wording to ‘Christlike’: Would you rather your church be biblical or Christlike? Would you rather a political policy be biblical or Christlike? Would you rather someone’s actions be biblical or Christlike? Would you rather have your beliefs be the most biblical or the most Christlike? Would you prefer a life that is biblical or Christlike?
Many ideas, practices, and agendas that sound reasonable and even “Christian” according to “biblical standards” become absurd when we then compare them to the standards of being like Christ.
The semantics are important to understand because the different terms present two completely contrasting paradigms. One is based on textual interpretations and opinions, while the other is founded upon the words and actions of the living savior of the world. If you’re a Christian, you should always err on the side of Jesus. But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to idolize the Bible while simultaneously ignoring the very message of Christ.
Jesus — not the Bible — heals, forgives, saves, and loves. This doesn’t mean we should avoid studying scripture or disregard it as a useless religious icon, but the Bible should never get in the way of following Jesus. Our passion for scripture should never come at the expense of our passion for Christ, and the purpose of the Bible should always be to help us become more Christlike, to love Jesus more — not as a way to circumvent Christ.
Unfortunately, within much of American Christendom the Bible has replaced the person of Christ as a guiding post. Thus, the love of Jesus has been replaced with legalistic doctrines that oppress the poor, immigrants, refugees, women, children, LGBTQ+ individuals, people of color, non-Christians, and many others. Everything we think, say, and do should be filtered through the question of: Is this the most Christlike? Only through the love of Christ can the religion of “Christianity” be saved — this is the ultimate truth of the Bible.