The term Biblicism is sometimes cast as an aspersion against those who interpret the Bible literally or who hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura. A Biblicist, as commonly defined, is someone who uses the Bible—and only the Bible—for his authority and source of knowledge, blindly holding to the Bible to guide him through every situation and inform him on every issue. Those leveling the charge of Biblicism often deny the doctrines of scriptural inerrancy or inspiration or at least seek to diminish the authority of Scripture. Sometimes Biblicists are accused of bibliolatry or “Bible worship.”
According to caricatures painted by those with a low view of Scripture, a Biblicist 1) sees no value in information derived outside of the Bible, ignoring general revelation; 2) believes that the Bible is meant to be a science textbook or a philosophy, political, or economics text; 3) rejects the ancient confessions and creeds of the church in favor of constructing a personal belief system; and 4) ignores the historical, cultural context of Scripture. In short, according to critics, Biblicism leads people to an intellectually shallow, naïve view of life and a misuse of Scripture.
Those who hold to biblical authority and interpret the Bible literally have always been ridiculed by those who do not. While Biblicism may be taken too far, its critics don’t go far enough in giving Scripture its due.
A proper view of Scripture is that the Bible is the ultimate authority. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This verse lends support to Biblicism. Since the Bible is “God-breathed,” it is in fact authoritative, infallible, and internally consistent. It must be allowed to have the final word on everything. How could Scripture be profitable for “training in righteousness” if it cannot be trusted as absolutely true and consistent?
Objections to Biblicism are often accompanied by charges that Biblicists want to use the Bible as a universal textbook. In reality, very few people want such a thing. A proper view of Scripture recognizes the purpose and intent of the Bible but also recognizes that principles from the Bible can be applied to an unlimited range of subjects. For example, the Bible is not a soccer text; reading the Bible will not improve one’s corner kick. But the Bible’s instructions on self-control, integrity, hard work, humility, and perseverance can certainly be applied to one’s performance on the soccer field. The Bible can guide a soccer player in becoming a better person, on and off the field.
Biblicism does not automatically reject the creeds and confessions of the ancient church. Rather, Biblicism tests the creeds, whatever their origin, against God’s Word, the Bible. This is what the Reformation was all about. If not for the Reformers’ insistence on sola scriptura, we would still be buying indulgences and kowtowing to the pope.
Biblicism does not ignore context. To the contrary, a literal hermeneutic involves considerations of a passage’s historical, cultural, and literary framework. Any interpretation must agree with the context of the Bible as a whole, since the Bible—the authoritative Word of God—is its own best commentary.
Some critics of Biblicism complain about interpretive pluralism—the tendency of different groups of believers to interpret Scripture differently. This, according to some, disproves Biblicism. It’s true that various groups have latched on to various interpretations of the same passage, but that can be attributed to human fallibility, cultural influences, and a myriad of other factors. It is not necessary to shift blame onto the interpretive framework. A violin teacher, using the Suzuki method, will get different results from her students. Does that mean the Suzuki method is flawed?
Furthermore, critics of Biblicism fail to offer a viable alternative to the literal interpretation of Scripture. If we let go of literalism, how should we approach the Bible? Some critics of Biblicism argue that we should shift our focus onto Jesus, the Word, and see Scripture as a secondary, supportive text to what Jesus Christ taught and said and did. There is nothing wrong with focusing on Christ as our example for life, but there isn’t any real reason to relegate Scripture to “secondary” status.
We all agree that some passages of Scripture are difficult to interpret. Sometimes we can’t wrap our heads around the Bible. But it does not then follow that it is impossible to take the Bible literally or at face value. Biblicism is not bibliolatry; it is an acknowledgement that God has spoken, that He has spoken to us through His Word, and that we can understand what He has said (1 Corinthians 2:12–13).