In this post I’d like to address that ever so popular, yet misused, over-used, and abused phrase: “The Bible says ________.” Because we hold to a high view of scripture within Evangelicalism, anytime that we want to lend Bible tells me socredence or authority or just grab someone’s attention we simply precede any statement with “The Bible says…” – then you have to agree with me or risk being branded a heretic for not believing the Bible! Want to add punch to your sermon point? “The Bible says…” and now no one can disagree with you – no arguments! The problem is that we have become fast and loose with the use of this prefatory phrase – even when the Bible may not actually say it! Let me give a couple of examples and then follow with a bit more discussion and finally propose a better way:

  1. This first one I’ve heard so many times it just about drives me batty. “The Bible says that God inhabits (or is enthroned on) the praises of His people.” FACT – actually no it doesn’t! What the Bible does say is that ‘God is enthroned on the praises of ISRAEL’ (Ps. 22:3). The idea that God inhabits the praises of His people, is in fact a theological supposition, which, depending on the degree to which you accept Replacement Theology, may or may not be true.
  2. I once got an E-mail from a church staffer that started out like this: “Well, you know, the Bible says that you’re either in a trial, just coming out of a trial, or about to go into one!” Really? FACT – the Bible says no such thing! Now this statement may be true, and you might even be able to cobble a few verses together to “prove” this… maybe! But I assure you this is not a quote from the Bible, or anything even closely resembling a quote from the Bible. Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: what this actually is, is a cute little saying that our Pastor used to say a lot from the pulpit – Doh! It’s not even really a bad little saying, it’s just not from the Bible.

So my point here is that we’ve gotten really sloppy with our use of this term “The Bible says ______.” It happens in conversation, from the pulpit, and in online arguments. Why get into in-depth theological debates, why needlessly expose your congregation to the very real tensions in scripture, or spend hours counseling someone who is struggling with some area of sin when you can simply bop them on the head with a single verse preceded by that ever popular phrase, c’mon everybody, say it with me… “The Bible says…” As is evidenced in the examples above, we may in fact not even be quoting scripture, but rather some truth which we believe can be derived from scripture, or something that we hold to be “clear Biblical truth” (show me one clear Biblical truth and I’ll show you 10 theologians who will say that it is not so clear). Or worse, we may be being just plain sloppy, or lazy, or just not paying attention and we blurt out “The Bible says ______” in order to add credibility to some statement that we want people to believe without question whether its actually in the Bible or not.

So what I’m proposing is that we reserve the phrase “The Bible says…” for cases where we’re actually quoting scripture. I think we need to find another phrase, like say, “The Bible teaches…” or “It is clear from scripture that _______” for those cases where we are making a doctrinal statement or stating some scriptural truth which is not actually a direct quote from the Bible:

“The Bible says that we are to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19).”

“The Bible teaches that God is one in essence, but three in person.”

So what do you think? Am I knit picking here (I obviously don’t think so or I wouldn’t have wasted my time writing this post)? Or have we, evangelicals fallen into a really bad habit here or abusing the authority of scripture to make our point? If so, do you think its due to laziness, sloppiness, mal-intent – or some combination thereof? Let me know in the comments below.

And have a Happy New Year!