I Don’t Just “Believe the Bible,” And Neither Do You

It is normal and usually well-regarded in evangelical circles for people to say that they simply “believe the Bible.” They’re not this or that, and they don’t follow such or the other philosophy. They just believe God’s Word, and all the people said Amen! Hallelujah! 

Well, as nice as this might sound, it’s not real. No one really just believes the Bible, nor would it be possible to do so. When we come to Scripture, we all bring preexisting logical structures, presuppositions, and other ideas to the text which are not necessarily present within it. This doesn’t necessarily rule out the correctness of our doctrines or interpretations, but it does mean that I am not a neutral, object party taking Scripture for what it says. Instead, my own mental life shapes Scripture.

Need you specific example? Take Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Already, we are affected by our existing ideas. Who is this “God” character? Most of us have a concept of God before we approach Scripture, though we usually allow Scripture to modify this.

But more than that, I want to point out that none of us are really just starting with the Bible on its own because of traditions. I don’t mean this as a necessarily bad thing, but we all understand the Bible through tradition.

“No, Caleb!” you may object. “I do not hold to any traditions, only God’s Word!”

But I do not think that is true. The truth is that, whether you know it or not, you agree with and learn from a particular stream of Christian tradition. Yours might be evangelical Baptist or Pentecostal. Yours might be Lutheran or Catholic. Or perhaps you’re non-denominational. But even in that case you almost certainly follow evangelical tradition and Protestantism. We all inherit our ideas about the Bible from somewhere. No man simply approaches the Bible and figures it all out from there.

The question is not who repudiates the most tradition in favor of Scripture, but which tradition is most faithful to Scripture. To address that issue at all, we must recognize the traditions which have shaped us and in which we get our ideas of Christianity. I know I’m an evangelical, Reformed-ish Protestant. What about you?

P.S. I should specify that I do believe it to be imperative that we make the Bible our ultimate norm and authority as believers. But we don’t approach it just one-on-one, me-to-text. Instead, we come to it as a community of faith with a history of shared spiritual wisdom. That way we find its truth.

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