I recently saw a photo shared on Facebook that had a picture of quite a famous man—none other than C.S. Lewis—that had a quote under him that said, “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God.”1 While I believe that the statement is said many times with a genuine concern for protection from error, in this article, I will address why I believe this statement, when applied improperly, is dangerous.
Upon reading this quote, many people, without thinking about the implications of such a statement, will notice how pious and Christ-honoring it sounds. After all, nobody wants to accused of what is called “bibliolatry”—that is, the accusation that one worships the Bible rather than the Holy Trinity. Along with that, this statement contains some truth: Christ is the Word of God. Who, upon a plain reading of John 1, would deny that? Well, that’s the danger of a statement like this, I believe. It not only makes a questionable theological statement, it states it in a way that makes the opposing position (in this case, the evangelical one) blasphemous. That is my first objection to this statement—a purely surface-level observation.
My second objection to the Lewis quote is that it ultimately (and, I’ll grant it, perhaps unintentionally) diminishes the authority and gravity of Scripture—and simply betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what Scripture actually is. Here’s what I mean: The evangelical view of Scripture is that it is “breathed out by God” (“θεόπνευστος,” 2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture was not only inspired by God, it was spoken by him, coming directly from his mouth and written through the pen of the Prophets and Apostles. They are not just words about God, as Lewis would, I expect, argue; they are the very words of God.
But, wait a minute; back up! I just mentioned it: Doesn’t John 1 reference Jesus as “the Word” (“λόγος“)? Absolutely. This is where I believe this quote by Lewis shows a misunderstanding of the economic Trinity. What do I mean by this? Matt Slick over at Christian Research and Apologetics Ministry (CARM) says it well: “The Economic Trinity deals with how the three persons in the Godhead relate to each other and the world. Each has different roles within the Godhead, and each has different roles in relationship to the world.”2 To better know how to respond to the Lewis quote, we must understand (at least as much as a mere creature can) how the Trinity works, and especially how it relates to Scripture. John Calvin, the principle theologian of the Protestant Reformation, and many other theologians before and after him refer to Christ himself as not only the Son within the Trinity, but also as the Wisdom of God (again, the “Logos” or “Word”—also with connotations of “Wisdom”).3 It is through and by God’s Wisdom that Scripture was written. That Wisdom, again, is Christ himself. Calvin says,
“The reference [to “the Word” in John 1] is rather to the wisdom ever dwelling with God, and by which all oracles and prophecies were inspired. For, as Peter testifies, (1Pet. 1:11), the ancient prophets spake by the Spirit of Christ just as did the apostles, and all who after them were ministers of the heavenly doctrine”4 (emphasis and addition in brackets mine).
This is the economic working of the Trinity, the role each Person plays within the one Being. The Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, spoke the Scriptures into being. Now, does this mean that the Bible is now deity? Absolutely not. That is the essence of so-called “bibliolatry”—worshiping the book as if it itself were deity. Of course, never in my life have I encountered someone who even comes close to such a description. I believe the term, like many such inflammatory terms that have been invented throughout history, was coined for the sole purpose of blurring distinctions, erecting straw men, and inhibiting actual discussion (my opinion). No Christian I know, even the ones that pound relentlessly the supremacy of the Scriptures (like me), worship a book.
But, consider this: A king in your country speaks, gives a direct command to be transcribed on paper by a messenger, and sends the messenger to then give the command to you. When the messenger arrives at your door and gives you the command, you don’t say, “Well, these aren’t the ‘actual’ words of the king (I didn’t hear him say them!), but rather words describing them. I honor the king, and will therefore listen only to him,” do you? Of course not! What foolishness! No, you take the words on the paper with as much seriousness and gravity as if the king himself were standing at your door speaking with his mouth directly to you. That is the seriousness and gravity with which we must handle Scripture. Again, they are not words about God, but they are God’s words—his Wisdom.
Therefore, all Scripture, being divinely inspired, even God-breathed, is of equal weight. The words of Jesus have no more weight than the words of Paul, and the words of Moses have no less weight than the words of Jesus himself. Why? Because Scripture is the Word of God—spoken through the Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.
In sum: Is Jesus the Word of God? Absolutely. Is Scripture the Word of God? Again, absolutely; they are the very words of God, having come directly from his mouth, spoken to us, his people. Is one opposed to the other? In no way, shape, or form; the latter is the very speech of the former. Has God spoken to us in any other way outside of the testimony of Scripture? Absolutely not. Let us then cling to the Word of God so that through it, we may come to the knowledge, adoration, and praise of the Word himself, the one who became flesh and dwelt among us and sacrificed his life for ours.
- Here is the entire quote, which is, in all sincerity, more troubling than the smaller portion addressed in this article—with his talk of myth in Scripture and saying that the Bible brings us to Christ rather than being the words of Christ. Notice also the subtle way in which he says that Scripture alone is insufficient for knowledge of God (probably because it is not the “true” Word of God, in his estimation); we need “good teachers”. Again, while I agree we need good teachers and teaching, I am, just as before, uncomfortable with the apparent harsh, almost unbelieving, scrutiny to which he is subjecting Scripture. The paragraph was within a letter written to a Mrs. Johnson in 1952: “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e., for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.”
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. xiii. 7 & 18
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. xiii. 7.
* A special thanks to my friend Eric Price for his invaluable stylistic and theological expertise in the editing of this article.