Biblicism and Jesus as Lord

This installment on the Trinity and Jesus as God looks at a couple of different, yet similar thoughts. The first would be dealing with Biblicism and how we view scripture through the lens of that system. The second would be how we interpret the biblical writer’s words based on both the context of a passage and the historical perspective the writer uses.

“Biblicism” is a set of principles used, often by evangelicals, to filter the Word of God.  Christian Smith, in his book The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, notes ten factors of Biblicism:

1. Divine Writing: the Bible is identical to God’s own words.
2. Total representation: it is what God wants us to know; all God wants us to know (he quotes JI Packer here) in communicating the divine will to us.
3. Complete coverage: everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible.
4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
5. Commonsense hermeneutic: again, plain meaning; just read it.
6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: we can read the Bible without the aid of creeds or confessions or historical church traditions.
7. Internal harmony: all passages on a given theme mesh together.
8. Universal applicability: the Bible is universally valid for all Christians, wherever and whenever.
9. Inductive method: sit down, read it, and put it together.
10. Handbook model: the Bible is handbook or textbook for the Christian life.[1]

Now I don’t classify myself as a Biblicist but I do think factors four and five resonate with many Christians/evangelicals. With current translations and contemporary study bibles, it’s not a giant leap to think most people can determine the “plain meaning” of the text without the need for classical language skills or a theological degree.  Does that mean the reader will be right all the time? No – especially if they bring an agenda or presuppositions to the text. In other words: If they come looking for something particular, don’t be surprised if they find it even if what they find is wrong.    Having said that, it should also be noted that even those schooled in the original languages of the Bible may not always be consistent with how they treat the biblical text.  It’s been my experience, that consistency is the biggest issue when it comes to using the language of scripture. Not so much the lexicon of words, but how those words are parsed.  “Believe” is a good example. I might know that pisteuō means:  to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), that is, credit; by implication to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well being to Christ): – believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.”[2] But knowing how the word is used in the sentence – can be infinitely more important.   In John 10:42 the writer says that “Many believed in Him (Jesus) there.”   The word is certainly believe, however when we look at the word in its original language, it seems that what the writer is saying is that this belief was then and there; almost as though it were strictly at that point and time.      In John 11:26[3]  the same word for “believe” is used; however in this instance it seems to carry a different emphasis.  The emphasis is active and appears to be on-going. So you can see the importance of having that bit of information.

Having said all of that, my point is rather simple. Words matter and how the word is used matters.  This is a bit more than simply context although that is extremely important.  Which leads us to a follow-up regarding the Trinity and the use of kurios (or kyrios) when used with reference to Christ or Jehovah.  Since I’m a simple man, I’ll attempt to keep this simple.  Because the Greek translation of the OT uses Lord to translate the either YHWH or “God” does not necessarily mean we carry the weight of that into the NT and how the term is always used with reference to Jesus.  Let me offer one elementary example:

Luk 5:8-9 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken…”

If Peter’s confession to the Lord (kurios) is an expression on his part that he is a sinful man in the presence of the holy God, then it seems rather odd that “he and all who were with him”  seem more “astonished” at the catch of fish than the fact they are in the very presence of God! Does this prove anything? – Perhaps not.  However, it should help us be cautious when interpreting the word Lord when attached to Jesus.  I should also add there have been extensive studies done on the use of kurios in the NT. Studies at a level beyond both my access and comprehension. Yet they are out there and noted in a couple of Ben’s comments in previous posts.  Furthermore, it is precisely because those resources are beyond both my access and comprehension that I have chosen to look at this topic from a fundamental perspective. I strongly believe the understanding of foundational doctrines should not be the privy of only the academicians.




[2] Strong’s Lexicon as shown in the E-Sword Bible Study software

[3] “…And everyone who is living and believing in Me will never die. (Are) you believing this?”



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4 responses to “Biblicism and Jesus as Lord

  1. Pingback: Biblicism and Jesus as Lord | Stories of the Bible for Kids

  2. Ben

    Let me question the suspicion you cast on academics. I know much of academia can be concerned with minute details unimportant to many; however, when we speak about issues of theology and the Bible, who are we supposed to listen to. I’m happy to listen to all voices that have contributed to the discussion of theology, but it just so happens that those who have thought the most deeply about theology are academics.

    Let me return to the car illustration I used earlier. We all must have faith (the key) that allows us to use cars, but we don’t all have to understand how an engine works to make use of it. If my car was making noises, then I would take it to a mechanic, who knows the workings of a car inside and out. As the expert who is trained in the skills and methods and construction of the car, I defer to his opinion. This doesn’t mean that all mechanics are correct about what the issues are (any more than all theologians and academics are right about theology), but to have an conversation about fuel pumps, you’ve got to do the hard work first.

    When we come to theology we don’t come to these issues uninformed and uninfluenced. We’re always standing on the shoulders of others. If you offer up someone who has thought deeply about the Trinity other than an academic, I’d love to hear their voice, but the depth of the discussion has been carried by theologians, and so I don’t see how we can escape that. It fits with #6. In distinction to biblicism, we listen to tradition (whether ecclesial or academic) because we know that we can’t (and don’t) read the Bible alone.

    All that’s to say then if you want to engage in a debate about what scripture says, particularly related to the use of Kyrios, then it’s going to take extra work by reading and debating with those who have studied the issue. Otherwise, it remains near the straw-man level of argument against their position.

    I’m sure you’ll get around to it, but the kyrios discussion in Paul is also relevant–Phil 2.5-11, for instance. And there is also the language of the divine fullness in Christ in Col 1.19 and 2.9-10, and I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on.


  3. Ben

    I thought of another book, sorry it is academic too. Simon Gathercole’s The Pre-Existent Son explores how the synoptic gospels present Jesus as pre-existent. I suppose it’s up to the interpreter then to determine what state of existence that pre-incarnation is, but it supports a not simply human view of Jesus.


  4. Norm

    Ben, I am NOT questioning or casting suspicion on academics. That would be both foolish and self deprecating. But please, $140 for a book on the study of the word “kurios” – that’s a bit over the top.

    There is little doubt we “stand on the shoulders of others.” Yet those shoulders began with a question or concern at some point that propelled them to dig deeper and stretch themselves further when it came to understanding the biblical text as well as past and present theology. To discount my ability, or that of another, to question “orthodoxy” and say we don’t know enough to “fix our own fuel pump” is a bit over the top. I might not have ASE credentials, but I can tackle the job if I choose. It may take me longer but there’s nothing that says I can’t do the job.

    You and others may be waiting for me to come up against the wall of my own ignorance in pursuing this topic. Which may indeed come about. However y’all will need to wait a bit longer. Who knows, I may come out the other side and be able to hang a shingle over my front door that says “Orthodoxy rules this house.”


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