Is That Biblical? What Does “Biblical” Even Mean?

Perhaps you have used the word before, and quite often for that matter. “That’s not even biblical“, “Give me a biblical basis for your argument”, “Is the word biblical in the Bible?” I can’t help but wonder, what do Christians mean when they use that word, biblical? I know the form of the word itself implies that it has something to do with the Bible, but what does the word biblical really mean? You may be surprised at how many different responses there are to this seemingly simple question. I am afraid that we have become too concerned with whether or not something is biblical without actually realizing that we could be misusing and abusing the term biblical. This could be a catastrophic omission in our biblical discussions, and it needs to be highlighted.

The reason why I am writing about this today is out of a double sense of mild frustration and deep concern. I am frustrated by how many times that word, biblical is loosely thrown about in an attempt to validate, support or justify whatever doctrine one purports to be true. I am concerned that the word continues to be used by many Christians as a blinding veil over questionable hermeneutic practices and to silence those who may try to challenge questionable or debatable opinions. The following are three common responses that I’ve encountered regarding the question “what does the term ‘biblical’ mean?”

1. It is biblical because it is mentioned in the Bible

This is one of the most basic and most common definitions. It also happens to be quite simplistic. If a word is mentioned in the Bible, then it is biblical. It does not matter whether the Bible actually condones or condemns it. It doesn’t matter whether that word refers to the name of a person, a principle, an act or just an adjective. The bottom line is that the word is used in the Bible. Therefore, it must be important. The word “predestination” is found in the Bible, therefore it is biblical. The word “trinity” is not found in the bible, therefore it is not biblical. I think you get the picture. The second common definition is an expanded form of the first…

2. It is biblical because it is described in the Bible

While some people think that any word or phrase that is found in the Bible is biblical, there is a second, more elaborate group of Christians who believe that if something is “described” in the Bible then it is Biblical. This could be an account of an event in the Bible, a parable or a statement made by a person in the Bible. Here is a common example, the book of Acts describes the series of events that took place whenever new converts would receive the Holy Spirit, or had the apostles lay their hands upon them in order for them to receive the Spirit. They spoke in tongues. Therefore, it follows that every person who receives the Holy Spirit and has an apostle lay his hand upon him or her must speak in tongues. It is biblical to teach that conclusion and believe it to be true as a principle. The third response is even more complex…

3. It is biblical because it is commanded or promised by God in the Bible

This one is the most popular with many Christians who claim to be avid students of the Bible. They can see through some naive interpretations of the Bible and they know enough to realize that something is only biblical if God, the inspiring author of the Bible, commands it. However, this definition doesn’t seem to go any further than here for many Christians. That’s what makes this last group of Christians highly diverse and equally divisive. I am persuaded that most of you who bothered to read this blog fall into this category. It is common, in this category, to find disagreements over which commands of God should be obeyed and which ones should not. Arguments about biblical principles and how they apply across the inter-testamental divide are many and often heated in this category. This is where theological heavy-lifting tends to take place.

Here are a couple of common examples along with common objections and critiques;

  1. God commanded the Israelites to pay tithes, therefore, tithing is biblical. Common objection 1: Well, not exactly, this was an Old Testament command and does not directly apply to those who are living in the New Covenant. Common objection 2: That’s true, but this was a mosaic law and Jesus was the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, so we are no longer obligated to obey that today.
  2. God commanded the Israelites to not charge interest (usury) to their fellow Israelites, therefore, it is not biblical to charge interest on loans. Common objection 1: Well, this is also another command from the Mosaic law, it applied to a theocracy. The current context of Christians living in a secular world makes it logistically impossible to actualize the command. Furthermore, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Mosaic law. Common objection 2: That would be urging Christians to take the path similar to that of the Muslim Shariah law. Plus you will have to do a lot of hermeneutic gymnastics to translate commands that applied to the geo-political-economical nation of Israel into the spiritual, non-geographical nation of Christians. That would be legalism at best, and legalism is not biblical.
  3. God promised the Israelites that He had plans to prosper them and not harm them, plans to give them a hope and a future. It is therefore biblical for every Christian to claim this promise and expect material blessings and prosperity from God. Common objection: Well, this promise was made to the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon. It is indeed true that God was promising them material restoration. But that does not necessarily translate into material blessing and restoration for those under the New Covenant. It is the principle in the verse and not it’s literal meaning that we are to regard as biblical. God promises restoration and prosperity to those who are His (OT Israelites and NT Christians). This is what is biblical. Whether this promised prosperity is material or spiritual  is a whole other issue.

This can go on forever. And it can often get depressing. But I am hoping that you are beginning to see that the term biblical is much more complicated than it is often presented. Exactly how principles are drawn out of narratives, promises and commands in the Bible is not as simplistic as many people make it out to be. I would therefore like to urge any young theologian (every Christian is a theologian) to exercise more caution and discernment in his or her use of the term biblical. It is easy to abuse it. And it is dangerous to abuse it because to do so would be to bludgeon with the very nature and character of God as revealed in Scripture. I have made a deliberate decision not to simply give you a definition for the term biblical in this post. My primary aim is to encourage you to study more and research about this for yourself.

But I will be generous enough to give you a clue, it has something (or is it everything?) to do with the person of Jesus Christ 🙂

Over at GotQuestions.org, I and a team of other Christian writers regularly respond to “biblical” questions (okay, questions about the Bible) posted by subscribers from all over the world. Some of the questions covered include; “When can a doctrine be considered truly biblical?” “Is ‘name it, claim it’ teaching biblical?” “Unconditional election – is it biblical?” “Is Trinitarianism biblical?“… The list goes on. You can check out the answers to some of the above questions by following the links highlighted on each question. Please, read for the meaning of “biblical” in each article. Hopefully, you may glean what the term “biblical” is actually supposed to mean. I highly recommend that you begin with these two; “What is biblical theology?” and “What is biblical hermeneutics?

I have also touched briefly on this subject in an earlier post: What Constitutes Christian Lyrics? You should check it out sometime.

Have a biblical day, won’t you? 🙂

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In His service and for His glory,

Cornell

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: “The Sex Files”: My Ramblings about Mavuno’s Current Series [Part 1] | Alien Citizens

  2. Pingback: What Constitutes Christian Lyrics? | Alien Citizens

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