By Hoyt H. Houchen
In the March 23, 1972 issue of Truth Magazine, there appeared a brief excerpt on “Bibliolatry” by brother B. G. Echols. The excerpt is a quotation from an 1881 work of J. Cynddylan Jones of Wales, entitled, “Studies in the Gospel According to St. Matthew.” The comment is as follows:
“Some of our popular preachers have been descanting of late upon what they call Bibliolatry – idolatry of the Bible. The people they come in contact with, I conjecture, make too much of the Bible. I wish I knew where such people live. I should like to go and live amongst them. The people I know make too little of the Bible, a great deal too little. They read it too little, study it too little, and believe it too little. I would travel far to see an idolater of the Bible. I have not seen one yet. The truth is, that as to love Christ supremely is not idolatry of His human nature, so to believe the Bible intensely is not idolatry of mere thoughts and words.”
It is not the purpose of this treatise to take issue with the above statement; in fact, we readily concur with brother Echols that the truth contained in it is as much needed today as it was when its author published it in 1881. Rather, we are provoked by the article to approach the term “Bibliolatry” from a different viewpoint, not as the veneration of truth, the contents of “the book of all books,” but the homage that is so often rendered to the literal book, its material composition of pages bound by a cover. Because some apparently have made a fetish out of the material book itself, we believe that there should also be some thinking along this line.
The term “bibliolater” is defined by Webster: “one overly devoted to books” (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 82). “Bibliolatry” as defined by Funk and Wagnall is: “Book-Worship” (Desk Standard Dictionary, p. 92). Illustrations of fetishism, the belief that the literal book with the imprint “Holy Bible,” has some magic power to protect or aid its owner will best serve our intent to consider this particular viewpoint of “bibliolatry.”
That some believe that the literal book (material composition) holds some special, magical power to its owner is evident when some soldier over-seas places a little copy of the New Testament over his heart for protection from bullets or flying missiles. Personally, this writer had far rather seek protection behind a Sherman tank, and you had better believe it!
Others, in paying undue homage or reverence to a material book will place a copy of the Bible over their hearts and talk about “the dear old book.” Such people usually find no more use for the book than to allow it to occupy a place in the room, possessing it as a matter of pride and sentiment, and a most convenient file f or combs pictures, and locks of babys hair. My wife and I recall that a number of years ago we went to visit a lady. She was very industrious to blow dust from “the book” and to be certain that it occupied a prominent place, as we entered the house.
In these concerted efforts to make impressions with “the old book,” we are reminded of the often related incident of the father who was most anxious to deeply impress his visitors with his devotion to Godly matters, turned to his small boy and said, “Son, bring daddy the old book that he loves so well” and the little boy, returned with a copy of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue!
Another example of bibliolatry, from this area of consideration, is paid in the court room. A witness in a trial places his hand upon the Bible as an officer of the court asks him to “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” We are made to wonder if in the mind of the court such a rite will somehow magically turn a liar into a man of integrity. Cases of perjury are sufficient proof that it does not always affect a mans moral conduct, it being self-evident that if a man is determined to lie, whether he lays his hand on a copy of the Bible or a fence cost will not deter him from lying.
A few years ago, a preacher in Fort Worth, Texas advertised that he had the largest Bible in the world and people came from far and near and were awed by it. For a small charge, advertisers offer to send the smallest Bible in the world, so small that a magnifying glass is required in order to read it. We are told of the largest Bible in the world and the smallest Bible in the world. They make good conversation pieces, but we are made to ask, “So what?” A big deal!
When we lived in Odessa, Texas, we observed an old worn Bible in a display case in the lobby of the hospital and it bad a note adjacent to it, stating that this Bible was the first Bible to be used in the prayer room of that hospital. This author loves books, and especially old and rare books, several of which he has in his library, but they should be regarded as items of interest and not objects of veneration. No objection whatever is registered with regard to books or items being made solely items of interest but the point is that many go beyond this with regard to the literal book with the imprint “Holy Bible” and their actions manifest this reverent, awesome feeling.
All of this adds up to the conclusion that all fetishism is not confined to the heathens of some remote island or a distant country. To say the least, there is prima facie evidence that there is undue homage paid to a bound volume of printed pages. Obviously, the reverence that some have toward the literal book is seen by their fear if the book should be dropped, or if it should be slapped when the preacher is driving a point home, or if it should be placed under another book or object. While such reverential emotions are manifested toward the literal book, and even though in many instances such persons are conscientious to live a good life from the standpoint of honesty and pure habits, they indicate little if any disposition to obey the teaching of the Bible with reference to baptism, the church, work and worship, and all that required in order to go to heaven. These people need to understand what the Bible is in the true sense, that it is the word of God and that its teachings should be respected and adhered to, rather than a material production of a bound volume.
We do appreciate the note on bibliolatry referred to at the outset of this article and we were just stimulated to back up and approach the subject from a different angle.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 41, pp. 6-7
August 24, 1972