Literally Devoted

The word for today from the Wordsmith is bibliolatry, used in this sentence: “Fifty percent of college graduates expect Jesus to be here any day now. We are, says Paul Boyer, almost unique in the Western World in combining high educational levels with high levels of bibliolatry.” Martin Gardner; Waiting for the Last Judgement; The Washington Post; Nov 8, 1992.

Bibliolatry is defined as “excessive devotion to the Bible, especially to its literal interpretation.” It’s also the worship of any book, but sticking to the first definition, I have to laugh when I see references to a literal interpretation of the Bible. I hesitate to use labels, but I’ll do it anyway. The idea in the example sentence is the essential thing conservatives think of when defining academic and some other types of liberals. They tell us if we would use our brains we would see the nuance, the deeper meaning, the shades of gray in the situation and not be so cock-sure of ourselves, but when pressed for a good answer, they don’t have one. They can only criticize the answers the conservatives have given.

Bibliolatry in this sense does not exist. There can be no excess in devotion to the Word of God. See Psalm 19 and Psalm 119, but don’t take them literally. Take them poetically. Your soul may not “cling to the dust,” because you can have life in His Word.

9 thoughts on “Literally Devoted”

  1. I thought that excess devotion to the law was the accusation leveled by Christians (starting with Christ) against the Pharisees. If that accusation is true, then there can be excessive devotion to the Word of God (which, for Jews, is primarily the law).

  2. Excess devotion isn’t the charge. The Pharisees totally missed the spirit of the law. Jesus charges them with allowing people to declare everything they own as technically dedicated to God, when their clear intent is to keep it for themselves instead of helping their needy family or perhaps others. That’s one example of the “righteousness” Jesus and John the Baptist said should be avoided.

  3. So the charge against the Pharisees wasn’t that they were excessively devoted to the law, but that they misunderstood point of the law, and therefore were devoted to the wrong thing?

  4. I believe that’s right. Just as legalists today aren’t excessively devoted to the Gospel but miss the Gospel completely, the Pharisees, generally speaking, did not worship the true Lord but their religious ideas. Some of them worshiped the Lord, but most did not. They were whitewashed sepulchers.

  5. Why would anybody follow Halacha (Jewish religious law, which is a pain to follow sometimes) unless they were doing it for God? It seems that the Pharisees were like Lars’s Thor – clueless, but doing the best they could.

  6. They did it for power, position, and money, but I think we could safely assume they were not really following Halacha. They were following a form of it. Where the law may say you must wash before eating, they taught a dozen mannerisms of proper washing to show themselves and the hoi polloi just how “spiritual” they were.

  7. Maybe for position among Pharisees. There wasn’t a lot of power or money in being Pharisee. At a time when food was a major expense for most people, you had to refrain from foods that other Jews considered Kosher. Power was more available by being connected to the Roman authorities.

    It’s hard to know if they were following Halacha or not, because only two forms of Halacha survived:

    1. The codes in the Pentateuch, which are clearly partial. For example, they assume that marriage and divorce exist. But they don’t tell you what constitutes a valid marriage or a valid divorce.

    2. The Mishna, composed by the Pharisees and their students.

    That the Pharisees followed the laws of the Mishna is tautological, and doesn’t tell us what Halacha was according to the other Jewish groups. That their laws were more elaborate than those of the Pentateuch is meaningless, because the civil laws of the Pentateuch can’t stand on their own. They aren’t a full legal code, in much the same way that the US federal law isn’t a full legal code (without the code of federal regulations and state laws).

    Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree on them, because our sources on Pharisees are so different. I know them primarily from the Mishna, which came from their camp. You know them primarily from the New Testament, written by their opponents.

  8. I agree that there was an element of spiritual pride in Pharisees, just as there often is in modern legalists and in the more extreme parts of the Jewish Orthodox community. But given that the scripture they had was primarily about the law, faulting them for that would be the same as accusing them of bibliotry.

  9. But having spiritual pride seems to be the point. They did not believe Moses. They did not worship the Lord God above all else. They worshiped themselves and taught in such a way as to promote themselves over the people. The Psalms say that the Lord prefers a contrite heart over the sacrifice of bulls; these religious leaders did not have a contrite hearts at all.

    When Jesus was stirring things up, it’s recorded that the temple scribes and Pharisees in general and their two most powerful men, Caiaphas & Annas, were afraid of losing their privileges with the Roman government. They thought Jesus had no chance of being the Messiah, because he wasn’t one of them. And as I understand it, Annas and Caiaphas and others had rejected God’s direction for appointing high priests. They were political appointees.

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