13 March 2006

Do we need a shorter Bible?

by Dan Phillips

You may have noticed -- the Bible is a pretty hefty volume. Any way you slice it, there are sixty-six books and lots of chapters and verses in there. Only a few books are one chapter long: Obadiah, Jude, etc. Others are as much as 150 chapters long. Any way you slice it, not an afternoon read.

Now, you can make a really small one, like the version Marc found. Or you can get the Reader's Digest Condensed Bible. Or you can get a really big one, like the Bible that the President-before-GW-Bush used to wave at photographers.

But the Bible itself, the version we've had for centuries, is a big book.

It has occurred to me, though, that if some schools of thought were true, it actually could - or should -- be a lot smaller.

For instance, to be obvious, if we only published the actual words of the "Jesus" who the Jesus Seminar academes made up, the Gospels would only take up a chapter or two.

For that matter, if we went over the Bible in toto and only published what the liberal establishment allows as non-misleading passages -- that is, the parts of the Law of Moses actually written by Moses (none), the psalms of David actually written by David (few, or none), the Proverbs actually written by Solomon (none), and thus for Isaiah, the other prophets, Paul's letters, Peter's letters... well, again, a much smaller Bible.

The "grace-that-doesn't-sanctify" crowd's Bible, I suppose would leave out every NT verse in the imperative mood, and every threat and warning. Result? Shorter Bible.

What if the Bible came from the God of all the "seeker-sensitive"-leaning folks, the "how to have your very best life right now without conviction of sin, regeneration, repentance, saving faith, or discipleship" folks, the "using faith to put a hammerlock on the Big Guy" crowd? 'Way shorter. All it would have to say is something like, "You kids have fun! Go for it! I've got your back!"

What if the Bible came from the God of the "leaky Canon" set, who prize semi-hemi-demi private revelations -- the sorts that say that the Bible is not God's final word to man this side of Christ's return? It would be much shorter. It might have one basic Gospel, and then two sentences: "Anything else you need to know, the Holy Spirit will tell you individually. But you already knew that!"

(On the other hand, it seems to me that if one absorbs the full meaning and implications of 2 Timothy 3:15-17, one is left with the conclusion that our Bible is the right size -- however it is bound.)

UPDATE: If you care to, you could hear a sermon I just preached last Sunday developing the meaning and some of the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16 HERE. One could easily preach many different sermons legitimately from vv. 15-17 (on training one's children, on Sunday School, on preaching, on pastoral ministry, on Biblical Christian counseling, on inspiration, on the sufficiency of Scripture, etc.). This is just one of them.

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Steve said...

Then there are those who claim to be modern-day apostles who don't need God's Word because God speaks directly to them. In their case, there'd be nothing left.

Interesting. My Word confirmation was mhggluqq. Who thinks these things up?

DJP said...

Bob and Sandra Mhggluqq.

With help from their cousin, "Zeke" Zeykye.

donsands said...

Nice post. Humorous with an impact.

"Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts." Jer. 15:16

Matt Gumm said...

Great post. I came to a similar conclusion awhile back.

One of these days I'll get around to writing about the Jefferson Bible--now there was a guy who knew how to slice and dice.

Sharon said...

I was curious, and went to the "Jefferson Bible" link you posted. Apparently, it ends with the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus--no Resurrection! "Slice and dice" is right!

Kent Brandenburg said...

They're just trying to deflate years of scribal conflation, undo years of textual evolution. They are trimming off the Darwinism that naturally happens through centuries. And how long is long? How short is short? What difference does it make as long as the "message" is there? If Scripture teaches the canonicity of words, but the words themselves don't really matter, carving off some books won't be a big deal. And everyone knows that no one really knows who had what and when or how it was supposed to get passed down. And these are just the arguments that I hear from the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. Bart Ehrman and Bruce Metzger would smile. We're cookin when we're cuttin.

Brad said...

Of course I found this amusing until I realized that my ox was being gored too- ha.
Quick question to re-ignite discussion: In every day, every minute life, with the hundreds of moral situations we encounter daily, does a Bible verse come to mind in each of these situations and that's how we decide what God would have us do? If not, how do we decide? If a scriptural passage does not specifically come to mind to make our decisions clear, couldn't one say that we're relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us and thus private revelation? If we're not wrestling minute-by-minute with competing verses about, for instance, whether or not we should speed to make it to church on time so as not to disrupt by arriving late, then aren't we relying on "private revelation?"
Food for thought...

Renee said...

Sounds like someone in UK liked the idea of the smaller bible...

people don't like to read anything over 100 minutes I guess...

the 100 minute Bible

DJP said...

Thanks, Donsands, and excellent Scripture. It has been becoming increasingly clearer to me: you can't exalt what isn't God's Word without degrading what is.

Matt, good link to a good post.

Sharon -- who knew Jefferson was the first Jesus Seminarite? Kent -- funny how reductionism reduces, innit?

Brad, no, what you describe still isn't private revelation.

C.Stephen said...

Point is well taken, but it does cut a little close to the bone. I have to confess that there are many OT books (i.e some historical books) that go unread and unappreciated in my Bible, even though I accept their place in the Canon.
Word verification = "aqydd"
Word association with word verification= "pro quo"
It's a new game!

Kay said...

Hey, someone should use this blog to examine how God speaks to His people today, and whether or not the bible is sufficient.

*sticks a 'sarcasm' marker on this comment just to make it clear*

Dan B. said...

Thanks for the link to the post on God's sovereign vs. revealed will in your previous comment. Practical situations can most times be thought through in light of God's commands (revealed will) for us in Scripture, or if not, through God's means of seeking counsel with pastors or other Christians.

Patagonia Mike said...

Good Post,
I once heard an evangelist preach a message "The Bible you Need is the Bible you read." (or something like that) When he started the message he took a brand new Bible (red letter edition) and began to cut out the parts that people really did not like. He ended up with a very thin KJV condensed version. Very graphic demonstration and I think a few brothers and sisters had to go on oxygen!

Matt Gumm said...

Dan, thanks for the compliment.

Sharon, Dan, et al (I've always wanted to use that in a sentence), what's interesting to me about the Jefferson thing is that he went through the gospels and removed all reference to the supernatural. What was left, in his estimation, was a great moral guide.

Of course, we understand the futulity of doing this, but that kind of thinking is not limited to Franklin's time. Greg Easterbrook suggested as much in this piece last year in Wall Street Journal.

And Erik Reece makes a comparison of Thomas Jefferson's gospel to another gospel, the Gospel of Thomas. I think his premise is a stretch, and he's dealing with apples and oranges; nevertheless, it is an interesting read, and I hope to unpack it more fully in the future. Until then, I'll just say that it seems to me that the key to the whole thing is this sentence toward the end of the article: So when I first discovered the Gospel of Thomas about a decade ago, I was shocked to find a version of Christianity that I could accept and one that, moreover, could serve as a vital corrective to my grandfather's view that we live helplessly, sinfully, in a broken world. That pretty much says it all, I think.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Don't forget the "Doesn't fit with my theology" set, who cut out large chunks of the NT with a wave of "Not applicable after the cannon was closed."

Brad said...

after reading your response, a couple of questions... if God does not care what kind of beans we buy, does he care whom we marry? Of course we have a choice, but does He have a knowable preference? Does He have a knowable preference as to whether we should invade Iran or are we left to interpolate the scripture in search of God's formula? Somewhere on this spectrum, we're going to agree that yes God does have a preference and no it is not spelled-out in the Bible.
All of this is to say, that some don't shorten the Bible, they shorten God by saying that this is the only way He communicates today. I'll take my response off the air...

Gordon said...

Would a shorter Bible lead to shorter sermons? Sadly, I know some people who would endorse this.

Hey, Libbie, I got your sarcasm this time. LOL

Word Verification:AECLUXT

Association (Acronymal) American Evangelical Christians Live Under eXtreme Temptations

Matt Gumm said...

I'm curious. Why does "making decisions according to the principles laid out in the Bible" equate to God communicating to us in a way other than Scripture? Can't we just make decisions based on Scriptural principles, or must we always hear "the voice of God" in the decisions that we make. For my money, it's sad that folks (me included) don't think of the Bible as "the voice of God."

DJP said...

chris hh -- "Don't forget the "Doesn't fit with my theology" set, who cut out large chunks of the NT with a wave of "Not applicable after the cannon was closed." "

Trying to think of who you mean. You mean the Charismatics, I take it? You know, the folks who say, "The close of the Canon means that we can call anything we want 'tongues, prophecies and miracles,' and they don't need to measure up to the Canonical standards"?

3EFC Blog said...

Great discussion and point. I wonder if the current views of the OT would fall under "a shorter Bible."

I was at a theology lecture and the prof. was explaining, briefly, the idea of the perspecuity of Scripture. One principle of perspecuity was to allow the NT to define the place of the OT. He said that while NT ideas should not be read back into the OT, what carries over from the OT is mostly made clear in the NT.

Any thoughts?

Denise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Momo said...

muypcqDan, that was absolutely hilarious.

Sharon said...

On the other hand . . . Catholics would claim that we Protestants have "shorted" the Bible to 66 books by not including the Apocrypha. I actually had someone claim that Martin Luther personally saw to it that certain books were expunged from the Canon because they didn't agree with his own "grace alone through faith alone" doctrine.

Verification: bqnrakc
"Be Quick Not to Rail on Accurately Knowledgeable Christians"

Darel said...

Hey there Brad and Matt.

Don't keep going there. It's just a brick wall. If you call it "inspiration" or "impulse" or whatever, it doesn't matter. The discussion goes round and round because I have been unable to get them to separate out the crazies who say "San Francisco will burn to ground two days from now!" and someone who seeks and receives God's will in some course of action.

Myself, I incorporate "ask and you shall receive", as well as "written on their hearts" into my theology. I refuse to be demeaning to people who seek and receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit, since Scripture is clear that we have the Spirit for that express purpose.

As long as you are testing against Scripture, I don't care what you call it.

RickB. said...


if it didn't pass the test against scripture, what would be your conclusion?

DJP said...

darel -- how does the notion that God holds us morally responsible to obey commands and directives not found in Scripture pass the test of Scripture?

Darel said...

That it was a false impression. (or whatever word of the day you want to call it). Evil.

I'm hoping that isn't seen as far-out-there. When did we stop testing our thoughts, intentions, feelings, impulses, etc. against Scripture? Aren't we told to judge the spirits? Why would we think this doesn't apply to ourselves? If we are inspired to some action, and we test it against Scripture and find it lacking... shouldn't we conclude that it was an evil thought, rather than something from God?

Why is it that this line of reasoning seems so foreign to everyone? Are we not Christians? Do we not believe that every child of God, adopted into his family, has in him the very the Spirit of God, and indeed the mind of Christ? Or that there are other spirits and other minds that influence us, also? Do we not believe the Word of God when it tells us to test these things, clinging to what is good, and shunning what is evil? Was not even Peter rebuked both by Jesus himself, and later Paul, when he went from being influenced by God to being influenced by Satan? Are we not subject to those same influences?

It is just so... ironic... that in a post about taking all of Scripture, rather than only the pieces we like, that these things are even debatable, seeing as how they are plainly spoken of in Scripture.

I also must say... "kfney".

Darel said...

Fellow "D" -

Look, you're drawing lines that don't make any sense.

If you're asking "Does God reveal which flavor of Kool-Aid I should buy?", you're just being ridiculous. ( similar to "all prophets are false because this group of charismatic prophets are false" .. just illogical and misleading )

OTOH, you phrase the question in such a way that reminds me of Paul's discussion in Romans:

"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)"

What does Paul tell us about the revealed will of God, here? (In your little post way-back-when, this would be category 2) How are they doing the will of God without the Scripture? How is it that they know the will of God and do it?

Amazingly, Scripture answers that question for us:
"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts..... No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest."

The writer of Hebrews even interprets this Scripture for us, telling us that it means the new Covenant in Christ. Do you think this means something different than the Spirit of God speaking directly to heart and mind?

So, if you're asking if I didn't know of the command from reading Scripture, yet I had it revealed to me, am I still morally responsible for following it? Of course you are! That's what Paul just said!

If you're asking if God gave a direct command that wasn't in Scripture, are you responsible, then again the answer is "Yes"! Ask Abraham what Scripture he used to judge whether it was God that commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Well, which one was it? I'm sorry, I didn't catch your answer, could you repeat that?

Are you saying, in all seriousness, that if you know God, and you study his word, that you will not then have the means to judge all these other things, whether they are from God or not? Isn't that our directive, to know God and to test our thoughts, our hearts, to see whether these things are from God or not? And if you are in agreement with that, then why would you say that these impulses to righteousness, these thoughts that desire the path of God, are not the direct influence of the Spirit? Is not the Spirit there to guide us to that path? Doesn't Paul say "Not I, but Christ in me"?

DJP said...

De D,

It just puzzles me that you think these are deep, significant points.

1. Whatever Paul is saying about those "without law," you're not them, and I'm not them. We have the Word. Next?

2. God says He'll write His laws upon our hearts? So... these are laws besides what is written in Scripture? (A) Where do you get that? And (B) then you do believe we're morally culpable about what flavor of Kool-Aid we buy. (And no, you may not dismiss that with a wave of your hand. If you can introduce ANY non-Scriptural category as a matter of special-but-extra-Biblical-revelation and Divine judgment, then ALL categories are thereby introduced.)

3. Abram received direct, special revelation. And this challenges the Scripture-is-sufficient position, how? Do you just really not understand what we're talking about, at bottom?

4. hxlwoynm.

donsands said...

I would think we have to agree that there is no adding, nor taking away from the Holy Bible. That's the point of this post. What a treasure the Bible is to us, His elect children.

I would think the regenerated spirit does have the mind of Christ, and the renewing of our minds, and sanctification of our hearts and lives comes through God's Word alone. The Father sets us apart by the Truth, and His Word is Truth. John 17
Thy Word is a lamp and a light in the darkness of my heart, and in this dark world.

Matt Gumm said...

Dan said: If you can introduce ANY non-Scriptural category as a matter of special-but-extra-Biblical-revelation and Divine judgment, then ALL categories are thereby introduced.

So I suppose, then, the question is if there is any place for things like "I was led by the Spirit" or "I really have a peace about this."

Dan, what do you think?

Brad said...

I just really need someone to explain to me why an infinitely caring God would communicate to His people through His scripture, but then say, "That's all that I have to say. When in doubt, read" without actually ever saying that in scripture, and in fact, explicitly saying that He's leaving his Spirit for us- this Spirit, however, will not communicate with you beyond the actual verbage of Scripture.

Kent Brandenburg said...

The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. He said it Brad. He also said the Word was sufficient. It was the faith once and for all delivered. We could expect special revelation to be complete because He said it would. The churches agreed it was. Your sincere wishes don't get to be counted as an authority.

Darel said...

So, you're answer to the question "Are you saying, in all seriousness, that if you know God, and you study his word, that you will not then have the means to judge all these other things, whether they are from God or not?" is... Yes?

That's my whole point. You are taking the Spirit out. The Word is useless without the Spirit. If we don't have the Spirit, how can we rightly interpret the things of God? With the Scripture and a carnal mind we are no better off than without the Scripture.

Yet, as Paul says, without the Scripture but with a Spiritual mind, we have fulfilled the requirements.

Yes, I have the Scripture, and I am inexpressively thankful for it. Yet, I also have the Spirit.

Yes, Yes, Yes, I think it significant and deep and meaningful that someone would think after reading Scripture that the Spirit has no place in our lives.

I find it very meaningful. I find it very significant. Without the Spirit there is no life. Without that deposit, that guarantee, then there is no eternal life. There is no witness to the truth. There is no salvation. This is the same Spirit of which Jesus says "he will guide you". This is the same Spirit by which the prophets spoke. This is the same Spirit by which Joel says that all of God's servants will have dreams and visions in these last days. This is the same Spirit by which Peter interprets Joel's prophecy as speaking of that time after Christ's ascension. This is the same Spirit by which we, today, right now, interpret the Scripture. This is the same Spirit which guides us into all truth (not some truth, a few truths, most truths, but all truth). This is the same Spirit that dwells in us. Dwells. Lives. Every moment of every day. All the time. Has taken up residence.

Dan, what you are continually saying (from what I'm reading), maybe even without meaning to do so, is that the Spirit of God has no place in your normal, everyday life. That God has given you a handbook, but no Spirit to guide you. Therefore, what you are saying is in direct contradiction to Scripture. Therefore it is wrong. Therefore, according to Scripture, my duty is to point it out to you.

Maybe I am just a completely incompetent comprehender (comprehendor?) of the English language, with its many nuances and subtleties of meaning. Correct my misunderstanding. Where have I wrongly apprehended you?

Unknown said...

The "grace-that-doesn't-sanctify" crowd's Bible, I suppose would leave out every NT verse in the imperative mood, and every threat and warning. Result? Shorter Bible.

Too true. But we Reformed folk do even better, relegating whole portions of text to the "he was just being hypothetical" shelf (e.g., Rom 2).

Brad said...

I'm afraid that they will not hear, their souls are lifeless all the while they think they're brilliant. How overwhelmingly sad to jettison the Spirit except to help one read the Bible. Lord open their eyes...

donsands said...


"The heart is deceitful above all, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
I the Lord search the heart, I test the emotions, even to repay every man ... according to the fruit of his doings." JEr. 17:9-10

Even after regeneration, the human heart has a remnant of decietfulness. The Holy Spirit fills us and baptizes us, and we are alive to the things of God, but left without the Holy Bible as a blessed wall of doctrinal protection, we would never follow the Lord.

Even with the Bible as our refuge and protection, we error, how much more without it.
I have a very affectionate life with the Holy Spirit. He is the soul of the Church in a sense. And He built this holy fortress of Truth about His loved ones, to protect us from Satan, and ourselves.

I pray with you that God would open my eyes and ears. Amen.
One more verse for us: "If any man shall add to these things, God will add to him the plagues... And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this message, God shall take away his part out of the book of life." Rev.22:18-19
One more just came to mind: "Add not to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar." Prov. 30:6
Those are sobering words, for all who fear and love God, I'd say.
May the Lord keep us pure and make us humble. Amen.
And we can disagree as brothers in Christ.

Unknown said...

"Even after regeneration, the human heart has a remnant of decietfulness. The Holy Spirit fills us and baptizes us, and we are alive to the things of God, but left without the Holy Bible as a blessed wall of doctrinal protection, we would never follow the Lord."

Whatever this is, it is not Reformed or biblical. Of course we still struggle with sin, and of course Christians are capable of heinous sins. But those filled with God's Spirit, and thus temples of the Most High, do not live the old man in the grave. He is dead, and, as the new man, he cannot help but love and follow God. People did and do "follow the Lord" without the "Holy Bible as a blessed wall of doctrinal protection."

With one fell swoop you've managed to discredit the faith of professing Christians from the time of Pentecost to the time of the printing press.

donsands said...


I never meant the elect child of God doesn't love the Lord and worship Him; serve Him, and love Him.
I do love the Lord, beacuse He first loved me, and changed my heart of stone to one of flesh. I am also forever grateful to my Savior for His mercy upon me a sinner. It is new every morning!
Personally, and biblically, I see God's Word as an essential blessing from our Sovereign Lord to His people, the Church.
I would never presume to discredit any of God's children, who have followed and loved Him.
I would think His Word, the Scriptures, would be a precious jewel to all His saints, throughout histroy.
We have the Scriptures in full today, because of His soveregn will, and the Holy Spirit of God provedentially gathered this wondrous treasure for us, from Moses to the Apostle John.
The Bible declares this to be.
I see a tremendous danger in not extolling the Holy Word of God. It is very evident that the Church has disregarded the Word of His grace in this day and age. With so much false teaching, even false bishops ordained. I believe it's from a less than affectionate regard for the Bible.
This could lead to a lengthy debate, and I'm not very good at that.
I take what you said to heart, and I will ask the Lord to show me if I'm wrong, and that He would correct me. I will be listening to His voice on your words.
God bless you.