Handling the Word: Bibliolatry in Islam and Reformed Christianity


Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, “the three religions of a Book,”1 have each had to wrestle with the peculiar theological problems created by self-identifying as recipients of a divine revelation in written form. How does the Word of God get into the words of men? The very conception of a reliable human deposit of eternal truth necessitates the seemingly impossible incursion of the transcendent eternal into the realm of temporal finiteness, and each faith of a Book has had to develop doctrinal positions to address this necessity.

Though a more exhaustive examination would likely prove quite fruitful, for the scope of this essay, I will limit myself to comparing the respective doctrines of revelation that have been adopted within Islam and Reformed Christianity, particularly because they have grown curiously similar. Common to both is an almost total reliance on a Sacred Book, but the religions should diverge sharply on the issue of the incarnation of God’s Word. I say they should, because we will find to our great surprise that they often don’t. In fact, we will see that many Reformed Christians have unwittingly adopted a doctrine of Scripture that agrees more with Muhammad than Christ, one that has often been labeled, I think correctly, bibliolatry.

Two Views of and on Scripture

To begin, we must briefly state the two views on revelation. Islam teaches that the Word of God is the Qur’an. Reformed Christianity, from Calvin, teaches that the Bible contains in book form the Word of God. Though these two views seem very similar, their differences have far-reaching effects, since they both lie near the heart of their respective religions.

Why does Reformed Christianity insist the Bible contains the Word of God rather than is the Word of God? Calvinist scholar John McNeill explains that “when our Reformers ask themselves what the phrase [Word of God] signifies to them, we find that they have in mind something more than the words spelled out on the sacred page.”2 He continues later:

There is a distinction between the statement that Scripture is God’s Word, and this one [in Calvin’s Geneva Catechism], that God’s Word is contained in the Scriptures. God’s Word and the Bible are not convertible terms in Calvin’s thinking, even though in many contexts attention is not called to the distinction.3

In other words, the Reformers believed that the Word of God was bigger than the Bible, and that if you were looking for the full and complete manifestation of God’s Word, it was not a codex of bound leather and paper, but a God-man of flesh and blood. As Reinhold Burnhardt clarifies,

. . . the Reformers distinguished between the Bible as the Word of God and the Word of God in the Bible. Furthermore they made a distinction between the written word of the biblical books and “Logos,” the eternal word of God, which speaks through the words of the Bible and addresses the reader here and now, existentially.4

Strange as it may seem, the orthodox Islamic view holds that the Word of God is complete in the Qu’ran, that the Qur’an is the eternal and uncreated speech of God enmattered in paper and ink. As Wilfred Cantwell Smith explains:

Christians are in danger of missing the full force of the Muslim position on this matter, by supposing that the analogy with the Qur’an is the Bible. Rather, the parallel is to the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Throughout this present discussion, this point should be borne vividly in mind: that the Muslim attitude to the Qur’an is the Christian attitude to Christ.5

Driving this forward, one can easily see what a massive difference this difference makes to theology, worship, hermeneutics, and most every other branch of each religion. To be clear, this doctrine of the “inlibrate”6 Word of God is not a Christian straw man of the Islamic position. In the apologetic appeal “Why Not Islam?” Muslim scholar R. C. Zaehner seems to go even further:

Again the relationship of the eternal Word of God to the individual copies of the written Koran might be compared to the relationship of the Word made flesh in Christianity to the sacred elements in Holy Communion. Just as Jesus Christ is the Word of God made man according to Christians, so is the Koran the Word of God made Book. On this analogy you might say that just as Christ is really present in every piece of bread and every drop of wine used in the sacrament of Holy Communion, so is the Eternal Word of God present in every copy of the Koran. The recitation of the Koran is therefore the Muslim sacrament.7

This is an astounding claim—that the copies of the Qu’ran are the sacrament of the Word of God. One wonders why such lengths are necessary. Is it not good enough that the Qu’ran is authoritative? Why must it be eternal and uncreated as well?

The Islamic Arian Controversy

A school of Islamic theologians existed up until about the 8th century—the Mu’tazilites, who taught that the Qu’ran must be created, since it was distinct from Allah and therefore could not share His attributes. They argued that declaring the Qu’ran both divine and yet distinct from Allah constituted the grave and fundamental sin of shirk—associating another divine thing or person with Allah. They considered this no better than odious Trinitarianism. The Islamic version of Arians, the Mu’tazilites felt they had no monotheistic choice but to deny the deity of the Qu’ran. Zaehner, a modern-day Mu’tazilite, explains the problem:

. . . [Muslims] will have to revive the Mu’tazilite position according to which the Koran is also the created word of God. In doing so and thereby rejecting an age-old dogma not authorised in the Koran itself, they would rid themselves of the last trace of an insidious polytheism which they have allowed to creep into their religion; for the Koran, as the Speech of God, is obviously not on the same level as his other attributes—seeing, hearing, power, life, etc., since it is not generalised divine Speech but a book—the Book, to be precise . . . As such it has become hypostasized as co-God with God, separate from him in the sense that it is composed of sounds and letters, but identical with him in that it is also—pre-eminently—his eternal Word in Eternity, the creative Word which contains all truth. From the strictly monotheistic point of view, it would seem, the divinsation [sic] of the Koran is as objectionable as the divinisation of Jesus.8

Though the Mu’tazilites nearly won the day, like the Arians, eventually the orthodox Islamic view became that the Qu’ran was indeed the uncreated and eternal speech of Allah. Apparently, the question of its authority became far too precarious within the Mu’tazilite view. If it could not be trusted as divine, why should it be trusted at all?

This, however, did not resolve the pressing, thorny question of how the Qu’ran was divine. Orthodox Muslim scholars had a solution for that as well, albeit unsatisfying. Kenneth Cragg describes the disappointing dodge in his response to Zaehner, entitled “How Not Islam?”:

For orthodox Islam, the mystery of how the eternal speech of God can be one with a book in time and place is simply taken up into the dogma, or enigma, of Tanzīl, or “descenting” of the text. It happens without our being able to ask or answer how.9

It is odd, given the fact that Muslims believe the Qu’ran is the Word of God and therefore should be the exclusive pillar for Islamic theology, that the doctrine of its eternal and uncreated nature cannot be found anywhere in it. Cragg continues:

The concept of an absolutist Book, arbitrarily dictated from heaven to an unlettered prophet who transmits it, like an oracle, into time and the human audience, without mental or spiritual participation in its content, is in no way necessary to, or affirmed in, the Qur’ān itself. It arises from the familiar quest of religious establishment for certitude and the indubitable.10

This “quest for certitude” becomes even more pronounced when one understands that Islamic dogma concerns practices more than theology. It is in the interpretation and application of a divine revelation that a need for an external apparatus for interpretation becomes most readily apparent. As long as the divine Word can remain enshrined in untouchable transcendence, it can consist entirely of Platonic ideals, unimpeded by any local or temporal exigencies, but in order for the Word of God to be truly revealed to human beings, it must first be interpreted and applied for human beings and, in most religions, by human beings.

But without an infallible interpretation, even an infallible document will yield fallible doctrines. This is the central weakness in the Islamic doctrine of revelation. As one Muslim scholar admitted, “while the Qu’ran and the sunna are ma’sum or ‘divinely protected from error,’ the understanding of them is not.”11

The Need for Interpretation

If God’s Word needs to be interpreted and applied to be practiced, then all religions of a book must have some external apparatus governing practice. As James Moffatt explains:

. . . Any vital religion which inherits a Sacred Book from a definite age, even from the age of its origin, is obliged to develop an interpretation of it, oral and written, for the purposes and needs of further growth. The people may be the people of a Book, but they are held together by customs and usages as well as by rites, slowly elaborated, and these commonly are related to a Sacred Book which originally made little or no provision for the majority of them. . . . the Book . . . supplies a norm rather than a form for sacred rites and usages . . .12

It is important to understand that this “form” for religious practices can have a much more substantial place in the lives of everyday believers than the “norm” does, both in Islam and Christianity. A Muslim or a Christian who does not know much about his respective holy book may still consider himself, and be considered, quite devout. And this is in spite of the fact that it is precisely in these significant interpreted forms that the original, purportedly authoritative, text becomes most liable to distortion.

Before the Reformation, the “form” for Christian practice rested on the authority of the Church, and this authority (underpinned by the doctrine of apostolic succession) assured Christian believers that the Bible had a divine interpretation through the sacramental ecclesiology of the Church. When the Reformers rejected this external instrumentality, believing the Church had grown unreliable and corrupt, they undermined the entire structure of revelational authority as it was practiced at the time. As Peter Harrison describes it:

The sacred rite which had lain at the heart of the medieval culture was replaced by a text, symbolic objects gave way to words, ritual practices were eclipsed by propositional beliefs and dogmas. In the course of this process, that unified interpretive endeavour which had given meaning to both natural world and sacred text began to disintegrate.13

Attempting to avoid the replacement of the church with another human instrument of interpretation, but recognizing the need for another stable form filling out Christian practice, the Reformers re-emphasized the perspicuity and self-authentification of the Scriptures in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.14 They claimed that the Bible needed no human interpreter—it interpreted itself. That, at least, was their interpretation of it.

Curiously, Islamic theologians took a nearly identical approach concerning the Qu’ran’s self-authenticating authority. Consider this 14th-century testimony of Islamic historian Ibn Khaldûn:

Wonders are as a rule wrought by a prophet separately and apart from the revelation he receives. The miracle comes as evidence for its truthfulness. The Qur’ân, on the other hand, is in itself the claimed revelation. It is itself the wondrous miracle. It is its own proof. It requires no outside proof, as do the other wonders wrought in connection with revelations. It is the clearest proof that can be, because it unites in itself both the proof and what is to be proved.15

One should immediately see the problem with this doctrine for both Muslims and Christians. Self-authentication is intrinsically circular. We might allow a person to vouch for himself, if he had no one greater to appeal to. In fact, God Himself self-authenticates in this manner (Heb. 6:13), but He is a person. Is the Bible a person? The Word of God set forth in Scripture certainly is. But what about the book itself? The answer to those questions lies at the heart of the difference between biblio-centric and bibliolatrous, for if you think your Holy Book is the actual, eternal, uncreated, self-authenticating, self-interpreting Word of God, why aren’t you worshipping it as God?

The Missing Ingredient

Some critics of the Reformed doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration have accused Reformed Christians of just that—of bibliolatry, or worshipping the Bible.16 And this charge would be true if Reformed theology posited that nothing but the Bible were necessary to receive and understand the Word of God. If we taught that, our doctrine of Sola Scriptura would indeed mirror the self-defeating and circular Islamic doctrine of revelation. But such an interpretation of Sola Scriptura would have been foreign to the Reformers. They did not reject of necessity any external interpreter of the Word of God; they merely denied that this necessary interpreter could be both human and infallible.

In addition to the verbal inspiration of the Bible, Luther and Calvin both emphasized the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit as an absolutely essential part of the Reformed doctrine of revelation. Though they believed the Scriptures sufficiently contain in themselves all that Christians need to know for faith and practice, they believed that Christians also require the Holy Spirit in order to receive what the Scriptures contain:

God has spoken once-and-for-all in the pages of Scripture and nothing more needs to be said concerning faith and salvation. . . . faith is an assent (assensus) to the doctrinal positions which compose the divine revealing. Most propositionalists are quick to note that this assent can occur only if the Holy Spirit makes it possible. The historically Calvinistic doctrine of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (testimonium Spiritus Sancti internum) certainly influenced this idea and has been perpetuated by the teachings of most Reformed systematicians. . . . It is this spiritual component that differentiates those who simply read the words of the Bible from those who read it as the Word of God.17

Of course, Islamic theology does not have recourse to this fully Trinitarian solution to the dilemma of divine revelation. In the Reformed Christian doctrine of revelation as expounded by Calvin and Luther, the Father is the revealer, the Son is the revelation, and the Spirit is the interpreter. As soon as you remove the incarnate Word and the infallible Spirit, you are left with the Islamic view, which must supplement its inadequately exclusive divine transcendence with a circularly self-authenticating, contextless, and ambiguously divine Sacred Book and an apparatus of fallible external interpretation—imams and jurists, none of whom ever seem to agree on the right interpretation of the text.

The Supremacy of the Scholar

So while it purports to elevate the text, in practice, bibliolatry merely elevates the scholar responsible for interpreting the text. This is the most profound upshot of the ascendancy of any human dogma over divine revelation, no matter how much reverence for its Book such dogma proclaims. As one 19th-century commentator observes,

[Bibliolaters] are, it is true, Bible-worshipers; they are also Bible-destroyers. They have an irrational reverence for the Divine Record, and at the same time a rationalism, than which none is more irreverent.18

The ironically rationalist tendency of bibliolatry may not first be apparent, since one would assume that a submission to the divine revelation would involve more faith than reason, and might even engender intellectual humility of the first order. Quite the opposite it seems, in point of fact. Muslim scholar Mohammed Arkoun explains how this shift from revelation to rationalism took place early on in the Muslim tradition:

The book as a cultural instrument will be the basis of another fundamental change in the societies of the Book, i.e. the increasing role, and finally, the domination of written learned culture over the oral folk culture. . . . This will, in turn, favor the emergence of a social group called ‘Ulamā’, the specialists in charge of the exegesis of the holy texts, and the orthodox elaboration and use of law and beliefs. . . .

The doctors of the Law displayed their grammatical, semantic, and rhetorical knowledge . . . to show how human reason is the servant of the “Word of God” and to deepen the conviction that Revelation is enforced in the social, political, and ethical order. In fact, we have, with this construction, the illustration of a general attitude of reason in the societies of the Book: it is a reason producing an imaginaire of rationality with the assurance that it is a very coherent, logical, scientific reason. . . .

All theologians–Mu’tazilites, Ash‘arites, Imamites—used the instruments and procedures of a speculative reason (more or less influenced by Aristotelian rationalism) to transform the mythical, open, symbolic Qur’ānic discourse into a logocentrist, conceptual, demonstrative system of beliefs and non-beliefs (Uṣūl al-dīn).19

It disturbs me to consider that a similar shift to the imaginaire of rationality occurred in the newly bibliocentric and humanistic Reformation communities that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries in the West. Are we perpetuating a basically Islamic imbalance of exclusive emphasis on inscripturated words that undermines and betrays the stated Trinitarian doctrines we profess to believe?

None Dare Call it Bibliolatry

I believe we Reformed Christians have been too quick to acquit ourselves from the charge of bibliolatry. According to some Reformed theologians, bibliolatry almost can’t happen in Reformed settings because no one is literally bowing down to a Bible. John Frame’s remarks are representative:

. . . God’s word, wherever we find it, including Scripture, is an object worthy of reverence. I’m not advocating bibliolatry, which is worship of a material object with paper, ink, and so on. The paper and ink are creatures, not God, and we shouldn’t bow down to them. But the message of the Bible, what it says, is divine, and we should receive it with praise and worship.20

Agreeing with Frame’s analysis, Tim Challies adds:

In brief, I can affirm that it is entirely possible for a person to idolize the Bible. If I were to place a Bible upon an altar, light some candles around it, and bow down before the Bible, I would be worshipping a collection of paper, ink and leather (or “pleather”). . . .

There may be some who make an idol of Scripture, but very few. It is much more likely that our theology of Scripture is too low, too human, too safe.21

Apparently, Frame and Challies do not understand what the charge of bibliolatry actually is, or they are being intentionally obtuse. I could find no one accusing Reformed people of bowing down to or worshipping a physical Bible. Reformed exegetes should know better than to think idolatry always, or even usually, involves outward expressions. The Apostle John’s admonition to “beware of idols” (1 Jn. 5:21) did not obsolesce in the West with the Age of Reason. If anything, it became more pressing, if less outward.

No, the charge of bibliolatry against Reformed Christians is often nothing less than the charge that Reformed Christians have replaced the Christian doctrine of revelation with the Islamic one—that Reformed Christians have placed their trust and faith terminally in the Bible, rather than in the God who gave it. In many ways, this has more to do with the emphases and practices of the Reformed tradition than with a specific or explicit change in official confessional doctrine. One can see this emphasis in the very roots of the Reformation, though its final consequences would have been difficult for Luther or Calvin to imagine.

A Problem of Emphasis

Though Luther and Calvin may be lauded for their assertion that the Spirit is necessary for illumination, we must admit they emphasized human tools for interpretation far more in practice than they emphasized the Spirit, and we have maintained and even accentuated those emphases.

For instance, Luther himself may have made a clear distinction between the Word of God and the Bible, but even a sympathetic reader can see a problem brewing in the Protestant ethos:

[Many of Luther’s sayings] lend substance to the charge, often brought against Luther, of having merely substituted an infallible book for an infallible Church. . . .22

Among these sayings, one finds a curious analogy, wherein Luther calls the Bible “the spiritual body of Christ”:

Christ allowed his hands, his feet, his sides to be touched so that the disciples might be sure that it was he, himself [John 20:27]. Why, then, should we not touch and examine the Scriptures—which are in truth the spiritual body of Christ—to make sure whether we believe in them or not?23

Thus, according to John Owen (not the 17th-century theologian):

The insurrection of Wiclif and Luther against Romanism was largely a protest against excessive dogma, the rebellion of the enlightened human reason against the infallibility and coercion of Ecclesiasticism. . . . the actual outcome of the Protestant Reformation was in a great measure to substitute one source of infallibility for another—Bibliolatry for Ecclesiolatry. You remember Lessing’s apostrophe to Luther on this point: “O Luther, thou hast delivered us from the bondage of the Papacy; who will deliver us from the slavery of the Letter?”24

And beyond this, some Protestants have largely adopted the Islamic doctrine of revelation, merely replacing the Qu’ran with the Bible. For example, the first line of the doctrinal position for the Concordia Lutheran Conference reads: “We teach that the Bible is in all its parts and words the Word of God Himself.”25

This is not orthodox or historic Christianity from any doctrinal perspective. The problem lies in the exhaustive equation between the Bible and the Word of God. As Adrian Thatcher warns,

Once the Bible is identified with the Word of God, the text of scripture rivals or even replaces the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ. . . . Biblicism becomes bibliolatry, the actual worship of the Bible by assigning it the same status as that which is accorded by Christians to Jesus Christ. The Person is replaced by the proposition: flesh by words; the Word of God by written, and much-disputed, text.26

And, apparently unwittingly, Frame (with Challies agreeing) implicitly equates the Word of God and the Bible, even in the very context that he purportedly rejects bibliolatry. Notice that Frame recommends receiving the message of the Bible as divine and worthy of worship. I hardly know what that means, but Frame is not clear whether the message of the Bible is being worshipped here or God is. That is, to say the least, quite problematic coming from such a famously precise pen. The Word of God is divine. The Word of God is a person, however. Not a book. We should not worship a book. Or its message. Lest we forget human speech and communication are also creations, not the Creator.

Thus one of the strengths of Reformed theology—its emphasis on propositions, becomes one of its central imbalances. Glen Harris helpfully delineates the strengths and weaknesses of what he calls a “propositionalist” approach to Scripture:

The strengths of this model are that it has a distinguished history in the Church, it adequately expresses the Bible’s own claims to be the inspired word of God, and it provides Christians with a deposit of truth to be studied and maintained in order to know God. The weaknesses of this model are that it often promotes a form of Christianity that is cerebral (orthodoxy over orthopraxy), it tends toward biblicism/bibliolatry, and from the Bible’s self-understanding of being the word of God, can make faith an act of mental assent rather than personal trust . . .27

The Incarnation is Not a Trivial Doctrine

This is not merely a trivial doctrinal issue. The Trinitarian view of the Word of God incarnate is the only thing that distinguishes the Christian doctrine of the Bible from the Islamic doctrine of the Qu’ran. It does no good to pay lip-service to this difference in confessional doctrine, but reject it in deed and emphasis. This is precisely what many Reformed theologians have done, seemingly unaware of the devastating consequences this denial of biblical orthodoxy has had on the practice of our faith.

For instance, John Barton goes so far as to declare that the biblical assertion that the Word of God is Christ rather than the Bible, though technically true, is “not an important central doctrine” to be vigorously defended:

The proposition that Christ, and not the Bible, is the true Word of God is not at the living heart of the religion of most . . . . Rather, it is a kind of concessive clause, a necessary safeguard at the borders of faith, designed to prevent actual heresy. It is undeniably accurate as a statement of the theoretical limits of the Christian faith, but not an important central doctrine. For practical purposes, the careful theological qualifications can be ignored; for living the Christian life from day to day we shall . . . treat the Bible as the Word of God without qualification and rely on it as an infallible and inerrant source of doctrine and ethical guidance. Thus the proposition that only Christ is properly the Word of God will not be denied, but it will not make any practical difference to our faith.28

With such friends as these of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, who needs enemies? To enlighten Barton to the “practical difference” the ascendant “propositionalist” view of revelation has had in the Reformed church, we can see this difference in the vestigial status sacramental and pneumatological theologies have in comparison to biblical and systematic theologies. We can see it in the diminution, symbolic abstraction, and sometimes outright neglect of the sacraments, especially of Christ’s flesh and blood, and the displacement of the ministry of the Spirit and the prayers and charity of Christ’s people with the ministry of professional preachers. We can see it more generally in the almost exclusive emphasis on disembodied confessions and doctrinal systems as “pure and undefiled religion.” We can see it in the replacement of the unity of the Spirit with the unity of Doctrinal Harmony, which unity has resulted in nothing but fractious division and micro-denominationalism. We see it in our disembodied, feckless, and rationalistic “faith” which we cling to for assurance of salvation when James, following Jesus, tells us quite clearly (in what Luther called an “epistle of straw,” remember) that such disembodied faith is actually no faith at all.

It cannot easily be denied that proposition over incarnation is the existential and practical emphasis of Reformed theology. Indeed, this outsized emphasis is often celebrated and vehemently defended as “biblical.” Up to a point, it should be defended. But we should not allow ourselves to careen into one error trying to escape another.

Conservative evangelicals, biblical fundamentalists, and Reformed believers tend to think that “liberals” are using the charge of bibliolatry to further disintegrate confidence in and reliance upon the Bible. Though that remains an important concern, that’s no reason to dismiss the charge of bibliolatry without honest self-reflection.

If we are not hearing Jesus through the Spirit in the Bible, who are we actually listening to? Only our own interpretations. Ironically, without the incarnation and the Spirit, Sola Scriptura becomes as much a reliance on human opinion and authority as the medieval Catholic corruption it intended to correct. If we want to keep our faith from becoming all “too human,” we must be more careful that, in our laudable attempts to uphold the authoritative status of the Word of God, we don’t succumb to an anti-Trinitarian error that neutralizes the power of the Scriptures in ways “liberals” would never dream.


Far from being of tertiary importance, the doctrine of the incarnated Logos was of first and foundational importance to the Apostle John in his Gospel, and it is vitally important to the whole fabric of the Christian faith. Even before the incarnation of Jesus, the revelation of God was not only in words, but as Reinhold Bernhardt expands, it came by “historical appearances, by persons, events, objects, words, deeds, artifacts, stories, and so forth.”29 In historical fact, as Douglas Mackenzie explains, “it is possible . . . to describe the whole process of the founding of the Christian religion without once raising or even mentioning the problem as to the writing or inspiration of a Bible.”30 The Bible is important, even central, but it is not our salvation. Jesus is. This is not a mere limiting concept. It is the heart of the Gospel.

Does the confounding refusal of the Qu’ran and the Bible to submit to one interpretation not put the lie to the Islamic doctrine of revelation? If the Bible were intrinsically self-interpreting and divine, why is it that even highly educated exegetes disagree on what it means? Is that not the embarrassment of what Keith Mathison calls the doctrine of “Solo” Scriptura?31 But Muslims make no claim to have the indwelling illumination of the Holy Spirit, so their reliance on human interpretation follows quite logically from their rejection of both the incarnation of God and the indwelling of the Spirit. Such an impoverished and man-centered view of God’s Word and its interpretation has no place among those who hold to the true and Trinitarian faith, however. One wonders why so many Reformed people feel so comfortable with a religion so divested of God’s personal and immanent superintendence. Do they not feel the absence of Christ and His Spirit in our dry, academic accumulation of the Scriptures’ imparted “information”? Do we not look like the scribes and Pharisees, who diligently read and memorized the Scriptures and yet couldn’t recognize the Word of God when He stood right in front of them (John 5:39–47)?

The Bible is not sufficiently Christ to us. From its very ground in Christ Himself as “the fullness of God dwelling in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), the Christian faith must be understood more personally than propositionally. This is not merely how we receive the Word of God in Christ at our conversion. No. Only in this personal relationship with Christ’s Spirit will we persevere until the end. As Paul admonishes: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3).


This was adapted from the final paper I wrote for the class “Christian Encounter with Islam” at RTS Atlanta for the Spring 2018 semester.

  1.  James Moffatt, “The Sacred Book in Religion.” Journal of Biblical Literature 53, no. 1 (1934): 5.
  2.  John T. McNeill, “The Significance of the Word of God for Calvin.” Church History 28, no. 2 (1959): 131.
  3. Ibid., 133
  4.  Reinhold Bernhardt, “Scriptural Authority: A Christian (Protestant) Perspective.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 30 (2010): 73.
  5.  Wilfrid Cantwell Smith, Questions of Religious Truth (New York: Scribner, 1967),  40–41.
  6.  Attributed to Henri Wolfson by Daniel Brown, A New Introduction to Islam, 3rd ed., (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), 92.
  7.  R. C. Zaehner, “Why Not Islam?” Religious Studies 11, no. 2 (1975): 171–172.
  8. Ibid., 174.
  9.  Kenneth Cragg. “How Not Islam?” Religious Studies 13, no. 4 (1977): 388–389.
  10. Ibid., 390.
  11.  Al-Maqasid: Nawawi’s Manual of Islam, ed. and trans. by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, rev. 2002, rep. 2017), 106.
  12.  Moffatt, “The Sacred Book in Religion.” 7, 8.
  13.  Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 120.
  14.  Luther insisted on this especially. See “Luther and the Revelation of Scripture,” in A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word: Martin Luther: Doctor of Sacred Scripture (Exeter, UK: Paternoster Press, 1969).
  15.  Ibn Khaldûn, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. and abr. by N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, orig. pub. 1377, 1967), 73.
  16.  Some liberal Muslims level a similar charge against fundamentalist Muslims, e.g., Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, “Avoiding ‘Bibliolatry’: The Importance of Revitalizing Our Understanding of Islam.”
  17.  Glen E. Harris, Jr. “Revelation in Christian Theology,” in Churchman, Vol. 120, Nos. 1–4 (Watford, UK: Church Society, 2006), 14.
  18.  “Bibliolatry.” The Old Testament Student 3, no. 3 (1883): 92–93.
  19.  Arkoun Mohammed, “The Notion of Revelation: From Ahl Al-Kitāb to the Societies of the Book,” Die Welt Des Islams, New Series, 28, no. 1/4 (1988): 75, 78, 79.
  20.  John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 49.
  21.  Tim Challies, “Feedback Files—Bibliolatry.” Accessed 04/29/18.
  22.  Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1911), 267.
  23.  Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 32: Career of the Reformer II, American Edition, ed. George W. Forell, gen. ed. Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), 11.
  24.  John Owen, “Religious Aspects of Skepticism,” from Religious Systems of the World, 2nd ed. (New York: MacMillan & Co., 1892), 763.
  25.  A Brief Sketch of the Doctrinal Position of the Concordia Lutheran Conference.” Accessed 05/01/18.
  26.  Adrian Thatcher, The Savage Text: The Use and Abuse of the Bible (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 4.
  27.  Harris, Jr., “Revelation in Christian Theology,” 14–15.
  28.  John Barton, People of the Book?: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1988), 82.
  29.  Bernhardt, “Scriptural Authority,” 80.
  30.  W. Douglas Mackenzie, “To One Who Fears That He Has Lost His Bible,” The Biblical World 13, no. 4 (1899): 259.
  31.  Keith A. Mathison, “Solo Scriptura: The Difference a Vowel Makes,” Modern Reformation 16/2 (March/April 2007): 25-29.

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