What Makes the Holy Bible Holy?


So it started with a shared media content thing on FB. Some preacher was arguing that we should not simply go to church with a Bible app on our cellphones. We should bring our (paper) Bibles because, “It is called ‘The Holy Bible’ not ‘The Holy Cellphone.'”

I am sure there is a great name for this

Image result for sacred scripture

logical fallacy, but I simply can’t pull it out. To be really parallel, this preacher should have said something like “Is it holy cellphone or holy paper?” With that the argument would have fallen apart, I think. But it does beg the question of what makes the Holy Bible holy.

<I must add that I struggle with the concept of “holy.” I come from an arm of Christianity that tends to downplay “holy.” In recent years I have been part of churches that have used their sanctuary (‘holy gathering place’) on weekdays as transient lodging, school assemblies, a computer shop, and a gymnasium. We also don’t really use symbols (icons and the like) that much in a way that shows high respect as if we consider them holy. Some of this comes from a restorationist thread that seeks to recapture some essence of the primitive church. The early church met in houses, schools, fields, and caves. It also had few symbols that were highly revered. On the other hand, Christianity has its roots in Judaism, and Judaism embraced many things as holy, sacred, set apart. I won’t try to reconcile this here. But I will note it for those who may come from a different tradition who would then struggle to see MY struggle.>

Option #1. The Holy Bible is holy because of its material form. This is the argument of the preacher at the beginning of this post, I think. The Bible in paper form is the Holy Bible. However, in a cellphone it is something less. This doesn’t make sense to me. An alternate version of this might be that the Bible makes its medium holy. Thus, the paper form of the Bible is holy because it is made holy by the message that is on it. I suppose I am okay with this…. but in the case of the preacher mentioned, by the same logic the cellphone with a Bible app on it would indeed now be holy.

Attaching holiness to the material form has a long tradition, and I don’t really want to challenge it all that much. In Rabinical Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism (among others) special behavior is given to their holy books (or scrolls) that is meant to remind the faithful of the holiness of their texts. In some cases that means that some forms are treated as extra special. The scroll torahs are kept in the ark in the synagogue and are given a certain sacred honor that contrasts the same text on a computer screen. (The Decalogue on stone tablets is given greater honor than the same text on electronic tablets.) In this case, the holiness seems to be more symbolic. One symbolically treats a text as especially holy in one form in certain settings as a reminder of the sacredness of the work in a more general setting.

This symbolic treatment may be a mechanism for struggling between ancient faith and modern technology. In the past, ancient holy texts were rare and difficult to obtain. The rarity made it easier to blur the line between the holiness of a Scripture and the holiness of the form in which the Scripture is presented. But with the printing press and, more recently, mass printing, and electronic media, it has become much harder to ignore the fact that the medium and holy texts are not the same thing.

Option #2. The language of Scripture is holy. This seems like a bit of a strawman today, but at one time this was much more highly regarded. Koine Greek was at one time theorized to be a special “holy” form of Greek. The same is true of Biblical Hebrew. Some saw the Bible as only appropriately holy if it is written in Latin or Greek. While Jews created the Septuagint (Greek translation of Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures), they also utilized the original language of writing as one criterion for determining the canonicity of a text. The problem with this from a Christian perspective was that the books in the Bible were written in the vernacular of the people, and the New Testament writers were quite comfortable with using the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. There seems to be no “holy language.”

I suppose calling this a strawman is too strong. KJV-only people see the language as linked to its holiness. To translate it to another language or dialect is somehow to move it away from “the Real Bible.” Many Muslims follow the same logic with al Quran. For these people, they establish a clear line of separation between the Quran and books that contain the message of the Quran translated into other languages. Sanskrit is the language of the early Holy Scriptures of Hinduism, and the dominant liturgical language, but I don’t know to what extent they see their translations of their Scriptures as less holy or not. My ignorance in this area goes to other religions as well.

Holy language can also be related to seeing a Scripture where the individual words of the text is deemed holy. It is hard, after all, to take the exact words as holy if one accepts as holy translation out of original languages. Now of course many groups may believe that the very words of the original text are from God while still not placing unique holy value on them. While those who take a dictation or recitation or “verbal plenary inspiration” view of their holy writs may be more likely to see the individual words as holy, they may not and see the issue more about authority. For example, the exact wording of John 3:16 in the original Greek may be deemed as critical for proper interpretation of the message, while still not seeing the exact word placement as uniquely holy.

Option #3. The message of Scripture is holy. With this view, God’s message is holy not because of the language it is in, or the medium in which it is channeled, but because it is the message of God to us. Since I see no evidence that God is “anti-technology,” and I believe it is equally clear (from Babel and Pentecost) that God does not idealize a mono-lingual mankind, I believe that the meaning of Scripture is what is critical and is what can best be understood as holy. It is the meaning authored by God that makes it holy.

BUT HOW DO WE EXPRESS THAT HOLINESS?

To some extent, I think it is good for us to dwell on whether we treat the Holy Bible in too flippant of a manner. Some religious groups, Muslims being a good example, see in Christians’ apparent flippant treatment of the physical, paper, form of the Bible evidence of our lack of respect for our holy text. I think that is worth dwelling on. At the very least, a greater reverence on the Bible in physical form may remind us to revere its message. However, this seems to me to be a less important way to demonstrate holiness.

  1. The most important way we revere the Bible, treat it as holy, is to recognize that its message is authoritative in our lives. To recognize the message of the Bible is special, set apart from all other messages, is to obey that message. This is a major way in which all of us fail to treat the Bible as holy— failing to live based on its message.
  2. The second, almost equal way of treating the Bible as holy, is to make a clear demarcation between the message of Holy Bible, and our interpretation of Scripture. When we treat our interpretation of Scripture as equal to the text itself, we certainly demean God’s message. This is a major sin I see with all too many people who preach the word.
  3. The third area that comes to mind is the abusive language many latch onto in terms of translation. I see this in terms of the KJV controversy especially. I was raised up in a KJV-mostly church, but we did not disrespect other translations. Today there are groups that like to define the NIV as standing for “New Infernal Version.” To link the message of God with Satan may express emotionally their distaste for the NIV translation, but it also demeans God’s word— or more specifically God’s Holy Message to us.

On this last point, there is room for disagreement… for argument. There are better translations and there are translations that need improvement. There are issues.

  • Should “The Message” be seen as version of The Holy Bible, or a flexible paraphrase, or even a running commentary?
  • Should translation be word-for word, meaning focused, or some sort of “dynamic equialence.”
  • Is the move to translate the Bible in a more gender-neutral way good or bad? (Many places, English kind of forces a gender that was not in the original. On the other hand, sometimes gender is clearly identified in the original texts.) Is the move towards gender-neutral language giving in to ‘political correctness’ or a good contextualization.
  • At the other end of things, does the ESV translate in a manner that reinforces the sexist views of its translators… or not?

We can go on and on. Good translation is important, but when we demonize (sometimes literally) a certain translation in an attempt to be faithful to God’s message, are we ultimately desecrating it?

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One thought on “What Makes the Holy Bible Holy?

  1. Pingback: A Holy and Wholly Translatable Bible – MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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