Does Jesus Want You to Follow the Bible? Actually, No

Is our greatest goal to teach the Bible?

The mistake is to pare down the objective—the bottom line—the thing that we’re really all about, and to conclude it all with something like … “to follow the Bible,” and to talk about how we’re going to accomplish this great objective with something like “teaching the Bible.”

The danger, though (and I mean danger in both the best and worst ways in terms of what it will cost and what will be gained), is to make—or better yet—to accept the shocking assertion that the Christian faith is NOT about teaching, learning, studying or following the Bible. I would conclude that it was, happily, if the founder of “Christianity” ever said that it was about that. But he didn’t.

Before I go on—I am a student of the Bible. Always. Every day. When I’m in the New Testament, I am often working with the text in its original language as part of my love for my discipline in New Testament biblical scholarship. It’s part of the rhythm of my life to engage it almost unceasingly. But my understanding of my faith does not conclude with something like—“So, you see, ’round here, we follow the Bible, and we base everything we do upon its teachings.” Every church’s doctrinal statement, and lots of cults, insist that they are simply following the teachings of the Bible. Do the math yourself on how that’s going.

But when Jesus opened the ancient scrolls of the Bible (in the Bible that he had, which is different from the Bible you have), or talked about the Bible, he often seemed to say things like … “See that text? I’m the guy it’s talking about right there …” and then concluded with the most radical thing a person could ever say after reading from the Bible. And it wasn’t, “So—now, having heard the Bible, follow the Bible.” No. He said two other words. ???????e?t? µ??—akaloutheito moi—“Begin now, and then keep on continuously following behind me.” (Fun with Greek verbs!)

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Having wrestled through what Jesus was all about in the decades following his ascension, one of his disciples could conclude nothing less than that God’s word had—incarnated. Everything God wanted to say to humanity, about humanity and about God himself had become a living, breathing human. And that human, talked about and presented on every page of the Bible, never said “follow the Bible” when he broke it all down. He said “follow me.”

None of this is to say that the Bible is irrelevant. Never! That is—unless we’re following the Bible instead of following Jesus (or because we think that the two things are necessarily the same thing). But it is to say that following Jesus, who is presented to us in amazing, beautiful and God-breathed ways on every page of the Bible, is the aim at the end of the day, rather than something like, “Following the Bible, which also talks about Jesus.”

For devotional reflection: Luke 4.21″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Luke 4:21, John 5.39″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>John 5:39, Luke 24.27″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Luke 24:27, John 1.14″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>John 1:14, Matt 16.24″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Mat. 16:24

Kenny Burchard
Kenny Burchard, his wife, MaryJo, (married 1992), and their son, Victor, live in Virginia Beach, VA, where he works with Operation Smile. He is an ordained Foursquare pastor and has served as a worship leader, church planter, lead pastor and Bible teacher since 1994. He has a B.A. in Organizational Leadership and an M.A. in New Testament and is a regular blogger at Think Theology. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Delwyn Campbell

    Were you up against a deadline? This is an article about a distinction without a difference, at best, or heresy at worst. The Jesus who is presented to us in the Scriptures does not contradict those Scriptures, nor does He promise to speak to us outside of those Scriptures. Thus, your article, at best, muddies the waters, creating confusion for those who are young in the faith, and opening the doors to foolish debates over what constitutes mature spirituality.
    While it is true that Jesus said, “Follow Me,” during His earthly ministry, He has left that aspect of His presence to the Church, and the Church is to believe, teach, and confess in accordance with the Scriptures. What alternative do you suggest to the historic pattern of Word and Sacrament presented in the context of the believing congregation?

    • Joe

      Amen!

  • Jim Kinnebrew

    Thank you, Delwyn Campbell. Exactly what I was thinking.

  • Joe Bloggs

    Very poorly phrased article. The fact that there is no comment on further new testament texts is a poor one, because ultimately there are doctrinal and disciplinary issues that will always arise, and the epistles give us guidance on how ‘church’ should deal with them. Whilst there is a good underlying message in this, ultimately it is undermined by the cocky tenor of the writer and the idea that scripture and Christ can be frozen out of one another. One does not come to know Christ without scripture, and therefore scripture becomes a necessary tool in the believers’ lie that must be followed in its context if we are to derive the most from our Christian journey and make our evangelism as effective as possible. The most effective churches at doing evangelism are those that have a sound foundation on the word and know what the word says in light of Christ’s teachings and theological context on which it sits. Without this, it gives the likes of Dawkins and other morons a good, founded excuse to say to the world “these Christians don’t know what they’re talking about”.

  • Timothy Sanders

    This article contains some very erroneous logical conclusions. To pursue a theological stance based on what is absent from Scripture is the beginning of heresy. Did Jesus dismiss Scripture when he said “Follow me”, certainly not! The fact is, as the author has correctly alluded to, Jesus emphasized Scripture. Jesus placed a priority on Scripture. Jesus also placed a priority on correcting the religious leader’s misinterpretations of Scripture (the best example of this is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7). Did Jesus dismiss Scripture? No. Did Jesus affirm, quote, and expound Scripture? Yes.

    Paul also places great importance on the place and work of Scripture in the believer’s life. This can be seen most obviously in his letter to Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy because he followed him (Paul) (2 Timothy 3:10). Then, Paul encourages Timothy to “…continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV). Then Paul makes the greatest case for Scripture when he says, “All Scripture is breathed
    out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
    and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV). Notice that Scripture is given by God and is profitable. In fact, Paul states that Scripture is the vehicle by which God equips and completes us. Does Paul dismiss Scripture and say to only follow Jesus exclusive of Scripture? No. Does Paul make a case for Scripture being vital in the life of the believer? Yes.

    The other consideration that needs to be considered is how this thought process, following Jesus and not the Bible, affects the Great Commission passages. In the Matthew passage (Matthew 28:16-20), the last part of the command of Jesus to the disciples was “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”. This becomes impossible without the Bible. Thus, this line of thinking, only following Jesus exclusively apart from the Bible, makes evangelism impossible without personal, supernatural revelation from Jesus himself. The only way that we can teach others to follow Jesus is by knowing and understanding what Jesus has commanded, and that knowledge only comes through the Bible.

    Now, it is true, that there is a danger of idolizing the Bible to the point that it becomes our God. This is a very real danger. This happens, in my opinion, when we, as Christians, fall into the trap that James reveals in his epistle, that we become hearers of the word and not doers of the word (James 1:22-25). When this happens, as James pointed out and even as Jesus alluded to in the Sermon on the Mount, the Word of God has no effect in our lives. Thus, it is imperative for the believer to follow Jesus, but also to treasure and follow the Scripture.