In this series, we have discussed ways the Bible is commonly misused by those who think it has functions it does not. One thing they have in common is the assumption that the Bible is a consistent, uniform document directed by God that provides us with rules, promises, or specific answers to our life questions.
Less common, but not rare, is the idea that the Bible has power within itself—that a Bible is not simply a book but an active force. Besides being a collection of texts we can read, the Bible is thought to have supernatural properties.
When I was young, we attributed great honor to Bibles (as long as they were King James). Nothing was ever placed on top of a Bible—after all, it was a HOLY Bible. When I carried my Bible to school everyday, it was of necessity on the top of my stack of books.
We were in awe of ‘God’s word’ in physical form. This, combined with our belief that the Bible was inerrant throughout, probably qualified us for the charge of bibliolatry—or worshiping the Bible. I’m afraid there are still many bibliolators today.
From this view of the Bible come some peculiar ideas and practices.
The Innate Power of the Bible
Many years ago a popular story circulated among believers about a soldier who was under fire. When the battle was over he took his Bible from his shirt pocket and it had a bullet in it; the Bible had miraculously stopped a bullet that undoubtedly would have killed him.
Whether this story ever really happened I never knew, but it was widely shared by believers and in Christian literature as true. The moral was that the Bible is powerful and miraculous. Years later I heard a similar story about a deck of cards that stopped a bullet. That story would not have created the same excitement among believers.
This essentially presents the Bible as a magic talisman of protection. But the Bible is also used as a force in another way. In college, I learned to hold my leather Bible high when preaching to add authority to what I was saying. While praying for people, some preachers touch the person with a Bible anticipating that its power will flow to them for some desired result.
So, beyond the value of its content, the Bible is thought to have power within itself.
As a child, I witnessed an even stranger example of the power of the Bible. I was talking to a neighbor on her front porch while watching her clean her fan. Suddenly, the wind caught the blades, whirled them around, and cut her hand quite severely between her thumb and forefinger. Blood was everywhere.
She asked me to run into her house for her Bible. When I returned, she read aloud the passage that stops blood (I think it was in the Psalms) while she held her wound together to heal it. It was a magical reading; an incantation. I don’t remember much more, but she later said the bleeding stopped, her wound healed, and there wasn’t even a scar.
Without more information, I don’t know what to make of the magic ‘blood’ passage in the Bible. It might have had some psychological effect on her, but I don’t think it was a power innate to the Bible.
That is the only time I ever encountered that incantation, but I have seen other incantations used a lot. The phrases ‘In the name of Jesus’ or ‘By the blood of Jesus’ are often used in prayer as power commands from the Bible, usually regarding illness or demons. These phrases are thought to have power in themselves.
The Practice of Bibliomancy
You may have heard of necromancy—the attempt to gain information by contacting the dead. ‘Necro’ has to do with death, and ‘mancy’ is divination. This is a widespread practice today, as can be attested by the popularity of seances. And you may recall the well-known example from 1 Samuel 28 where King Saul asked a medium to contact the dead prophet Samuel for him.
There are many practices of divination, such as osteomancy (divination using bones), aruspicina (divination by analysing entrails), and selenomancy (divination using the moon). But the one that concerns us today is bibliomancy—divination using the Bible.
Bibliomancy works this way: A person has a question—perhaps in regard to a serious life decision. They open the Bible at random expecting the first passage they find (sometimes by blindly placing their finger on the page) to be the authoritative answer to their question.
Of course, this is simple superstition and can lead to very poor decisions, but I have heard of many who participate in this misguided use of the Bible based on the idea that it is a magical book.
The Bible is Not a Magical Book
The Bible is very important to us who are believers. But attributing supernatural powers to the Bible is superstition based on unreasonable expectations. The power of the Bible is in the life and teaching of Jesus–and this power is real. Superstitious uses of the Bible emphasize the book over its message.
Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You
- Be sure to follow this blog in the right-hand column of this page.
- Like Jesus without Baggage Page on Facebook.
- I would love to hear your comments and responses below.