We recently witnessed the 493th anniversary of the event that sparked the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door in hopes that the Church would re-examine its practices in light of its Biblical mandate.  Luther was so convinced based on investigation into what the Bible said, that he challenged this monolith, despite the ramifications that it would have for him personally. Who can forget his famous words at the Diet of Worms in 1521

“Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us…Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen”

Martin Luther had a Biblical conviction that no negative ramifications could override.

It does occur to me that many both today and in the past, have taken hard stands on what they deem as truth based on Biblical convictions.  This includes notable figures such as Luther, persons who have adhered to doctrines that have deviated from historic orthodoxy and even heretics.  Yes, all would claim to have Biblical convictions because doctrines have been formulated based on what is in the Bible.

So I’ve been pondering lately what it means to be Biblical because it is a term that gets thrown out quite frequently with convictions of truth claims.  This is because position is taken based on a “biblical truth” simply because it is stated in the Bible.  That means that even distorted claims can be proclaimed as Biblical truth.  I would even contend that the foundation of Roman Catholicism is Biblical since Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:13-15 serve as the foundation for Catholic theology related to the church’s authority.

Moreover, Biblical convictions can be met with a zeal and conviction equal to that of Luther’s that can make the espouser of claims dogmatically rigid on their positions.   It is possible to have Biblical convictions about claims that might not be consistent with what the Bible is communicating and when zeal turns into a rigid understanding, it can make even the most egregious of claims seem plausible and defended.  The claims don’t have to be outright heresy, but when rooted in conviction have the impact of being believed, particularly when supported with selected proof-text passages. Don’t get me wrong, zeal is important for defending the Christian message that most certainly is in the Bible.   The basic tenets of the faith are not only defined but cannot be compromised.

But having convictions is  not the same as understanding.  One can have convictions about something that is misunderstood.  So it seems to me that “Biblical” must be qualified since that defining something as such means it is more than just what is clearly stated in the Bible.  I believe it comes down to hermeneutics – how we interpret the Bible.   Because being Biblical is not so much what is stated, but the meaning of what is being expressed through scripture.

The meaning is rooted in God’s revelation and His ultimate revelation in Christ.  Thus, as Christians I believe that when we deem something Biblical, it is expressed as what is pertinent for Christians, how we understand God and what He has provided.   It generally means what is applicable for us to understand and live our life according to.  Therefore, I think a Biblical conviction has to be based on the following evaluation:

1)  Appropriate to the consistent themes of scripture: God has revealed himself through the 66 books that express His movement in time and space in relation to His people and purpose.  There are unified themes throughout but also points of discontinuity.  Understanding how each part fits within the meta-narrative is essential for understanding what it means in terms of the overall message.  Being Biblical must be rooted in what the Bible is communicating

2) Appropriate to the author’s intent: it comes down to meaning.  The Bible is a product of dual authorship.  It is God’s revelation communicated through the pens of 40ish authors over the span of 1,500 years.  Human authors used the art of language, writing under the divine guidance to transmit a message through various genre, such as historical narrative, poetry, letters or apoctalyptic literature.
What is said must be evaluated for what the author was intending to communicate and reading the genres appropriate to the their style is important.  There is a post forthcoming that will speak more to authorial intent and meaning.  But a claim cannot be Biblical if it is not rooted in the meaning of what the author is communicating.  For example, some might say it is Biblical for us to have a vision for our lives of where God is taking us based on Proverbs 29:18.  But vision here does not mean what our contemporary understanding is.  It is the proclamation of God’s revelatory communication.  I wrote more about that here. So being Biblical should be rooted in the meaning of what is being said.

3) Descriptive is not necessarily prescriptive: The Old Testament is important because it lays the foundation for the work that Christ would eventually accomplish.   It is prophetic and speaks to the heart of God.  So being Biblical does not necessarily mean that everything in the Old Testament is applicable for us today but certainly is important for the foundation that was being laid.  But everything cannot be Biblical in the sense of prescriptive for us today.  Yet it is Biblical concerning God’s revelation.

I think another area that becomes challenging is the gospel narratives and understanding what is applicable to the revelation of Christ vs. what is instructive for Christ followers.  It is easy to assign something as Biblical, meaning expected for the Christian to perform or abide by simply because Christ taught it when in actuality it may be that it is Him he is referring to.  For example, I recall several years ago, I did a sermonette on Luke 5:34-35.  I related the old wine skins to the old nature and way of doing things and the new wine skins to the ‘newness’ of life.  But I was not being Biblical since that has nothing to do with what Jesus was communicating.  He was referring to Himself and the fulfillment of Old Testament promises that would introduce a new paradigm that would be inaugurated by his death (cf Ephesians 2:13-16).  This does go back to meaning.

4)  Prescriptive for Christian Life: So clearly there is much, particularly in the New Testament, that is applicable for life today.  This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of how we use the term Biblical.  But I also think this is the toughest one and wades in gray areas of Christian liberty.  Clearly there are commands for the Christian but there are also situations that might not be applicable to us.

Moreover, just because something is not in the Bible does not make it un-Biblical.  I often hear statements such as ‘if its not in the Bible we shouldn’t consider it’.  But there is much about living life in the 21st century that is not in the Bible.  Nonetheless, the Christian standard that is laid down by the teaching of Christ and apostolic instruction provides the basis for what is Biblical, meaning what does the Bible commend.  So being Biblical will be consistent with the NT prescription even if the specific situation is not stated.

5) Make room for doctrinal distinctions: Given the plethora of protestant denominations, it is clear that not all will agree on what is Biblical.  For instance, because of the situation at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, there is an expectation by some baptism of the Spirit is an event subsequent to conversion and have expectation that this should happen with Christians today.  However, as I have stated in previous posts, and is in line with the previous section on what is prescriptive vs. descriptive, I believe this was the induction of the Holy Spirit to permanently indwell believers, beginning with Jews and eventually Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46; 11:15-18).  It is not prescriptive of a 2nd baptism but descriptive of the first baptism.  A Pentecostal would define this as Biblical but I would not, since I don’t think it is to be expected today.

I admit this can get tricky.  How much do differences deviate before we can deem them as un-Biblical?  In the example above of Catholicism,  the foundation is deemed as un-Biblical by Protestants because the visible church was not what Jesus meant yet it was construed that way in the early development of Christianity.  Ok, I’m not going there.

6) Compatibility with historic orthodoxy: is the claim consistent with what has been believed everywhere by all at all times?  This is the value of knowing church history and how the Christian faith has been defined and refined through periods of evaluation and defense against heresies.    For example, the existence of the godhead, equal in substance yet distinct in three persons have been deemed as un-Biblical by some.  Yet, the Biblical evidence is clear and is supported through careful articulation of the faith that has existed throughout church history.

The bottom line is what is considered Biblical must be evaluated.  Just because its in the Bible does not mean it is expected for today.  Just because its not in the Bible does not mean it is not consistent with the what the Bible commends.  I also think Biblical convictions have to be qualified with ‘according to my interpretation’.   Yet, the Biblical evidence is clear on the sine qua non of Christianity.  I would propose creating sub-categories of ‘Biblical’.   I don’t know what these sub-categories would be but without them, I fear that what serves as Biblical convictions may not be honest with the Biblical text at all.  And non-Biblical, Biblical convictions carried out with zeal, are no help at all and can actually be quite harmful.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    21 replies to "Some Thoughts on Biblical Convictions and Being Biblical"

    • MikeB


      Great post. I love the tie in to the Reformation and Luther’s stand at the Diet of Worms.

      You explained well the concept of “Biblical” and the “dangers” of how we throw that term around. It really all does come down to our hermeneutics. An allegorical reading and the historical/grammatical reading could lead to very different “Biblical” ideas on a particular passage.

      I am thinking through this post and how the term “Biblical” is often used in various theological debates. As in that view is not Biblical. While this may be warranted in cases, it also is more often a case of different hermeneutics.


    • Leslie Jebaraj


      Helpful post, especially points 2 and 5, for me. Thanks.

    • John T 3

      I agree we need to compare one’s stance, belief or conviction against the scriptures. Now comes the interesting part, we need to act on what the scriptures have already prescribed as a course of action. It mandates that we do not under any circumstances compromise on anything that attacks or distorts those foundational truths which affect whether someone is a Christian or not. It also mandates that if someone has a conviction to hold one day as special or a feast as special then they are to not make it a law by which you judge the character, faithfulness or salvation of another (they are free to hold this conviction for themselves and there is nothing wrong.) However, once they step over that line then the rest of us need to do what the scriptures mandate in the following motivational order God’s glory & honor, realize that I am capable of such foolishness, love for my brother or sister and the brother or sisters well being and restoration.

    • desertmonk

      Awesome article! I am currently teaching a series that follow the same vein and was concerned I might be the only way having these thoughts. Sometimes when I think I am the only one, my religious background whispers, “heretical” – though I know differently. I am becoming a hound about “preaching, thinking and believing in context” – but it is a death blow to many of my old theological paradigms.

    • Dave Z

      This comment will be centered on points 5 and 6 and since I’m still a bit upset, I’m going to name names.

      Last night I attended a service at Harvest in Riverside CA. It’s a Calvary Chapel affiliate pastored by Greg Laurie, who was not there because he’s headed out to do a Harvest Crusade in Seattle. So as guest speaker, they had well-known author and apologist, Norman Giesler. I was looking forward to hearing him, but by the end I was so upset, offended and saddened, I nearly walked out a couple of times.

      He spoke on “Why I am Not a Five-Point Calvinists” (sic), and by the time he was done, he had proclaimed all Calvinists as unbiblical. And the 2000+ people in the room were sucking up every word. He actually said that Calvinists believe God forces people to love him, and forced love is called rape so Calvinism makes God a sort of cosmic rapist!!!! Can you say “inflammatory?” I knew you could.

      He made numerous references to “their God,” implying the Calvinist worships a different God and believes a different gospel.

      I was astonished. He set up a definition of Calvinism fit for a 10 year old and proceeded to demolish it, to the laughs, applause and dismay of the congregation.

      The thing that saddened me most was that the whole message was delivered with a subtle mockery. And the charge of “unbiblical,” which was tossed out for each of the five points. No grace, no humility, just grounds for division, delivered in a church that (IMO) is already teetering on the brink of being defined by a legalistic and separatist ethos.

      And, just to be clear, I too am not a five-point Calvinist. I have at least one foot on common ground with Geisler on this issue, but I felt the way he presented it was highly inappropriate and divisive.

    • Ed Kratz

      Dave, that is disappointing. But that is what happens as soon as we use the term ‘un-Biblical’. It forces the opposing view to be contradictory to the witness of scripture and cast it in a disparaging light.

    • JRoach

      I don’t know much about Norman Geisler. He is well respected for his apologetics, but I have not read any of his books. Does he disagree with all five points (TULIP)?

    • Dave Z

      Here’s some irony – according to Theopedia, Geisler himself claims to be a “moderate Calvinist” though I would never have picked that up from listening to him last night. He did make repeated references to “extreme” or “strong” Calvinism, but seems to equate that with anyone accepting all five points.

      Harvest has posted the video. Follow the link and click on the flash billboard for Geisler:

    • Leslie Jebaraj


      You may want to read CHOSEN BUT FREE to familiarize yourself with Geisler’s stance on the subject. One of the worst Christian books, I’d say! (Sorry, Geisler fans!)

    • Ed Kratz

      Leslie, I haven’t read that one but I have read Four Views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (or something like that – I don’t have the book with me). I found his position very confusing and contradictory. It seemed like he was a Calvinist that did not want to be a Calvinist

    • Dave Z

      Yeah, Leslie, he was pitching that book last night. He’d even sign it!

      I just posted a blog rant over at Theologica where I link to the video and include a time reference of some of his more outrageous statements.

    • Josh Mueller

      The problem we’ve been having since the Reformation and its emphasis of the “sola scriptura” principle is very simple: we’ve taken the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and replaced it with the magisterium of every individual reader and interpreter of the Bible.

      Even WITH all the 6 criteria you mentioned, we’re bound to interpret differently in what way certain themes are taught consistently, what exactly the author’s intent was (just think: Genesis 1!), and how certain commandments embedded in a very specific culture apply in a very different cultural setting today (think: women in leadership).

      Also, the principle what has been believed by all everywhere at all times is not always very helpful or decisive. How would Luther and the Reformers have been evaluated by this very principle in the 16th century? We know what that answer is, and it was wrong.

      Even scholars with a clear commitment to the normativity of Scripture can’t take on the role of a Protestant magisterium because they disagree just as much as the less academically informed among us.

      I’m surprised that the element of a hermeneutic community hasn’t come up, as this is mentioned both historically (Acts 15:28 and 17:11) and in Paul’s exhortation to test all prophecy by the community of believers.

      And what happened to deliberately depending on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as our primary teacher (1 John 2:27) in that entire process?

      Maybe we should also allow the question whether a definite answer to the question “what is biblical?” may easily become the same error of phariseism which focused on principles to live by (that would apply to every conceivable life situation) and thereby missed God’s true intent for them altogether. Maybe the more important question is: “How can I love you and my neighbor today, God?”

    • John Metz

      Interesting article. Perhaps we should add a sixth point: What we consider to be biblical should bear fruit in our living (see Galatians 5). While I am no particular fan of Norm Geisler, I am more than a little bothered by some of the comments. Are not some of the comments along the same line and in the same spirit as what the posters are complaining about in Geisler’s speaking and manner? Narrowness is not a virtue. Nor is using our “biblical stance” as a club for our fellow believers. This article included a word against becoming “dogmatically rigid.” Along with the other points we should consider what kind of person a proper “biblical stance” should make us. While contending for the truth is necessary, so is showing grace to our fellow believers even though their “biblical stance” may be quite different from our own.

    • Ed Kratz

      Josh, you raise good points, none of which are contradictory to anything I said, or attempted to anyway. One of the points that I was trying to draw out was that we can become so narrow in our definition of what is Biblical that we don’t make room for interpretive differences or varying perspectives on Christian liberty.

      It is sometimes unhelpful, I think, to be quick to define what is Biblical without qualifying it. Otherwise, it has the affect of castigating a brother or sister simply because there is a difference on a non-essential.

    • Josh Mueller


      I didn’t mean to contradict you. I just wanted to raise awareness that the problem is a lot more complex than many think and that following a few guidelines alone will not be sufficient to have an absolute kind of confidence that our particular interpretation is necessarily more biblical than someone elses.

      I should have also mentioned that applications may vary quite a bit depending on what certain symbols still mean in some places and in others not at all. The headcovering issue and how to address polygamy in certain missionary contexts where it is part of the fabric of society are two examples where there’s no clear cut answer that would just universally apply in all places.

    • Ed Kratz

      Josh, yes I agree with you. I did not mean to suggest that a few extra definitions would clear everything up, especially in the examples you cite. But the premise of the post was for us to examine how we use the term ‘Biblical’ in the first place.

      For example, someone had put on their facebook status the other day that we need to vote according to what is Biblical. I kept thinking well what the heck does that mean. It can mean different things depending on our perspective. So my attempt here was not to put everything in a box but to have some kind of direction on assigning something as Biblical. There is a sense that missionaries still have to think Biblically but not according to the forms and symbols we assign to things, if that makes sense.

    • Josh Mueller

      Ok, Lisa, that makes sense.

      And if there’s any area where the term “biblical” is absolutely useless to single out one party over another, it certainly is politics.

    • Bible Study

      I believe there are many who have convictions that are not biblical, some even are contrary to the bible. However, I do believe all scripture is applicable to our lives today, but in order to see it’s application, one must look at spiritual intent. Of course, we cannot apply the old testament literally, but spiritually the message always fits into our lives today.

    • teamcurtisfamily

      Pray, read, and study.

    • Lucian

      My small tribute to the great man, and to his courage.

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