a christian perspective on the world today

Why on earth would I read the Bible?

When I was a young woman, I would have recommended reading the Bible only to those wanting something to help them fall asleep. In other words, I didn’t find it the most riveting read—especially the King James Version, the only edition I had on hand, replete with “thees”, “thous” and “thys”. I did not read it much when I was young, but being “boring” or “old-fashioned” are only a few reasons some people don’t read the Bible. It is considered by many to be “outdated”, “patriarchal”, “misogynistic”, “homophobic”, “socially offensive” and “exploitive”, to name a few accusations. The Bible is usually described by secularists in negative terms, critical about its claims of having been “inspired by God”, with its most charitable descriptors being “just an interesting collection of ancient texts”.

These days, I enjoy reading the Bible far more than when I was young, even though there are still portions of it that confuse me. The Bible is indeed a wide, varied collection of ancient texts, written over a span of approximately a thousand years by around 40 authors representing as diverse backgrounds as the cultures they were born into. The Bible contains manifold examples of parables, songs, poetry, prophecy, letters and historical prose. And yet, it is far more than a simple library of assembled ancient scrolls. Today, it is a sacred text for around 2.4 billion Christians worldwide, as well as the best-selling book of all time.

If nothing else, the Bible is what many scholars consider to be the foundational text upon which the Western world was built.

That said, there are many who, while owning a Bible, do not read it regularly and fewer still who study it in depth. This is where critics of Christianity find the most fodder. Those who follow the Bible’s teachings blindly while not studying it in-depth tend to defend it without acknowledging the nuances that exist in its pages. They are seen as gullible or uneducated and, in some instances, enablers of the various ways it has been used for harm over the centuries.

So, why on earth would anyone who is not a Christian bother reading the Bible? Even if you’re not a person of faith, there’s one simple answer. If nothing else, the Bible is what many scholars consider to be the foundational text upon which the Western world was built. It has had a profound impact on literature, laws, philosophy and culture. Biblical texts and passages have been quoted, and misquoted throughout history, upheld to spur people into action, provided to give people hope, and sadly also used to justify oppression and hatred. In as much as it has been abused by people with ill intent, it has also been used as a beacon of hope. For many, the biblical text is a great source of inspiration and spiritual guidance. For Christians, it is the establishing document upon which their faith is based. Understanding the Bible will give a greater understanding of how our society was formed and of the nearly two-and-a-half billion Christians who look to it for life and direction.

how do I read the Bible?

Upon opening it at page one and casually reading it, many people find themselves confused. Instead, I would suggest starting with one of the biographies of the life of Jesus, such as the books of John or Mark. Consider reading it as one might read ancient history and ponder these things:

(1) Who was the author writing to?

(2) In what context and culture were they living?

(3) what was the meaning behind what they were writing?

Then, reflect on the “big picture”. What is the overall theme for that particular passage? How does it fit with the preceding portions and how does it contribute to the story moving forward? If reading from John or Mark, what was the author telling us about the life of Jesus? Or, if you are reading parts of Genesis, remember that ancient cosmologies had little room for our modern ideas regarding our planet, the sun and moon, or the stars. All these things were understood in terms of the world around them and their cosmos functioned as an extension of God. When reading the Psalms, consider the context in which it was written and what the author is trying to say about life and ultimate reality.

Also, consider that there was no separation between the actual reality of God and what ancient cultures saw, experienced or felt. Their entire lives and the acts of nations and kings were seen as a result of God’s will. Therefore, we can read the Bible understanding that this ancient text was written in terms that the people of the time understood. It was also a time without the technology, knowledge, equal opportunity or “political correctness” of the Western 21st-century. We cannot read the Bible expecting to understand it using our modern-day sensibilities. This is especially true when we read biblical texts that deal with social situations. The “individual” was never as important as the “collective” community. Priority was based on what was good for the community or ethnic group a person belonged to.

(Credit: Debby Hudson, Unsplash)

Then when we read the difficult passages, those that deal with rape, incest, intolerance, massacres or murder, don’t shy away from them. Acknowledge them and contemplate the reasons why they were left in the Bible and passed down from generation to generation. Then, resolve to not allow them to happen again in our time. Reflect on how we must do things differently with the knowledge God has given us now—and become the agents of change that the community of today needs.

The Bible is an incredibly complex library of documents, as it has been copied, recopied and translated multiple times over the past several thousand years. This, as well as the cultural and linguistic gulf that stands between the cultures that produced it and us, allow many of us to miss the small nuances that could give greater understanding to certain passages. However, the overarching themes contained within the Bible cannot be underestimated. Though it was penned by imperfect people, the Bible reveals a perfect God whose love is big enough that He gave His only Son so that you and I can live life to the full—not just now, but into eternity. I find myself on the side of scholars who see it is an ancient text that communicates that big-picture love—the kind of love that can transform your life today.

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