03 Jul 2011

The Bible as Literature

Religious 15 Comments

I find it interesting to occasionally put aside my personal faith and just consider the Bible as a piece of literature (in fact the best-selling book in history). In my daily reading (I try to do a chapter a night), I have just recently wrapped up Malachi and thus made the transition from (what Christians call) the Old Testament into the New.

We take the gospel accounts for granted, since they are so familiar to (most of) us, but everything about them is strikingly different from the Old Testament. I was literally getting weary, going through all the books near the end the OT, because they were just so bleak. The children of Israel just kept screwing up again and again and again, and God kept warning them over and over and over that they were in trouble with a capital T.

Then in the New Testament, everything changes. Rather than zipping through history, the narration screeches to a snail’s pace, and we learn intricate details about the pregnancy of a woman, such is the importance of her Son. In fact, this Man is going to be so important, that we have four books in a row, telling different versions of the same story.

And there is another huge difference. The God of the Old Testament was “terrible” in a certain sense of the word. You had better be afraid of that Being. Yes, He was merciful, loving, patient, and so forth, but He was also terrible.

Yet the Man we meet in the gospels was approachable. The reader can finally get his arms around this Person, so to speak. The more He speaks and does, the more the reader realizes He is no mortal man either, but at the same time He is a man, and an incredibly gentle one at that. There is no condemnation or judgment here; in fact, His purpose is to eradicate them once and for all.

15 Responses to “The Bible as Literature”

  1. RobertH says:

    While there are certainly a lot of tragedies recorded in the OT I think that you are making to much of a dichotomy regarding God about the OT and NT. For instance there are passages like Jonah 4:11 (http://bible.cc/jonah/4-11.htm) which show God’s great concern for people.

  2. David S. says:

    How about Mark 12:41-44?

    “41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

    Do you think flat taxes are fair?

    • jjoxman says:

      The difference between taxes and donations, sir, are that the donations were voluntary. The relative size of the woman’s donation makes her more charitable. Nothing to do with taxation.

      • David S. says:

        I wouldn’t expect someone like you to understand.

        • jjoxman says:

          Judge not, lest ye be judged.

          But I wouldn’t expect someone like you to understand.

  3. Chad says:

    “I have just recently wrapped up Malachi and thus made the transition from (what Christians call) the Old Testament into the New.”

    Actually, the vast majority of Christians — and indeed the Church founded by Christ in the first century — use an OT that does not end with Malachi.

  4. Major_Freedom says:

    Seems like the Bible’s new testament is to the old testament as Star Wars’ original trilogy is to the prequel trilogy.

    • bobmurphy says:

      I think I actually agree with that sentiment, but I assume it’s supposed to be an insult?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        but I assume it’s supposed to be an insult?

        I guess I probably would have assumed that as well if I was in your position and someone like me said that, but in this case, no, it’s not an insult, just a rather unsuccessful attempt at being funny.

        I personally don’t like those kinds of snarky insults. But to be honest, I react similarly when someone makes a joke at libertarianism’s expense. I can’t count how many times I couldn’t pick up on sarcasm or when someone is just being a trickster.

        Ah well, better be on guard than to let someone make fun like that.

  5. P.S.H. says:

    Don’t you think your view of Jesus is a little simplistic? He certainly pronounces a fair amount of judgment in, say, Matt. 23.

  6. Brandon says:

    There is so much to read and so little time. I should try the chapter-a-night method with the Bible, though I’m blazing the The Hobbit right now and also Human Action. And I want to read Salerno’s Money: Sound and Unsound. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

    • RobertH says:

      I strongly suggest you read more than a chapter a night. I do this because I have tried that method and also reading for 30 mins – multiple hours (as time allows) and basically when you read the most you can at one sitting you begin to have a much better picture! Anyway, that is just my humble advice.

  7. Robert Hagedorn says:

    Yes, yes, yes, the Bible can most definitely be seen as literature. For a surprise, do a search: First Scandal.

  8. JimS says:

    I think you are all a little off the mark.

    Is the Bible literature; in short, yes, but the question then is what makes literature and why. If you are a modern educator, just about everything qualifies as literature. I disagree with this.

    I think in considering the Bible as literature, it depends on which version you are referring to. For my money, the King James has an eloquence and a passion that most certainly qualifies as literature. Many object to the style of the KJV, but most of those who object are are not very well read and would complain about Shakespeare as well. Too many view the Bible as a sort of service manual or perhaps the rules for a board game. Consequently, many want it to read as such with answers as to how to live and behave. Certainly the Bible provides such information, but so does any great work of literature, but in an engaging, eloquent, thoughtful, and stylistic manner.


  9. Acjitsu says:

    @Brandon: Salerno’s “Money, Sound and Unsound” is a ridiculously good read…..