Approaching the Bible as Literature

Have you ever read the Bible as a piece of literature? Can it be considered a masterpiece of storytelling as well as the inspired Word of God?

In high school, one of my public school English teachers assigned the book of Job as a class reading assignment. Up until that point, I’d never done a purposeful study of the structure and literary qualities of any book of the Bible, let alone the dense and poetic book of Job. My passing understanding of Job had been gleaned from occasional sermons and Sunday school classes. But that knowledge had always come in short, sporadic bursts—we’d usually focus on the gripping, theologically critical closing dialogue between God and Job, not the confusing bits where his “friends” are accusing him.

We had to chart out the different sections of the story and copy lists of metaphors and subject it to the same literary analysis we carried out on our other assigned readings. The experience proved to be fascinating. I finally found a context for all the bits and pieces I’d learned about Job throughout years of Sunday school and youth group.

Admittedly, it felt bizarre that this was happening in a public high school class where the world’s major religions were all represented in the seats. In youth group there was a basic assumption of shared experience when discussing the Bible, but having the same discussion when the girl in the next row was wearing a hijab was a much different task.

This experience came to mind as I read about The Bible Literacy Project, an organization that produces resources and textbooks for schools who want to teach the Bible as literature. From an academic standpoint, it’s a fantastic idea. People, Christians included, don’t read the Bible as much anymore, which is a shame because no other book has influenced Western literature and history more than the Bible. Even for someone who doesn’t treat it as the inspired Word of God, it’s a worthwhile text to read.

But there’s a double-edged sword here: when we study the Bible as literature, it’s easy to talk circles around the actual content of the stories and histories that it presents. Maintaining a safe, academic distance makes it easier to question the veracity of the Scriptures. But I’ve found that learning more about the context of the books only serves to deepen my love of the Bible.

As a shameless plug, perhaps one of the things we’re most proud of here at Bible Gateway is our commitment to global access of the Bible. Whether or not a Bible Gateway visitor calls themselves a Christian, we invite them to simply read the Bible. Because of this commitment, millions of people worldwide (about a quarter of our visitors are outside of the US, where we’re based) can simply and easily approach God’s word wherever they may be.

(HT: Unsettled Christianity)

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Posted by Chris

Filed under Bible Study