What are atheists’ favorite Bible verses? When I first saw an article purporting to share the Bible verses that atheists love, I braced myself for a snarky list of difficult or upsetting Bible verses.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the article’s author, Valerie Tarico, didn’t just go for a string of cheap shots—she asked a number of prominent atheist personalities to (non-sarcastically) list “what they think are the best verses in the Bible, and why.”
The results are fascinating, and to fully appreciate them, you need to read not just the Bible verses they chose, but their reasoning behind the choices. (Be aware that although the verses weren’t chosen sarcastically, there’s lots of criticism of Christianity in the accompanying commentary.)
Here are a handful of the approximately 20 verses chosen by atheists as their favorites:
Proverbs 18:15: “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
Exodus 23:10-11: “And six years thou shalt sow thy land… But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard.”
I Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.”
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
What’s your reaction to this list?
A few things stood out to me as I read these verses. First, it’s interesting to compare the “atheist favorites” list with the 100 most popular verses on Bible Gateway, which we compile and share from time to time. While the atheist list and our top-100 list don’t claim to be representative of all atheists or all Bible readers, the differences between the lists are noteworthy. Specifically, few of the atheist choices appear near the top of the top-100 verses list. Most of the verses on the top-100 list make spiritual claims or assurances that assume the reader is a believer; most of the atheist choices understandably represent verses that speak more to the general human condition, or that promote positive values without explicitly linking them to belief in God or Jesus Christ. While the atheist-chosen verses aren’t (for the most part) exactly obscure, they aren’t verses you see cited or discussed frequently by Christians. The atheist-chosen verses also tend to be calls to some kind of moral action, whereas many of the top-100 verses are promises or messages of comfort. It makes me think that as Christians, it might be useful to expand our selection of go-to Bible verses beyond the familiar favorites.
Second, it’s fascinating to see passages from Ecclesiastes cited by several different atheists. Ecclesiastes rarely crops up in Christian sermons or “favorite verse” lists—I get the impression that most Christians simply aren’t quite sure what to make of its comparatively subdued and even glum perspective on life. But seeing how it has resonated with many of these atheists, I’m reminded that it’s a beautiful and profound part of the Bible, and a book that deserves more attention than I usually give it.
What did you think of these verses? Did any of them surprise you? Have you ever thought about why certain Bible verses appeal to you personally, and what that might say about your faith and attitude?