A few years ago, I read a magazine article titled, “21 Overrated Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die.” The author, novelist Jesse Ball, included the Bible as number 12 on that list. Even though many more billions of people have read the Bible than have even heard of GQ, the author wrote: “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”
I’d never heard of Jesse Ball before reading his assessment of the Bible nor have I ever read any of his novels. He may be a great writer—I wouldn’t know. But he certainly fails as a literary critic. My simple response to him would be that people often criticize what they don’t understand, and he doesn’t seem to understand the Scriptures. Here’s why I believe we need to read the Bible.
I would assert that the Bible is a great literary masterpiece. Too often we think of the Bible as a mixture of commandments, genealogies, obscure poems, and strange stories of talking donkeys and snakes, along with other incomprehensible material. But the Bible is actually a library of 66 books that each have a clear and consistent literary structure. When we read these books and understand the author’s strategies, we’ll be awed by the grandeur and beauty of the Bible. But that would require people to sit down and actually read the Bible on its own terms without imposing their world view on it. To truly appreciate the Bible, we have to give up our preconceived notion and let the Scriptures speak to us.
The Bible is important for us to read because it tells the truth. Jesus said to God the Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). A Muslim critic of the Bible once asked me how I could believe the Bible since it presents godly people in such a negative light. For example, Abraham lied about his wife and called her his sister (a half-truth); Moses is seen to have an explosive temper by killing the Egyptian taskmaster and breaking the tablets of the Ten Commandments; David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah is in the Bible for all to see. I replied that was why I believe the Bible is absolutely truthful. The Bible is not a cover-up or religious propaganda. Instead, it shows the heroes of the faith as they really were, with all their faults exposed. We are told both the good with the bad.
Another reason to read the Bible is that it reveals who we really are. That is why James compares the Scriptures to a mirror (James 1:23)—it shows what we are really like. According to James, the problem with our inability to see ourselves isn’t the fault of the mirror, it is a problem with our memory. If we don’t act on what we see in Scripture, we become like a person “who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (vv. 23–24). The best way to understand ourselves—our selfishness, pride, bad habits, and greed—is by looking at the mirror of Scripture, what James calls “the perfect law, the law of liberty” (v. 25–26). It will show us our great need for God and transform our lives so we can become effectual “doers” of God’s Word (v. 22).
One of the most important reasons to read the Bible is that it is the greatest love story of all time. It reveals the Creator’s love for us and His desire to have a relationship with us. The most foundational verse of the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his One and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV). The apostle Paul put it this way: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ [the Messiah] died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is the story of the Bible from start to finish. The Hebrew Scriptures point forward to the Messiah and the forgiveness He would provide. The New Covenant Scriptures reveal that Messiah Jesus has come and that we must believe in Him. The whole Bible put together is the story of the Messiah Jesus who died for us and rose again. It is all about God’s sacrificial love for us.
Are there things in Scripture that are uncomfortable or hard to understand or challenging to my life? Absolutely. But as the Psalmist said of the Bible, it’s “more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). That’s not only why we should read God’s Word, but why we should re-read it, again and again.
by Michael A. Rydelnik
You’ve got Bible questions. We’ve got answers. The Bible is full of great truths for our lives . . . and also, if we’re being...
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