GQ Magazine recently ran an article entitled “21 Overrated Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die” (April 19, 2018). The shocking part was the inclusion of the Bible as number 12 on that list. Despite the fact that many more billions of people have read the Bible than have even heard of GQ, Novelist Jesse Ball 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’ve 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 clearly fails to comprehend the Scriptures. Here’s why I believe we need to read the Bible.
To begin, 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 consistent books that each have a clearly designed literary structure. When we read these books and see 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 our own world view on it. Instead, we have to let Scriptures guide us when we read them rather than squeezing the Bible into our literary perspectives.
Additionally, we need to read the Bible 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 Bath Sheba 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. There is no coverup or religious propaganda. Instead it shows the heroes of the faith for who they really were; with all their good and their bad.
Another reason to read the Bible is that it reveals who we really are. That’s why James compares the Scriptures to a mirror (James 1:23) because it shows what we are really like. According to him, the problem isn’t with the mirror but rather with a person’s memory. If we don’t act on what we see in Scripture, we become like a person who looks at himself in the mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he saw (James 1:24-25). The best way to understand ourselves–our selfishness, our pride, our bad habits, our greed–is by looking at the mirror of Scripture. It will show us our great need for God to transform our lives.
Of course 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 everlasting life.” The apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Messiah died for us” (Romans 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—
than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey, which comes from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). That’s not only why we should read it, but re-read it, and then read it again.