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The Bible is the most influential—yet misunderstood—book of all time. With more than 5 billion copies in print and thousands of language translations around the world, you’d think there’d be a pretty good general understanding as to what the Bible is and what it isn’t. But I’ve found this isn’t true. The Harry Potter books have sold hundreds of millions of copies (far fewer than the Bible), but no one is confused about their genre or purpose or what story they tell. So why all the confusion about the Bible? Many reasons, probably. My guess is most people think they know what the Bible is but never read it or investigate it any further.
So to try and bring some clarity to this topic, here are 4 things the Bible isn’t:
1. A “Do’s and Don’ts” Book
Many people think of the 10 Commandments when they think of the Bible. Lots of “thou shall’s” and “thou shalt not’s” right? It’s true; the Bible contains many commands of God. Most are found in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. But the Bible isn’t primarily a rule book.
The Bible contains multiple genres of literature, and the law is only a small portion. Additionally, the law, given through Moses, was part of a covenant (relationship) God made with the ancient Israelites. It contained civil, ceremonial, and moral codes (stay with me!). When Jesus came into the world, God made a new covenant with his people. The civil/ceremonial laws no longer apply because Jesus fulfilled them. However, they’re still helpful for understanding God’s character and his heart for his creation. For example, there’s no longer a prohibition against eating shellfish or getting a tattoo (Leviticus 11:10; 19:28 – both being ceremonial laws), but of course, it’s still wrong to murder people (Exodus 20:13 – moral law)!
2. A “How To Be A Good Person” Book
The most widespread religious belief in America is that God just wants people to be good. And if we’re more good than bad, more kind than hateful, everything will work itself out in the end. Many people think this is the purpose of the Bible. Sure, there are stories where people are generous, self-sacrificing, and kind. But there are just as many stories (if not more) where people are hateful, wicked, and unjust. The Bible isn’t primarily about how to be a good person.
By the way, Christians don’t believe that God only loves and accepts good people (that’s Santa Claus). Christians believe that God loves and accepts all people who put their faith in Jesus, no matter how badly they’ve fallen short. Salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, not by being a good person (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank God!
3. A “Magic 8-Ball” Book
Should I marry my boyfriend? What career path should I follow? What city should I move to after college? Should we have another baby? Should I invest in bitcoin? You won’t find any of those answers in the Bible. Some people ask a question into the air and then open to a random text to see if it might give them a “yes,” “no,” or “Reply hazy try again.”
A portion of Scripture is called Wisdom Literature (including Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) and there’s a ton of God’s wisdom found throughout the Bible. But again, the Bible isn’t primarily a book with specific instructions for your future; it’s not a magic 8-ball.
4. A “How To Have An Easy Life” Book
Having a bad day? There’s a verse for that. Having trouble with your car? There’s a verse for that. Want a better __________ ? There’s a verse for that. This is how many people approach the Bible. Like it’s God’s inspirational book on how to have an easier or better life. But the Bible isn’t primarily about us; it’s not a self-improvement plan. In fact, Jesus promised that in this world you would have trouble (John 16:33). And the call to become a Christian is a call to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Doesn’t sound very easy to me!
So…..after all that. The Bible is first and most importantly, God’s story. There is one grand narrative that spans the whole collection of books recorded over many generations by dozens of authors. And it’s about who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing in the world through his son, Jesus Christ. Sure, we find incredible meaning, purpose, wisdom, and direction for our lives, but it doesn’t start or end with us.
The Bible is first and most importantly, God’s story.
Next week, I’ll spend some time looking at what it means that the Bible is God’s story. If you’ve never read the Bible (or it’s been a while), I would encourage you to take the time to read it! If there’s even a chance that it’s true, wouldn’t it be worth the time to figure that out for yourself? Here are a bunch of Bible reading plans if you need help.