Why study the Bible?
Why should anyone study the Bible, especially the book of Genesis? Does it have any relevance for us in the 21st century?
As I begin a series of articles on a serious academic study of the biblical book of Genesis, I thought it would be best to start by laying out some foundations so that we’re all on the same page. I don’t expect everyone —or anyone— to agree with me on everything, but putting all of my cards on the table now will hopefully lead to fewer misunderstandings later.
I approach the Bible as someone who is a Christian, but also as a skeptic. I am a part of a faith community but I have many doubts on what I’ve been taught my whole life and how Christians have interpreted the Bible over the years. I believe a six-thousand-year-old Earth has been disproven emphatically, as well as the idea that humans have only been around for a short time. Adam and Eve, if they were real people, were not the first humans. Evolution is settled, as far I understand it. But I also believe in the possibility of a God and of the benefits of living life in a community with others who believe as you do. I think religion can be force for good in the world, even though a lot of what we see in the news is negative.
That being said, why study the Bible1? For the Christian, this is an easy question with an easy answer. Studying the Bible is a part of spiritual development, an exercise you take part in to “grow in your relationship with God.” But for the non-Christian, or even for the Christian who doesn’t see much value in the so called “Old” Testament, the answer to that question is a bit more elusive. Why spend your time on this collection of old writings when you could just read Dune2?
So, why read the Bible?
First, because it is a beautiful piece of literature. Whether in its original languages or your particular language, the Bible is beautifully written. For those of us in the Anglo world, the Bible is inextricably tied to the English language. Many of our words and phrases come from the earliest translations. Simply put, the English we speak today was shaped and molded by the Bible.
Second, because it has been a massive influence on the world for the past two millennia. Whether you believe in a god or not, it’s undeniable that our Western world was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by the Bible. To be a citizen in this world, we need to have at least a passing familiarity with the Bible and the how it has been used politically throughout the centuries.
Third, the Bible contains some very old writings, some definitely going back to the 7th century BC, as well as possibly preserving oral traditions that go back even further. It touches on ancient cultures, religions, literature, and history. All of these have created our world, and with a study of the Bible we can begin to understand them better. A lot of what we know about both the Bible and history is a simplified version, coloring books pages only showing the outlines. Serious academic study allows us to fill in the colors in order to see the entire picture.
Finally, an academic study of the Bible allows us to move beyond our previously held beliefs and biases. Everyone comes to the Bible with certain presuppositions, whether formed by faith communities or our aversion to such things. But when we set out to for a serious study, we are committing ourselves to change our views based on what we learn.
This quote from Chapterhouse Dune3 sums it up, I believe:
Thinking you knew something was a sure way to blind yourself. It was not growing up that slowly applied brakes to learning (Mentats were taught) but an accumulation of “things I know”.
The next question we’ll set out to answer is “What is the purpose of the Torah?”.
What do you mean by “the Bible?” could probably be a post all on its own. When I speak of the Bible I primarily mean the Christian protestant Bible, but I acknowledge even within Christianity there are various Bibles. To say nothing of the Hebrew Bible, as well as the Samaritan Bible. Basically, it’s a generic word to mean whatever I went in a given context.
Someday I’d like to write a post titled “Why you should read Dune”. Really, every single person on earth should read and re-read that book.
There’s a Dune quote for everything, I promise.