Why I Study the Bible

I often get asked why I study the bible if I’m an atheist. Here’s a quick compilation of my reasons:

  • The bible is the most important document in western cultural history (since it was the scripture of the institution that wielded power in the west for at least 1200 years).
  • It is the best preserved, copied, attested and studied ancient text we have. Early copies are available in multiple languages, from multiple cultures and theologies. This makes it a fascinating and fruitful text to study (if you’re going to study any ancient text, of course).
  • It is a text with many unanswered questions that have a possibility of being answered. There are riddles to be solved, and it is taking a multidisciplinary effort to solve them.
  • It contains poetry and expression of extraordinary beauty, morality and sensitivity, alongside expressions of the most ugly, debased and depraved sentiments humanity can suffer. There is no better place to study the human condition than in the bible.
  • It is a book that is highly politically active. A sizable proprtion of our society wants to give their readings of its dark fantasies authority over our lives.

And here are some reasons for reading the bible I don’t have!

  • It is the only written communication of the creator of the universe to his creation.
  • It gives us the reliable history of the incarnation of God in human form.
  • It is a book with genuine spiritual or supernatural power.
  • It is the best guide to human morality and mutual responsibility.
  • It is the greatest story ever told!


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4 responses to “Why I Study the Bible

  1. Maybe you left out:
    * It gives me something to talk about because so many people around me love the thing

  2. ian

    Yes, that’s right on one level, but maybe not in the way you intended.

    1. Most of the people who I know who are biblical scholars (amateur or professional) – I definitely love being able to interact with them.

    2. The hinterland of Christians I know, through family, church and community. Most of these people who would claim to ‘love’ it, have never really read it. What they love is a fantasy, presented to them in little snippets with pages of commentary. They love the bible of ‘Every Day with Jesus’, which does not, unfortunately, exist.

    I attend a bible study in a local church (who’s minister is a friend of mine). It is staggering how lifelong Christians who’ve done daily bible study their entire life are ignorant of the most basic information about the book they claim to love. Stuff that is discussed in the first ten minutes of your first class on the bible in a theology degree, or seminary program.

    It saddens me how some branches of Christianity have trivialized, homogenized and neutered the bible, under the guise of revering it.

    Studying the bible is a hindrance to talking to those kinds of people, I find.

  3. Count von Words

    You wrote: *****I often get asked why I study the bible if I’m an atheist.***** – Maybe because you aren’t one? Maybe you need to re-define the word “atheist”?

  4. ian

    Thanks for the comment, count! Can you say a little more about what you mean by that? Why would you think I need to redefine the term. I think its difficult to think of a definition of atheist which wouldn’t include me, to be honest.

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