Christian faith asks questions, seeks understanding, both because God is always greater than our ideas of God, and because the public world that faith inhabits confronts it with challenges and contradictions that cannot be ignored. It is my hope to offer some information and insights in response to questions about God, the Bible and faith, that will add to the conversation without offering set, absolute answers. Please feel free to communicate any additional questions or your own experiences, comments, responses and insights as they relate to the questions taken up here.
“Why do some people feel it is OK/acceptable to not read the Bible?”
While there are a LOT of ways “some people” can be defined, we should perhaps make the presumption that the question pertains primarily to people of the Christian faith, since the Bible is “the norm for faith and life — the true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.” After all, “Would someone who has no familiarity with Christianity automatically be able to read the Bible and make such [observations] about this collection of strange old texts?”
This question gets at one or two related answers to the original question. Some Christians, or even would-be Christians, may view Holy Scripture as something so old and so outdated as to be irrelevant to the postmodern 21st Century world and life. Obviously, the world has moved far beyond the global awareness and technology of two or more millennia ago. So, it is possible that the Bible is held by “some people” to be a collection of stories with no connection to the needs and desires of the present age. In a related vein, because the Bible has survived the transition through several language translations, even into more contemporary terms, the Bible is considered hard to understand, particularly if one particular outdated translation is given greater priority over any other. The Bible can be complex, but it is made much more difficult when we try to comprehend it through a language we don’t fluently speak. This is one of the reasons Martin Luther worked to translate the Bible into the common everyday language of the people, rather than leave it in a language that was only accessible to scholars and clergy.
Another possible reason that some may not be comfortable reading the Bible is the perception that the average person somehow thinks they are unqualified to do so, that reading and studying scripture is still primarily the work of priests, pastors and Sunday School teachers. Three more reasons to consider, among many others: 1) “I already know what’s in it, 2) “Its boring,” or 3) “I hear enough of it read during worship.” In response to the first, we somehow convince ourselves that if we can know or at least reference some of the most well-known stories or excerpts of the Bible, then that must be all there is in it. While some stories are certainly more well-known than others, I would suggest the stories that we don’t know so well are the ones that tend to shock us when we learn they are part of Holy Scripture. As far as being boring, well to be honest, yes, some parts ARE boring. It’s a rare individual, in my opinion, who can take delight in wrestling with the long lists of nearly unpronounceable names. However, these lists do not make up the bulk of the text in the Bible, and they serve to provide a connection across time and history. Third, just using the weekly readings, it takes three years to get a majority of biblical texts read/heard. The portions of the Bible not read during worship are every bit as important as those that are.
One last possibility is the misconception that the Bible is intended to be read like any other book, from cover to cover. This is simply not true. It can be done, and for certain books it is helpful to read them consecutively, but doing so can make a mountain of discouragement out of a mole hill of misunderstanding, particularly with those lists of names.
Those are just some guesses at what “some people” might say if asked directly why they do no read the Bible. There are likely many more. Perhaps the next time, we should consider reasons why we should or DO read the Bible. Until then, consider for yourself or ask your neighbor why you or they do/don’t read the Bible. It will certainly invite some interesting conversation!