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Why Would Someone Like Me Study the Bible??

Why would someone devote so much time researching a book they don’t even believe in?

The person who asked me this question did not explicitly indicate that s/he was asking it about *me* (i.e., WHAT in the WORLD are you THINKING??? Why would you bother writing all those books about the Bible if you DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN IT???). So I’m not going to take it personally. 🙂 But as it turns out, I do get asked the question a lot.
In another post, soon to be delivered, I’ll answer the question (on the assumption it was asked about me). For now, I’d like to take the opportunity that it presents to reproduce here the very beginning (from chapter one, word one!) of my Bible textbook that was published, as I may have noted, yesterday. Again, this book is for 19-20 year old college students. A lot of them want to know why *they* should study the Bible. Here is the first part of my book where I raise and respond to that question.
The Bible is the most commonly purchased, widely read, and deeply cherished book in the history of Western Civilization. It is also the most widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused. These reasons alone make it worth our time to study it. We can begin by considering the importance of the Bible in greater depth.

Why Study the Bible?
People study the Bible, and should study the Bible, for lots of reasons – religious reasons, historical reasons, and literary reasons.

Religious Reasons
Most people who study the Bible do so, of course, for religious reasons. Many people revere the Bible as the word of God, and want to know what it can teach them about what to believe and how to live. In this book our study of the Bible will not be in order to promote any particular religious point of view or theology – Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, agnostic, or anything else. We will instead be approaching the Bible from a historical and literary point of view. But even from these alternative points of view, there are solid religious reasons for studying the Bible — even for those people who are not themselves religious or interested in becoming religious. That is because in order to understand our world – and the religious people in it – we need to have a firmer grasp on the book that stands at the heart of the Jewish and Christian religions.
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The Lowdown on Why I Study the Bible
Apologies, Questions, and Excuses



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  September 17, 2013

    I will get the book right after payday…it will be a good read. You’re writing on my level…nice and simple 😀

    Many months ago I asked you the same question in a “comment” and your reply was very good and reasonable regarding why a non-believer studies and writes about the New Testament. I look forward to your comments again. What you said was important regarding objective scholarship.

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    Freehawk  September 18, 2013

    Recently many voices have asked a similar question about Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” book. I have a hard time comprehending the logic behind such a question. The narrow mindedness. One can study a work of fiction, such as Harry Potter, without believing in house elves, or one can study something that purports to be true, such as a story about UFOs, without believing the subject matter. As you say, one can study The Bible for many reasons.

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    RonaldTaska  September 18, 2013

    Good post, I especially look forward to the “personal reflections.”

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  September 18, 2013

    An excellent introduction! But while I don’t doubt your statement, I find it hard to understand the Bible’s being so “widely read.” No one in my family ever had a habit of reading it. I doubt my Catholic parents even owned a Bible. I think the one I own – but never read – is something I had to buy, possibly during my two years in a Catholic college.

    It’s interesting that a poll shows 80% of Americans believe the Bible is in some sense the inspired word of God. I’m sure you’re aware that another recent poll (Pew?) shows that the most rapidly growing religious “affiliation” in the U.S. is “none” – and “nones” now make up 20% of the population!

  5. Avatar
    Peter  September 18, 2013

    Hi, Bart.

    I’m going to squeeze this request in under the heading of books!

    Could you recommend a book that deals comprehensively with the textual and historical problems with the accounts (found in the Synoptic gospels) of Jesus’ arrest and trial, specifically the problems regarding the alleged role of the Jewish authorities (as opposed to Pilate), e.g. the charge of blasphemy that sealed his fate in the eyes of the Caiaphas and pals.

    I was thinking of Sanders’s Jesus and Judaism, but I wanted to check if you could recall a better one, off the the top of your head.


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 18, 2013

      You may want to start with Raymond Brown’s terrific Death of the Messiah (it’s a commentary on the Passion narratives; really good)

  6. Avatar
    Peter  September 20, 2013


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