C.S. Lewis on The Bible As Literature


Unless the religious claims of the Bible are again acknowledged, its literary claims will, I think, be given only “mouth honour” and that decreasingly. . . . It is, if you like to put it that way, not merely a sacred book but a book so remorselessly and continuously sacred that it does not invite, it excludes or repels, the merely aesthetic approach. You can read it as literature only by a tour de force. You are cutting the wood against the grain, using the tool for a purpose it was not intended to serve. It demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms: it will not continue to give literary delight very long except to those who go to it for something quite different.

In high school and college I thought “Bible as Literature” classes rather odd, and now that I know God’s Word even better, I think them odder still. Studying the Bible from any perspective but as God’s Word guarantees its dismissal as folklore at best. Why would anyone joyfully read its unapologetic accounts of apparently gratuitous genocide, cruelty, and other examples of human folly, if not for its prophesy and history of God’s dealings with his stiff-necked people? Yet, to those of us who love God and long to know and please him, his Word contains the very words of life, love, and instruction in holiness. God placed every jot and tittle there for his purpose, and through its finite words, he communicates his infinite mind to everyone who seeks his unique, individualized truth for themselves through his Holy Spirit.

Yes, God’s Word does contain some truly weird things, but we know they happened because it tells the unvarnished truth about its heroes. It cuts no slack for Noah, whose righteousness guaranteed his passage on the ark, yet he became a disgraceful drunk. And it tattles on Moses, the man of God, for his impatience and bad temper. Even King David, the man after God’s own heart, didn’t escape the divine chronicle, when he lusted after Bathsheba, had adulterous sex with her, and murdered her good-hearted husband Uriah, when the king discovered he had impregnated her.

The New Testament is no less candid in its treatment of the church fathers. It betrays Apostle Peter’s lack of resolve in denying Jesus three times, and in catering to the Judaizers by separating himself from the Gentile believers in Antioch. If the canon of Scripture were indeed the product of a Roman Catholic conspiracy, as some claim, would the conspirators have passed on such embarrassing stories about their “first pope?”

The Bible has demonstrated its value throughout history, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Any believer who truly loves God’s Word will heartily agree.

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