Why read the Bible?

Posted on: 11 Oct 2017

Anthony Buckley, chaplain of Alleyn's School, Dulwich, says pupils should read the Bible in schools to enhance their understanding of language, culture and political history.

What we call “The Bible” is a library of very different books written by very different authors and it comes together to form a narrative covering many hundreds of years, packed with drama, poetry, history, stories, law codes, visions, and letters. It is hard to think of any other book that says so much about human nature, and does it with such variety. It is all there: the moans and the grumbles, the joys and the courage, the tears and the hope, the tragedies and the victories.

Its themes and narratives marble through much political history. To understand our journey as a nation (and indeed, America’s) it is very helpful to know the Biblical roots of the Reformation and the English Civil War. And to take one of many possible examples: if one truly wants to understand Martin Luther King it is vital to appreciate the context of the Bible passages to which he is constantly, implicitly, referring. In England the church has been here longer than the nation; its role has always been constitutionally and culturally profoundly significant, it makes sense to learn a little of what this church believes.

In sharing thoughts from the Bible, in assemblies, services or conversations, I keep in mind that much of it was written first to be heard, not read. Students are encouraged to imagine themselves sitting round the campfire listening to the story-teller retell the great tales. Or they are sitting in a room and the latest letter from Paul is unrolled. What phrases or sentences would jump out? Which would make you smile or bring a tear or cause a gasp? We will often start with bite-size pieces, and see where our thoughts will go. It is fascinating how deep the discussion will go, in terms of values, behaviour and faith.

It enhances understanding of language. When people accuse someone of "passing by on the other side", describe a sporting fixture as being a "David and Goliath" moment, or wonder if it is right to "turn the other cheek" then it enriches the experience to know the background to the phrase.

It shines light on a significant amount of the world’s culture, as a stroll any wide-ranging art gallery will confirm. Most literature in the English-speaking world, until very recently, took for granted that its readers knew something of the Bible; from Chaucer to Tolkien, the biblical themes are marbled through.

Across the world and through history several billion people have been directly influenced by what they have found in the Bible. Large parts of it are profoundly significant or sacred (or both) to Jews and Muslims. All of it is important to Christians. The narratives and letters in what we now call the New Testament tell us about Jesus “the Christ”, from whom “Christians” are named. If we wish to understand why this one person in a distant province of the Roman Empire has had such an immense effect on the world then, in all integrity, we ought to look at the original accounts.

About Anthony Buckley

Anthony Buckley is chaplain at Alleyn’s School in Dulwich.