Can the Bible teach us how to write? Before we answer that let’s consider a more basic question: Where do writers learn to write? Writers learn to write by reading great books. (I know, great books are not the only place where writers learn their craft.) If the Bible is a great work of literature we can expect it to serve as a writing guide.
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. It is the most widely translated book in human history. It is read on a daily basis by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. It has been read religiously for the last two thousand years—parts of it for the last three thousand years. Without question, the Bible is one of the greatest and most enduring works of literature.
How did the biblical authors do it? Of course, Christians believe they were inspired by God to write. But from a human perspective, how did these ancient authors write in such a way that modern readers are still connecting with their writing? What makes the Bible so engaging throughout the centuries and across cultures? I’m sure there are many answers to that question but here are four.
- The Bible narrates human drama. Abraham and Sarah leaving their home, Isaac meeting Rebekah, Jacob preparing for his encounter with Esau, the jealousy between Rachel and Leah, Joseph being sold by his brothers, Moses confronting Pharaoh, David facing Goliath, the dramatic life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the life-endangering missions of Peter and Paul. Stories draw us in and allow us to reflect on the human experience. Does your writing include drama?
- The Bible records heart-felt poems and prayers. In the Psalms, David pours out his heart to God. These may not be the most polished poems, but they contain genuinely gut-wrenching groans alongside joyful praises. In other words, the Psalms cover the gamut of our human experience: guilt and confession, sorrow, tranquility, hope, and joy. The Bible doesn’t ignore our emotional and experiential side. It’s not an academic tome. Does your writing connect with readers at the emotional and experiential level?
- The Bible includes personal letters. Paul not only wrote letters to particular churches in particular cities like Rome, Corinth, and Philippi, he also wrote to specific individuals—Timothy and Titus. Paul usually opens his letters by telling his readers that he’s praying for them and he often concludes by sending his greetings to individuals (Rom. 16). Does your writing include personal touches?
- Finally, the Bible is engaging because it highlights the most important and transcendent aspect of human life—our relationship with God. Abraham and Moses were called by God, Joseph used his God-given ability to interpret dreams, God’s mighty hand set Israel free from bondage, God answered Hannah’s prayer, God spoke through the prophets, and God sent Jesus to save the world. God captivates us and God remains eternally relevant. Does your writing include things that really matter? Do you ever talk about God—the God of the Bible?
In these ways and many more, reading the Bible can help us become better writers.