The Power of the Bible





There are some Christian groups that tend to read the Bible allegorically--they maintain that the spiritual truth of the Bible is more important than whether or not it is historically or literally true. Others take a different approach--Evangelical Christians, especially, tend to read the Bible in a very literal manner.

The one characteristic that holds true for almost every Christian denomination is the difference between the "Old Testament" (the Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament. The multitude of laws outlined in the Old Testament are not viewed as applicable to Christians (with the exception of groups like the Seventh-Day Adventists, who celebrate a Saturday Sabbath and refrain from eating un-kosher foods). The theory that Christians are exempt from these laws stems from interpretations of certain New Testament passages (e.g. Acts 10-11:18; Romans 2-4; Romans 7:7-8:17; Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 10; the entire book of Galatians) which state that Christians have been sanctified through Christ and therefore have no need for the restrictive Judaic codes. Thus, the Biblical pollution rules regarding blood have, for the most part, have not been continued in Christian denominations.

However, it is important to note that in the Gospels, Jesus seems to have almost the opposite attitude towards the law: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called last in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20).

For Christians that take the Bible very literally, the letters of Paul to the new believers throughout the Near East are very instructive, perhaps even more so than the Gospels. Because these letters directly address issues that churches struggle with yet today, literalist Christians can use these books of the New Testament as guides for today's problems.

For Christians that read the Bible in an allegorical fashion, the legal aspect of the Bible is not as important as the overarching ethical teachings. Love, kindness, and mercy are teachings that permeate the entire New Testament, and therefore non-legalistic Christians see these attributes as more important than specific commandments. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus says that the greatest commandment in all the law (Torah) is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...You shall love your neighbor as yourself."


The most important ideological figure in the Christian Bible is Jesus. The imitatio christi (imitation of Christ) of early Christian writings has become today's "What Would Jesus Do?" Other important figures are Paul and the Apostles, although their authority stems from their relationship with Jesus. Old Testament figures are not as important as Jesus for most Christians.

Ideology is presented in another form through the parables of Jesus. These opaque stories are highly metaphorical fables, which outline Jesus' thoughts on many things. Not even Jesus' disciples understood his sayings, and therefore they are suited to many interpretations. Matthew 13:10-17 portrays Jesus telling his disciples that they cannot understand the parables. This versatility is part of the secret of their staying power. These sayings have become embedded in our literature and common parlance.


The Bible does not have the ritual power in most Christian denominations as compared to the Jewish Torah. Since the Bible is printed in great numbers, it is easily replaceable. However, it is expected that every Christian own a Bible and read it outside of church. Many Christians own more than one version of the Bible, so they can compare different translations. The most beloved Bibles are those that have been well-used, with passages highlighted and spine bent from constant use.

It is customary to present Bibles as gifts on special occasions, such as confirmation or baptism. They are often inscribed with the name of the giver and the date of the occasion, along with a Bible verse of special significance.

Although the Bible as an object has little ritual power, the Bible has great power as a source of religious and moral instruction. Some Christians even expect that, in times of great difficulty, opening a Bible at random will produce an inspirational message or dictate a course of action. St. Augustine recorded such an occurrence in his Confessions.