What is the Bible? : A Review of Rob Bell’s Book

This is a book review post.

For the first time in this series, I’m going to shift away from the source text, as the scholars would say. Instead, I want to look at the book by Rob Bell on the topic, and I’ll add my thoughts.

Here’s where we’re going:

The Book: What is the Bible?

Check out this subtitle: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything!

What a mouthful! And what a beauty!

The book starts out with a very memorable commentary on Moses, and its one that once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.

He then dives into the question we’ve always wondered, “Who paid Jesus’ bills?”

He tackles some Greek words, an obese Old Testament king, the enigma that is Melchizedek, and a wonderful chapter on Why Americans Often Miss the Major Themes of the Bible.

And by that point, it feels like we’re just getting started.

To be fair, there is organization to the book. He organizes the book into these sections:

  • There’s Something More Going on Here
  • The Nature of That Something
  • Where That Something Takes Us
  • The Questions That Always Come Up
  • Endnotes

But that hardly gives you a clue of the rest of it, right?

There’s so much more to the book — so much more — but I will let you experience the joys, wonders, and laughs of reading it. I highly recommend it!

About the Author

Rob Bell is a New York Times Bestselling author of multiple books. I say “multiple” because I think he’s currently written 10, but that could change tomorrow. He’s always releasing new content, whether it be video, audio, or written. He’s a content machine!

His podcast, The Robcast, is a delightful listen. He riffs on a myriad of things from an intelligent and joy-filled perspective. The titles are enough to make pique your curiosity and make you listen. 900 Ligaments, A Brief Guide to Ecstasy, She Always Whispered “White People,” and more.

He has self-published audiobooks and recordings on parenting, Leviticus, and public speaking. Again, wonderful titles: Launching Rockets, Blood, Guts, and Fire, and Something to Say.

And of course, he does speaking tours and makes time to write all those books.

I actually had the privilege of meeting him at one of those speaking events and getting a signed copy of his book, What is the Bible?. I’ve also had the privilege of hanging out with him virtually on a Zoom Writing Session. He gave me advice on my book, On The John: A Devotional for Dads.

Rob is just as delightful in person as he is in the books, videos, and audios. He has incredible command of a room, always finds a way to make you laugh, and really connects with people in the highs and lows of life. It’s a skill and a gift.

What I Didn’t Like

The only thing I didn’t like about Rob’s book was that it didn’t cover ALL of the Bible.

The book picks some obscure stories, some familiar stories, some controversial stories, and rather than picking and choosing through the whole of it, I’d love to hear him go through the entire thing.

Now, that book would likely be multiple volumes and take years to write, so I can’t blame him for making one that was just long enough to get the masses to read.

1200 pages might be a little much, whereas most people can handle a couple hundred pages at once.

But… if he wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, book by book, I’m sure many others, just like me, would read it.

What I Loved

More than anything, this book revived my curiosity in the Bible.

Being a Bible college and seminary student in my earlier years, there were times it felt like we had the Bible under a microscope of examination and we were trying to change it rather than letting it change us.

When I read this book, I had just gone through a bit of a dry spell with my reading and study of the Bible. His book reminded me that there’s so much more to be discovered, and I’ve truly just scratched the surface.

He and Philip Yancey have that unique gift of taking you on the exploration and making you feel like you’re unearthing things together.

The other thing I love about this book is Rob does a phenomenal job of sharing just enough.

  • Just enough to prove there’s a lot more going on under the surface than you originally see.
  • Just enough to show you that this ancient library is still relevant today.
  • Just enough to provoke you to dive into it more yourself.
  • Just enough to make you laugh.
  • Just enough to make you question.
  • Just enough to leave you wanting more.

And as someone who has followed his work for years, I can say Rob does this in almost every piece of content he puts out. He gives you just enough.

You can find all of Rob’s work here.

Additional Resources

Visit this page for more posts in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible? : The Ultimate Story

The Ultimate Story. Here’s what that means:

A story is about a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

Or, a story is about a character who meets a guide, who gives a plan, and the character follows that plan to success or failure, aka comedy or tragedy.

Those specific definitions were formalized by Donald Miller, or at least that’s where I heard them first. He got them Robert McKee. Robert McKee probably got them from someone else. That’s how story works. It gets handed down from person to person.

Now, if we unpack that simple story framework while looking at the Bible, we’ll see the Bible as the ultimate story. I realize this is a broad summary of all that is in the Scriptures, so please keep that in mind. Any single blog post trying to summarize a 1200+ page book(s) is going to have some inherent shortcomings.

A Character

Who is the main character of the Bible? The protagonist?

There are many characters in the Bible, but I hesitate to call them characters lest we think of them as fictional. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – they were all very real men, in real time and history, with real problems. But they aren’t the main character.

Each of them was leading up to the tribe and nation of Israel. Some might say Israel is the main character of the Bible. If you’re only looking at the Old Testament, I could see where you would get that notion.

As much as I love my Jewish friends and enjoy their deep knowledge and insights, I’m afraid this is one of the areas they have it wrong. The nation and people of Israel is not the main character of the Bible. They are supporting characters.

If you, in Sunday School mode, called out, “Jesus,” or “God,” or “Holy Spirit,” as your answer, you’re right.

The main character of the Bible is God / Jesus / Holy Spirit. He’s the one main character throughout the book, always working, always moving, always with a deep desire for…what?

Who Wants Something

God wants something.

What does He want?

World domination? No.

The Republicans (or Democrats) to win the next election? No.

The Bears to win the Superbowl? Maybe, but no.

God wants a relationship with us.

He’s the lover, pursuing His beloved, in story after story within the Bible. He’s the one longing for us even when we’re not longing for Him. He’s the one who jumps in and intervenes at times to show us His deep care, compassion, and empathy.

According to the Scriptures, God had a relationship with us in the Garden. We broke it. He, being a holy God, had to lay down some boundaries and consequences. Our own devices led us further astray and estranged from God.

God gave some laws and guidelines by which we were allowed to get back in proximity with Him. We followed them, then broke them, followed them, then broke them, followed them, then… you get the idea.

And that’s most of the Old Testament.

God utilizes the Prophets to call us back to Him. Sometimes we heard and responded, at least temporarily. Sometimes we killed the Prophets and said screw it.

And Overcomes Conflict

This conflict of a broken relationship just keeps rising and falling, rising and falling, throughout the Old Testament.

Then, it’s as if God finally has enough of it and says, “Here! I’ll make this easier for you. Not easier for Me, but easier for you. Since you don’t understand how much I love you, and you think this is all about a power play, let Me show you that it’s not about power, it’s about love.”

And a virgin becomes pregnant with a child and all kinds of miraculous things happen to bring this baby into the world. And when He is born, they call him Jesus / Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

For thirty-three-ish years, this Jesus / Immanuel is with us. He demonstrates deep care, compassion, and empathy. Sometimes, this comes out in rebukes of the religious elite. Sometimes this comes out in miraculous healings. Sometimes this comes out in teaching. Sometimes this comes out in sharing meals with people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and color.

Jesus, the God in flesh, demonstrates His love in the ultimate climactic scene. In nonviolent protest, with no wrongdoing on His head, He takes on the established system’s guilt, corruption, inhumane practices, abuse, shame, ALL of it. He takes it all on Himself and says, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

Stew on that for a bit.

Then, just when it seems all hope is lost, three days later, this Jesus rises from the dead. He comes back to life and says, “This system can’t kill Me. This system can’t kill My love for you. Let’s re-unite.”

To Get It

And then, we read the stories of Peter being restored, the disciples as a whole being re-united, Jesus revealing Himself to the greatest persecutor of the church at that time, Paul, and all the rest of it.

Jesus / God / Holy Spirit gets a restored relationship with folks in droves.

And it sets off a spiritual revival of folks in the first century, which continues into each century following.

It seems to look a bit different with each century, in each different cultural context, but the effects are much the same.

People find a renewed life, a renewed mind, a renewed mode of being. And their hearts and minds are captured with the living God, who deeply cares for them.

Relationships restored.

Additional Resources

Visit this page for more posts in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible? : What the Bible is NOT

Let’s talk about what the Bible is NOT.

Let me briefly break down each one of these and why they’re a problem for interpreting Scripture well. Hopefully, you can hear my tone is 95% instructive and only 5% snarky.

Not an Instruction Manual

An instruction manual is generally used for complex machinery, assembly, or troubleshooting. A lot of them come with pictures, but some are just simple step-by-step written words. When I think of an instruction manual, three things come to mind:

  • A car manual
  • Ikea furniture
  • Old university or employee handbooks

I recognize that the last one is slightly different, but it is essentially an instruction manual on how to behave, or what to expect from the institution and what it expects of you.

The problem with viewing the Bible as an instruction manual is this: there aren’t many instructions in it. Sure, there are some instructions. But there are a whole lot more stories and prophetic sayings and poems than there are instructions. You miss a great deal of the Scriptures and what they can teach you if you only see it as an instruction manual.

And what’s the excitement or draw to reading an instruction manual? Generally, you only look at it if something is broken (and even then, you usually take it to a mechanic to fix it). Or you look at it so you put the Ikea furniture together correctly, then once you’re done you throw it away.

I don’t think you want to read a small section of the Bible once and then throw it away. I don’t think you only want to look at it if something is broken.

Last thing on this section: The only true instruction manual I’ve come across in the Bible was Leviticus, which very few people ever actually read, and maybe a couple blurbs within Paul’s letters in the New Testament, which seem to be the only thing pastors ever teach. *wink*

Not a Fairy Tale

A fairy tale is a work of fiction. It is not made up of real people, real places, or real events. It usually includes overly simple characters and overly simple themes.

If you’ve read the Bible, you know it is not a fairy tale. It’s full of real people, in real places, with real events. Archaeological digs, historical documents, and even experiential travel confirm this. The Euphrates River, the land of Egypt, Israel, and the Sea of Galilee are all real places, just like Ephesus, Malta, and Rome.

Likewise, these people were not simple characters, with simple themes for life.

David, “a man after God’s own heart,” also happened to be a battlefield warrior almost like Braveheart, an adulterer, a premeditated murderer, and a mostly passive dad to some of his sons. If we met someone today who killed tens of thousands, committed adultery and murder, and was a passive or absent father, we probably wouldn’t call him “a man after God’s own heart.”

David, just one of the real people in the Bible, was a complex and messy human. Don’t even get me started on Solomon, Nehemiah, or Moses.

Real people, in real places, doing real things. Real problems, real issues, real tragedies. That’s the Bible.

If you’re looking for a fairy tale in the Bible, the closest you might find is the Song of Songs. But it’s more of a love song than a fairy tale. Maybe something in the Apocrypha would fit?

Not a Scientific Research Paper

A scientific research paper can vary in length, depending on what grade level or branch of science you’re in. But the main commonality is that you’re writing about something in science, not in another subject. Simple enough, right? In a research paper, you’re also trying to look deep into an issue and then prove, with various means of analysis, that what you’re saying is right.

You might cite previous studies, include charts/graphs, and reference experiments you ran or others have run.

The problem with viewing the Bible as a scientific research paper is simply this: it is not.

In fact, there’s not a single book in the Bible that reads like a scientific research paper. The first three chapters of Genesis definitely don’t read like that; they read like a poem. So we should quit trying to “prove” anything from it.

Creation vs. evolution debate can’t be found in the Bible. Debates over the size of the galaxy, whether dinosaurs existed, whether there’s geological proof that a worldwide Flood really happened, etc. — they’re all outside the scope of the Bible.

If you’re looking for a book in the Bible that resembles a scientific research paper, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Not a Philosophical Treatise

A philosophical treatise is a long, formal piece of writing about a particular subject. In academia, you might also hear it referred to as a thesis. You decide on a topic, do a deep-dive analysis, and come to a conclusion. That’s the research part. Then, for the writing and development of it, you put the conclusion at the start as your thesis and proceed to prove it point by point, page by page, in a meticulous manner.

The problem comes when people think of the Bible as a philosophical treatise. God and Moses don’t start the Bible with a conclusion or a single point they are trying to make. It’s not an essay with headings and subheadings. There are no footnotes, endnotes, appendices citing other sources, or bibliographies.

I enjoy reading a good philosophical treatise from time to time. It stimulates the mind, engages your whole brain, and makes you focus on a very deep level. The Bible can have that effect too, but there’s really very little in the Bible that reads like a research thesis.

Plus, using the Bible to prove a point usually doesn’t turn out well.

For example, if someone has concluded that the world is going to end in the next 7 years, then they line up Daniel and Revelation and start using those along with the current news to “prove” that the “the great Tribulation” is going to start next month, or some world leader is the antichrist, or whatever — well, the next month comes and the next world leader changes and that person suddenly looks like a dunce.

Those books weren’t written as a thesis or treatise. They’re written in another genre altogether.

If there’s a single book in the Bible that resembles a philosophical treatise, it’s probably Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Not a Quote Book

A quote book is a delightful thing to read and look at. Usually, it is themed around a certain topic, like love or resilience or motivation.

As a writer, I love reading and hearing quotes. Some quotes are great for their poetic feel, their rhythm. It’s akin to listening to a symphony with words, instead of instruments. Others are great because they are pithy, direct, incisive. Others, ironic.

The problem comes when people think of the Bible as a quote book. You know what I’m talking about? When people pull their favorite verses or stories out of context, then they apply them to all kinds of situations that are entirely irrelevant. Or worse, when a company puts them on a screenprint, card, t-shirt, or carving, then folks buy them and place them all around the house.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with memorizing Scripture or even having a verse displayed in your house. But please don’t make that your only experience of the Bible. It’s so much richer than that. And please, please, please don’t become a sucker for inflated consumerism that just happens to have a “Christian” label.

Last thing for this section: if there’s a book in the Bible that resembles a quote book, it’s Proverbs. Read it, and you’ll have quotes for days.

Not a Coffee Table Book

A coffee table book can have a few different flavors, but it’s generally meant to entertain. It’s something to pick up and read when you’re bored. Or, it’s something with art and pictures and little snippets about the pictures.

The problem is that the Bible doesn’t have pictures, except for the kid versions. And those are terribly inaccurate. I don’t think Noah and the animals were hanging out on the deck smiling and waving at everyone when the flood went down. And I don’t think Jesus was white, with long flowing hair.

The Bible has a lot of drama in the Old Testament and instructions in the New Testament, but not sweet captions or snippets of description.

The Bible also isn’t something to pick up and read when you’re bored. It requires more of you than a passive, occasional interest if you’re planning to take it for what it claims to be.

If there’s a book in the Bible that resembles a coffee table book, well, you’re not going to find it.

Reading the Bible for What It Is

The Bible is full of proclamations and proof internally that it’s in a different class.

Personally, I’d have to agree that it is.

I love to read. I’ve averaged reading a book a week for the past 10+ years. I’ve read a couple instruction manuals, a couple fairy tales, a few scientific research papers, a few dozen philosophical books, quote books, and even picked up a couple coffee table books. The Bible doesn’t resemble any of those books. I’ve read the Bible a few times through, and I can tell you there’s nothing quite like it.

It’s of a different flavor, a different category, a different level of seriousness and substance. It has something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. But when I meet someone who has actually read it for what it is and experienced it for what it is, I can feel the difference.

I encourage you to check it out and experience it for yourself. And let me know in the comments if you’ve experienced the same thing.

Additional Resources

If you enjoyed this post, visit this page for more in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible? : The Genres of the Bible

The Bible is a single volume with many books inside. Those books were written over the course of thousands of years and across multiple genres. For that reason, it’s worth understanding what genres we’re dealing with when we read the different books of the Bible.

If we don’t understand how to read different genres, we’ll come to all kinds of wrong conclusions. We might take something literally that should never be taken literally. We might dismiss some historical fact because we were reading it like a fairy tale.

People have “made” the Bible say a lot of things it never actually said, all because they misinterpreted the genre of what they were reading.

The Bible is simple enough for any literate person to understand. But it is not simplistic. And being literate implies that you not only understand how to read letters on a page, but you understand how to read different genres. And let’s not forget how important it is that we understand what we’re reading too.

Let me preface this post with two things:

  1. I am not a ThD or DD, certified scholar in Biblical Literature. So, if I miss something, please show me some grace.
  2. I did, however, earn a Bachelors in Biblical Studies. And I was on the advanced track in seminary pursuing my M.Div. before I dropped out and had to enter the workforce to put food on the table for my growing family. Thus, you can trust I know what I’m talking about.

Now that we’ve covered those two things, let’s look at the different genres of the Bible. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ll cover:

Narrative History & Biography

Another name for narrative is story. Clearly, the majority of the Old Testament is a story. It’s actually one big story, with hundreds of little stories throughout. These stories follow a structure, very much like Donald Miller teaches in Storybrand, “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.”

These stories either end in comedy (good) or tragedy (bad). Oftentimes, there is a villain, a guide, a victim, and a hero / heroine.

The setting for these stories is Israel and/or the Ancient Near East. Here is a list of the books that would fall under narrative history. I’ve grouped them for ease of remembering:

  • Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Joshua, Judges, Ruth
  • 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles
  • Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

Some of these stories are epic, memorable, the stuff movies are made of. In fact, some movies have been based from them. (Remember “Noah” with Russell Crowe?)

Other stories can bore you to tears, unless you understand the inter-workings of what’s going on behind the scenes. Context is king. And the more you understand the context, the more compelling you’ll find it to be. (Leviticus is a prime example of this.)

Now, most scholars stop here and put the New Testament history in its own category. They usually split it as Gospels & Acts. But here’s the deal:

These New Testament histories are just like the Old Testament histories.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts are all historical narratives / biographies.

Just like the Old Testament starts with 4 books that are essentially about Moses and the Exodus, the New Testament starts with 4 books that are essentially about Jesus and the New Exodus. In the Old Testament, Genesis is the setup book to get to Moses. In the New Testament, Acts is the follow-up encore after Jesus.

Poetry / Song / Wisdom

Sometimes, scholars also separate these, but honestly, I don’t understand why. Yes, wisdom literature does feel like its own thing. But when you read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, you realize they have a rhythm, a cadence, a structure, much like a poem or song.

Psalms and Song of Songs are obviously songs. Duh. But they are poetic in nature too. And there is great wisdom in each of the 150 Psalms, as well as the Song of Songs.

Therefore, these five books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Psalms, Song of Songs) should all be in the same genre. And I’ll throw one more in this bunch. Usually, it gets thrown into prophecy, but I believe it lives here: Lamentations.

We’d be wise to spend more time in these books and learn from ancient wisdom.


What’s prophecy? It’s an odd blend, unlike any other type of literature. There are elements of historical narrative and biography in the prophets. There are elements of poetry / song / wisdom in the prophets.

But at the end of the day, the prophets are making a ton of declarations and proclamations. They uniquely claim they are acting as a mouthpiece for God. They call down judgments. They speak blessings and benedictions. They call for justice in one breath and beg for mercy in another.

The prophets are a fiery bunch (no pun intended). Their names are as follows:

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel
  • The 12 Minor Prophets
    • Hosea
    • Joel
    • Amos
    • Obadiah
    • Jonah
    • Micah
    • Nahum
    • Habakkuk
    • Zephaniah
    • Haggai
    • Zechariah
    • Malachi
  • Revelation

Now if you’re an observant reader, you’ll notice I threw in a couple extra there, which normally aren’t included. Daniel and Revelation are usually put in their own category called apocalyptic. But I disagree that it’s a separate category.

Let’s remember that the writers of those books were in a particular time, in a particular political situation, writing to a particular group of people. They had visions and messages from God, so in that sense, they were both prophets.

Daniel was living in Babylon, in exile, and he was serving in a position of leadership. He had to be careful how he wrote about his visions and messages from God. John was living on the island of Patmos, in exile, and he had long been a leader in the church, but was a prisoner under Roman rule. He too had to be careful about what he wrote.

The more we dive in and understand their cultural context, the more I think we’ll find that they were prophets of their times, not necessarily predictors of events 2000+ years later.

The prophets can teach us a lot, if we have ears to hear.

Epistles / Letters

Epistle is such an odd word. It’s essentially a written communication, a correspondence, aka a letter. I’ll call it a letter moving forward.

I’ve always loved receiving letters. I’ve also enjoyed writing them. And in the Bible, I enjoy reading them.

Some letters are from one individual to another. Some letters are from one individual to a large group. Some letters are from an unknown source and addressed to an entire people group.

Paul, Peter, James, and John all wrote some. Paul holds the record for the most letters written, and the most books of the Bible written.

Here are all the letters in the Bible:

Letters to Specific ChurchesLetters to IndividualsLetters to Entire People Groups
1 & 2 Corinthians1 & 2 TimothyRomans
Philippians3 John1 & 2 Peter
Colossians1 & 2 John
1 & 2 ThessaloniansJude

What Difference Does It Make

All these facts are interesting, Omer, but what difference does it make?

Well, dear reader, let me counter with this question, “Would you read a letter differently than a history book? Would you read a poem differently than a biography?”

Of course you would. And that’s why understanding Bible genres is so important. If you read a prophecy like an instructive letter, you’re going to miss the point.

The prophets are probably the toughest books of the Bible to understand. But when you put them in a historical context, and you see the themes of their proclamations, they start to make more sense.

They are calling different folks and people groups to the carpet with their judgments and poems of destruction. Then, they are calling other folks and people groups to the clouds with their visions of restoration and glory.

They’re advocates for social change. They’re protestors. They’re reformers. They’re the Martin Luther King Jrs., the Harriet Tubmans, the William Wilberforces, the Luthers, the Calvins, the Zwinglis of their day.

One last thing, the book of Ecclesiastes…

This is not a book of sorrow and misery. It is not the same tone as Lamentations. It is a book of wisdom, from a man who experienced it all. The term he uses for himself has been translated “gatherer,” or “teacher.”

He’s gathered all this experience, and in his later years, he’s looking back and teaching us who aren’t as far down the path. And his message is essentially this:

Life is a vapor. It’s gone in a flash. So enjoy it!

Additional Resources

If you enjoyed this post, visit this page for more in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible? : A Source of Theology

The Bible is one source for informing your theology. There are other sources that can inform your theology as well, including experience, logic, and tradition.

These four sources are the primary means for informing Christian theology. We’ll explore them here, but first, let’s dive into why this matters.

Why This Matters?

Simply put, this post will give you a framework through which you can categorize and make sense of your life and your theology. Let me put it this way…

Throughout your life, you’ll come across thousands of books, songs, sermons, podcasts, etc. all claiming to understand who God is and what He/It is like. You’ll have to determine what you take and what you leave.

You’ll come across opinions, events, behaviors, and situations that are described as Christian. You’ll have to determine what you accept and what you reject.

You’ll have your own experiences where it seems like you heard a small voice or had a feeling in your gut or had an inclination to take this action or say this thing; others will have theirs. You’ll have to make sense of it, call heads or tails on it.

You’ll read historical accounts and study saints of old and see what others have said about God over the centuries past, and you’ll have to determine what stands the test of time and what doesn’t.

How important is each of these things in informing your theology?

Do you give the same weight to the Bible as you do to a pastor’s sermon? Do you give the same weight to that life experience you had as you do to what early Church fathers wrote?

If you were trying to make buckets out of these things, you’d first have to sort what things go in which bucket. Then, you’d have to determine which bucket is most important, how much weight and authority you give to each one, and then from that magical math, come up with your view of God and your place in this world. So let’s dive into this a bit further and see what we come away with:

Source 1: Bible

The Bible is a great source for informing Christian theology. While there is some debate as to what should be included in the Bible and what should not, overall, there’s a pretty general consensus on at least 66 of the books. And the canon of Scripture has been mostly agreed upon for approximately 1700 years.

Therefore, it seems like the Scriptures, aka the Bible, would be a good foundation for determining your theology. Those 66 books seem to hold true and stand the test of time, regardless of world events over the course of history.

By standing the test of time, across nations, across languages, and across denominational lines, the Bible also seems to have this level of trust that experience, logic, and tradition don’t have.

What I mean by that is with 7 billion people, experiences can be all over the place. Just ask a Reformed Baptist how they connect with God, then ask a Pentecostal. Wildly different.

Logic can be a good factor in developing your theology until you’re asked the question, “Could God microwave a burrito so hot that even He couldn’t eat it?”

Tradition can be a good factor in developing your theology, but we’ve seen throughout history that certain traditions don’t stand the test of time (for example, Catholic indulgences before the Reformation, or slavery being justified by Christians pre-Civil War). We’re much better off without those traditions now.

While interpretations of the Bible vary substantially, everyone in Christendom sees the importance of the Bible in informing your theology. It’s the one standard most everyone can agree on. Now whether it’s infallible and inerrant and all the rest of it, I don’t want to dive into all of the debates here.

Suffice it to say, if Christians for centuries have been able to agree that the Bible exists as a good source of theology, I’m going to take it, because it seems we can’t agree on much.

I find all the stories, historical accounts, letters, and other forms of literature within it to be highly valuable and useful. It informs doctrine, demonstrates truth, exposes rebellion, corrects mistakes, and shows me (and all of us) how to live in a way that pleases God.

What’s this mean for me? If I’m making a pie chart of how much weight I give to the Bible, I probably put it around 60%.

Source 2: Experience

The experience between Christians varies greatly.

Our experiences can include our views on prayer, on communion, on mentoring and discipleship, and on life events. There’s more to it, but let’s just quickly touch on those few things.

Prayer: When I was in seminary, there was a guy who said he prayed to God about everything, even asking God what he should wear that day. Now I’m a big advocate for prayer and I believe you should pray about anything that’s on your heart. But to pray about what to wear — I don’t know?

I could be wrong, but I feel like God may want us to use our brains and make some simple decisions. (For what it’s worth, that guy had no style and couldn’t match if his life depended on it, so I wonder if God was just toying with him if He was indeed telling him what to wear!)

Some people pray before meals, some pray every morning and evening, some pray at various intervals throughout the day.

Some recite their prayers, some improvise and develop them on the spot, some pray in special languages.

All I know is prayer has been super valuable to me and helped me connect with God in numerous ways throughout the years.

Communion: Communion is one of those things that varies from denomination to denomination, person to person. It’s a great way to reconnect with God and reconnect with fellow believers. It can even remind you of saints of old. But if you go to 10 different churches, you’ll see 10 different ways you can experience this.

Mentoring and Discipleship: This is a way of life in some Christian circles and other Christian circles don’t seem to think about it at all. For a good book on the topic, check out The Invested Life by Rosenberg and Koshy.

In my experience, a good mentoring relationship can really help you grow in your faith and help you experience God in deeper ways.

Life Events: It’s obvious that life experience differs greatly for Christians because 7 billion people can see things in 20 billion different ways. That said, if you ever have a personal experience where you believe God was definitely involved, you hold that in your heart and mind for the rest of your life.

If you heard that still, small voice, or you followed that nudge in your spirit, it’s likely you’ll never forget it.

We live in these bodies and in this time / space continuum, and we have to put some stock in what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and otherwise sense.

What’s this mean for me? If I’m making a pie chart of how much weight I give to experience, I probably put it around 20%.

Source 3: Logic

Have you ever talked to that person who claims they just believe the facts? If it can’t be proven scientifically, they can’t believe it?

Those people drive me nuts.

And trust me, I value facts and logic. Just ask my wife.

When someone is making an argument, I often ask where’s the data to back it up. When someone is presenting their case, I can dissect and point out the flaws quickly (though I do keep my mouth shut most of the time for wisdom’s sake). When someone’s emotions are getting the best of them and rational thought is being thrown out, I’m often sought to bring calm to the situation by bringing another perspective (aka a more rational one).

I earned A’s in college logic. Let’s just leave it at that.

Now, all that said, there are thousands of things that happen in this world that I can’t wrap my head around. Logic simply can’t explain it.

Did God give us logic? Yes, absolutely.

Can logic explain everything that happens in this world, in this galaxy, and beyond? Not a chance.

Logic can take you a long way, but it can only take you so far. Then, faith has to enter the picture. Faith in something – be it God, yourself, or something else. Just listen to this podcast from Rob if you want to go further down this trail.

What’s this mean for me? If I’m making a pie chart of how much weight I give to logic, I probably put it around 10%.

Source 4: Tradition

Tradition is made up of all those things saints of old have believed for thousands of years. Some of it is good; some of it is bad; some of it is ugly.

The ugly stuff would be indulgences, slavery, the Crusades, witch hunts, and other atrocities done in the name of God throughout the centuries.

The bad stuff would be things like arguments over baptism, arguments over end times, which feast days matter, etc.

The good stuff would be things like that have been handed down through the centuries like: meeting in healthy small groups, reading liturgies and catechisms, and artists who have made paintings, sculptures, books, and music that resonate with the soul. These traditions are good and worth holding on to.

But personally, tradition doesn’t do much to inform my theology. It seems to come and go in waves. I’ve studied church history and honestly, there seem to be very few bright spots that made it in the history books. I’d much prefer reading the original sources and sift through it myself.

Although I don’t put a lot of stock in tradition, I do find it has its place. It can be a great way to have checks and balances when supposedly “new” waves and movements come along.

What’s this mean for me? If I’m making a pie chart of how much weight I give to tradition, I probably put it around 10%.

Source 5: The Unknown

You can have the Bible memorized, have journals stacked with personal experiences, be an ace in logic, and recite volumes of church history, and it still wouldn’t account for everything there is to know about God and about the nature of life.

Why? Because we as humans are not all-knowing.

So I find you need a healthy dose of the fifth source, which I call the Unknown. Curiosity. Peculiarities. Oddities. All those things that can’t be classified.

What’s this mean for me? If the pie is 100%, the Unknown is 1000%. It’s the infinite permeating all the gaps. It’s everything I don’t yet know or may never know. The Unknown. I know less than 1% of everything there is to know and I’ve read a book a week for over 10 years. So that humbling fact of knowing less than 1% needs to inform my theology just like the things I do know.

The History: Wesley’s Quadrilateral

According to the history books, this concept was developed by John Wesley and was named Wesley’s Quadrilateral. Others have since named it the Wesleyan or Methodist Quadrilateral: Scripture, Experience, Logic, and Tradition.

I can’t help but wonder if someone had this idea much sooner than John Wesley and even taught it. But he must have formalized it or drawn a picture of it to gain credit for it.

Personally, I’m not Methodist, but when I first came across Wesley’s Quadrilateral in my freshman year of college. I found it to be a very useful concept. In those formative years of my life, it helped me think about how my theology was / is / will be shaped.

Hopefully, you’ve found it to be helpful as well.

Additional Resources

Visit this page for more posts in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible? : What Books Are In The Bible?

For starters, the Bible is not one book. The Bible is 66 books if you’re a Protestant Christian. The Bible is 73 books if you’re a Catholic. The Bible is only 24 books if you’re Jewish. (And it’s called the Tanakh, not the Bible.)

As you can see, we’re already off to a good start! There isn’t even consensus on what books get included in the Bible. Across different religions, it varies. So let’s dive into that during this first post. We’ll cover:

What books are in the Bible for Jews (aka the Hebrew Bible / Tanakh)?

Most Americans believe the Hebrew Bible / Tanakh is the exact same as the Old Testament. That’s not entirely accurate though. The Jews divide and organize their Bible differently than Protestant Christians and Catholics. Here is how the Hebrew Bible / Tanakh is organized:

Torah (the Teaching, the Law, the 5 Books of Moses)

  • Genesis (1)
  • Exodus (2)
  • Leviticus (3)
  • Numbers (4)
  • Deuteronomy (5)

Nevi’im (the Prophets)

  • Former
    • Joshua (6)
    • Judges (7)
    • Samuel – as one book (8)
    • Kings – as one book (9)
  • Latter
    • Isaiah (10)
    • Jeremiah (11)
    • Ezekiel (12)
  • The 12 – as one book (13)
    • Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Ketuvim (the Writings)

  • Poetic
    • Psalms (14)
    • Proverbs (15)
    • Job (16)
  • 5 Scrolls
    • Song of Songs (17)
    • Ruth (18)
    • Lamentations (19)
    • Ecclesiastes (20)
    • Esther (21)
  • Other
    • Daniel (22)
    • Ezra-Nehemiah -as one book (23)
    • Chronicles (24)

It looks a lot different from the Protestant Christian Bible, doesn’t it? Instead of ending with Malachi, you end with Chronicles. Instead of having a lot of books split up, you have a lot of books combined. Instead of seeing Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings classified as history, you see them classified as prophets. Job is described as poetry. It’s refreshing to look at it this way.

Now, let’s look at the Protestant Christian Bible.

What books are in the Bible for Protestant Christians?

This is the most common understanding of the books of the Bible. There are 66 in total, with 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. For most people reading this, you won’t find surprises here.

Old Testament

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther
  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs
  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

New Testament

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John
  • Acts
  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation

For 90% of the people reading this, I’m guessing this list above is your understanding of what books are included in the Bible. But if you’re a Catholic reading this, you’ll know there’s more to the story…

What books are in the Bible for Catholics?

For Catholics, there are more than 66 books in the Bible. There are actually 73 books. Instead of listing all 66 again, we’ll just list out the 7 extra books. They are as follows:

  • The Historical Books
    • 1 Maccabees (1)
    • 2 Maccabees (2)
  • The Didactic Books
    • Sirach – or The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach (3)
    • The Wisdom of Solomon (4)
    • Baruch (5)
  • The Folk Literature
    • Tobit (6)
    • Judith (7)

In addition to the Didactic Books, there are some extra additions to the books of Daniel and Esther. Most people think the Catholics have the most books in their Bible, but actually, the Eastern Orthodox Christians have even more.

What books are in the Bible for Eastern Orthodox Christians?

In addition to the Protestant Christian Bible and Catholic Bible lists, there are 3-5 more books in the Bible for Eastern Orthodox Christians, depending on who you ask. These books are:

  • 1 Esdras (1)
  • 2 Esdras (2)
  • 3 Maccabees (3)
  • Prayer of Manasseh (4)
  • Psalm 151 (bonus)

Why does it matter what books are included in the Bible?

Simply put, it doesn’t. It only matters who you become in the process of reading the Bible.

At the end of the day, you can read and enjoy all of those books and still love God. You can read and enjoy all of those books and still believe Jesus is Lord. You can also read all of those books and be a bigot. You can be a Bible-know-it-all and be a complete jerk, whether you call yourself a Christian, a Catholic, or a Jew.

I sincerely believe that reading the Bible, however many books exist in it, should make you a better human, not a bigot. If you’re letting the Bible do its work in you, you should become kinder, more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more peaceful. Reading the Bible should make you more self-controlled, more faith-filled, and more gentle. If you’re not more generous and more joyful after reading it, there’s a big problem.

So whether you believe there should be 24, 66, 73, or 77+ books in the Bible, I could care less. The number isn’t the point. The person you become from reading it is the point.

Other Questions About the Bible

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be answering more fun questions about the Bible:

  • Is the Trinity in the Bible?
  • Was the Flood real?
  • Who wrote the Bible?
  • What are the craziest stories in the Bible?
  • What does it mean to be born again?

Visit this page for more posts in this series on “What is the Bible?”.

Visit this page for commentary on different books in the Bible.

What is the Bible?

I love this question. It’s so open-ended. There’s so much room to explore. There are so many thoughts, so many opinions, so many ideas.

What is the Bible? You can go 182 directions with this question and you still won’t scratch the surface.

I’ll tackle this in a myriad of ways, from a myriad of angles. I might not have 182 posts right off the bat, but we’ll start with a half dozen.

We’ll see how it develops. It may grow and morph. It may even evolve… because we all know evolution is part of the Bible! *wink*

Here’s Post 1 on What is the Bible? What Books Are In The Bible?

Here’s Post 2 on What is the Bible? A Source of Theology

Here’s Post 3 on What is the Bible? The Genres of the Bible

Here’s Post 4 on What is the Bible? What the Bible is NOT

Here’s Post 5 on What is the Bible? The Ultimate Story

Here’s Post 6 on What is the Bible? A Review of Rob Bell’s Book