Is the Bible an Inexhaustible Text?

inexhaustible bible da carson

According to Evangelicals, the Protestant Bible is an inexhaustible text. No matter how many times you read it from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, you will never exhaust the truth and knowledge found within its pages. Colleges, universities, and seminaries — both secular and religious — devote themselves to the Bible’s inexhaustibility. The Bible, in the eyes of believers, is unlike any other book. It stands above all the other books ever written, including the divine texts of other religious traditions. You see, Evangelicals believe GOD wrote the Bible. Regardless of what their position is on Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, Evangelicals believe that the Bible consists of the very words of God. When Evangelicals read the Bible they believe they are reading God’s words to them; a timeless supernatural message to fallible humans from a supernatural God.

The irony of this position is the fact while Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inexhaustible text, most of them do not read it; most of them have never read the Bible all the way through one time; most Evangelicals are content to read devotional bits and pieces of the Bible. Evangelicals show up on Sundays, Bible in hand, to hear the Word of God read, taught, and preached to them. Once the service is over, their Bibles will be tossed in the back windows of their cars, stuffed under the front seats, or conveniently deposited on a catch-all at home, not to picked up again until the following Lord’s Day. Most Evangelicals will testify to being born-again Bible-believers, yet when quizzed on what the Bible actually teaches, they are clueless. And if it is this way in Evangelical churches, imagine how it is in mainline/progressive churches. The Bible remains the number one bestselling book. Rarely read, but everyone has one. I laugh when I hear of Evangelicals handing out Bibles to Americans. Who in America doesn’t have a Bible? Oh, they might have to dig deep into the recesses of their closets to find it, but virtually every American has a copy of Bible. The issue, then, is not availability. Everyone has a Bible, but few people take the time to actually read it.

Why do Evangelical pastors cajole congregants to read their Bibles, without success? Many pastors have thrown in the towel and have resorted to supplying congregants with devotionals containing a couple of Bible verses and a sermonette for each day of the month. There are roughly 31,000 verses in the Bible. Using the devotional method, it would take forty years to read through the Bible one time, and that’s providing the devotionals covered every book in the Bible — which they don’t. Evangelicals, when they bother to read the Bible at all, typically read Genesis, Proverbs, and Psalms in the Old Testament and the Gospels in the New Testament. Few Evangelicals are willing to devote time to reading through Numbers, Leviticus, or Chronicles (and I don’t blame them — ugh).

Consider the Evangelical belief that the Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian; that he is their teacher and guide. Here Evangelicals have God living inside of them, daily guiding and directing their paths, yet they neglect faithfully and diligently reading and studying the Bible. Not much of a teacher, this Holy Spirit, if he can’t get his charges to do their homework. If the Bible is God’s roadmap for life and a manual by which Evangelicals are to govern their lives, why do so few of them bother to read it?

Perhaps the problem is that many Evangelicals don’t privately buy the party line about the Bible. Perhaps, they have concluded that Bible is NOT a supernatural book; that it is not an inexhaustible text. Perhaps, Evangelicals have learned — though they dare not speak it out loud — that the Bible is of human origin and that there’s better literature out there waiting to be read. Theonomist Rousas Rushdoony said in one of his books that most books aren’t worthy of being read once let alone twice. Too bad Rushdoony didn’t apply this to the Bible too. As an Evangelical, Rushdoony believed the Bible was different from all other books; that the books of men were rarely worth being read once, let alone twice, but the inexhaustible Bible, well, it was worthy of being read day after day.

As a pastor, I encouraged congregants to immerse themselves in God’s inspired, inerrant Word. At times, I berated them for being lazy; for not devoting time to reading and studying the Bible. Polly remembers me oh-so-fondly getting after her for not being a diligent reader of the Word of God. Later in life, I came to see that the reason Polly didn’t have time to read the Bible (or pray) is that her domestic chores and church obligations took up virtually every waking hour. I, on the other hand, was paid to read the Bible. I had hours upon hours to read and study its words, reading the Bible from table of contents to concordance numerous times. Later in my ministerial career, I quit guilting people into doing things such as praying, attending church, or reading their Bibles. I finally recognized that the people who called me preacher had lives outside of church. I was wrong to judge their lives by my own.

One dear lady faithfully played the piano for many years. She attended church every time the doors were open. She went out on street ministry and helped with our Christian school. She was a devoted follower of Jesus. She did, however, have a problem with making herself read and study the Bible. Try as she might, she simply wasn’t that interested in reading the Bible. You see, she didn’t find the Bible to be an inexhaustible text. Now, she was a voracious reader, but not of the Bible. Instead, she loved reading true crime stories. When she knew I was stopping by for a visit, she would put away her library books so I couldn’t see them. One day, I stopped by unannounced and found a large stack of crime stories from the local library. The look on her face betrayed her guilt. No time for God’s Word, I thought, but time to read this trash. Years later, I came to understand that this woman found true crime stories more exciting and compelling than the stories in the Bible; that there were better books to be read than the Bible; that once religious demands are stripped away, the Bible stops being compelling literature.

I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t read the Bible — perhaps they should. The Bible played a big part in the shaping of Western Civilization. Perhaps preachers should stop saying the Bible is an inexhaustible book, and instead encourage congregants to read through it once before they die. That way, Evangelicals can check off “Read the Bible” from their bucket lists. Done, now on to books by Gandhi, J.K. Rowling, or Erica Jong. Too many books worth reading to waste your time reading just one book.

Were you a devoted reader of the Bible? Or did you struggle with reading the Word of God? Did you feel guilty over your lack of devotion to the Good Book? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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11 Comments

  1. ObstacleChick

    I struggled with reading the Bible- it was so BORING. The “begat ” parts were unbearable. Reading about the God-condoned slaughters was disturbing.

    I listened to a podcast a couple of years ago with Progressive Christian pastor Rob Bell who said that people read the Bible all wrong. It makes more sense when you are mindful that the authors of the books came from different educational levels, eras, and parts of the world than we do, so look at the works in light of what they considered important. I might try it again, but NOT the KJV – why make it harder with archaic language?

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  2. John Arthur

    One of the best ways to become an atheist is to actually read what the bible says. So much of the OT was written by ignorant, barbaric savages who created god in their own image. The book is full of barbarism and violence that we would expect it to be, if savages wrote it. Its barbaric god needs to be rejected. Even in the NT with its book of Revelation, we see the barbarism restored with its rivers of blood etc. showing how violent their god is. Fortunately, most Fundamentalists don’t read their holy book closely enough, but unfortunately many of them are militant dogmatists for the bible.

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  3. Dave

    Currently, I’m reading through the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Job is one of my favorite Bible book.

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  4. Florent

    I had a kid’s version of the bible, of course, when I was young, my parents being christians. I rapidly wanted to understand why I had only a hundred pages with illustrations, and not that thousand-looking thing with thin paper.

    I read it first when I was 10 I think, and it baffled me as to what that thing was ? I understood that I had just a few select stories, but couldn’t decide why exactly. I read it again at 12, and I understood that book was trash. Litteraly. Became an atheist at that time, but my parents didn’t push me back.

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  5. Matilda

    For decades I read the bible daily and pushed aside the guilty feeling I had that I found the OT sooo boring. I even told white lies, I said I read a little of both the OT and the NT daily, but in fact I just skimmed the odd praise psalm usually, never the one about bashing babies on rocks though. In kids evangelism, I put on lots of nativity plays and hated the bit no one ever mentioned – the slaughter of the innocents. The final straw was when I was booked to take an assembly at our local CofE school for 5-7yos. I found myself unable to tell the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, it was so brutal. I consulted my vicar, but she had 3 boisterous boys and said they watched far worse on TV daily. She didn’t take my point that I was supposed to be teaching about a god of love. I stopped bible reading at that point, and my bibles have all been shredded for my compost bin! Am expecting some very holy strawberries and veg next year.

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  6. Justine Valinotti

    As I understand, this Rushdoony character wanted to run this country according to the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Someone, I don’t remember who, calculated that if such a thing were done, 75 percent of all people would have to be executed.

    Interestingly, Rushdoony’s son-in-law is Gary North, who makes Jerry Falwell seem like Bernie Sanders.

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  7. Troy

    We he posits that “the Bible is interesting, because God is interesting” I could counter with the fact that 1.) I don not find the Bible all that interesting, in fact it is very boring. 2) Many others do not find the Bible all that interesting and most people haven’t even read it. Conclusion if God is interesting (and such a being would be) I assert that the Bible isn’t God’s story. Instead, it is a mishmash of Jewish legends and lore, rehashed middle eastern mythology, The morality and veracity is questionable.

    If the Bible was the miraculous tome that ignorant fans claim it is, it would not just be a best seller, people would actually read it.

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  8. Karen the rock whisperer

    In eighth grade (Catholic school), I kept a modern translation of the New Testament in my desk, and especially liked reading the Gospel of John, because it is such a rich story. I couldn’t get my mind around the Catholic version of the KJV, but a translation in modern English was great. Then I went on to ninth grade in a new school, and that was the end of my first into the Bible.

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  9. Brian

    Old Testament readings always bored me to death as a child, like listening to a completely foreign language after desperately requesting directions to the toilet. I found a similar distaste for Shakespeare too for somewhat similar reasons. Both these texts were forced on me, one in church and the other in school. I was not ready to hear either of them but after rejecting both in my early days, I discovered quite a rich treasure of reading later on, esp. in my lack of belief, having set aside Evangelical Christianity. Nowadays, in my Atheistic ways, I find reading some Bible well worth the trouble. It assists me in my walk away from God. Shakespeare is pure riches dumped over your head but you have to walk into it willingly and take your sweet time. When forced to read it in early high school it was just torture and my English teacher, Mr. Kelly, felt that reading Shakespeare was just that, only that, and so he assigned each of us characters and had us recite our way along to near and serious self-harm. That sent me fleeing Shakespeare till after high school when I discovered an interesting looking binding in a second-hand bookstore in Toronto and sat down with it. The hook was set that day, I think. The Bible is important cultural foundation and I recommend it for all non-believers but for believers, I would first offer some Shakespeare or free verse that is more local and contemporary. I am afraid that the Bible taken directly and entirely without a chaser is, for the evangelical believer, like pouring a pack of Kool-aid directly out of the package and into your mouth. First, take a gallon of suspended belief or even non-belief before cracking open the black book….

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    1. Becky Wiren

      I love the way you worded that Brian! And FYI (although you probably already know), the King James Bible is written in Shakespearean English. So fundies who do NOT read Shakespeare and probably would find it taxing claim they only love the KJB and it’s the true inspired (English) bible. It’s a mystery to me. 😉

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  10. Dr. R

    Back when I was a theist, I always loved the so-called Old Testament, especially the violent bits. I guess I’m just bloody-minded. They never bothered me at all – God ordered it, so it was right. End of story.

    I never could stand the New Testament, though – it always read like the ramblings of a bunch of power-hungry assholes (and I knew too many of them in person).

    Nowadays I’d rather read the Iliad or Táin Bó Cúailnge or something like that.

    Reply

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