Biblical Messages for Non-Christians
What messages from the Bible are most important for non-Christians?
One of my English teachers in school told the class on more than one occasion that it would be impossible to fully grasp a great deal of literature without a thorough understanding of the Bible. So much of literature, culture, and language, particularly in the Western world, has been informed by Biblical concepts and terminology. Whether it’s Shakespearean references to the Bible, “Good Samaritan” laws, or names of places and people, the Bible is full of source material for the world.
However, beyond the cultural importance of having at least some fluency in Biblical stories and terminology, there are Biblical themes that are very important for life, regardless of one’s belief system. As a Christian, I’d of course be the first to say that all people ought to read the Bible. I do believe that the Bible is divinely inspired (“God-breathed” is the term the Bible uses for itself), so to me the themes found in its pages take on an even more paramount significance. Yet I still believe that even if you disagree with that conclusion, anyone can still agree with much of what is written in the book.
For starters, there is the “wisdom” literature of the Bible. This commonly includes Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Psalms and Song of Songs are sometimes also included in that category though they are musical/lyrical. The “apocryphal” (not considered divinely inspired and thus not included in most versions of the Bible) books of Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach are also wisdom literature. These books, though thoroughly seasoned with divine imagery and themes, are also full of philosophy, advice, and ways of viewing and understanding the world.
However, even the overarching stories and themes of the rest of the Bible can serve as beautiful imagery for anyone, including non-Christians. The Bible has a theme of describing God’s relationship to His people like a man and his wife. The image goes both ways to inform our understanding of marriage and also to illuminate our relationship with God. Themes that work this way are valuable to non-Christians. God’s relentless pursuit of his people like a man of his bride, regardless of his bride’s detours with prostitution and unrequited love, is a beautiful picture of love.
Time would exhaust us to look at all the themes and sayings that are wise for all people. However, I have to footnote my own response to say that I do believe that belief and full understanding of the Bible comes from the Holy Spirit. One has to be a Christian to have God’s spirit illuminating the Bible fully to him. So while I do believe that everyone has something to gain from reading the Bible, I also believe that reading it will lead someone to a split in the road: either the Bible becomes a book full of nonsense and unintelligible stories, or it becomes a divinely-inspired account of God and man that guides one in faith.
Response from Aurelius
Great post. I like that you explained motifs and themes, while I took an alternate route of highlighting verses that capture biblical ideas I find universally applicable.
Sounds like you had a good English teacher. I often think I would have appreciated literature earlier if I had better English teachers. She’s right that so much of the Western world today is shaped by biblical principles. For better or worse, an understanding of the bible can help explain the world in which we live.
When I was a particularly devout Christian, one of my favorite songs to listen to and perform was Wedding Dress by Derek Webb. To me, these lyrics perfectly captured the struggling reality of the groom and bride metaphor that the bible, as you say, often uses in reference to God and his people. An understanding of this metaphor can also help non-Christian Westerners partially understand why the political right wants to preserve traditional man-woman marriage.
I think it’s worth pointing out that not all Christians reject the apocrypha. While the word literally translates to non-canonical, the books in that category are considered divine by Catholics today and weren’t removed from most versions of the bible until the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. The history of the bible is fascinating given its current prominence.
While no longer a Christian, there are many bible passages I respect and try to follow. Here are a few of them under the English Standard Version.
James 1:19 “…Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” This is of course not just a biblical principle. Breathe and count to 10. Think before you speak. Don’t act out of anger. These are all part of the same message to listen to others, think, then act. Anger is good when used sparingly, but it must be used wisely.
Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This passage is really hard, but I believe in the philosophy that we should value others and avoid conceit. Where it is hard is in valuing others above me. This goes beyond just loving your neighbor as yourself, doing unto them as you would do unto yourself. I primarily look after myself and my family, which I don’t think is always bad. However, the philosophy of elevating the value of others above the value of oneself makes me rethink how I treat others, what I say, how I say it, what I do, and how I spend my time. It’s a great passage to dwell on during moments of self-reflection.
Proverbs 25:21 and Matthew 5:44 “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If you have an unforgiving personality, this message is extremely hard. It’s hard regardless, but it’s good practice to feel sympathy for those that might hate you and help them when possible. Hopefully all of our mothers taught us that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Proverbs 4:5 “Get wisdom, get understanding.” I’m a firm believer in being a lifelong learner. Never stop learning and being curious. This covers understanding because knowledge and understanding go hand in hand, but wisdom is on a separate plane. However, it can be obtained and sharpened through decision-making, reflection and analysis on oneself and others, and listening to those with age and experience. I would much rather follow a wise man than an erudite.
There are a lot more, but I hope you enjoyed these. To those that haven’t read the bible, firstly I hope you’re not Christian. If you’re a Christian and haven’t read the bible, those books are your holy scriptures in which you should be basking regularly. Christianity is an all-or-nothing religion if you actually believe what Jesus said. If you’re not a Christian, there is a lot of great stuff in the bible. There’s a lot of crazy stuff as well, but it’s worth reading for the gems.
Response from Antipas
I love your conclusion – Christianity is an all-or-nothing religion. Such a true statement, and sometimes I think that it takes non-Christians to recognize that. Sometimes we Christians get way too complacent. Reading the whole Bible is quite the time commitment, but then again so is everything worth doing.
I like your quick picks of valuable Bible verses. You’ve got relationships with others and wisdom in there, two topics on which the Bible has a lot to say. The wisdom of the Bible is valuable for all people, as I wrote, but for the Christian there is a second level. Not just are there some great verses for life, but there are underlying truths behind them. Why do we value others, love our enemies, and practice being slow to anger? Because we are all created in the image of God. Thus, we are all equal, and further, we ought to be like God. These are God’s attributes, so we ought to emulate them.
It’s great that these Bible passages are approachable for anyone, and valuable for anyone. However, I believe that they point us to something deeper – a reason for these sorts of ideals. They’re not simple nuggets of wisdom and advice. They are reflections of God’s personality and love, and hold together as part of an overarching worldview with God at the center.