Is the Bible a Book?

BibleBy Rev Melinda Cousins, Biblical Studies Lecturer, Tabor Adelaide

That might seem like a question with a very obvious answer. I’m holding a copy of the Bible in my hands right now. It sure looks like a book. It has pages and everything. But I wonder what unspoken assumptions viewing the Bible as a book might have on how we engage with it. In my experience of reading books, they generally work something like this:

  1. You read a book on your own, silently to yourself.
  2. You read a book from start to finish.
  3. When you finish a book, you put it back on the bookshelf, because you are finished with it.

Is that how people think the Bible works? Perhaps too often it is! But the Bible wasn’t written to be read individually and silently, nor does it necessarily have to be read from start to finish, and it definitely wasn’t written to be read through once and then forgotten.

The Bible was written to be read in community, or perhaps better to be heard in community. For most of its history it was read aloud and listened to by most people. How then has our expectation that people will read the Bible silently and individually changed the way we engage with the it? Could this be one of the reasons for the statistics that suggest many Christians struggle to read the Bible regularly?

The Bible is a collection of many different types of literature, each of which is designed to be read in its own way. The danger with reading the Bible like a book is that if we assume we can read Exodus the same way we read the Psalms, or Matthew the same way we read Revelation, we are not only missing out on so much but we risk misunderstanding what it means.

The Bible is the living Word of God, and as such we can never be finished with it. Or perhaps more to the point, it will never be finished with us.

So my question is, what is the cost (alongside the incredible privilege) that comes with holding our own bound copies of the Word in our hands? Has the book form so influenced our unspoken assumptions about how the Bible works, that it has caused us to miss other dimensions of what it is?

Of course, these days many of us no longer have the Bible in book form, but rather as an app on our smartphones or tablets. The upside of this is probably accessibility and integration into our daily lives. The downside might be that we start to think about the Bible as a series of tweets, individual disconnected thoughts with no larger context and storyline.

Either way, the reality facing us is that most people in our churches find it difficult to read and engage with the Bible. Perhaps we need to start asking some fundamental questions about what the Bible actually is and how it works in order to encourage people to hear it well.


Rev Melinda Cousins

Image Source Flickr- Le vent le cri


  1. Nigel Wehrmann · May 5, 2014

    Well said Melinda, I think the points you raise are so true and vital. Does the Word of God (Bible, Biblos) stop us from hearing the Word of God (Jesus, the Living Word.) The Revelation of God (Jesus) was before the written word, and the bible is only really God’s word as it points to Him. The way that the bible is read and used today quite often makes us the final word on what God has said. “Jesus is God’s final word and first word to which the bible points.” You make an interesting observation that the text was originally read in community for the shaping of community life and faith. Our individualistic culture focuses on what we can get out of it, not on what we can give to others. I think this approach has lead many people to dry up spiritually and today people are desiring for God to speak through community. People are created to be connected to God and one another. Jesus Is the living word who has connected us all into One community. May we hear him through the story of Israel and the gospels and the church. Cheers. Nigel.

  2. melindacousins · May 6, 2014

    Thanks for your thoughts Nigel. Yep I think community is key and a real challenge in our culture. I’m intrigued to see how we can tap into the desire for community that social media etc demonstrates, without falling prey to the false sense of community it can also promote. There are lots of ongoing challenges for all of us in seeking to help people engage with God’s Living Word!

  3. melindacousins · May 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on Thinking Out Loud … and commented:

    The Ministry, Theology and Culture faculty (of which I am a part) at Tabor Adelaide has recently started a blog called “Manna” seeking to provide ideas, resources, and challenges to thinking for those in ministry.
    This is an article I wrote earlier this week, as I continue to think about the assumptions and presuppositions many people have about the Bible and how they might help or hinder our engagement with it. I’d love to hear what you think, and you might also like to check out some of the other posts at Manna on a whole range of issues.

  4. Arthur Davis · May 7, 2014

    The Bible Society of Australia’s latest essays deals with the problem of Bible reading, and one of its key findings is that engaging with the Bible must be a group/community thing. I think there’s much more to be said about what the Bible actually is, and how format impacts reading, as you allude to Melinda! I reckon Biblica is really leading the way on that front.

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