11 Books of the Bible worth reading (even if you’re non-Christian)
The Bible is, undoubtedly, one of the most important books in the history of the world, especially the western world. It has inspired billions and has influenced billions on top of that. Even hardcore atheists have a tendency to acknowledge the relevance of the Bible in literature, art, philosophy, and political thought among the western world. And going through the entire Bible is a feat in itself, especially if you're not particularly motivated from a religious perspective.
With that in mind, I've come up with 11 books of the Bible I believe are worth reading, even if you're coming in with a non-religious worldview.
Honestly, all four of the Gospels could (and should) be on this list, but I picked Luke for two reasons: 1) Although the Gospel of John is beautifully written, it was the last of the four to be written and focuses on other parts of Jesus's life. And 2) Of the three "synoptic Gospels", Luke is the most detailed. It's full of parables and histories. It's clear that Luke wrote this Gospel as a historian, as well as an evangelist.
Further, the Gospels are, by far, the most influential writing in western literature. Having a strong understanding of them opens you up to a lot of references themes that may otherwise be lost, especially in classic writing. Again, you can pick any of the Gospels, but Luke is a good choice for a starting point.
The Acts of the Apostles is the direct follow-up to the Gospel of Luke. So direct, in fact, that it is written by Luke himself. It has the introduction of Paul, one of the most influential writers in the New Testament. And Acts follows the Apostles through the first two or three decades of the church. It's a super important book in Christianity. And while it may be of lesser value than the Gospels when it comes to a literary point of view, it's still important in that sense.
If you ask anyone who read the New Testament to name their favorite of Paul's letters, there's a strong chance they say Romans. In a lot of ways, you could consider it his most influential letter. In many ways, you could say it's one of the most important pieces of Christian philosophy, but it also stands out as a container of a lot of church teachings that are incredibly important to the church almost 2,000 years later.
No matter what you may think of Judeo-Christian beliefs, the importance of the Psalms in the arts is hard to deny. Psalm 23's "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" is one of the most well-known verses from the Bible. Find a good translation (I like the RSV-CE because it keeps the "thee" and "thou" wording, when speaking to God), and it's wonderful to dig in and see why the Psalms have stood the test of time.
Whether or not you take the early chapters of Genesis literally (I don't, personally), the first book of the Bible is super important in both the Christian and Jewish religions (I believe in Islam as well, but I'm less familiar with that). The creation, the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, Cain killing Abel, Noah and the ark, and the journeys of Abraham and the patriarchs are all packed into Genesis, and having an understanding of them opens up a wider understanding of their importance in western thought and art.
Similar to Genesis, there is so much that happens in Exodus that writers and artists over centuries have just assumed in common knowledge. Things like Moses being sent down river, the plagues of Egypt, the Israelites fleeing Egypt, Moses receiving the commandments, the creation of the Ark of the Covenant (you know, the thing from Indiana Jones).
I honestly still struggle with Job. Again, it's another book that's got a lot of literary value, but it's also one that carries teaching about the importance of remaining faithful, even when things are incredibly difficult. The story of Job is not a happy one. It's a depressing read at times. And I often need to reference study guides or church fathers when going through it. But it's beautiful in it's own way.
Protestants will disagree as to whether or not this counts, but my Catholic and Orthodox brethren will likely agree--Sirach is an amazing read. It's something I recommend to my protestant friends and family, as well. Sirach is jam-packed with what is effectively non-stop life advice and Judeo-Christian philosophy. I genuinely believe that anyone--regardless of belief--who goes into Sirach with an open mind will find some that connects with them.
I just opened the Bible to a random page of Sirach and the first verses I found are chapter 22, verses 1-2:
A lazy man may be compared to a filthy stone,
And everyone hisses at his dishonor.
A lazy man may be compared to the filth of manure;
Everyone who picks it up will shake it off his hand.
9. 1 & 2 Samuel
The books of Samuel are important in the story of the Old Testament because some very major things happen there--things that have ramifications for the rest of the Bible. The Israelites demand a king, Saul becomes king, Saul hunts David, David kills Goliath, David becomes king, David sleeps with Bathsheba, and more stories about the Ark of the Covenant. In particular, the story of David and Goliath is referenced all the time in sports media.
There is a lot I could throw in this last spot, like Proverbs, Song of Solomon, or 1 Maccabees, but Judges feels like a great one to end on. In some ways, it almost feels like the action movie of the Old Testament. But most notably, I would point to chapters 13 through 16, which tells the story of Samson and Delilah. The story of Samson is one of the great literary tales: The fearless warrior whose sole weakness is his hair--if he loses it, he loses his strength. That's not entirely true, he actual weakness is women. But the tale of Samson in particular is one that I believe most people could find entertainment in, even if they don't considered it to be God-inspired.