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Is the Bible Better than a Novel?

August 8, 2020

Another Way for week of August 7, 2020

Is the Bible Better than a Novel?

I’ve read several books by Walt Wangerin Jr. He is a notable and excellent writer in many genres from children’s literature, to marriage helps, to Bible and theology. Back in early 2001, for a documentary my office did called “Journey Toward Forgiveness,” I helped line him up to share a true story of how one dear woman coped with her anger regarding her husband’s cancer.

So I was anxious to dig into this book titled The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel, published in 1996 that I found at a Gift and Thrift shop.

I would recommend it highly to anyone wanting a great overview of the whole Bible: as much drama, great characters, gore of war, romance, torture and ultimately humor and glorious triumph as any novel on a bestseller list. No matter what you believe or don’t believe about God, the Bible and its characters and stories are still a book all should be familiar with, to be well read and informed.

Wangerin took the basic stories of Bible times, dug deep into background and details to help us understand the setting, traditions, and geography, and makes it all come brilliantly alive and personal. I’ve read the Bible through several times but not for a number of years (I know, shame on me). But this reading rejuvenated and restored my faith in God and Jesus—especially during these difficult days of 2020. The book was a page turner in its own right. Currently, Wangerin teaches literature and creative writing at Valparaiso University, Indiana.

Several snippets are worth the price of the book and tackling the very long 850 pages.

–Wangerin’s wonderfully fictionalized version of the birth of baby Jesus: very real, touching, a marvelous snapshot of what it might have been like for Mary and Joseph. I also loved Wangerin’s rendering of their courtship, about which the Bible doesn’t say much.

–In a similar vein, Wangerin gives a very human and down-home description of how the childless and elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth might have conceived the baby whom the angel Gabriel predicted (John the Baptist). I won’t spoil Wangerin’s version by sharing it here (p. 574).

–Some of the lines are poetically powerful as he describes the southern kingdom of Judah (think King David, Solomon, and more). Wangerin writes (personifying the country as a male), “[Judah] had always been poorer than the northern kingdom, his living more austere; but that which impoverished him also preserved him” (italics mine). That can speak to all of us no matter where or how we live (p. 439).

–On the stomach-wrenching side is the story of King Zedekiah who reigned over Judah and was forced to watch his sons’ executions (p. 485). Cruel and horrible yes: I could barely read it.

In this novel as in the regular Bible, the New Testament is where God’s overall plan to send a Messiah to the world soars to inspiring fruition. Jesus and his disciples almost literally step out of the book and become real men and women. Wangerin gives good play to the significant female disciples who were not counted in the “twelve” but nevertheless played key roles in the stories that are described. The conversations between forlorn disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus has died are again worth the price of the book (if you can’t find it in a library).

Wangerin is careful to point out that “This is not the Bible. It is a novel featuring many of the Bible’s most dramatic characters.” I will add that it does not attempt to be a complete paraphrase like Eugene H. Peterson’s The Messenger, another very readable text. Again, The Book of God is quite gruesome in some descriptions, so it may not be appreciated by some.

But the overall spirit of the book was just what I needed during this difficult time of doubt, anxiety, and current worries. It left me surer than ever that the God and Jesus story—I should say bonafide history—is something to stake your life on.


Have you read any books by Walt Wangerin Jr.? Which is a favorite?

What is your favorite book of the Bible overall? Why?

Comment here or send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Of course the Bible is better than a novel! For starters, there’s David, guilty of adultery, premeditated murder, and a coverup. (Yet, he was referred to as a “friend of God.”) Then there’s also, Moses, Rahab, Paul, Peter . . .

    No, I haven’t read any books by Walt Wangerin. The 850-page tome sounds formidable, unless you think of it also as a reference book.

    My favorite book of the Bible is the Psalms, which serve both for meditation and prayer. Yes, reading the Bible is a sure defense against the world’s vicious attempts to captivate my mind. And, like you, I stake my life and future on it!

  2. Yes, David’s history is the stuff of novels, and I’m always amazed how God loved and used him just the same. Wangerin adds a lot of detail and like I said history, that I appreciated and especially because it renewed my interest in the Bible. The Psalms are a marvel, really, in terms of the songs they show us from that time. It makes the people in the Bible so much more real to think about them singing and dancing and enjoying music–way back then. Just amazing. Thanks for checking in and adding your thoughts!!

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