Top 10 Books of the Bible
As Scot McKnight continues cranking out top-10 lists, I thought it would be nice to return to the most primary of sources: the bible itself. If we could save only ten of its sixty-six books from extinction, what would they be?
Here’s my list, in descending order of preference.
(1) Ecclesiastes. My very favorite book for its refreshingly honest outlook. Suggests little meaningful difference between good and evil.
Favorite part(s): "I saw everything done under the sun; all is vanity and chasing after wind... I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil done under the sun... The same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil. As are the good, so are the sinners. There is an evil in everything under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone." (1:14; 4:2-3; 9:2-3a)
(2) Romans. A sincere attempt to deal with ethnic conflict and theological dilemmas, more positively than on a previous occasion (Galatians). The most carefully structured and considered of all the NT epistles.
Favorite part(s): Chapters 1-11 and 14-15, or in other words, virtually the entire letter. The argument of 1:18-11:36, broken down in terms of judgment (1:18-3:20), justification (3:21-4:25), death/life (5:1-8:39), and the promises made to Israel (9:1-11:36). Then linked with the directives of 14:1-15:13, telling two hostile ethnic groups to get along and respect each other’s practices.
(3) Mark. The best gospel, with blunt edges and rollercoaster pace that hurtles toward defeat, translated into victory.
Favorite part: Chapters 11-13. Jesus in Jerusalem. He's hailed a messianic liberator, curses a fig tree for no fault of its own, threatens the temple, arrogantly refuses to explain by what authority he does the things he does, obliquely opposes Caesar’s taxes, and caps it all off with the great apocalypse, "The Abomination of Desolation".
(4) Job. The poignancy of this drama cuts to the bone today as much as ever. Because there really is no satisfying answer to the question of suffering, the divine retort is ironically appropriate.
Favorite part: Chapters 38-41. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its size? Who shut in the sea when it burst from the womb? Have you commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightning? Can you hunt prey for the lion? Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Is the wild ox willing to serve you, and will it spend the night at your crib? Will you dare put me in the wrong?"
(5) I Samuel. The best part of Israel’s history, to whatever degree historical. Great stories of the ark going into battle, Samuel the judge, and the start of Israel’s decline as she embraces a monarchy.
Favorite part: Chapters 8-12. Israel’s demand for a king, Samuel’s warning of the evils inherent in kingship, the election of Saul by lottery, and finally, Samuel’s ominous farewell-address to the people of Israel.
(6) Lamentations. Loss is essential to growth, which is why lamentations can be so moving. Take something away from people, and you show them what they had.
Favorite part: The beginning especially. "How lonely sits the city that was once full of people. Like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations, a princess among provinces. Weeping bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks. The roads to Zion mourn; Jerusalem remembers..."
(7) Luke. Mark is the best gospel for drama, though Luke is best for comprehensive narrative. Has a lot of tradition not found elsewhere.
Favorite part: Chapters 15-16. My three favorite parables are found in this section: "The Prodigal Son", "The Shrewd Manager", and "The Rich Man and Lazarus". A father contends with two equally lousy sons, attemptiing reconciliation. A landowner’s hands are tied by the shrewd survival tactics of his own manager. And a rich man burns in Hades, remaining blind to the plight of the oppressed.
(8) James. An encyclical of subversive wisdom.
Favorite part: On gossip and slander. "The tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed on our members as a world of iniquity. It stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, and full of deadly poison." (3:6-8)
(9) Song of Songs. Who says the bible is for prudes? Hebrew love poetry offers some mighty stirring images.
Favorite part: "Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks a mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower... Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth." (7:1-9)
(10) Micah. Unlike the big leagues, the lesser prophets knew that "less is more", making diatribe more effective. Micah is especially to the point as he brings down aristocrats and priests while offering a vision of something better.
Favorite part(s): "Those who devise wickedness on their beds! They covet fields, seize them, and take away houses... Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence... In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the highest of the mountains. People will stream to it, and everyone shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and sit under their own vines and fig trees." (2:1-2; 6:10-12; 4:1-4)