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The Bible in Popular Art, Song and Poetry

The Bible is the world’s most printed book, and the wisdom in its pages has been inspiring artists for millennia. In art, the church was often a patron, and great artists were often commissioned to bring biblical scenes to life. This was especially important when the great majority of the population was illiterate, and looked to the art and iconography to remind them of biblical truths.  Great musicians often found work in church communities, writing music for the services. Johann Sebastian Bach was perhaps the most famous example. Among his religious compositions are over 300 cantatas, the B minor mass, and two Passions.

Bible Themes in Popular Art
Even without official sponsorship, characters from the Bible have continued to feature in popular art and products – ranging from profound to silly – for sale. There is a seemingly endless array of products from which to choose, and too many to list. Search for “Jesus” products and you may find endearing folk paintings and carvings, velvet paintings, statues, pendants and other jewelry items, t-shirts, belt buckles,  bobble-head figures, after-last-supper-mints, and even a “Jesus toaster” that will imprint the Savior’s face on the bread as it heats.

Scripture in Haiku
Haiku is a popular form of poetry that hails from Japan. Originally structured in verses of five, seven, and five syllables, with a surprise ending, often touching on deep topics through the beauty of nature. We’ve never seen the Bible summarized in this popular form of poetry, so we tried our hand at it:

ECCLESIASTES
Ecclesiastes:
Been there, done that, so now what?
Just enjoy the ride.
BOOK OF JOB
Job on suffering?
Don’t blame the victim or God;
Some things we can’t grok.
MICAH’S ADMONITION
Micah, What’s required?
Do justly, walk in kindness,
Humbly with your God.
JESUS’ WAY TO LIFE
Jesus’ Great Command?
Love God with all your all, and
Neighbor as yourself.
JAMES’ DEFINITION
James, What’s religion?
Help the underdog, and stay
Unstained from the world.
GOSPEL OF JOHN
God’s Word walked with us.
Darkness comprehended not.
Take this gift of grace.

Scripture in Popular Songs 
Even during times of radical disaffection from organized institution, the Bible still provided content to artists. For example, nobody who was alive in the 1960s can forget the great peace anthem “Turn, Turn, Turn” by Pete Seeger, which is taken, nearly verbatim, from the book of Ecclesiastes 3.  Here are some of our favorite, classics from bygone days (ten years ago and prior):

  • Turn, Turn, Turn  (Ecclesiastes 3) – Pete Seeger, 1962, popularized by The Byrds, 1965
  • The Word (The Word is Love – 1 John 4:16b) – The Beatles, Rubber Soul, 1965
  • 1 Corinthians 15:55 – Johnny Cash, American VI, Aint No Grave, 2010
  • Love is the Answer – England Dan & John Ford Coley, 1979
  • Jesus is Love – The Commodores, Heroes, 1980
  • Gospel According to Luke – Skip Ewing, Coast of Colorado, 1988
  • Jesus Walks – Kanye West,  The College Dropout, 2004

In addition to the above, there are many Christian artists whose recordings – whether pop, rock, punk, alternative, gospel, or another genre – are entirely religious.  And finally there are also many popular artists who occasionally make use of biblical references as a sort of shorthand in their songs. For example, they may refer to an apocalypse (The Clash, Four Horsemen) or to how great it would be to walk on water (Eddie Money, Walk on Water).  It’s interesting to run across them, but we generally won’t be listing them here.

Stay Tuned
We’re excited to continue our search for examples of The Bible in popular art, song and poetry, and will update this page regularly, as we find them.