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What Is The Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

I read. A lot. 

On an average week, I read 3-5 books, listen to 15-20 podcasts, and read several dozen research articles.

And one of my secrets to this hyperproductive digestion of information is through the use of services, websites, journals, newsletters and, well, “digests” that disseminate information into readily accessible bite-size pieces that allow me to cut through the clutter and quickly get to the main summaries, takeaways and actionable items from all the content.

For example, I'm a huge fan of the book reviews produced by gentleman such as Derek Sivers and James Clear and Brian Johnson.

In addition, I stay up to date with health, medical and science news via the Stone Hearth Newsletters, exercise and nutrition research via the website Suppversity, cutting-edge new fitness and supplement research via the The Examine Research Digest and, for general life knowledge, the Farnham Street blog for staying up-to-date with the best recently published books and articles from around the web.

Furthermore, if you visit my house, my library is massive. There are books everywhere, stacked by my bedside, strewn across the living room coffee table, and, much to the chagrin of my wife, in ever-evolving, towering, overflowing shelves of books in the downstairs office and basement.

But one book rises above them all. I have more copies of this one book than any other book. That book is The Bible.

So when author Rob Bell, my guest on today's podcast, released his brand new book “What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything”, I not only stayed up until 2am to read the entire thing in a single evening, but I also realized it is the perfect book and Rob is the perfect person to help explain why I like and why I read the Bible so freakin' much.

Rob is actually the author of ten books, including the New York Times Bestsellers Love Wins, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, The Zimzum of Love, and What is the Bible?. His podcast, called the RobCast, was named by iTunes Best of 2015. He’s been profiled in the New Yorker, toured with Oprah, and in 2011 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He has a regular show at Largo, the legendary comedy and music club in Los Angeles, where he lives with wife Kristen and their three kids.

In this new book “What Is the Bible?”, Rob takes us deep into actual passages to reveal the humanity behind the Scriptures. He addresses the concerns of all those who see the Bible as God’s Word but are troubled by the ethical dilemmas, errors, and inconsistencies in Scripture. He recaptures the Bible's magic and reaffirms its power and inspiration to shape and inspire our lives today.

During our discussion, you'll discover:

-Why the Bible is a relevant historical book vs. simply, as many would argue, a collection of random, unverified stories mysteriously “inspired by God”…[11:10 & 17:30]

-Why Rob thinks most people read the Bible wrong…[12:50]

-The shocking decline of culture that occurs when the farming advice in the Bible is ignored…[19:07] 

-Why the Bible is a “library” and not a single book…[24:00]

-How a story of Herod, Joanna and Jesus turns out to be a fascinating way to explain the depth and intrigue and innuendo in the Bible…[25:40]

-How you can deal with all the “violence” in the Bible…[31:05]

-How Rob accounts for all the seeming inaccuracies or contradictions in the Bible…[40:25]

-Why Americans often miss the major themes in the Bible…[45:30]

-The single best question to ask when you are reading the Bible…[49:15]

-What to do if you want to read the Bible or learn about it, but your family and friends aren’t on board…[56:25]

-And much more!

Resources from this episode:

-What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

-Why You Get Cancer And What You Can Do About It.

-How To Cure Yourself Of Cancer: An Epic Interview With A Man Who Defied Conventional Medicine & Cured Himself Of Prostate Cancer.

The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God's Creation

Scientific American article on no-till farming

-Bruce Feiler's books about history of The Bible

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History

Show Sponsors:

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Rootz Nutrition – Protein and Energizing Superfoods made with clean and whole-food ingredients. Go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/ROOTZ and use code BEN10 for 10% off!

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Rob or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!


Also published on Medium.

28 thoughts on “What Is The Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.

  1. Thank you for posting this podcast. As someone raised Fundamentalist Christian who has struggled with many of the tenets and has done a lit of reading about the history of that era, then learning more about other religions and finally giving up on religion altogether, it was refreshing to hear this point of view regarding the Bible (or any text read outside it’s time). Also, as someone as steeped in science as you are, I have a topic you might consider exploring. One of the things that really bothers me is the reliance of so many religions on the concept of blood sacrifice. That concept is abhorrent to modern cultures (I don’t think too many of us would consider killing one of our neighbors and offering up their corpse to a god or gods). Yet many partake in communion regularly, which is representative of blood sacrifice (I won’t get into transubstantiationism vs symbolism here). It would be interesting to explore how ancient traditions can be reconciled for modern times. I love your podcast and articles – always something interesting to explore! And yes, we humans are extremely fascinating and multi- faceted.

  2. Thanks for the podcast, for every listener you may have lost you probably gained another (such as myself).

  3. Thank you for being honest about who you are and what forms your belief system. One’s religion, or lack of one, is a compass for so many decisions in life. You always make us think for ourselves and present many viewpoints. I am glad you had the courage to talk about being a Christian. I am reading the bible and the history of the times when Christ was alive. I loved Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus. I thought Rob Bell would be another voice of information, but after listening to more of his podcasts and looking at his book in a bookstore, I realized it was his interpretation of the bible. I realized I trusted my pastor much more. Thank you for always helping me to really understand my beliefs.

  4. Ben, not to be a leg humping fan-boy here, but thanks for all that you do and broadcast out the universe. You are a man of conviction and as a fellow Christian, thank you so much for not shying away from your Faith. Also, as a fellow jokester, thanks for actually having a sense of humor when you do your podcassts. Too many people are TOO serious all the time. Thanks for being a bright light in a dark world.

  5. Hi Ben, in the begining of your podcast you said you were going to cover why its beneficial to believe in a higher power. I would have like to hear your reasoning for that. The guest spoke against spiritualizing the message of the bible and look at its more practical message and it did not seem like he thought believing in anything supernatural was important. Thanks for your podcasts.

  6. I’m an atheist, but I’ve read and loved the Bible, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Quran, the Gnostic Gospels and many other sources of religious and mystical literature, and I think anyone who hasn’t read and re-read works like these is missing out on incredible literature that’s thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. And I agree that spirituality is an essential part of being a complete human being. Personally, I get my fill of spirituality through art, culture and literature (including the Bible but also including Shakespeare, Homer, Wordsworth, Blake, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and many more), but I have to say, Ben, kudos to you for being bold enough to delve into this area despite knowing it’s going to alienate some people. So much of the bio-hacking community doesn’t get that health and wellness and low stress and good feelings are not the end-goals but just starting points for living a full life.

  7. If it wasn’t for Rob Bell 10+ years ago, NOOMA, Drops like Stars, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save the Christians, and all the other books and podcasts during he’s time at Mars Hill Bible Church, I wouldn’t have been so intrigued to read the Bible with new eyes and each day, every day.

    Here’s a thought and maybe Rob can help me with this one, I would love to get my hands on a collection of the individual books of the Bible to showcase the “library” of the “one complete Bible” (pref. NLT or ESV) Then, I feel as though more people could accomplish reading the whole Bible in it’s books (parts) and understand its history and “big picture” better. I’ve read it in Chronological order first from Job… etc. verses starting in Genesis, but I’d love to read each part separate, as a tangible book. Sort of like a breakdown study like https://thebibleproject.com/explore/. And like many books of the Bible, for most, have been read multiple times…. Ruth, Jude, Job, because they appear to be easy. Anyways, I’m so very grateful for the experience that I journeyed through, starting with NOOMA. So, thank you very much for the podcast, Ben!

    1. Brooke,

      I am really happy to see someone else mention the Bible Project to Ben. After listening to the podcast my first thought was to try to get Ben to watch some of their videos on different books from the Bible. I have been following their podcasts for about two years now and really enjoy the way they break down the Bible.

  8. The Bible has stood the test of time. Its eyewitness accounts have been validated through archaeological discovery, its own medical accuracy, and its scientific accuracy just as much as any other accepted eyewitness accounts in any other historical book.

    Yet, today, people deliberately seek to discredit it so as to avoid the reality that if the Bible is in fact true, there is a responsibility, an accountability, a morality, an expectation, and an obligation for the reader. They discredit the creation account as having been written much later than claimed because it does not favor their evolutionary prerequisite and because they do not realize that the term “day” (as in a creative day) is an undefined period of time rather than a fixed 24 hr period. And the evolutionary prerequisite is a prerequisite in itself to removing any personal accountability or obedience to the standards of a higher creative being. Translation: People do not want to be told what to do. People today are rebellious against the moral standards set forth in the Bible.

    Subsequently, once again the Bible holds true when it describes, millennia in advance, the character of the majority of people that would exist on the earth today at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and the events that would be occurring in that day at Matthew 24:3-14.

    They reject the idea that God’s Kingdom is actually that, a kingdom or government, that will rule over the earth from the heavens because they prefer the rule of men to God and stubbornly remain steadfastly supportive of their own faulty governments run by imperfect men; this despite the fact that Daniel 2:44 clearly explains the nature of the kingdom in the context (the rest of the book of Daniel) of the rule of man’s political powers and governments.

    No commentary or opinion of men or purported perspective will change the Bible’s accuracy not the eventual fulfillment of every prophecy contained therein.

    I really enjoyed the podcast and some of the thoughts presented which I view as supplemental and complimentary to my own daily Bible reading.

  9. I think Rob is cool. ( you don’t suck either Ben :-) )

    My concern still with the “teachings” is the fact that the “outlook” is still one of “good and bad” as long as we carry on this viewpoint, we are in essence diving the world we live in and ourselves.

    Our beautiful human existence is about “choice” …. We get to chose whatever we want…

    In our non human form (whatever that maybe) we only get to flow with tendencies….we simply have no choice anymore. Thus enjoy this VERY VERY special experience …..

  10. Yes, interesting podcast and worth doing.

    Of course, there is a very direct link between Man and “the soil” in Genesis, since Adam is formed from soil that is breathed into. The name Adam in Hebrew actually means “earth”. And this is why the imposition of ashes on Good Friday in RC and Anglican (Episcopalian) services is accompanied by the phrase “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

    http://catholicexchange.com/remember-that-thou-ar…

    I thought there was a lot of emphasis in the podcast on the development of Ancient Jewish thought. This is one of the themes in the important work by the Lutheran philosopher and scholar of comparative religion Rudolf Otto in “The Idea of the Holy”

    https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Holy-Galaxy-Books-x/d…

    And it is certainly true—change in understanding does occur in the Bible—and this also gives us a way of getting out of the problems that some texts pose. I wonder whether repeatedly leaning on that and describing it as “evolution” is always helpful, though. Surely, that would tend to raise the thought that there is some remorselessly inevitable historical process ongoing whereby we approach truth (and ethical understanding) as time advances. (But how could one prove that, and what’s driving that process?) And, in which case, haven’t we also advanced beyond the New Testament, too, some 2000 years on, and why do we need to read _any_ of it?

    While I value Otto’s work, I’d be happier with the thought that the OT should certainly not be rejected but should be read in the light of the New and specifically of the four gospels. And I should suppose that the gospels do contain trans-historical truth and are not merely part of some historical process of, so to speak, “what people have thought and might be worth hearing” … or why bother reading the Bible at all?

    I’m also not entirely happy with the notion that the Bible, let alone Christianity, is merely about “political” or even “moral” matters. Perhaps that’s not what Mr. Bell would think, but it’s the impression he left. Surely, it’s also about opening up to a dimension of existence that defies our everyday understanding and about, whether one accepts the possibility of this or not, the transformation of people’s personalities, as the Maine University sociologist and Greek Orthodox believer Kyriacos Markides argues here:

    http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/8/6/109/htm

  11. Hi Ben,

    You mentioned other books to read, I have one suggestion. My college professor wrote Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands.

    https://www.permissiongrantedthebook.com/

    Here’s the link for it. I think you’ll enjoy, haven’t read Rob’s book yet, but plan on ordering it soon and learning more. Thanks for the podcast Ben! Appreciate all you do!

    1. First, the Bible is mankind’s oldest preserved book. Second, the Bible is not to be worshiped. That would then make it an idol and the Bible itself idol worship. Third, the Bible is historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, medically accurate, and scientifically accurate. It also contains prophecies that have been fulfilled to the letter AND that are currently being fulfilled presently. Those other more modern, relatively speaking, wisdom texts you mentioned cannot match the above criteria.

      1. Many of those “modern” wisdom texts I speak of are actually predate the Bible with the Vedas being over a thousand years older. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but much of the Bible does not align with science, history, medicine, or archealogy.

  12. So what makes the Bible anymore worth worshipping and devoting ones entire life to over other wisdom texts that came from ancient history such as the Vedas, The Bhagvad Gita, The Upanishads, The Dão de Jing, The Dhammapada, etc.. Seems you could take Rob’s train of thought and apply it to justify any ancient wisdom text written by man.

  13. Ben, I just want to express my deep, deep gratitude for this podcast episode! It’s so funny, because I had been thinking quite recently about writing a message to you asking you to discuss your Christian faith in more depth, as it is something I had not heard you address on your podcast. I was a militant atheist for most of my life, but my health crisis and ensuing personal development journey helped me discover my deep spiritual nature and my faith in Christ. As you share my interests in all things health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), and I really respect your opinions, I am extremely interested in your take on the last of those. It seems like it’s no longer taboo to be spiritual these days, but ‘religious’ continues to be a dirty word to many. This was a great first talk, but I would also love if you could go so much deeper! What are all your daily spiritual practices? How do you see them affect you? Do you attend church? Why Christianity and not, say, Buddhism, like many people in the biohacking space? PS have you seen the new movie The Shack? I absolutely adored it and found it resonated with me so strongly! Keep up the brilliant work, and God bless!

  14. Ben you’ve lost me as a listener. Not just today’s podcast but going back to the podcast before when you were talking about pregnancy. I realized that I can’t listen to you anymore. You were flippantly discussing women who are likely to get Csections as the same people who do not understand nutrition. Ben get the affluent silver spoon out of your mouth. The world is not black and white. Pretend for a second that your an African American woman born in the projects surrounded by drugs, violence as well as liquor and convenient stores as one of your only means of purchasing food. Today i listened to your podcast on the Bible with guest Rob. I am not here to judge or condemn you for discussing the Bible, contrary good for you if it is important to you. But you started the podcast by talking about how you read it to help you build compassion to love to overcome. Then you let your guest put people in 2 categories literal interpreters and fantastical non believers. He proceeeded to call a certain group of people 1st grader mentalities. 1st graders.So here you guys are 20 minutes in, telling us the wonders of the Bible and you guys are judging the people who you are condemning for being judges themselves. It’s insanity. We need to find a way to help our fellow human, you are on the right path regarding health but your means are for the affluent. Compression boots, 2 thousand dollar machines you tote, product after expensive product. You are pandering to the elite. You are helping a small percentage and leaving 99% of the people behind. I cannot listen to you anymore. One more thing before I go you are obsessed on these tellameres, and that you are 1 year older in tellemeres because of your spartan and TRI’s, the abuse you’ve put on your body. But don’t forget you gestated for 9 months so that only puts you 3 months off your correct age. Relax.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Will. I'm on a constant quest to improve the quality of content I bring to you, and sometimes I make mistakes, including my C-section comment definitely coming off wrong. I'm sorry for that. I appreciate you helping me out.

      1. Carl of all the comments on here yours is the most narrow minded and pathetic. “chosen people”??? Seriously? Who would those special chosen ones be?? How elitist of you. We are either all chosen or none. Jews aren’t chosen and neither are Christians.

        And to actually believe in 2017 that the Bible is written by God vs being filtered thru the political climate of the day is just childish magical thinking. Ever heard of the council of Nicea? Where some muckety mucks of the day got together and decided *which* books belonged in the Bible? *hint* they removed ones that didn’t for their chosen narrative of the day ie: Jesus was married etc.

        Your comment embodies the narrow minded (not to mention elitist) Christian stereotype.

  15. Thanks Ben, I appreciate you devoting a podcast to the Bible, the most read, purchased, and translated book in history.However, I think you and Rob missed the major points of the Bible. While it is true there are some important life lessons to be learned from the Bible, it is first and foremost God’s revelation of himself throughout history to his chosen people.. Certainly Rob makes a good point that those of us living in the west in modern times do not understand the context in which the Bible was written in and often times miss understand the meaning of scripture. But the major theme throughout both old and new testament is that man has rebelled against God, man deserves God’s punishment, but God extends mercy To us. While learning how to keep our bodies healthy and the soil healthy is important these things are minuscule compared to our spiritual lives and where we spend eternity.. I was troubled by Rob’s analysis of The book of judges. Judges tells the story of what happened to the Jews when they disobeyed God. Justice falls upon them. But then God in his great mercy relents and blesses the nation again. Given your stated love of the Bible I would encourage you to have someone on the podcast who can discuss the real issues and topics in the Bible, in particular who Jesus Christ was, why he came to earth, why he was crucified and died a criminals death, and why he was raised again in three days. Unfortunately this podcast with Rob presents the Bible as just another book of wisdom and helpful teachings. However, nothing could be further from the truth. If the Bible is truly God’s revelation to man it is much more significant than that. If it is not, then it is no better than any other ancient book on wisdom..

  16. It’s so cool how you and Rob are articulating the importance of caring for the environment. Thank you! Since animal agriculture causes the most degradation to the planet, it seems logical to drastically reduce or eliminate eating animals, but that wasn’t made clear by either of you even though it seems Rob is experimenting with plant based meals. I am as avid a Robcast listener as to your podcast and was glad to see you two connect. I’d like to know from either or both of you: how does one, as someone with spiritual integrity, reconcile, not only the environmental impacts of eating animals, but the ethical dilemma of slaughtering these sentient, feeling beings with whom we share the planet when the Bible says we are to care for them (and the soil)? I would think the faith based community would be fiercely advocating compassion for all beings, not just humans, but I haven’t experienced that personally. Thanks again for your courage to have Rob on, it was a great interview!

    1. We need grazing ruminants for a healthy soil, to fertilize the soil and clear the grasses. The grasses, ruminants, and microorganisms in their fertilizer all create an ecosystem that is net carbon-negative (sequesters carbon). Humans, as apex predators, are necessary to keep the ruminants moving to allow new grass to grow. Certainly, cows raised in feedlots contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but cows raised on grains have more methane-producing bacteria than those that eat grass. Not to mention, monocrop agriculture decreases biodiversity, increases pesticide use, depletes topsoil, and actually *increases* carbon emissions, all without animals! For example, our favorite pesticide, glyphosate, is a broad-spectrum antibiotic sprayed heavily on GMO crops that kills much of the soil microbe community, which again, sequesters carbon, and then does not get degraded (it stays in the soil for years, maybe even decades, and enters the rivers and rain). Thus, eating grass-fed, pasture-raised beef from local, organic farms can have a huge positive environmental impact, as well as positive impact on human health.

      https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_gre… http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podc…

  17. Thanks so much for this podcast Ben. I’ve read a few of rob bells books and picked up this one a few weeks ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see him in your podcast. Bells books have always helped to push and stretch my thinking beyond my conservative Christian upbringing. Thanks for a great podcast and stretching my mind, body and spirit.

  18. Just finished reading this book. It really helps you to understand the Bible better. William Barclay wrote a series of books on each Gospel that offered similar insights that help people to go “Oh, now I get it.”

  19. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. Really appreciate both of your perspectives. Made me rethink a lot of things. Thanks.

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