What's the best book in the Bible? You might think it's heretical to say one is 'better' than another, but everyone has their favourites. Do you favour the dramatic, violent Old Testament epics, or do you love to get lost in a New Testament letter? Are the Gospels your go-to, or do the prophets take priority?
A recent survey by Bible Society sheds some light on what people's favourite books of the Bible are. The answers might surprise you.
John has always stood out from the crowd. His gospel is quite unlike the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. Perhaps it's the famous, unique 'I am" statements that Jesus makes in John that attracts people, or the iconic prologue that channels the opening of Genesis with its cosmic introduction of Jesus: "In the beginning was the word..." Alternatively, and almost certainly, it's John 3:16 that makes John so famous. What does that verse say again?
2. The Psalms
Everyone loves the psalms, they're the only bit of the Bible where you get to sing along. Its words have provided the material for much popular Christian worship sung today, and some traditions only sing from the psalter. Some of the psalms are actually quite challenging, but they provide a rich, diverse expression of human praise to God in the midst of the trials of life. You may have your own favourite psalm, but the most popular one is Psalm 23:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake."
Commiserations to Matthew and Mark, Luke is the only other gospel to make the top five. Luke is full of unique stories. Without this gospel we wouldn't have the story of the Good Samaritan, nor the story of the Prodigal Son – two of Jesus' most famous parables, and classic illustrations of the generous love of God. Luke's most famous verse occurs when Jesus goes into the Temple, reads from Isaiah 61 and announces what his ministry is all about: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18).
This may be a surprise entry. Ruth is a standout tale, not only because it features a female as its protagonist. It's a love story which tells of how religious/ethnic boundaries can be transcended, and how God can work in mysterious ways. It's apparently often used at weddings too. Its most famous verse? "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17).
The Apostle Paul wrote lots of good things, but Romans was surely his greatest hit. It is one of the most quotable books, as well as probably the most theologically thorough description and explanation of the gospel message. It covers creation, fall, Israel, the redemption brought about by Jesus, faith in Jesus, life in the Spirit, predestination, and suffering, to name a few of its themes.
Romans gives us this classic verse of hope and consolation: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).