MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, January 10, 2010
One of the bills filed in the Legislature for the
next session would authorize high schools to offer
elective high school courses on the Bible. It's a
good idea but one that must be carefully negotiated.
Senate Bill 1338, authored by Sen. Tom Ivester,
D-Elk City, would permit elective courses on the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament
and their impact on history and literature.
"The courses would be an objective study of the
Bible and not the teaching of religion," Ivester
That's a worthy goal and one that I have supported
in the past and continue to support.
There have been various polls taken over the last
few years that reveal an astonishing lack of Bible
knowledge by young people, even those who profess to
be church-attending Christians.
might alarm many people and even please others. But,
setting aside the religious viewpoint of the Bible,
the importance of the book to literature and history
is valuable and undeniable.
Understanding Shakespeare can be difficult for a
junior in high school (although it is well worth the
effort) but to read the Bard and not recognize his
many references to the Bible leaves any study of his
Of course, Shakespeare also alluded to classical
mythology many times and those references should be
The influence of the Bible in literature doesn't
stop at Shakespeare. Novels are full of biblical
allusions and references. For instance, John
Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden"
are direct references to the Bible. And there are
The impact of the Bible and religion on history
cannot be denied or ignored. The Crusades, the
Reformation, the Inquisition and even events in our
lifetimes that relate to the Bible have molded
civilization and will continue to do so.
1338, authored by Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk
City, would permit elective courses on the
Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New
Testament and their impact on history and
Those are only a few of the many reasons our high
school students need a working knowledge of the
Bible. It is, however, a tricky endeavor
distinguishing the study of the Bible from religion.
First of all, this is not an endorsement of teaching
any sort of religion in public schools. Nor should
it be considered the first step toward returning
organized prayer to the classroom. And it certainly
does not support the teaching of creationism
alongside evolution or the science of the big bang.
To make this idea work, a legitimate curriculum must
be used. The best one out there, in my opinion, is
the Bible Literacy Project. It is a nonprofit
organization based in Fairfax, Va. Its Bible study
textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence," is
available to schools and has been endorsed by
interfaith groups, First Amendment watchdog
associations and educators. The curriculum is
already used in 360 Schools in 43 states.
It is a scholastic and unbiased review of the
stories on the Bible and how they relate to
literature and history. It is very specific about
who should teach the course and offers five
principles that must be made clear to students and
1. You are going to study the Bible academically,
not devotionally. In other words, you are learning
about the Bible and its role in life, language and
2. You will be given an awareness of the religious
content of the Bible, but you will not be pressed
into accepting religion.
3. You will study about religion as presented in the
Bible, but you will not be engaged in the practice
4. During this course, you will encounter differing
religious views, but the views will neither be
encouraged nor discouraged.
5. You will never be asked to conform to any of the
beliefs you encounter in this course.
In short, if the Legislature plans on introducing a
Bible study course into the public schools, this is
the best one.
In fact, much of SB 1338 reflects a tone similar to
the guidelines of the Bible Literacy Project.
Unfortunately, there are other programs that purport
to be unbiased but whose motives are questionable.
The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public
Schools, based in North Carolina, claims that its
course is in use in 423 schools in 37 states.
A 2005 study out of Southern Methodist University
found that the National Council promotes a
fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the
Bible, often ignoring other beliefs such as those of
Catholics, Jews and even mainline Protestants.
Critics claim that it teaches as historic truth the
stories of the Exodus, the flood, the destruction of
the Tower of Babel and the resurrection of Jesus.
The president of the National Council, Elizabeth
Ridenour, says her curriculum "teaches what the
Bible 'says' and not how others interpret it." That
is not what is needed in a Bible course in the
The Senate bill is likely to be wildly popular with
the public, but for the wrong reasons. If
legislators are going to approve teaching the Bible
as an elective course in the public schools, then
they need to be very careful what they endorse.
This must not be considered a way to "get God back
into the schools." The Bible must be taught purely
as it relates to literature and history. Nothing
Again, literature and history are for the public
schools. Religion belongs in Sunday school.
Mike Jones, 581-8332