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Art in the Bible

[img_assist|nid=48509|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]In honor of National Bible Week, let's look at a few ways the arts appear in the Bible, and see if we can find any trends that can inform our own art.

Music

I found more examples of music than of any other art, although the distinction between music and poetry is a bit fuzzy, and there is a lot of overlap, as there is among the categories of singing, playing of instruments, and dance. The idea is not to try to split hairs, but to give you an idea of the richness of the musical experiences recorded in the Scriptures by highlighting the many ways people make music.

Singing

The only melodic instrument we are born with is our voice. Singing, along with poetry, lends itself best to transcription, so it shouldn't surprise us that we find songs mentioned more often in Scripture than many other art forms. Examples of God's people expressing the whole spectrum of human emotions abound. Here are a few examples:

  • The song of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-19)

  • The Psalms (the whole book)

  • The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

  • Paul and Silas singing hymns in jail (Acts 16:25)

  • Jesus and his disciples singing hymns (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)

  • Musical worship in Heaven (Revelation 15:1-4)

Playing of Instruments

Here are some notable mentions of instruments in Scripture:

  • David harp (1 Samuel 16:23)

  • Temple musicians, particularly when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the temple (2 Chronicles 5:11-13)

  • Women greeting David with tambourines and lutes, in addition to singing and dancing (1 Samuel 18:6)

  • Harps, lyres, and flutes accompanying prophesy in King David's reign (1 Chronicles 25:1)

  • Harps given to God's people who triumph over evil (Revelation 15:2-3)

Dancing

We see often see dancing in Scripture connected to celebration.

  • David dancing (2 Samuel 6:14)

  • Miriam leading Israelite women in dance (Exodus 15:20)

  • God's promise that, when God restores Israel, the people will dance (Jeremiah 31:4)

Poetry

Much of the Bible itself is poetry, including:

  • The Psalms

  • The Song of Solomon

  • Job

In Acts 17:28, Paul even refers to the poetry of the pagan Athenians in order to bring them to Christ.

Crafts

It is sometimes hard to recognize art when it also serves a very practical purpose. However, certain crafts were clearly aesthetic as well as utilitarian. Because the writers of the Scriptures couldn't show us, they described some of these items in exacting detail. Here are a few mentions of crafts in the Bible:

  • Joseph's coat (Genesis 37:3)

  • The Tabernacle and everything in it (Exodus 25-26)

  • Priests' clothing (Exodus 28)

  • The Temple and everything in it (1 Kings 5-7)

Drama and Other Performing Arts

I haven't been able to find the dramatic arts expressly mentioned in the Bible, but I would like to suggest two examples of people artistically “acting out” a message or worship.

  • Prophetic performances. Prophets often used physical actions to illustrate their messages. In this way, they participated in an early form of performance art. Ezekiel 4 contains an excellent example of a prophet using his body to act out his message.

  • Festivals. When the Israelites made bread without yeast, ate in haste, and performed all those other Passover rituals, they were not responding to literal, immediate circumstances. They had access to yeast; they were not being rushed. What the Israelites were doing was acting. Passover is only one example of such a festival. Similar to the mystery plays in the Middle Ages, these festivals served to remind everyone of important parts of their national history and their relationship with God. Festivals, then, were a kind of drama in which everyone was an actor.

While we find the artists expressing a wide range of ideas and sentiments, what strikes me is how often they are employed to express thanksgiving. Songs, poetry, rituals, and beautiful crafts can give glory to God and remind us of all that God does to sustain the universe and to care for us.

With that in mind, I wish all of you in the U.S.A. a happy Thanksgiving, and those of you who live everywhere a thankful and beautiful National Bible Week.