The Bible’s Impact Upon Popular Culture (2023)

The Bible has had an unparalleled influence upon popular culture of every age since its inception. While some of its influence is blatant or glaringly obvious, some is much more subtle and understated. Regardless of the degree of influence, there is no denying that the Bible has impacted all mediums and genres within popular culture, spanning everything from songs to movies and all things in between. Within this blog post, I will extrapolate on three specific examples: Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Godspell.

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In my first example, I will focus on an allusion to the Bible, wherein parallels can be drawn to Lily Potter being viewed as a Christ figure in the Harry Potter series. First of all, we must establish that an allusion is a reference to some other work of art, event, or so on (in this case, the Bible is the work which is being alluded to). Within the Harry Potter series, there exists a prophecy that the Dark Lord, Voldemort, can only be truly unparalleled in his power if he eliminates a threat to him: a child who is born, who will be the only one capable of bringing about his downfall. This child happens to be Harry Potter, son of Lily and James. When Voldemort came seeking the Potters, intent upon killing Harry to fulfill the prophecy, Harry’s mother, Lily, became a sacrificial figure almost reminiscent of Jesus in certain areas. She willingly gave her life in place of someone else’s (in her case, her son’s), and in doing so, provided salvation for him from certain death. Although we are given details about her sacrifice throughout the series, it becomes apparent that it was her selfless love that created the sanctity of that sacrifice and protected Harry. This allusion and parallel are further emphasized because in doing so, she provided Harry with a sort of redemption; her sacrifice meant that he was protected and became the only person to ever survive the Killing Curse. This allusion draws a heavy parallel to the way in which Jesus offered redemption and salvation to all those who believed in him; Lily was the only conduit through which Harry’s live could have been spared and he could have earned that salvation. The Bible has a clear influence here, if you choose to look closely enough; much of the theme of such sacrifice and love can be related back to the selfless sacrifice of Jesus within the Bible. I found several Youtube videos which illustrate this sacrifice. The first video embedded below is a brief clip of Voldemort’s attack on the Potters and Lily’s subsequent sacrifice for her son. The second video is a tribute created, using the audio book recording from the book, which extrapolates upon the event in greater detail.

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I also found traces of Biblical influence within one of my favorite television series of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is an allusion to the Bible which can be found in the season finale of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Prophecy Girl,” in which Buffy is presented as something of a Christ-like figure. As stated above, an allusion is a reference to another material or work of art; in this case, it is now Buffy which is alluding to certain themes and events in the Bible. Much like Jesus’ crucifixion bringing about salvation for believers, Buffy willingly goes to her death due to a prophecy that states she will die at the hands of the Master, an ancient and powerful vampire, if she fights him. Although she is initially resistant and fears the thought of dying, especially at such a young age, she eventually comes around to accept her fate. She knows that she must prevent the Master’s ascension, even if it results in her death, so she willingly goes to confront him and accepts her death. Much like the prophecy stated, she does die when the Master drains her blood and tosses her aside into a puddle. The pool of water into which she is thrown could further serve to be viewed as a baptismal font of sorts, as she is revived and rises again, stating that she feels “different.” In this way, she can be alluded to as a Christ figure, since she willingly sacrifices herself in order to bring about salvation for others and in the way she is resurrected. She is also shown as wearing a cross necklace throughout the episode, which serves to heighten the connection between the episode and the Biblical allusion it’s making. As evidenced with Harry Potter above, the Bible plays a large hand in these themes of sacrificial offerings in order to bring about salvation, as well as a subsequent resurrection. Once again, I located a Youtube video which further illustrates the demonstrated point. The video embedded below is a tribute to the episode “Prophecy Girl,” and it shows interspersed clips, allowing us to see the various transitions from her initial hesitance and fear of death, to her eventual acceptance, willing sacrifice, and subsequent resurrection.

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As a thespian myself, I of course took a particular interest in finding Biblical references within theatrical productions. There are several shows which deal directly with the Bible or the life of Jesus in some way, such as Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell. For this purpose, I found allusions within Godspell, particularly the 2011 Broadway revival with which I am most familiar. This musical does not tell the direct story of Jesus’ life; rather, it couches his teachings within the message and builds this community of believers through other means. The cast do things such as play charades with the audience in order to complete examples of Jesus’ parables or teachings, and wear badges or flowers to symbolize themselves as followers of the Jesus figure within the musical. The cast is often dressed as hippies or in casual street attire, and famous philosophers and their teachings – Socrates, Martin Luther, and Galileo, to name a few – are interwoven through the story to show the ways in which Jesus’ teachings have impacted thinking throughout the ages. In doing so, the musical presents this cast of followers while building a sense of love and community that seems in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, while alluding to the Biblical story of Jesus throughout. It even references Jesus’ crucifixion (which occurs towards the end of the show, although it is not done in a strictly Biblical reenactment, and there is no direct resurrection of Jesus) through lyrics such as “Not till that hour/Shall God’s whole will be done” in the song “Turn Back, O Man.” This is a very illuminating example of the Bible’s influence of pop culture, The Bible’s Impact Upon Popular Culture (5)because this show would not even exist if not for the Bible; the very premise of the teachings and many characters within the show are drawn directly from the Bible, so its existence was crucial to Godspell ever being written and staged. The below videos offer more insight into the Bible’s influence on this show. The first video is a live performance of the aforementioned song “Turn Back, O Man,” in which we can see Biblical references in the lyrics. The second video contains an assortment of clips from the 2011 revival of the show, and it demonstrates some of the Biblical themes found throughout the musical.

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The amount of Biblical references and influences which can be found in popular culture are truly innumerable. However, because all of these examples are interests which are near and dear to my heart, I found it particularly interesting to delve into these various mediums and explore the impact which the Bible had upon them.

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FAQs

How the Bible influenced Western culture? ›

The Bible and Christian theology have also strongly influenced Western philosophers and political activists. The teachings of Jesus, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, are among the most important sources of modern notions of human rights and the welfare commonly provided by governments in the West.

Why is the Bible influential? ›

The Bible contains the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity and has long been the most available, familiar, and dependable source and arbiter of intellectual, moral, and spiritual ideals in the West.

What does Christianity say about culture? ›

Culture is the secondary environment that man builds upon the creation, comprising language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values. Representative Christian attitudes toward culture: We should reject and/or condemn the culture.

When did the Bible become popular? ›

It was not until the 5th century that all the different Christian churches came to a basic agreement on Biblical canon. The books that eventually were considered canon reflect the times they were embraced as much the times of the events they portray.

How does Christianity impact culture? ›

The cultural influence of Christianity includes social welfare, founding hospitals, economics (as the Protestant work ethic), natural law (which would later influence the creation of international law), politics, architecture, literature, personal hygiene (ablution), and family life.

How has the Bible influenced English? ›

The influence of the Bible on English has been both thematic and stylistic; that is, it has provided the English men of letters Scriptural themes and has also modulated their literary style. Thus Bunyan and Oscar Wilde imitated the simple, rhythmical, repetitive style of the Bible.

How is the Bible used in society today? ›

The Bible is used by Christians to give them guidance about how they can live their their lives in the way God would want them to. There is guidance in the Bible on many areas of life and Christians will turn to this advice when they are faced with a dilemma. Some Christians may use a lectionary .

Why is the Bible important to modern Christians? ›

The Christian holy book is the Bible and this is the most important source of authority for Christians, as it contains the teachings of God and Jesus Christ . All Christians, regardless of denomination , regard the Bible as the starting point for guidance about their faith.

What does the Bible teaches us? ›

The Bible teaches about Jesus

Jesus Christ is God's Son who came to earth to save us from sin, sadness, loneliness, pain, and more. Jesus taught beautiful lessons about service and love and performed many miracles while He was on earth.

What the Bible says about cultural diversity? ›

God teaches us in Holy Scripture that the human race is one. As Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers, "From one man God made every nation of the human race, that they should inhabit the whole earth" (Acts 17:26). It is within this greater context of unity that humanity's diversity rightly appears.

How does religion influence culture? ›

Religion can be a key factor in the cultural identity of many people, influencing their behavior and traditions. Rituals, sacrifices, prayer, art, are one of the many ways people show their allegiance to a particular religion.

What role does religion play in culture? ›

The relationship between culture and religion is revealed in the motivation and manifestation of cultural expression. If culture expresses how humans experience and understand the world; religion is a fundamental way in which humans experience and understand the world.

How popular is the Bible today? ›

Americans don't lack access to the Bible, but it remains a big business for publishers in the United States. In fact, 88 percent of Americans have a copy of the Bible in their homes, according to a 2015 report from the Barna Group. Most homes have more than one copy, and nearly a quarter of people have more than five.

Why is the Bible the most important book in the world? ›

It has the "ring of truth" to all who love the same. This book contains a message at its very core. It is a message to all people everywhere, in every time period, relevant to their everyday lives. It claims to be the very words of God... an audacious claim, for sure.

What is the main message of the entire Bible? ›

The unfolding message of the Bible is really a message about God's work to save his people for his glory. It's a message about God's character as a holy, righteous judge. It's about God's grace toward sinners who turn their back on him. But he continually cares for us, he's patient with us, he sent his son to save us.

How did Christianity influence literature? ›

Christianity introduced the literature of praise and prayer. The first of the English songs after the coming of Christianity was an outburst of praise which is sounded in Caedmon's Genesis which began with the grand justification of the propriety of praising the Lord of Hosts.

Is English law based on the Bible? ›

First, of course, there is the general influence of the Bible through the medium of the Christian religion upon the law. It has been often said, indeed, that Christianity is part of the common law of England, and this is due in great measure to the authority of Sir Matthew Hale (King v.

Whose Bible created a great change in the English language? ›

The Tyndale Bible generally refers to the body of biblical translations by William Tyndale into Early Modern English, made c. 1522–1536.

How the Bible is used to spread good news? ›

They use it for instructing new converts. It is used as a textbook when teaching Christian Religious Education in schools/colleges. It is used as resource material in search of general knowledge. It is used to compose Christian hymns/songs.

What is the most popular Bible used today? ›

King James Version (55%) New International Version (19%) New Revised Standard Version (7%) New American Bible (6%)

What does the Bible say is the purpose of life? ›

“The purpose of my life is to know God and hear his voice so I can live a life of servanthood and obedience; then I will be a God-defined person and a non-anxious presence in every situation.”

How does the church relate to culture? ›

The church is a unique channel of cultural influence. Few other institutions draw participants from so many areas of society. When Christians embrace the common goals of both redeeming cultures and individual souls, the possibilities for positive cultural influence dramatically increase.

What does the Bible say about different nationalities? ›

All people are created in the image of God, and therefore all races and ethnic groups have the same equal status and equal unique value. Inter-ethnic marriages are sanctioned by Scripture when they are within the faith. The gospel demands that we carry compassion and the message of Christ across ethnic lines.

Where in the Bible does it say accept everyone? ›

Colossians 3:12-14 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

How does religion impact human society? ›

Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment. Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce.

How does religion affect people's lifestyle? ›

A new Pew Research Center study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.

How does religion influence people's behavior? ›

Most religions enforce moral behaviour through positive and negative reinforcement by infusing 'god-fearing' elements in scriptures, such as the concept of karma and reincarnation in Hinduism, heaven-hell and salvation in Christianity, paradise and hell in Islamism, peaceful afterlife and reincarnation in indigenous ...

Does religion have an impact on culture and to what extent? ›

Religion can influence the culture of an entire community, nation, or region of the world. This goes beyond a person's individual habits to affect much bigger issues, such as how the government is run and what artistic and scientific advances are made.

How does religion affect society positively? ›

Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive impact on mental health — research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide rates, alcoholism and drug use.

What influenced Western culture? ›

Western culture is most strongly influenced by the Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian culture. Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of many elements of Western culture, including the development of a democratic system of government and major advances in philosophy, science and mathematics.

What role does Scripture play in Western religions? ›

They are interpretations about divine truth and divine commands, or stories that illustrate how persons, exalted or lowly, have acted (with or without awareness) in response to a divine stimulus.

Is Western law based on the Bible? ›

Their law was based on the Ten Commandments and other sacred writings, which today we find in the Hebrew Bible. In developing their law, they sometimes borrowed legal concepts from other civilizations as well as passing on their own ideas.

What are the influences of Western? ›

Western culture is most strongly influenced by Greco-Roman culture, Germanic culture, and Christian culture.

How has Westernization affected our society? ›

Consequences of westernization:

affects the caste, joint family, marriage and other social structures. Modern values like humanism, egalitarianism, secularism have entered in Indian value systems. Our criminal law has been reformed.

Why have Western influences had a major impact all over the world? ›

**20) What explains why Western influences have had a major impact all over the world? Western ideas largely dominate mass media. Things like music, TV, and sports broadcast spread ideas that lead to mixing of cultures. Things spread include clothes, food, entertainment, and the idea of materialism.

What is modern Western culture? ›

Western culture is an incredibly broad term used to describe the social norms, belief systems, traditions, customs, values, and so forth that have their origin in Europe or are based on European culture. America, for example, is firmly Western in culture.

What is the contribution of Christianity to the modern education? ›

Christians have been pioneering educational initiatives from pre independence time onwards and now has some 25000+ schools, colleges and universities even in very remote and rural areas, imparting quality education to all irrespective of caste, creed or language, contributing to the progress and development of the ...

What role did Christianity play in the new world? ›

In the early years of what later became the United States, Christian religious groups played an influential role in each of the British colonies, and most attempted to enforce strict religious observance through both colony governments and local town rules. Most attempted to enforce strict religious observance.

What is the role of the Bible society? ›

A Bible society is a non-profit organization, usually nondenominational in makeup, devoted to translating, publishing, and distributing the Bible at affordable prices. In recent years they also are increasingly involved in advocating its credibility and trustworthiness in contemporary cultural life.

Does the Bible mention democracy? ›

The Bible never came up with the idea of democracy, but it did come up with two concepts that are essential for good government. The first concept is this: Good government must protect the vulnerable.

Does American law come from the Bible? ›

Early colonial laws drew extensively from biblical sources, especially Mosaic law, and colonial jurists frequently cited Scripture as legal authority. The colonists, to be sure, did not adopt all aspects of biblical law, and the Bible was not the sole source of their laws.

What are the 3 types of laws in the Bible? ›

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) divides the Mosaic laws into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial.

How has the Western culture affected the youth? ›

During British rule many Indians belonging to various castes and creed were forcibly converted to Christianity to get education and jobs. At this time caste system was more affected because most of the dalits got converted into Christianity.

Why Western culture is important? ›

Some of the central feature of Western culture can be understood as including the understanding the importance of capitalism, modern technology, human rights, individualism, and democracy to name some important features.

What had the greatest influence on modern Western civilization? ›

Ancient Rome had a large influence on the modern world. Though it has been thousands of years since the Roman Empire flourished, we can still see evidence of it in our art, architecture, technology, literature, language, and law.

Videos

1. The Bible and Popular Culture (Pt. 1): Adele Reinhartz and David Stowe
(Duke Center for Jewish Studies)
2. Think for yourself while it’s still legal.. cancel culture & entertainment is dumbing us down!
(KarineAlourde Mental Gems)
3. What Is Postmodernism and How Does It Affect Our Culture Today? | Dr. Jamie Dew
(LifeWay Christian Resources)
4. The Influence of the Hebrew Bible on America's Founding
(J-TV: Jewish Ideas. Global Relevance.)
5. The Bible and Western Culture - Part 1 - Matthew: The New Law
(Michael Sugrue)
6. How Culture Impacts the Way You Interpret the Bible | Interpreting the Bible Part 2
(Faithward)
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