September 21, 2020

A.J. Jacobs talks about “The Year of Living Biblically”

NOTE: I am not recommending this man’s book. Jacobs isn’t a Christian or even a serious Jew. He’s a writer who does experiments to sell books. This one should be of interest to anyone who reads the Bible seriously. If posting this has offended some of you, sorry.


  1. Scott Miller says

    I have seen articles on this man’s book all over the place, including Christian magazines like Relevant.
    One thing becomes clear right off – he didn’t really follow the law all that closely; he didn’t sacrifice animals according to the law. And, as a Jew, he really didn’t say anything very offensive to the audience.
    It is all law, yet throughout his speech he makes equivocations, excuses, etc. Sure, he didn’t sit on the couch that his menstruating wife sat on, but he probably didn’t consider himself unclean until evening either.

  2. I’ve read his book. Great read. I recommend it.

    No, he didn’t follow it all that closely; he picked and chose which commands he could practically follow. He also followed some of the Proverbs as if they were commands. I know some literalists who do the very same thing: follow Proverbs and various not-entirely-in-context prophecies, and skip the commands about stoning adulterers, witches, disobedient sons, etc. because it’s not legal, or because Jesus offers them grace, or whatever convenient excuse works for us Christians these days.

    One of Jacobs’ conclusions is that we all do that. Every so-called biblical literalist picks and chooses, and as he says in the video, the important thing is that we pick and choose the right commands to emphasize. Jesus emphasized loving God and loving our neighbor; Jacobs, though still skeptical about God, at least recognized that we need to love our neighbors.

  3. bob pinto says

    I stood this talk for about three quarters of the way and finally mercifully hit the stop button.

    This was the year of living religiously not biblically. I thought the Law repeatedly pointed to Christ. Living the Law without believing in God is like a Christ-less sermon. All this man did was toss out anything spiritual and live according to superficial laws.

    Christ in the Seven Woes had a lot to say about appearances and law observances versus the heart.

    Why is this man’s opinion so valid? He didn’t spend his year with Orthodox Jews. Why not listen to an interview or speech with an Orthodox Jew who has lived a lifestyle for years?

    A non-believer trying to live biblically makes as much sense as a true Christian living as a pagan and reporting back what he learned.

  4. My wife has finished the book. I am about three quarters of the way through. The book is SO much better than the video.

    He writes extremely well, is very funny, and helps us examine why we do things the way we do.

    Sometimes it takes an outsider looking in to point out some things that are not very obvious to those on the inside.

    I remember years ago in an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship meeting we had someone come in and speak on “Why I am not a Christian.” Some were upset that we had done so, for others like myself it was a bit of a wake-up call.

    Don’t prejudge the book by the video. And while this started off as an experiment by A.J. Jacobs, I think he was profoundly affected by it. I believe this did become the start of a spiritual journey by Jacobs. Whether or not he chooses to continue it is up to him.

  5. Mr. Jacobs has something there. Not about living according to all the laws in the Bible, maybe, but about the lessons he took away from the effort. Finding that there are many, many things to be grateful for in the course of the day; taking time out of a workaholic life for a day of deliberately not working; and recognizing the need for reverence are important, whether or not he came away from the experience a conventionally religious man. He saw that it made him a better man, and that makes him worth listening to.

  6. I also read this book, and found it to be more insightful than one might imagine it to be. While he considers himself to be a “reverent agnostic,” some of his thoughts on God, prayer, giving thanks, the Sabbath, etc. really hit home.

    Deep spiritual reading? No… but informative (in places), funny, and well-written.

  7. I read this guy’s book at the beginning of the year. For the most part I thought it was quite entertaining and humorous. He is an experienced writer.

    There were times you could see that for all of Jacob’s agnostic-ness, he was trying hard, but by following the law he was trying hard and still missing the point. And unfortunately he spent a lot of time talking to people that would never have helped him FIND the point; Samaritans, his crazy Jewish-convert uncle, visiting the Creation Science Museum, those people who try and advocate polygamy out of the bible, etc etc.

    Ultimately the book’s largest downfall is Jacob’s neglect of the New Testament. The OT took up 10 months or so of his “year of living biblically” which left little time for him to explore much of anything that could make sense of alot he was trying to do. It was this aspect of the book that left me dissatisfied at the end. Quite frankly he didn’t engage the whole “story” of the Bible. It didn’t help that he was coming from a cultural Jewish background instead of a completely non-theistic background.

    If he wasn’t going to give the most important narritives and commands of the Bible (found in the NT) the attention it deserves, then maybe he should have just stuck with the OT and called his book “The Year of Living the Law”.

  8. I think I agree with the above comments about how this was something other than living “Biblically” because it was so focused on the Law. But this is still instructive. It can remind us that many people out there do not have a starting point. If we were to try to give people a good starting point, how could we explain it in a way that made sense to them? Most of us learned these things piece by piece over many years.

  9. I saw an interview with this guy on the Today Show. Matt Lauer asked him a few questions which were interesting and then the “aha” moment happened. I never really saw how many media people “just don’t get it” when it comes to religious questions until Matt asked “So, when is the last time you committed a sin according to the Bible.” The author without a blink answered “Probably during this interview.” “Really?!” Matt Lauer said.

  10. My pastor found this book at a yardsale for 25 cents. He just finished reading and handed it over to me the other day. I’m looking forward to reading it, though. I think that its always a good learning experience when a nonbeliever talks about his experiences with religious communities and/or religious teachings.

  11. Steve Brown did an interview w/ Mr. Jacobs a couple months ago, which I enjoyed. I haven’t read the book but definitely enjoyed the interview w/ him.

  12. The most important thing he said in the video is this: “[You] can’t keep all the laws in the Bible.” (That is a paraphrase, but it’s close.)

    Isn’t that true? It’s too bad he missed that part and didn’t seem to really realize the significance of what it means.

    “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

    The logical conclusion of his effort should have been grace. I didn’t hear that in the video, but maybe it’s in the book. Doubt it.