Using the Bible for Writing Ideas

By Ali Hale

Dwayne Phillips commented on my post How to Generate Hundreds of Writing Ideas to say:

I find lots of short story ideas in the Bible. As someone once said, “The copyright has expired, so you are in no danger.”

I agree that the Bible can be a very rich source of ideas. This doesn’t just apply to fiction writers – a blogger could adapt a Biblical parable as an anecdotal-style part of a blog post, for instance.

Christian Fiction is a big market, with expanded versions of Bible stories and novels based on Christian themes, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here. This article is about finding inspiration from the Bible for your own writing, whether or not you’re a Christian.

Ideas from Bible characters

The Bible is full of fascinating characters. Some are heroic, others are villains, and many occupy the intriguing grey area in between – good men who do something awful (Moses, who kills a man; Peter, who denies knowing Jesus) or cowards whose find courage (Jonah, who tries to run away from God).

If you struggle to come up with characters for your fiction, why not pick one of the people in the Bible? Here are some to start you off:

Peter (one of the disciples) – hot-headed and impulsive but truly loved Jesus

Judas (the disciple who betrayed Jesus) – interesting for any story about a traitor within a close-knit group

Paul (wrote many of the letters in the New Testament) – radical conversion to a cause he’d formerly hated

Daniel & friends (Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament) – sticking to what they believe despite persecution and death threats

One interesting fiction idea would be to use some of these characters in a modern day setting. I loved this article on
If Bible Characters kept blogs… You could also try writing Facebook profiles for different characters.

There’s a list of famous Bible characters here.

Ideas From Parables

In the Gospels, Jesus tells lots of parables to His disciples and to various crowds. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Parable” as “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle”.

You can find a list of Jesus’s parables here.

So how could you use them?

Rewrite a parable in a modern-day setting

If you have a Christian background, you’ll probably have seen a few sketches in Church which involve a parable updated to a modern-day setting (The Good Samaritan is a popular one for this).

Try taking one of the parables and setting it in a modern inner city, or a high-tech office.

A twist on this is to update the parable and also change the ending – this can be very effective if your readers will be familiar with the parable and will think they know what’s coming.

Use a parable’s plot as the basis of a longer story

Some parables could easily be expanded and developed into full-length short stories – even novels. Ones I think would work well for this are:

  • The Unmerciful Servant (a servant is forgiven a lot of debt, but then demands repayment from a fellow servant who only owes him a little). You could try writing this as a tale-with-a-twist short story, perhaps leading the reader to expect that the servant would be merciful.
  • The Prodigal Son (a young man demands his share of the inheritance, lives an extravagant life until the money runs out, ends up destitute and returns home to his father). This would be great for a coming-of-age story of character change.
  • The Wicked Husbandmen (the people entrusted to take care of a vineyard kill the servants who’ve come to collect the harvested fruit, then kill the owner’s son). This could be a thriller or crime story.

If you’ve used the Bible for inspiration in your writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, tell us about it in the comments…

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42 Responses to “Using the Bible for Writing Ideas”

  • Victor Baptiste

    I’ve written a short eBook inspired by bible characters and it took me down a fascinating path which I would never have otherwise taken.

    You can’t go wrong drawing from the greatest story ever.

  • Allisostern

    I am an avid watcher of the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu series, and I once based some writing (post-“Rise of the Spinjitsu Master, season 2 finale) off of the parable of the Prodigal Son–although everyone seemed happy with the outcome, I couldn’t help wondering–what if someone wasn’t (taking on the role of the older brother)… 🙂

    Another piece (same show) I concluded with Matthew 3:17: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

  • Nancy

    I thought this article was great – I’m currently working on a murder mystery/adventure story set in Ancient Egypt and inspired by the Bible. I’ve often really enjoyed just how real and human all the men of the Bible were – even ‘good guys’ made mistakes! As a Christian, I thought this article was great, and it was very neutral – neither preachy nor hinting that the Bible is just a story book! Thank you!

  • Lauren

    I’m also a Christian! =) But I have been reading the Psalms lately, and some of the verses have helped me with the setting of a story, or what happens in my story.
    e.g. How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down— this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
    ~ Psalm 62:3
    The picture this verse gave me was these people knocking down this fence or wall… I guess they were trying to escape from their city or town or something… anyway, I haven’t actually used the idea in a story yet, but it was just an example and trust me, you can get a lot of ideas from Bible verses.

  • Mary

    See, now I am really ticked off. You get atheists, or unbelievers visiting a site and you have to walk on eggshells. Not me! I don’t have a problem telling people I am a Christian or that using the BIBLE as inspiration for writing is an excellent idea! You don’t like it unbelievers and atheists…tough! We put up with you people on a daily basis…it’s annoying…can’t you just thank the guy for his ideas and get over it already? Btw, thanks for the GREAT ideas…Praise the Lord!

  • Joan Campbell

    Ali/B.J.

    I agree, Ali. It would be interesting to turn B.J.’s plots over to a small circle of writers to see what they come up with. And I have just the right group. My students (high school seniors) will be participating in this YEAR’s NaNoWriMo challenge. B.J., with your permission, I’ll share your link to those who are still looking for that perfect plot.

    Ali, keep up the good work. This post was neither preachy, nor evangelizing. I think it likely that the two people who took issue with it have a problem with Christianity- which begs the question – why did they read the post in the first place? Your sensitivity and respect toward them was obvious (and, dare I say, decidedly the Christian approach.) Too bad they couldn’t respond in kind.

  • P T

    Ali, I just want to thank you for your post. Please don’t give in to the people who say that you should modify your post.

  • diccibird

    Anyone read the book or heard David Haslam (father of late Paul, guitarist for the rock band Free) reading the old testament bible stories. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the stories – helps not to be in fact…

  • Rick

    I was inspired by the “Left Behind” book series and have always had a passion to write a book or books someday. I am a musicians and song writer and have written songs to about 4 albums. This website is a great help and tool. Quiet enjoyed the comments from different people. It is sad that some people are just quick to judge something before they really listen and learn.

    Is there a quick was to learn about writing? I am willing to take part time schooling as I am busy working and supporting my family and cannot attend school full time. If anyone has a suggestion please pass it own. Would very much appreciate it.

    Yes, I do agree: The Bible is a great source for writing novels whether one is a devout Christian or not. I am a believer and follower of Christ and of course would recommend Jesus to anyone seeking, but I cannot say, I will not read a Biblical story written by non-Christian. That would be very ignorant of me. I am sure Biblical movies like “Moses”, Prince of Egypt, Joseph Prince of Dreams, Paul, Noah, etc were not all produced by Christians. Same applies to books. Jimmy Laz sounds like he hates the Christian religion for one reason or another. I hope someday he will change his mind….God bless his heart. Thank you all.

  • Rachel

    Sometimes using story ideas from the bible and transfering it into mordern times can be a great idea! I know several stories that have sold very well!

  • Emma

    I agree with you completely that religious texts are a great source of story ideas. I and my family are Mormon, and we’ve commented multiple times that certain themes and ideas from the Bible and the Book of Mormon would make great stories. Like you are saying about the different Biblical figures and how they would make great characters, the same could be said about people in the Book of Mormon. I won’t make a list of them here, but you get my point. Religious texts, whether you believe them to be true or not, are great sources of inspiration for stories.

  • Pen pen M

    Thanks for such a great post. I agree that the bible is such a great source of inspiration for any writer, Christian or non-Christian. We can learn a lot about creating believable characters because the characters are well rounded. Also we can get many ideas for plots and learn a thing or two from the great imagery it contains.
    Its shame that some people find this post offensive, I cant see why. There is a lot of useful stuff here, and it seems more like a personal attack to me, which is sad. I guess you can never please everyone.
    Once again thanks for another great post Ali.

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