Rock and roll has its roots in blues, country, and other musical traditions. It has evolved over the years to include a wide variety of styles and themes. One common theme that appears in rock is the use of biblical themes and references. Many famous songs contain references to the Bible and Christian themes. These nods can be found in lyrics, music, and imagery. Some songs contain lyrics that reference specific stories from the Bible, such as the story of Adam and Eve or the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Other songs explore broader themes from the Bible, such as the idea of salvation or the role of faith in one’s life.
In addition to lyrics, rock and roll often incorporates musical elements inspired by Christian traditions. For example, many rock and roll songs feature hymn-like melodies and chord progressions reminiscent of traditional hymns. Additionally, some rock songs feature gospel-style vocals and harmonies, which are often associated with Christian music. Plus, many rock bands and artists use symbols and imagery that reference specific stories or themes from the Bible. Plenty of bands use crosses or other Christian symbols in their album artwork or stage sets, while others use biblical imagery in music videos or live performances. (LINK 2)
Today, you’ll learn all about ten world-famous rock songs directly inspired by the Bible. In these ten tracks, gnarly, renegade rock singers took unlikely inspiration from the Christian world’s most famous piece of literature. The end result is a set of timeless musical classics.
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10 “Sympathy for the Devil” (The Rolling Stones)
The Rolling Stones first released “Sympathy for the Devil” on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet. Penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it has since become one of the band’s most iconic and well-known hits. The song is written from Satan’s perspective. It tells the tale of the Devil’s role as a tempter and deceiver. The lyrics contain several references to the Bible, including the story of Adam and Eve and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
In fact, the song’s opening lines are a direct reference to the Bible’s portrayal of Satan as a tempter and deceiver. “Please allow me to introduce myself,” the track begins, “I’m a man of wealth and taste.” In the book of Genesis, Satan tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by promising her knowledge and power, and in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness by offering him the kingdoms of the world. Jagger and Richards know quite well what they sing in that regard!
Throughout the song, the narrator describes his actions in terms that are reminiscent of the Bible’s portrayal of Satan. In one verse, the Stones wail, “I was ’round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.” That’s a pretty literal nod to being present at the time of Jesus’ temptation, and playing a role in Jesus’ suffering. Plus, the song’s aforementioned and titular chorus is a direct reference to the Bible’s portrayal of Satan as a tempter and deceiver who seeks to ensnare people with his wealth and charm.
In a world where many lyrics are metaphorical, the Stones hit this one right on the head. The song’s lyrics contain explicit references to the Bible and Christian themes and explore the idea of temptation and the role that Satan plays in the lives of people.
9 “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
World-renowned British rock band Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven” on their 1971 album Led Zeppelin IV. The song has become one of the most well-known and widely-loved rock songs of all time. It has also been the subject of much debate and speculation over its meaning and inspiration. Its metaphorical bent has left fans wondering about its meaning for five decades.
One popular interpretation of the song is entirely biblical. Specifically, the lyrics of the song include references to “a stairway to heaven” and “a tune that will come to you at last.” They translate roughly to the Christian concept of heaven and the idea that one’s ultimate destiny will be revealed in the end. The lyrics also mention “a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold” and “a ring that doesn’t fade away,” which are viewed as themes of faith and eternal life.
There are also some musical elements in the song that have been interpreted as references to the Bible and Christianity. The song’s intro features a solo violin playing a melody reminiscent of a hymn. Then, the song’s main melody features a chord progression similar to that of a traditional praise song. And the song’s structure follows a traditional verse-chorus-verse format identical to the structure of many hymns.
Other interpretations of the song claim it is about a journey of self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. The lyrics describe a person who is searching for meaning and understanding and who is trying to find their place in the world. The “stairway to heaven” could thus be a metaphor for this journey. And the “tune that will come to you at last” is interpreted by some as the realization or understanding that one is seeking.
Outwardly biblical or simply metaphorical, Led Zeppelin was clearly dealing with significant, deep themes in this song. So perhaps it’s no wonder the song has become one of rock’s most famous tracks of all time.
8 “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (The Byrds)
The Byrds released “Turn! Turn! Turn!” on their 1965 album of the same name. The song is based on the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. In fact, the song’s lyrics are taken almost verbatim from the book. The sole exception comes in the opening lines, where the lyrics go, “to everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose, under heaven.” So even when it’s not quoting the Bible, it’s still pretty biblical!
Like the book of Ecclesiastes, the rest of the track explores the theme of the cyclical nature of life and the idea that everything has its time and place. The “turn” lines repeated throughout encapsulate the theme of the cyclical nature of life and the idea that everything has its time and place. The rest of the lyrics, which are taken directly from the book of Ecclesiastes, explore this theme in more detail with different times and purposes that refer back to the opening.
The song’s music is characterized by its simple, upbeat folk-rock style, which is driven by the interplay between the guitar, bass, and drums. The Byrds were talented at creating catchy, sing-along melodies. Not just entertaining, that repetitive structure makes it easy to remember “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and sing along with it. The Byrds’ version of the track quickly became a hit. It reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1965.
The song has since been covered by numerous other artists, and it has turned into a classic of the folk-rock genre. In the years since, it has become a popular choice for sing-alongs and group performances. All the way through, its easy-to-grasp biblical themes have helped it spread across the music world.
7 “Highway 61 Revisited” (Bob Dylan)
Bob Dylan released “Highway 61 Revisited” on his 1965 album of the same name. The song is known for its bluesy, rock and roll sound. Its haunting lyrics are full of vivid imagery and cultural references. One popular interpretation of the song is that it is inspired by Christian themes. The song’s title, “Highway 61 Revisited,” is a reference to the Bible’s book of Revelation. It describes a “highway” or path that leads to the “new Jerusalem,” which is a city described as being made of gold and other precious materials. The lyrics include references to this highway and to the “new Jerusalem,” suggesting that the song is exploring the theme of spiritual enlightenment or salvation.
Dylan’s lyrics in the song also contain references to other biblical ideas, such as the story of the Tower of Babel and the idea of the apocalypse. The lyrics describe a world in chaos and turmoil, with people “crying in the dead of night” and “trying to get to heaven before they close the door.” These lyrics could be interpreted as references to the biblical stories of the Tower of Babel and the apocalypse, which both depict a world that is in disarray and in need of redemption.
Interestingly, “Highway 61 Revisited” is also known for its cultural references and vivid imagery. The song describes a journey down Highway 61, a real-life road that runs through the southern U.S. Along the way, it includes references to various landmarks and cities. The song’s lyrics are full of colorful descriptions of the people and places the narrator encounters on his journey, painting a vivid picture of life along the highway.
Still, the biblical ideas have stuck. Six decades after it was first released, Christians and Jews alike still cite Dylan’s impactful song as a nod to the story of God and his creation.
6 “Creeping Death” (Metallica)
Metallica released “Creeping Death” on their 1984 album Ride the Lightning. The heavy metal song is known for its aggressive sound and lyrics, which explore themes of death and destruction. There’s little question that the track is inspired by the Bible and the story of the tenth plague in the book of Exodus. The song’s lyrics describe a creeping death that is coming to destroy the narrator’s enemies. They include references to the biblical story of the tenth plague, in which God sent a series of plagues to afflict the ancient Egyptians in order to free the Israelites from slavery.
The lyrics describe the plagues as “creeping death,” and note the narrator’s enemies as “pharaoh’s slaves,” further suggesting a connection to the biblical story. In one verse, singer James Hetfield writes: “Slaves, Hebrews, born to serve the pharaoh / Heed to his every word, live in fear / So let it be written, let it be done / To kill the first-born pharaoh son / I’m Creeping Death.”
When Hetfield wrote the song, the band had just watched the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston. In that film, a memorable scene shows a fog sending in the tenth plague on screen. That fog was a theatrical choice for the film, but the imagery stuck with the rock group. They took note of the “creeping death” that devastated Egypt and put it to music.
The song’s lyrics also explore themes of death and destruction, noting “death is creeping its way in” and “hell is coming for you.” These are references to the biblical concept of death as a punishment for sin, as well as the idea of hell as a place of eternal punishment. In addition to its biblical themes, “Creeping Death” is also loved for its strong melodies and fast-paced guitar riffs. The rock sound is fast, powerful, and aggressive. In the years since its release, it has become a classic of the heavy metal genre.
5 “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” (Pink Floyd)
“Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” is a song Pink Floyd released on their 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It’s a surreal, psychedelic track, and its lyrics are full of imagery and cultural references, including some to Christianity. The song’s title is a reference to a line from the book of Genesis in which God tells Adam to “take up thy staff, and walk.” This line is often interpreted as a metaphor for the human journey through life. But it hits the note even harder with its direct quote from the good book.
In the album notes, it’s credited to bassist Roger Waters. And it features subtle references to the book of John, Chapter 5, Verse 8, in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man who spent years sitting on a mat. “Take up thy staff and walk,” Jesus tells the man—and Waters’s words carry over in the well-received rock song. Like the book of John, the narrator notes the idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions and making one’s own way in the world.
The song, and much of Pink Floyd’s work of this period, demonstrates the band’s fascination with the Bible. Plus, it showcases some of Roger Waters’s later-developed obsession with medical and biological subjects. These themes are further explored in the band’s later songs, such as those released in a 1970 collaboration with Ron Geesin.
Throughout his musical career, Waters and Pink Floyd frequently drew inspiration from the Bible. Much of that was evident in the use of material from the book of Ecclesiastes on the album Dark Side of the Moon. So it’s no wonder the band wanted to go for a religious reference with “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” when it popped up on their debut album.
4 “Adam Raised a Cain” (Bruce Springsteen)
The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis is one of the most unsettling stories in the Old Testament. It highlights the complex dynamics of relationships and family. Then, it ends in tragedy when Cain kills Abel. While this story is often discussed in relation to the actions and motivations of the brothers, it is also worth considering the role of Adam in the events that unfold. Thankfully for us, Bruce Springsteen did just that.
His song “Adam Raised a Cain,” from the album Darkness on the Edge of Town, uses the biblical story to delve into the theme of father-son relationships and the influence of parental figures. The song suggests we cannot escape the influence of our parents, just as Cain was a product of Adam. The song is a dark and thought-provoking exploration of the complex nature of the human condition.
Springsteen has said as much in interviews too. In 1978, Creem Magazine asked him about how he had used the Bible as inspiration. The Boss directly referenced that exact parable and noted how its themes seemed to be universal. “I was thinking of writing that particular song, and I went back trying to get a feeling for it,” Springsteen said of using the Bible to find inspiration for meaningful music. Of course, the New Jersey-born superstar is one of the best rockers to ever write about the workingman’s condition. But as it turns out here, Springsteen also has quite the feel for opening up about ancient religious tales, too.
3 “Rock of Ages” (Def Leppard)
In 1983, the English rock band Def Leppard released the album Pyromania, featuring the hit song “Rock of Ages.” The song is known for its energetic and over-the-top rock sound and its use of the cowbell. According to an interview with lead singer Joe Elliott, the music for the song was already written, but the band needed lyrics. They turned to the Bible for inspiration, using it as a source for the lyrics of the song.
“We let somebody use the studio the night before, and they held a Bible study session,” Elliott recalled years later. “A Bible was left in the studio open to the hymn ‘Rock of Ages.’ So, I picked it up and started singing.” Suddenly, the tune came together. The band almost immediately realized they had a hit on their hands. As they lined up music and lyrics, one of the hair metal era’s greatest rock songs quickly came together.
The biblical inspiration isn’t the only memorable part of the song, though. Rock fans can never forget its enigmatic intro, which consists of the words “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen.” The meaning of this phrase has always been a mystery to fans. We now know what it is—but it’s not biblical!
According to drummer Rick Allen, producer Mutt Lange had long since grown tired of using the traditional “one, two, three, four” countdown for songs in studio sessions. So he chose a meaningless phrase instead. As a result, the weird, random intro to “Rock of Ages” became one of the most memorable memes of headbanger music.
2 “Get out of Your Own Way” (U2)
Given their Irish and Roman Catholic background, it is not surprising that the Bible has influenced U2. In the song “Get out of Your Own Way,” the band draws on the Beatitudes, a set of verses from the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. These verses instruct people to be compassionate and understanding toward each other. They also offer comfort to those struggling, like the poor, humble, and grieving.
But U2 wasn’t content to do something straightforward. They took the Beatitudes from the Bible and reinterpreted them in a way that critiques contemporary life. The song’s lyrics invert the original message of the Beatitudes and offer a rebuke of modern values. For example, the song’s verse notes: “Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company / Blessed are the superstars, for in the magnificence of their light we understand better our own insignificance / Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own what you give away, like your pain.” These lines go very strongly against the spirit of the original Beatitudes and offer a harsh take on modern priorities.
That U2 collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on the track makes that critique all the more poignant. The rapper’s voice can be heard speaking the “anti-Beatitudes” as the song’s outro. Unlike his usual rap style, Lamar chose to speak the lines plainly. The decision gave the verse a preacher-like quality. The metaphor is thick there as a critique of the negative aspects of contemporary material culture. Beware the glorification of wealth, fame, and arrogance, U2 and Lamar warn in the powerful piece of music. But will society heed their advice?
1 “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (Charlie Daniels Band)
This one seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? The Charlie Daniels Band released “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” way back in 1979. The bluegrass-inspired song has been a hit ever since, thanks to its fast-paced tempo. Its memorable lyrics tell a fascinating story, too, about a fiddle-playing contest between the devil and a boy named Johnny. And the verses are chock-full of biblical allusions. After all, the song is a thinly-veiled reference to the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as described in the book of Matthew.
In this story, the devil attracts Jesus by offering him the kingdoms of the world. However, Jesus resists and ultimately defeats the devil. The song’s lyrics contain several references to that story, with the devil challenging Johnny to a fiddle-playing contest and offering him a “gold fiddle” as a prize. The devil is a tempter here, just as he is in the Bible, but Jesus—and, in the song, Johnny—resist the urge to give in and instead stay strong in their beliefs.
Biblical themes and stories are rampant throughout the fiddle-powered track. The idea of good versus evil and the power of faith both shine through. In CDB’s lyrics, Johnny is described as a “Christian” who is able to defeat the devil through his faith and skill with the fiddle. In his own way, Johnny was able to overcome the temptation of mortal sin with the power of his perseverance. Just like Jesus, Johnny refused to relinquish his soul to receive material gains. Thus, the 1979 track has long-term implications for how Christians counsel each other to live their lives. So it’s really no wonder it has long been popular with conservative southern Christians.
Of course, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is also known for its driving sound and catchy melodies. The song’s fast-paced, upbeat performance is driven by Daniels’s own amazing fiddle talents. Even outside of its Christian allusions, the single has become a classic of the country and southern rock genres. Its powerful parable and driving rhythms will have it living on for decades to come.