Matthew 16:19 (ESV)
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
For more than 60 years, rock and roll music has been one of the most pervasive forces within popular culture. Concurrently, the Bible has consistently influenced rock artists and their songs. This has even been true for many who don’t necessarily ascribe to a particular religious belief system.
Such is the case with iconic English rockers, The Rolling Stones. Lead singer Mick Jagger and lead guitarist Keith Richards have written most of the band’s songs including several that make direct references to the Bible even though both have had a tempestuous relationship with the Bible.
“I read the Bible sometimes but it bores me to death,” Richards told reporters at a 2008 press event for the Martin Scorsese documentary, Shine A Light.
Jagger, who was raised in the Church of England and has practiced in several religions, echoed his band mate’s sentiment during another interview:
“I don’t have belief in the Holy Book,” he said.
Despite public rejection, the Bible has managed to find its way into The Rolling Stones’ music on multiple occasions. Early in the band’s career, the Bible had a significant impact on the 1968 album Beggars Banquet. For instance, the song “Prodigal Son” (written and originally recorded by Reverend Robert Wilkins) presented a literal retelling of Jesus’ parable found in Luke 15:11-32.
Then, on the controversial song “Sympathy For The Devil,” Jagger and Richards presented a tongue-and-cheek narrative from the perspective of the Bible’s original and most pervasive antagonist. Within the lyrics, Lucifer takes credit for a number of historical events such as the Russian revolution, World War II, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
The opening of “Sympathy For The Devil” includes references to Jesus praying in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:3-46) and the trial before Pilate (Mark 15:1-15 and Matthew 27:11-26).
Nearly 30 years later, the Rolling Stones released Bridges To Babylon (1997) in which the title not only contained a reference to a key city mentioned in the Bible, but also housed another example of the Bible’s influence on their music. On “Saint of Me,” Jagger sings about three men who would eventually receive sainthood from the Catholic Church, two of which were prominent New Testament protagonists:
Saint Paul the persecutor
Was a cruel and sinful man (Acts 8:1-3)
Jesus hit him with a blinding light
And then his life began (Acts 9)
John the Baptist was a martyr
But he stirred up Herod's hate (Mark 6:17-18)
And Salome got her wish
To have him served up on a plate (Mark 6:19-29)
Bible themes have also shown up in Jagger’s solo material including the title track from his 1993 album Wandering Spirit. The song is from the perspective of a man who is struggling to find his place in the world. Its theme is ripe with biblical allusions, for example:
When all the twelve Apostles try to ring me on the phone
Take a message but I won't return their call
For I have no eyes to see him (Psalm 135:16; Isaiah 44:18) and I thought I lost my way
And I know I've lost the keys to your door (Isaiah 22:22; John 10:9; Matthew 16:19)
On his fourth solo album, Goddess In The Doorway (2001), Jagger wrote and performed a duet with U2 front man Bono. “Joy,” although not explicitly biblical, it referenced common Bible concepts such as joy, grace, light and darkness, and Jesus Christ. In a 2007 interview with Independent, Jagger gave a hint as to how an artist who doesn’t ascribe a belief in the Bible can still find biblical premises showing up in their music.
“It has religious overtones, which is why I asked Bono to sing. He sings religious songs, doesn’t he?” he rhetorically responded. “I’m very ambivalent about religion. When you write songs, you think it’s going to be about one thing and something else creeps in, and you make that the theme.”
Dear Lord, we thank You for Your powerful word and the way it finds its way into all aspects of our life. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.