Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Bible within the Story 3

The Story within the Bible

The Bible within the Story
It seems that we are naturally wired to see the story within the Bible. It is much harder for us to see the books of the Bible in the story "outside" the Bible, that is, the story of history in which the books of Bible themselves were written. For example, in the story within the Bible, Jesus comes before an early Christian named Paul. But in history, the writings of Paul were written before the writings about Jesus (the four Gospels).

This is hard for us to see. The books of the Bible were not written in the order in which they appear in our Bibles.

There is a tendency, it seems, to think that a book of the Bible was written during the time it pictures, even that it was written by its main character. Was Job the first book of the Old Testament written, because Job may have lived around the time of Abraham? Was Jonah written by Jonah at the time of Jonah?

But I could write a book about Job or Jonah. The time that a book talks about is not necessarily the time when it was written. And it seems very doubtful, at least at first glance, that the main characters of the books of the Bible wrote the books that tell their story. Jonah is about Jonah. Joshua is about Joshua. They are talked about in the third person--"Jonah did this, Jonah did that." It is not a natural conclusion at all to think that Jonah wrote this book about him. Indeed, the book of Jonah--even as it ends--seems quite critical of this prophet.

We simply do not have enough information to know the exact order or the exact circumstances in which all the books of the Bible were written. But it almost certainly would make a difference in the way we read them. The circumstances and context in which something is written makes a difference as to what its connotations were. If we do not know them, then their original meaning is less certain.

A close look at the books of the Bible shows that they can give slightly different perspectives on the same events and issues. A close look at Paul's letters, for example, shows that he modified his arguments and instructions to suit the needs of specific churches. From a Christian perspective, God worked through dozens of biblical authors to address the needs of his people at different times and places. He worked through the personalities and writing styles of each author. So the Greek of each Gospel writer is different from each other, and all of them are different in style than Paul.

These comments do not contradict the Christian idea that God inspired the books of the Bible. Indeed, it suggests that God was concerned about the needs of individual people and groups. God did not give us a vague Bible that is so general that it is of little specific good. He gave us books that spoke to people where they were at in their time of need.

This sense of the books of the Bible in history leads us to realize that the Bible gives us a smorgasbord of potential help. Some of the books may be more directly helpful at some times and places than at others. When our circumstances are like the circumstances of some cross-section of the biblical texts, God will leap across history from those texts to work in us in our time of need.

So while there is a tendency to flatten out the story within the Bible, there is a more advanced understanding of the Bible that begins to see each book as a moment of revelation in history. God did not inspire one person to write one book for all time on one occasion. God inspired dozens of authors over a thousand years to write dozens of books to address dozens of occasions. It makes a difference when it comes down to the nitty gritty of understanding the Bible. And how we understand what it meant then will often have an effect on what we believe God is saying to us now.

I also believe that God can speak directly to you through the words of the Bible in ways that the original authors and audiences of the Bible would not have understood. To be sure, there are dangers to opening the door to "words from the Lord." God will not tell you to murder someone or to have an affair on your spouse.

But the New Testament suggests that, since Jesus died and rose from the dead, God's "Holy Spirit" is more powerfully active in our lives than he ever was before Jesus. [1] One characteristic of this time in history, according to the New Testament, is that God's Spirit is working strongly in every person who believes the good news that Jesus is king. One characteristic of this time is that God sometimes speaks to us, even as individuals.

The Bible is perhaps the main way that God speaks to us today, from a Christian perspective!

The chapters that follow will continue to explore both the story within the Bible and the story of the Bible itself. I invite you not only to know the story, but to join the story. When you read the Bible as "Scripture," as your Bible, you do not just read it for knowledge. You read it to be changed by God. Christians read the Bible not only to know God, but more importantly, to be known by God.

[1] The Holy Spirit is God as he often speaks to us and works in us to change and guide us.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you for your faithful blogging. I usually copy each post, and save it digitally.