Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Story Inductively 3

continued from here


4. This gives one general sense of how Christians have understood the overarching story or metanarrative of Scripture. However, even here there are variations. One popular presentation of the biblical story emphasizes the story of the Flood and the Tower of Babel in Genesis, then pretty much omits the rest of the Old Testament. [1] Different tellings of the biblical story emphasize different events and glue them together differently.

Here we want to introduce the idea of reading the Bible "inductively." When you read the Bible inductively, you are trying to read it on its own terms and with its own emphases. For example, although the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is very important in most Christian tellings of the story, Adam and Eve are barely mentioned in the vast majority of the Old Testament. Adam is barely mentioned outside two chapters of the New Testament. Inductively speaking, Adam is not a central character in the books of the Bible.

I mentioned a version of telling the biblical story that emphasizes the Flood and the Tower of Babel. Yet the Flood is barely mentioned in the Bible outside Genesis, and the second story is not explicitly mentioned anywhere else. From an inductive perspective, on the books of the Bible's own terms, these stories are not central to the Bible at all. 

This fact does not necessarily invalidate these readings of the whole Bible. The point is that these perspectives do not come from the Bible alone. There is a whole lot more "glue" that comes from us in these overarching readings than we probably realize. We are wearing "glasses" as we read and quite probably do not even realize it. These glasses affect what we see, in some cases even more than the biblical texts themselves. These are often the glasses of church traditions.

5. In the end, the Bible is a collection of books. God did not inspire one person to sit down one day and write from Genesis to Revelation. The scrolls of the Bible were written over a thousand-year period by dozens of authors in three different languages to numerous different contexts. While it was the same God speaking, the language styles of the books are not the same. Words are not used in the same ways. These dynamics will become clearer and clearer as we read along.

When God speaks, he wants to be understood. So God inevitably speaks our language. When God spoke to ancient Israel in the books of the Old Testament, their "language" was full of concepts from the Ancient Near East of three thousand years ago. When God spoke to the early Christians in the books of the New Testament, their "language" was full of concepts from the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world. When we do not realize this fact and bring our own concepts from our twenty-first-century cultures, we will inevitably "misread" these texts on at least one level without knowing it.

The Bible is thus more of a library than a single book. Most of these books existed alone and apart before they were put together. When Revelation 22:18-19 warns about adding or taking away words from "the scroll of this prophecy," it was originally referring only to the scroll of Revelation. After all, none of the other books of the Bible were attached to it at that time. When 2 Timothy 3:16 first said that "all Scripture is God-breathed," there was as yet no New Testament. It was only referring originally to what we now call the Old Testament.

As we read through the Bible together, we will keep track of what turns out to be two different ways of reading the Bible, both of which are arguably valid. The first is what these books actually meant, their original, "real" meanings. The second approach relates to the meanings these books took on and take on when we read them together with each other and then bring our Christian traditions of reading with us. Often when Christians talk about what God was saying through the Bible, we are really referring to later Christian traditions about how to glue the content of the Bible together. 

6. So if we can speak of the overarching story within the Bible, we can also speak of the history of the books of the Bible...

[1] Answers in Genesis. Seven Cs of History


Bob MacDonald said...

The seven part story you have outlined fits with the idea of the continuous presence of the creator, if we keep in mind your phrase "the world is not yet as God planned it to be". We as humans have more than a passive role. We hold in our hands the destiny of the body. We are responsible. Someone said of my son that he works miracles, he said, "I don't work miracles, I just don't stop working."

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the series.