The Bible shows every evidence that those who wrote it believed they were communicating the truth about God, and about how to live our lives. It is also clear that those authors went to great pains to make that share it with us. They saw God working in the lives of real people, and wanted us to understand that. They wrote their accounts in such a way that, if we read it properly, it can change our lives. So how did the authors intend for their work to be read?
- Different Types Should Be Read Differently
- Partial List of Stories
- How the Bible Authors Read the Bible
- Theology Based on the Stories
- They Often Told Stories Differently
Different Types Should Be Read Differently
The answer of course, is in the text itself, and it varies with different books of the Bible. The psalmist’s expected that their work would be read as poetry, and sung as a song. Wisdom literature, like Proverbs, was meant to be read it quite differently than poetry. But the bulk of the Bible is not written in either poetry or wisdom literature. Somewhere between 75 and 80% of the Bible appears as narrative, as story. And when an author writes a story, he or she expects it to be read as a story.
Partial List of Stories
For the ordinary reader, that’s both good news and bad news. It’s good news because all of us like stories, and the Bible contains some of the best stories ever written. In fact, it has often been called “the greatest story ever told.” And that’s true not just because it tells us about God — which it does! — but because it is full of great stories! Indeed, in Hebrews chapter 11, which we often call “the Faith Chapter,” is largely a catalogue of great stories. In that chapter, Paul lists these stories:
- Cain and Abel;
- Enoch, who was translated without seeing death;
- Noah and the ark;
- Abraham leaving his home,
- Abraham fathering a child with Sarah open both were over 90 years of age;
- Abraham offering Isaac, and God intervening;
- Jacob blessing each of Joseph’s sons;
- f Joseph, who not only delivered his brothers, but spoke of God’s deliverance of the children of Israel years later;
- Moses’ parents who hid him for three months in order to save his life;
- Moses abandoning his claim to the throne of Egypt in order to lead the children of Israel;
- the Passover and its miraculous deliverance;
- the parting of the Red Sea, allowing Israel to escape, and then destroying the army of Pharaoh;
- the conquest of Jericho, including the deliverance of Rahab and her household.
And then after listing all these great stories, says this:
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
In short, Paul demonstrates that there is almost an endless number of magnificent, fascinating stories in the Old Testament. And that doesn’t include anything in the Gospels or the book of Acts. There are stories of all types, of various lengths, and different plots. So if you like stories, the Bible is a great place to find them.
How the Bible Authors Read the Bible
Once we begin to understand this idea of reading the Bible as story, we will discover that the Bible writers themselves read it that way. Many of the Psalms, for example, are recitations and celebrations of earlier stories in the Bible. Others, like Psalm 23, speak of our relationship to God as a metaphorical story with Him as a shepherd, and ourselves as his sheep.
In Hebrews, and in Romans, two of the more theological books in the New Testament, Paul repeatedly refers to the historical events as the basis of his theological pronouncements; his theology is based on the story.
Theology Based on the Stories
When we read the Bible as it was intended to be read, that is to say, when we read most of it as story, it changes the way we go about the process. It will change where we start to read, it will change the choice of the translation we use, and it will change what we look for to begin with.
We will still find direction for our lives, still find theology, still find all of the good things that we look for in the Bible. They will just show up differently than we expect.
They Often Told Stories Differently
The bad news is that the Bible writers often told their stories in a different way than we tell ours. When we understand that difference, it unlocks new dimensions of meaning which will only deepen our enjoyment.
There are more of my “Wrestling Rules,” but rather than list them, we will start with a story, and will mention them as the occasion arises in studying a passage.
Next: We will start with one of the shortest stories: Luke 8:43-48.