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The Bible as Story with Commentary (2)

2009 August 6
by Tim V-B

(See part 1 here)

Thinking of the Bible as a Story helps us think properly about how to read it.  Stories are to be read from beginning to end, at a fairly decent speed.  While Romans is worth close study, we should read most of the Bible at high speed.  Don’t read 1 and 2 Samuel a chapter at a time.  Find a clear hour or so and read it beginning to end!

Good stories make clever use of details to make the story come alive. When Paul refers to Jesus as our Passover lamb, he of course expects us to know the story of the Passover.  More subtly, when Jesus goes into some wilderness we are expected to recall earlier stories of God’s people in the wilderness.

Let me give an example.

Imagine a fairy tale. A King has a beautiful daughter who is kidnapped. A brave knight offers to rescue her, he faces a number of battles on the way, eventually she is rescued and they get married. An author might write this story as a number of chapters. Along the way, he might write some commentary: a chapter about what makes a good king, a poem about bravery, a discussion of what we should do if we, like the brave knight, face a fearsome dragon.

Keep imagining. Let’s say, as a baby, the daughter was baptised and wore a green christening gown. The author explains that baptism is a sign of new life.

Much later, when the knight rescues the princess, the author could write about how this is another example of new life. Or he might be more creative. He might write that the princess was wearing rags, not suitable for escape, but that the knight dresses her in a green dress (found in the cupboard in the hallway outside the princess’ locked room) before they climb down the tower. Then the author doesn’t need to write about the princess receiving new life. All he needs to do is mention a green dress, and you are supposed to understand.

IF you just read the chapter about the rescue, a line about a green dress means nothing. But to those who know the story, it adds another element.

Let’s take this a bit further. You’re reading the story, and you’ve spotted the green dress thing. But then you find other, suggestive references to green. Maybe there’s a chapter when the brave knight recalls how he used to be a coward, but then his father’s words made him brave. In the course of this chapter, the author “happens” to mention how the green of the fields sparkled in his eyes. It could simply be some descriptive writing. Or it could be another reference to new life – because those words of his father have brought him new life.

That’s how good stories operate. As you become familiar with the whole story, little details suddenly become treasure troves. Something like Lord of the Rings can be read again and again, and often finding more coming to life.

That’s how the Bible works.

Let me give some examples:

  • Curtain torn when Jesus died.  Mark gives no explanation, but expects the reader to understand.

  • The “I AM” sayings.  Scholars debate whether Jesus is claiming divinity.  Those who read the Bible as story find this obvious.

Sometimes the little details are given before you read about the significance.  This means that, when reading the story for a second time, all sorts of things take on a new depth.  For example:

  • Lot baking bread without yeast in the Sodom and Gomorrah story (Genesis 19:3).  Very significant given the symbolism of unleavened bread later in Exodus.

  • Jesus makes it clear that his third-day-resurrection was “according to the Scriptures.”  Have a look at “third day” references in the Old Testament and see how many are mini-resurrections (e.g. bad situations suddenly getting better).

It’s amazing how many commentaries ignore the details.  Whereas people like Matthew Henry (the great Bible commentator) or others who are soaked in the Story (James Jordan comes to mind), revel in the details.

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