The Bible As Literature

One of the things that invigorates me about the Christian Scriptures is their simultaneous harmony and discord.  They are firmly unified in their message and yet, at the same time, are filled with minor, and a few major, contradictions that must either be ignored or explained away.  It excites me that God has chosen to speak to us in a manner that is identical to our everyday lives.

Scripture’s Disunity

Because the Bible is made up of a collection of books written by many different people from many different backgrounds speaking to varying generations of people, there appear quite a few discrepancies when telling the same story.  Take, for example, the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.  According to Mark 15:25, it was around 9:00 in the morning when they crucified Him, and yet, over in John, it was around noon when they did the deed.

Unlike some, though, who would throw the whole book out on account of this one “error,” I see this as an opportunity to dig deeper.  The Gospels cease to be focused on the literal story of Jesus’ death on the cross and more on something else; something deeper.  It becomes more important to come to an understanding of what the crucifixion means rather than emphasizing the fact that it happened. It becomes clear that the Gospel writers were attempting to, rather than literally tell the story, interpret the story and point us to a deeper spiritual truth.

Scripture’s Unity

Which feeds directly into the Scripture’s unity.

I firmly believe, and I am sure I have said this before, that the way God uses Scripture to speak to us is not necessarily through the fact that certain events actually happened, but rather through the underlying message contained in those events.  Yes, Jesus died on the cross, but it is more important why He did it.  The same with Old Testament stories.  Jonah was swallowed by a whale, true, but more important is what we can learn from that event.

The discrepancies in the Bible cease to really matter when one focuses primarily on the message found within.

I believe that this is how we should read the Bible.  Not so much as a literal history, although that aspect is present and we must be careful not to neglect it, but rather as a way for us to come to grips with how God interacts with His creation.

Scripture and Our Lives

As I stated above, God has chosen to speak to us in a manner that correlates with our every day lives.  Our lives are full of harmony and contradictions.  If God spoke to us in total perfection, then it would be hard for us to relate to what He was saying.  Instead, He has opted to meet us in our messes and contradictions.  He has even chosen to speak to us through a book that mirrors our lives.

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2 thoughts on “The Bible As Literature

  1. maaark says:

    1st let me commend you for keeping your essay so simple. I often pass on posts that are in excess of a page.

    When I think of contradictions I have 2 categories; 1- technical as in dates or events 2- an issue contradiction.
    But maybe I should use the term “tension” rather than contradiction. Tension implies two positions held in suspension as in paradox. So the tension of issues could be the tension between God’s power and our free will. Issues of judgment and mercy. I think these tensions are severe in the Bible. It is hard for humans to let them be.

  2. breadandsham says:

    Many of the “tensions” or apparent “contradictions” disappear when we STOP reading it “in a manner that correlates with our every day lives” or as a book that “a book that mirrors our lives.”

    Scripture is about an absolute beings whose nature is transcendent as well as immanent. We must approach His revelation as both as well. The words, (even the ones that seem to be a paradox) mean more than we think they do. Distinguishing between “that” something happened, from “why” something happened is not the issue. These are not the paradoxes. We always ask “why” of the text. The paradox or tension comes when the “why” seems to disagree with another “why” in Scripture.

    Where is the tension in Jonah?
    i.e. The story of Jonah, as you brought out, has meaning beyond an immanent, practical application to our lives as message-bearers. It says that God is merciful. God is patient. God is giving grace to people who are disobedient to Him in a way that they don’t deserve. God gets His way. God is in full control over the events of man’s lives. etc.

    This doesn’t seem to be in tension with other passages of Scripture. However, separate other passages about God’s wrath, judgment, and destruction of objects He has made and has full control over does raise tension.

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