Making sense of the Bible The Life: Practical Insights to Christian Living @ MITACF By James Choung April 5, 2002
The Bible seems confusing… • Did God create the world in 6 distinct, 24-hour periods? “By the 7th day God had finished the work…” • Are acts of aggression condoned? “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” • Some books in the Bible seem to have no logical flow (Trials to warnings v. rich). • Are there any helpful ways we can begin to understand these things?
Perhaps, some helpful tools • Disclaimer: we’re not going to be able to cover everything. • Just a start: more resources will be provided at the end if you want to learn more.
Types of literature • Newspaper v. Poetry • Different types of literature require a different ways of interpretation to get at its purpose and meaning.
The Bible: not just one “book” • The Bible is a compilation of 66 distinct “books.” • Written over a 2,000-year span • Written on three continents • Written in three languages • Written by more than 40 authors, from different walks of life • Thus, we can begin to expect different literary styles of writing in the Bible
Six literary types in the Bible • History • Law • Poetry • Wisdom • Prophetical Books • Letters • It’s all used to teach us about God, but in different ways.
Example #1: What happened at Creation? • Genesis 1, Creation account. Did God create the world in 6 literal 24-hour time periods? • Genesis 1 is poetic, if not poetry. • It’s trying to answer the question, “What kings rule over which kingdoms?” • God rules over all, and humans are his adjunct governors.
Example #2: Breaking jaws is condoned in the Bible? • Psalm 3:7. “Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” • Again, poetry here highlights David’s anger. Doesn’t necessarily mean this is right. • Teaches us that we can come to God with everything, even our anger.
Example #3: James, a hodge-podge of good advice? • The book of James looks like a bunch of disjointed stuff at the outset. • Context: Rich v. Poor, almost a riot. • Rest of James makes sense in this context. • “Faith without deeds is dead” (2:26) in the context of serving the poor. • The meaning of the verse is nuanced or made richer by understanding the context of this letter.
Interpreting the Bible • To understand the Bible, we need to know that the Bible is more of a compilation of books, with different authors, styles, genres and intent. • Each type of Biblical literature attempts to highlight who God is and our relationship with Him, but in very different ways.
Follow-up resources • Fee, G. & D. Stuart (1993, 2nd ed.). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth