At the end of the last post I wrote that we need to recover ‘the story beyond the text’. In writing that I am suggesting that there are diverse ways of approaching Scripture. One way would be to view the various texts as somehow dropping out of the sky in a timeless fashion, for surely the Bible is inspired in such a way that each and every text is ‘the word of God’. That would seem to be a way in which we were respecting the authority of the book we consider is our sacred Scriptures. Not my approach.
Story. It seems hard to get away from that. The books of Moses – the ‘law’ – do have some ‘do this / do not do this’ that could be classified as giving us (actually them not us) a set of laws, but the majority of the first five books (the law) are in the form of narratives recounting what took place – story. So much historical reflection in the other books… not a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ without a historical context. The Gospels – narrative. Yes there is teaching and instruction within them but all four essentially present us with ‘Jesus did this, he said this in this setting’ and so on right through to an account of the last days of his life; far more narrative than a set of teachings. Acts – story. The letters – most are in response to ‘in this setting and time with what they are facing I will write this to them’… historical context (so for example even the BIG doctrinal letter of Romans instructing us to pay our taxes is not a simple instruction, but is written into the context of Rome and street protests that were about to erupt over, within months, the taxation situation). Revelation – a context of observing Rome’s policies and values with a wonderful intersection then of earthly observation and apocalyptic vision that interprets and explains what was visible to one and all.
Story is what makes up the majority of our book.
And cos there is story we don’t have to defend all of it as ‘this is literal’. Maybe Jonah was a historical character, probably not though… and probably not even if Jesus thought he was (though I don’t think Jesus thought he was). Certainly I see no reason to suggest an ‘Adam and Eve’ in the sense of six / seven day creation and happened in this way (literally). What I think we need to think about is not the literalistic nature or not but more what would be the story being told. The story of creation would certainly adjust many eschatologies… the ‘first word’ and the ‘last word’ should surely be better aligned than ‘everything will burn up’. Probably the seven days resonate with the seven days of preparation for the Temple before it was filled with the glory of God. Somehow that would align those ancient stories more with the stories of the day from other cultures (and totally transcend them all) and give us (as Christians) a major connection between Genesis 1 and 2 with our comments on Revelation 21, with the whole of creation as a Temple. I think the only burning up in the end will be the various iterations of the ‘left Behind’ type of literature!
Story is so challenging. What if – hold on to your seat belt – Paul planted ekklesiai in each place as he knew that was essential, essential as the first phase of his activity, but that once he had done that maybe there would be a second phase, one that we do not read of in Scripture? We might try and copy phase 1 with our claims of being a biblical church because we read what was done, but fail to understand the why of what he was doing?
Story… and an uncompleted story. I am not suggesting we can continue to write the Bible… but we can and must continue to tell the same story, but it would seem to me that we are not in the same ‘chapter’ of where the Bible brings the story up to. If we do something different that tells a story that is incompatible with what has gone before we will prove to be truly unbiblical; likewise if we simply line up texts and align to them without consideration to the story it will also result in us being unbiblical.
So much could be said about the levels of story that are in our Scriptures – the detailed explanations as to why David (and Solomon) were God’s choices in the earlier historical books of Samuel but once we come to Chronicles no need to ascertain that (abnormal) choice of David and Solomon was from God as those nasty northern kingdoms have gone and only the faithful to David remain, would be one example.
And conflicts within Scripture – now we come to another area of great richness. Take the ‘wisdom books’. Proverbs is clear, there are no exceptions. Job… in some ways an exception… then Ecclesiastes, with the only human who has value is a dead one! Three contributions that we wrestle with so that we come to a level of wisdom that one monolithic approach would not help us get there. Life is complex and the intra-canonical dialogue (probably disagreement) serves us well.
Story, and with the interpretive centre being in the story of Jesus for God has spoken in ‘the Son in these last days’ in a defining way. The Jesus story – now that transforms the whole story.