A variety of writing types are available for one to read. Each writing and book has its own purpose. Textbooks are intended to communicate knowledge to those seeking to gain insights into a particular field, skill, or set of facts. Volumes from throughout the ages contain poetry which are intended to inspire, comfort, encourage, or unleash creative thought. Other books are fictional in nature which paint stories for a reader to follow. Fictional books are intended to be for entertainment or relaxation. Some books actually contain elements of more than one of these genres. A book which contains more than one of these genres listed above is the Bible.
Within the Bible are historical facts and events. Some portions which give insights. Poetry and imagery is scattered throughout this book. Words of encouragement, comfort and inspiration are shared at various locations. You will discover stories that entertain, teach, and inspire. These wonderful elements written by different individuals over thousands of years are assembled in a book which we now call the Bible. The question is, what do you do with this book?
Some individuals have made an attempt to use the Bible as a history book. Others have chosen to look at this book as a rule book. Still other people see the Bible as just a group of fictional stories written by ancient people who were trying to explain the world which they experienced without any factual or scientific understanding. I would argue that the Bible was intended to tell the story of God, God’s people, and the world God created.
Here are some important realities which must impact our approach to the Bible:
- Most of the writings included in the Bible began as oral stories passed from one generation to the next.
- Writings are by multiple authors who lived in a variety of times and locations.
- The cultures from which the stories and authors originated are in most cases not the same as your own but shape the way the stories, events and thoughts are communicated.
- The original languages of the writings which we inherit are Greek and Hebrew, not English.
- A fair number of Hebrew and Greek words do not have English equivalents.
- Symbolism is frequent throughout the Bible.
- Interpretation of meaning depends upon the interpreter.
- Duplication of the writings before the printing press depended on a reader and a gathering of scribes who tried to write down what they heard read.
- Edits of the texts have occurred from the beginning of sharing these stories.
- The decision of which writings would be included in the canonized Bible was constituted by a group of humans.
- While the writings were inspired by God, humans wrote them.
If you combine the different forms of writing along with the realities which I have listed, a great disservice is done to the Bible by anyone who would choose a literal interpretation approach when engaging with this book. Instead, the best approach is to look at a passage and seek the major meaning within that passage. Asking questions like,
“What are the key concepts presented here?”
“How might the people of that time understand this passage?”
“What is the overarching message here?”
are helpful. Doing a little research into the historical setting and the cultural background of the ideas will aid a person who wishes to place the passage in the correct context. Then you are able to find the connections with your own context.
The Bible was intended to give insight, not to be the sole source of understanding our relationship with God and each other. When you interact with all the elements of the Bible, you find it to be an enriching and a wonderful guide to deeper relationships. Do not take each word at face value or you will lose the true beauty of this book.