ON READING THE BIBLE
No Bible book should be treated like an ancient artifact; examined for its grammar, syntax; examined historically, culturally and with tools of form, linguistic and literary criticism—end of story, and then put up on the shelf before we move on to another textual artifact.
The biblical books are covenant literature and the People of God have lived on them for millennia and God meant this literature to so function. As a single narrative [with all that that involves] it is alive and generates life because it is the voice of God’s Holy Spirit.
As a whole it cannot be embraced as covenant literature and climax in anyone but the one true God who has come to us in and through and as Jesus Christ.
Each book in the Bible is part of a single narrative and while each book has its own contribution to make to the entire Story—something we mustn’t ever forget—it has no sense by itself. That is, we could isolate the massive Exodus events from everything else and we could tell them in a story form easily enough as though it stood by itself but it would no longer be what it is in the biblical witness. It only makes biblical sense if it’s part of a single story connected with the past and looking to the future.
This is the claim of Jesus in passages like Luke 24:24, 44-47, and see Acts 3:17-18, 22-24; 26:22-23. Pay special attention also to Stephen’s Acts 7 speech before his critics, which shows the forward movement from Abraham to the crucifixion and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth [7:2, 52, 55]. Then he further shows the climax in Jesus by praying for their forgiveness and commending himself into the Lord’s keeping as Jesus did on the cross [Luke 23:34, 46].
The OT book of Obadiah doesn’t have to have a verse talking about Jesus in order to be part of a grand narrative that speaks of God’s dealings in and with Israel. It’s part of a single Story and each prophet contributes what he has to contribute concerning his own time in the single narrative of salvation history.
Zechariah speaks in his own time and circumstances about the ways of God and we need to allow him to speak his own message. But having by God’s enlightening grace done that to the best of our ability we need to see it with that forward look that even the prophets didn’t grasp [1 Peter 1:12]. Jesus, as mediated to us through the NT, is to be our final and authoritative interpreter.
But what does that mean—Jesus must be our final interpreter of the entire biblical witness? Whatever else it means it means he is the ALPHA & OMEGA. He’s to be the beginning and end of our study, our reflection, our preaching, our praise, our esteemed and cherished thoughts and our behavior in all our relationships. We are to look at him and see in him what God thinks of the wayward humans family; we’re to see him as more than [not less than] the one who forgives our sins—he’s the meaning of all things; in him all things hold together and have ultimate meaning [Colossians 1:17].
To see the Bible as a single overarching narrative that climaxes in Jesus—the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, glorification as Lord and the coming One—will affect how we hear Scripture. But to seek to hear Scripture better must mean that we seek to hear it for what it is: God’s self revelation that is seen in the history of the human family with particular emphasis on Israel as the chosen People—a history that climaxes in Jesus.
We want to know more than the Story and how it fits into a single narrative and Story. We want to know the God who reveals himself in that Story. So it isn’t enough to explain what the verses mean and how the sections and books work together as if that were the goal. The goal is to know GOD as he is revealed in Jesus.
We’re not after religious ideas or principles or moral advice or an explanation of this verse or that—we want to encounter and admire and serve the living God. This and nothing less is [should be] the purpose of all biblical study and reflection. We must have the prophetic text and we’re glad to have it but it’s not an end in itself and if our study, teaching and preaching makes it an end in itself we’ve built an image and are calling people to serve it.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me; not even a Bible.”
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.