If we were approaching the Bible for the first time, how would we read it? Would we, as many do, read it as a collection of disconnected writings to be read independently from one another? Would we as some others, read it to discover the laws they suppose God has buried here and there in it and “mine” the text as the old forty-niners dug in the earth looking for gold. Do we approach it as a “road map” from earth to heaven seeking to find directions there as we would consult a Rand-McNally road atlas – or now our GPS – when we are lost in a strange city?
How does the Bible “ask” to be read? In other words, how does God want us to read His book? Authors of various books expect their readers to approach their works with certain assumptions in mind based on the kind of book he has written. Books on history, essays on philosophy, science textbooks or cookbooks each demand different approaches. You don’t pick up a calculus textbook and expect to be entertained. You don’t read a cookbook to learn trigonometry or astronomy. The Bible is like this in that in order to get out of it what the author intended we must approach it in the right way – with an understanding of its intended purpose.
Right off, when we open it at the beginning and we read the first words in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God…,” we should have a clue to the nature of the book we are undertaking to read. In this it is like the fairy tales and fables that begin, “Once upon a time…” We immediately know we are hearing or reading a story – and as those fairy tales and fables had a moral, so the Bible has a major point it is seeking to fix in the minds of its readers. The Bible is a book that teaches through story.
I don’t mean to suggest that the Bible is fictional like fairy tales, but that there is a theme or thread that runs throughout from beginning to end. I am persuaded that the Bible presents itself as factually accurate and historically correct. There have been numerous archaeological discoveries that have borne this out – places and people the Bible recorded as existing in the time the story is being lived out by God’s chosen people. This factual nature of the Bible is one thing that gives it credibility. The Bible, unlike other religious books, deals with real people in real places and real problems.
There are numerous side-tracks and deviations from the form of story, but all these contribute to the richness and completeness of the Book of books. These also contribute to our confusion when we attempt to read it from “cover to cover” as a seamless work of fiction. There are books of history, books of law, books of poetry and books of prophecy. There are biographies, personal letters and letters to churches. But there is one overarching, dominant theme, and as in a great symphony, many sub-themes, all intricately woven together into a wonderful masterpiece. The Bible is God’s story. It is the story of Him and His creation – particularly of how He has dealt with the problem of man and his sin.
In the next several articles we will be exploring this story – this wonderful production of the infinitely wise God, the One who created us, who has sustained us and the One who wants more than anything else that we know Him. We can only attempt to give the barest of sketches of the Bible’s story with the hope that you can be able to better follow that story as you read it.