“Once upon a time…” these cliche words start many of our classic Western stories. There are lots of similarities between the kinds of stories we are familiar with and the Biblical narratives, but there are also some key differences.
In reality, the Biblical narratives are just stories. Yes they’re true stories, but at a basic level we can read them just the same way that we might read a modern story. They share the same basic features of any story: characters, plot, and plot resolution.
Biblical narratives are a bit different to modern stories in several respects though. In some ways they are more like a play or movie in their construction, as they tend to develop in short scenes that only have a few characters in view at any one time. These short scenes combine to tell the larger story, like acts in a play or scenes in a movie. Also, unlike modern stories, they don’t spend much time in visual descriptions of characters or their surroundings. Any visual details that are included in a Biblical narrative are therefore more important than they would be in a typical modern story.
Like a Shakespearean play, a lot of the important details of the story are communicated in the discussions between characters. Often the details that are most important will be told several times (e.g. the repeated descriptions of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, or the way the Cornelius story from Acts 10 is fully retold by Peter in Acts 11). The conversations are central and often the very first thing said is the most important.
The power of Biblical narratives is that they show how God’s principles can be demonstrated in the lives of ordinary believers. That said, we must also bear in mind that just because a Biblical character did something, doesn’t necessarily mean that action is something to copy. For example, Gideon putting out his fleece to test God in Judges 6 isn’t something believers are told they should do. Gideon’s actions aren’t encouraged or commended, in fact it was a demonstration that he didn’t fully trust God yet and God just patiently humoured him.
Currently the traditional Christadelphian Bible Reading Planner is taking us through some exciting narratives in the books of Samuel. Try and keep some of these thoughts in mind as you read through the stories about the exploits of David.
When we read the writings of Christadelphians we are on much safer ground than when we read expositions by those who are not—we can have confidence about the doctrinal content of what we read. That does not mean to say, however, that everything we read will be correct. We should not expect that: in fact, if we find ourselves agreeing with absolutely everything we read, it may be that we are not being discerning enough. God wants us to search out His Truth for ourselves.
Equally, there is no cause for patting ourselves on the back when we find something with which we disagree—our own opinions could equally be wrong. Sometimes it is possible to hear brethren speak with what seems to be a kind of pride when they state their disagreement with another brother’s position or view about a verse. But Bible exposition is not about the human ego.
We have to strike a right balance in our attitude towards different interpretations of scripture, and this will come out in our response when we read books. We are not reading so that we might seize on the mistakes of others, nor so that we accept unquestioningly everything that they write. All must be weighed prayerfully and thoughtfully against the scriptures.
There are always greater depths to explore, further gems to be discovered, fresh Bible study to be done. We must have an attitude of reverence and humility whenever we approach anything to do with God’s Word. Our own opinions about scripture, and our confidence in the opinions of brothers we respect, must always be tempered with the knowledge that we might be wrong, and that God knows what He means, even if we are sometimes too dim to perceive it correctly.
Extract from a series called “A Christadelphian’s Bookshelf” by Mark Vincent in The Christadelphian magazine 1995, volume 132, p206
I recently came across the following points in relation to meditating from scripture. They come from a book called The Art of Divine Meditation by Joseph Hall.
– What is it (define and/or describe what it is) you are meditating upon?
– What are its divisions or parts?
– What causes it?
– What does it cause; that is, what are its fruits and effects?
– What is its place, location, or use?
– What are its qualities and attachments?
– What is contrary, contradictory, or different to it?
– What compares to it?
– What are its titles or names?
– What are the testimonies or examples of Scripture about it?
Words are the foundation of any written text. Words come under various categories, giving us different information and conveying emotion and emphasis. The important ones to notice are the verbs (doing words) and the nouns (things – including people, places and objects). There are also adverbs (they describe verbs, how an action was done), and adjectives (describing nouns, telling us about characteristics of the person, place or object). It is worth looking at these parts of speech at a detailed level to get a deeper understanding of how the human author is trying to convey his message and what is being emphasised in the passage.
Verbs – What is the action? Who is the subject (performing the action), who is the object (being acted upon)? Adverbs – What further information do they give us about the verb? Why has the author given us this extra detail? Nouns – What are the objects involved, or who are the people being referred to? Adjectives – What are we being told about the people or objects, and why are we being told it?
http://www.grammar-monster.com has some great info on this stuff. The guy that runs this site also wrote a really informative little book called Grammar Rules (just for the other English geeks out there).
Different versions can be valuable in different contexts. What version do you think is best for children? What would you use for Bible readings at home with the family? Share your thoughts in the poll below and/or leave a comment. Thanks!
They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it and imparting insight. Thus the people gained understanding from what was read. (Nehemiah 8:8 NET Bible)
Reading is the foundation of Bible Study. Close reading is perhaps the simplest and most effective way to understand the meaning of a given Biblical text. Of course external material can help us understand the historical background and other useful details, but our primary tool is good reading. When we talk about reading, we’re talking about active and engaged reading. Casual reading done in a hurry, or without paying attention to the message, is not helpful. A slow and careful reading will allow you to not just read the words on the page, but to absorb them and understand them. Here are some recommendations for good reading:
Read slowly. It might seem efficient to read something through as quickly as possible, just to tick it off the list, but you won’t actually benefit from such reading. Reading slowly gives you time to digest and absorb the message. (Psalm 119:11)
Read carefully. Pay attention to literary devices and techniques. Read a sentence, absorb its point, before you move on to the next sentence. At the end of a paragraph, look at its opening and closing sentences to reiterate to yourself what the main point was. Make sure you have understood the current sentence or paragraph before you tackle the next one. Every detail is important (Matthew 5:18-19)
Read prayerfully. Engage in prayer before you read. Seek God’s guidance on your reading. If anyone can help you to understand a book, the book’s author can! (Matthew 7:7; 1 John 5:14-15)
Read repeatedly. It is important to read regularly. This helps you to develop and hone the skill. If “we are what we eat”, we also “are what we read”. The Bible emphasizes the need for constant meditation on God’s Word in a number of places so that we can be changed by it (Nehemiah 8:18; Psalm 1:2; 1 Timothy 4:13-16; James 1:21-27)
Here’s an example that highlights how easy it is to miss little details when we read. Who wrote the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians? How many epistles did Timothy write? It’s easy to gloss over the introductions to the epistles: we are told quite plainly that Paul co-wrote most of his epistles, and Timothy was his main co-author. With this in mind, do you notice a difference in tone or focus in any of Paul’s ‘co-written’ epistles. Do the ones that Timothy contributes to have distinctive characteristics or emphases? This is a small detail that has some thought-provoking implications. Keep your eyes open when you read.