We are currently going over steps to form a better understanding of the Bible, the central text of the Christian faith. Last week I wanted us to understand how to read New Testament Letters Well and this week we’ll focus on some tips for reading the stories of the Bible well.
Reading the Bible well involves appreciating a good story. The events that make up a story contribute to the stories action commonly called a plot. Many portions of the Bible can become very confusing unless we read them the way the were meant to be read. For example, my son Jackson loves lego’s. In order to put them together in the way that a particular set was intended to be he must read the instructions. The lego instructions are meant to convey simple step by step ideas that contribute to an over all construction goal. In the end if lego has conveyed its ideas clearly you will have built exactly what the designers wanted you to build because you understood their ideas. The Stories in the Bible (sometimes called narratives) are NOT like lego instructions. Stories are made up of events not ideas. The action of a story is often called the plot. Along with the plot every story has two more very basic ingredients setting and characters. When the action, characters and setting merge together in a specific pattern you have yourself a story. For example the book of Ruth is a beautiful story. Take a moment to read the story (Ruth 1:1-4:22) and come back.
What is the setting?
What are the characters like, who are they?
What is happening as action in the story, what are the events?
So after you have taken a moment to read the story and think on the previous questions let me ask you one last question. What is the point of Ruth? What is the bid idea or ideas that the events, setting and characters are all contributing to? In other words what is the author of the story trying to say?
When you begin to approach the stories of the bible with even these very basic questions you will find it’s stories saying things about God and man that you have never noticed. Perhaps you will see your own life as a story in which God is actively involved just like he was with the Characters in Ruth.
Here are some simple things to remember when reading a story in the Bible that will help you to interpret its meaning.
- Get the Birds eye-view. Sometimes a person needs to back up from a single verse or paragraph and see how it fits into the whole story to really understand it. For example did you notice how everything that was lost to Naomi in the beginning of the story was restored to her in the end? A person cannot really understand the whole book unless they see the big picture.
- What is the story exemplifying? In order to figure out what the story is saying about life in a general way we need to figure out what the characters, settings and events are examples of. How is the book of Ruth exemplifying Gods sovereign, redemptive and restorative nature to the Children of Israel?
- Who are the Characters? Who are the heroes and villains etc in the story and how do they contribute to understanding the meaning of the story.
- Places are important. How do the places or settings of the events and characters contribute to the atmosphere of the story? What do the settings symbolize?
- What are the conflicts and how do they resolve? A story is not really any good without some kind of conflict. Im not really into a story that is full of conflict that never resolves. Find these elements of the action in a story (conflict and resolution) and you will be very close to understanding its meaning.
- How would you divide the story up? If you were to make the story into a play or movie how would you divide it up as scenes or episodes. Like on a DVD when they divide it up by scenes on the main menu so you can jump around the plot of the movie. How would you divide up Ruth for example? Most scholars divide it up into four scenes with an introduction. Introduction (Ruth 1:1-5); Scene One (Ruth 1:6-22); Scene two (Ruth 2:1-23); Scene 3 (Ruth 3:1-18) and Scene 4 (Ruth 4:1-22).
I would encourage you to find a great audio version of the Bible grab a notebook, some coffee and seek to interpret the meaning of one of your favorite Bible stories as a whole all at once in one sitting as you would do with one of your favorite movies or t.v. shows.