Friday, April 22, 2005

Images of the Bible

How we picture the Bible, the images we use to understand it or metaphors we use to describe it, obviously have a pro-found effect on how we approach the Bible. This is so because they are meant to. What they do is juxtapose the Bible with some other piece of literature and suggest that it functions in a similar fashion.

Thus it is often said that the Bible is a handbook for living. This brings to mind things such as instruction manuals for appliances or computer software, or certain professions. What is assumed in this sort of literature is that clear instructions are provided, which if followed, the desired and proper effect will be achieved. If one has the right handbook for the job, then one has the right answers. It is suggested that this is how the Bible functions, it provides clear instructions and is the right handbook for living.

However, most of Scripture is in the form of narrative or story, rather than clear instruction. This image leaves in the dark how to approach this aspect of scripture (along with others such as prophecy and poetry) and can lead to its neglect or treating it along the same lines as instruction. There is instruction of course (in the letters, the gospels, and dispersed among the narratives of the OT), but even here we have the to deal with the fact that the instruction is not given directly to us here and now, but to specific people(s) in a different times and places, asking different questions, facing different situations, and at different junctures in Gods plan and activity. Thus even the clear instruction is not always straight forwardly transferable to us.

The image of a handbook does rightly emphasize that the Bible is our guide when it comes to life, but it can mislead us in how it is to achieve this task. It can also lead to us missing so much else of what scripture has to offer, such as the rich spirituality in the Psalms, of which we can be a part through praying the prayers ourselves. The Bible is not meant merely to instruct and but some images encourage us to think only in those terms.

Another image is Gods letter to you. This rightly recognises that God can and does sometimes speak directly to us and our situations through the text. But what is sought and gained their is something different from what is desired when it comes to matters of ethics and theology. Once again this can fall to the problem of seeing scriptural teaching as being directed straight to us.

Now these images are not bad in themselves, in fact they are extremely helpful, but a problem arises if anyone of these comes to dominates our understanding of Scripture. The image that I have come to adopt as primary (not exclusive) is that of God’s Story. This is helpful on a number of levels and I will be exploring it in more detail soon.

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