Week 1 – Bible and Literature
In the first week we think about the Bible, our Scriptures, the book of God, without which we would know so little about Jesus.
We think about its richness and variety – it is not really one book at all, but 66 documents gathered into sections, with two main sections, what we call the Old and New Testaments.
It is full of stories, narratives, poetry, drama, characters, instructions, challenges, images, but sometimes we make it dull and flat.
Good Christians all rejoice
Tuesday 1.2 – The Big Story
Yesterday we considered briefly the variety of types of book in the Bible – we didn’t even mention the letters in the New Testament, or the detailed instructions on how to make the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus, or the genealogies; the lists of who begat who!.
Nor did I mention that the order of the books in our Old Testament is rather different from the order in the Jewish Scriptures, or that most of the letters in the New Testament which come after the gospels were probably written before the gospels!
So is there a theme or are there some great themes we can begin to see across these many books and different types of book.
Here are a few ways we might see the big story
a) The Bible begins with a God who creates an amazing world and it ends in Revelation with God making a new heaven and new earth which is also amazing. The big difference is that the world in Genesis 1 had no people in it whereas the new heaven and new earth will have the new Jerusalem – it will be populated and busy with people.
In the meantime, we have seen kingdoms and empires rise and fall; we have seen God’s people in good times and more often in bad; and then this person Jesus has been born, killed and raised to new life which is the first-fruit of this new Kingdom which is coming. Creation, Rescue, New Creation.
b) After God has made the world and given humans such freedom, the humans choose to believe a serpent and to break the boundaries given. This leads to self-awareness and shame and they hide. God calls them.
Much later God calls Abraham to be blessed and to be a blessing.
Moses too is called to rescue God’s people and lead them.
David is called to be King, to free the people from the Philistines and so they can live in peace.
David and Solomon are called by God to build the Temple.
Prophets are called to speak God’s word when people are rebellious in spirit
Jesus calls disciples to follow him and he calls on his followers to make disciples.
All called so that they can bring blessing to others. God is a God who calls and finds and welcomes.
c) Walter Brueggemann says there are three eras of the Old Testament. His first is the Exodus as the people travel into a new and freer world from slavery; Second is the time of the monarchy, especially of David, when there is an apparently settled and secure time, with Temple and sacrifices and people living in peace; this is eroded and in 586 BC Jerusalem is destroyed and the leading people are taken into exile in Babylon.
After a couple of generations they are allowed to return, and this third phase, exile and post-exile, is marked by rebuilding their community – struggling but with the memory of the glory days of King David.
Brueggemann comments that the more interesting theology is done from the margins, by the Exodus community in their wanderings and by the post-exile community as they work out what God is asking them to be and to do.
d) Another way to understand the big story is to think about God’s message of blessing and salvation.
From a human perspective, we look back and discover God is our Creator; we learn that humans have turned their back on God and hurt each other.
The Law is given to help us live as God wants, but people did not.
The prophets speak against what is wrong and call people to turn back to God. The Law and the Prophets also speak of the grace and blessing of God on those who serve him.
John the Baptist continues in this tradition before Jesus himself, also speaks of the grace of God, the welcome of God, and the need to repent and believe, and this same message is preached by the early Church, the good news that God loves us and the call to live as God desires.
These are just some ways we can see a long story emerge through the Bible; like a complex piece of music, the Bible has many themes which are explored and returned to, developed and even challenged. But it can help to see something of the whole picture and where different passages fit in.