Is The Bible A Storybook?
by Jesse L. Smith
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Some of the most gifted teachers I had in grade school were really able to make history come alive through their storytelling. The stories of Columbus sailing the ocean blue and George Washington crossing the Delaware evoked fanciful images in my young mind of a beautiful history where the good guys always won and there was always a lesson to be learned. As I grew older and leaned more I soon discovered that those stories were actually highly edited and sweetly packaged versions of actual accounts that often contained very grim details never presented to me as a child. History itself is amoral in the sense that it that only is a record of events that happened before. While we can and should glean moral lessons from those events, the lessons we glean are not part of the events themselves. Oftentimes we confuse the lessons we have gleaned with the history itself, and in effect distort the history by omission of details that weren’t relevant to the lesson.
It is truly unfortunate that the vast majority of public knowledge when it comes to the Bible is confined to the stories they heard in Sunday school growing up. Just like the stories I was told in grade school, if I never learned the actual history behind those events my understanding of history would be utterly distorted. The Bible is not a storybook, but an ancient record of historical accounts whose details are often grim and difficult to wade through. People who attempt to read the Bible as if it were merely a book of stories will wind up hopelessly confused. From the very beginning they will encounter details about the times and locations of events, seemingly endless genealogies, and an ancient legal code that is like wading through an IRS document. The accounts that you will come across include brutal details involving rape, murder, incest and gory details you would never dream of presenting to a child. For the most part the Bible makes no attempt to attach some moral lesson to these details; it merely provides a record of what happened.
All of this however is what makes the study of the Bible so fascinating – it literally is a collection of primary sources with endless detail that can be studied in numerous contexts. The details present in the Bible have enabled archaeologists to find ancient cities and locations once thought only to be legend – and proof of the accuracy of those details has only increased with time. Anyone who spends time reading the Bible will come out with a working knowledge of world history, as the prophetic books speak not only of past but future events as well. Literally all western civilization from our understanding of law to morality is built on concepts presented in the Bible, and history itself is measured and centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul’s statement to the Colossians that in Christ are hid “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” is not mere hyperbole.
Just like any other subject, the Bible is best understood when viewed with a big picture perspective. Oftentimes people take a narrow approach to learning and get caught up in details without understanding how those details point to the main idea. The main idea of the Bible is The Messiah – the redeemer of a fallen mankind. All the details of the Bible from the beginning of creation, to God’s encounter with the patriarch Abraham, to the redemption of captive Israel from Egypt, to the intricate details of temple worship and sacrifice, to the fall of Israel – all point to and foreshadow the coming of a Redeemer. Just as Jesus Christ is a central focal point in world history, He is the central focal point throughout the Bible and ties everything together. Jesus IS the seed promised to Abraham that would bless the whole world, He is the redeemer of mankind from the bondage of sin, He is the sacrificial Lamb who cleansed us from sin, and He is the One who will restore our fallen world.
The study of God’s Word will be a lifetime effort for anyone who picks it up and calls out to the One it speaks of. From the accounts of Israel’s rise and fall to the poetry of Kings to the letters written by the Apostles of Christ, you will find that more knowledge will only reveal how little you know. You will also discover that what you are studying is incapable of having being created or put together by any man. As Peter you will realize that “…we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” -2 Peter 1:16
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