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The Bible is not a story book

4th October 2013

Let's stop using the word ‘story' or ‘stories' when we refer to the New Testament. And the extensive historical sections of the Bible in general. We should readjust our language to fit the facts. We often hear ‘the story of the birth of Jesus', or ‘the Christmas story'. Or more generally ‘Bible stories.' The TV series The Bible was promoted as ‘tales' and the stage show Salome, as based on a biblical ‘tale'. This kind of language suggests that is all the Bible contains-stories. And stories can be anything- usually made up yarns carrying a moral of some sort. Certainly not actual events. 
We should correct the way we use language to bring it in line with the reality of the literature of the New Testament, and what it claims about itself. The apostle Peter testifies "we didn't follow invented stories". John details the physical evidence of the Gospel and reports details of the crucifixion providing the evidenced basis for fact based faith.
Paul details eyewitness evidence of the resurrection which is open to falsification naming eyewitnesses who were local and alive at the time of his published letter.
Historian Luke documents a carefully investigated sequential eyewitness account of the teaching and work of Jesus up to His ascension. His work stands as a seminal example of historiography. His account of Paul's final sea journey provides more detailed maritime data than anywhere else in literature of the time. In many places editors in the Old testament note; ‘as it is to this day', and in both Testaments persons and events outside the Bible's theme are referred to, thus anchoring Bible events to wider verifiable history.
If other forms of communication are used such as parables or visions, they are clearly stated as such. It would be better and more accurate to use a term like ‘account' or ‘report'. Not story. When Scripture is read in churches (and let it be read well) let us dispense with ‘story' and use accurate terms like ‘the account of . .as documented by Luke', or similar terminology. Its up to us to counter misleading and even deceptive terms with accurate ones. Uphold with relevant terms the nature of the evidence to our faith presented in the documents.
Currently there is increasing debate over religious freedom. According to assertive secularists Christians can talk about their religious ideas in their church services, sharing their ‘cultic tales' with self- reinforcing emotion! Keep it at home hidden in the closet. The notion that preachers declare historical facts, mandated by Christ openly to the world with universal trans- generational relevance is abhorrent to these elites.
Remember when the Democrats pushed that sort of thing here two elections ago? Last week a couple of newspaper articles opposed Christianity in politics claiming religion must be kept away as a private oddity . The Quebec government is currently at it by proposing to ban religious symbols in public spaces and to prevent people wearing them who work in the public sector. They can try and bury or buy out religious sentiment and feelings, but evidenced facts with global significance cant be closeted. We are not just a faith -people. We are reliant on Truth revealed to faith in objectively evidenced Scripture, reason and experience.
Let our use of terms match the reality of the Bible and the challenge of the day. When we do the ordinary Sunday work of reading the Bible. And not just on Sunday. Or not just in church. Let's quit using the misleading word, ‘story'.

Ian Clarkson (also published in ACCatalyst September 2013)

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  1. 1

    This is a response to ‘The Bible is not a story book’ by Ian Clarkson (published also in the September ACCatalyst)
    Ian Clarkson does well in directing us toward the text of Scripture.  Few Christians realise what mammoth work is undertaken by technically equipped scholars to bring them the text of Scripture.  I refer to men like Nestle, Metzger and Aland.  They sift through scraps and part manuscripts in papyrus and vellum.  What they have left us with is the most possible text of Scripture there is, but even if, of course, it is approximate.
    The word ‘story’ is not found in Scripture, but it is found in theology.
    It is used in the pastoral work of the church.  Who of us have not arrived home at night to find his or her youngens in the tub calling out for a story and we respond in like kind.  This is an epitome of the whole of the church’s pastoral work.
    Or in the worship of the church.
      “Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear
      things I would like him to tell me if he were here …”
      “Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
      of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
      Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
      for I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
      Tell me the old, old story, tell me the old, old story,
      tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.
    There are four Gospels but I have never heard a fundamentalist decry the fact and want one.  They are a magnificent resource for the Gospel ministry of the whole church.
    Jesus taught in parables, from the Sower (which he explained) right through to the Prodigal Son, many of which he did not explain.  These were beautiful stories, pithy and powerful, which Jesus used in his public ministry.  So great an impact did they have that many modern theologians speak of Jesus as the Parable of God.
    A preacher always approaches his or her text to exegete and interprets what lies before him or her.  Exegesis is the science of interpretation.  Biblical hermeneutics starts with the following:  “No-one has ever seen God.  It is God the only son who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known.  (Exegasato)”  (John 1:18)
    Recently a Christian journalist addressed a Christian organisation in Melbourne as such:
      “All we have that is distinctive is the story we gather around, an ancient but ever-new story that starts with the Hebrew Scriptures and continues in the stories of Jesus and of the early church.  It is a story of the Triune God who made us, who lived with us and who is still with us.  It is the story of a human God who lived and died and defeated death.  It is a story of a resurrection God from whom we draw, not optimism or cheeriness, but hope, hope that can withstand the storm.  Hope that the last word in this universe is the same as the first word, and that Word is Love.”
    The text of Scripture is God-breathed, God’s Word to us.
    So let us use it in our ministry with all the power of the Spirit.
    Rowan Gill

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/09 at 04:33 AM