Bible Reading Blog — January 5, 2016

5 Jan

Today’s Readings: Genesis 10-11 & Mark 1:14-15

Today’s readings both provide examples that the Bible is focused more on theology than on history. Now that statement will undoubtedly cause the red flags to rise. Maybe a few readers feel their ears turning red and the hair on the back of their neck standing up. Allow me to explain.

I am certainly not saying the Bible is non-historical. I am not saying the Bible is historically inaccurate. I am saying that the biblical narrative is rarely simply a straightforward, historical account. In saying this I am not saying the biblical authors were intending to deceive us. I am saying they were trying (and succeeding by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) to show us the invisible hand of God behind history.

Because of this tendency to highlight the work of God, the accounts of Scripture rarely read like a straight line chronological accounting of events. We see this in Genesis 10 and 11 as the genealogies spanning the gap between Noah and Abraham are interrupted by the story of the Tower of Babel. The genealogy in chapter 10 is given as if the events in chapter 11 have already occurred and it is only through the flashback of chapter 11 that one gets the reason for the division of people and languages. This is similar to Genesis 1 and 2 where chapter 1 gives the brief account of the creation of humanity and chapter 2 fills in the detail. This kind of thing can be tricky for us linear thinkers. But in the Bible point A to point B is often interrupted by a theologically weighty interlude.

On the other hand, sometimes the Bible expresses theology not through interrupting the flow of a narrative but by leaving the full details of an event out for the sake of a larger theological truth. A good example of this is Mark 1:14-15, where we see the focus on Jesus’ entry into preaching the kingdom of God, the good news of the gospel. At the start of this passage there is a line that is almost an afterthought: “Now after John was arrested.” Mark does not go into detail about why John was arrested or how but simply states it as a fact. Why does Mark not go into more detail? Because Mark wants to emphasize Jesus and the beginning of His ministry, not John. Mark is not just recording historical facts, he is shaping his account to communicate important truths about Jesus. He emphasizes some things and de-emphasizes others in order to paint a verbal portrait of Jesus that is true to history but not bound by a form of presentation that attempts to answer all questions or settle all issues of history. All the gospel writers do what Mark does, in fact all biblical authors I can think of do this. Some of the thorny questions we bring to the Bible are never answered by the Bible for precisely this reason . . . the biblical authors did not consider the issues we raise as an important part of their retelling of events.

So as you read the Bible, keep in mind that it is historical but also theological. The big focus of the Bible is to share truth about God and humanity and sin and eternal life and all the other big issues of life.

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