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How Do We Read the Bible without Distorting it?

The Narrative of the Bible (Part 1)

Darian R. Lockett, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology.

I worry that we unwittingly read the Bible in a jumbled way. Growing up memorizing bits of Scripture like Philippians 4:13, “I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me”; or Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…”, we carry around with us a haphazard collection of Bible verses with the hope that Scripture will shape our thoughts and actions—we seek to be “biblical” in all we do and think.

Yet when we absorb the Bible in a piecemeal way there is a great risk of taking passages that belong to the unbroken, overarching narrative shape of Scripture and unintentionally reconfiguring them into the narrative of our lives. Therefore, rather than being confronted by the overarching story of God’s redemption, we bend the text into the shape of our own lives and make the Bible to be a story more about us—our fulfillment, our sanctification, our hopes and dreams. Absorbing individual verses of the Bible while failing to understand them with the larger narrative of Scripture in mind runs the risk of distorting the Bible’s teachings into the shape or image of the reader, rather than the image of Christ.

How Do We Read Scripture Without Distorting It?

So how do we read Scripture without distorting its overarching shape, without making the Bible a story about me instead of about God? In short, we must read Scripture as the unfolding story of God’s redemptive purposes. The Bible finds its unity in the all-encompassing story of the work of the triune God. Allow me to make two brief orienting comments before concluding with some observations about reading the Bible as the unified narrative of the redemptive purposes of the triune God.

First, it is important to note that the Bible is not primarily a book about human ethics. Though Scripture has a lot to say about how we live and act, it is not primarily a manual for moral living. Thinking of the Bible as God’s owner’s manual for life would be to place the emphasis on the wrong syllable.

Rather, the Bible is foremost about God. Likely you already know that, but it bears repeating for emphasis—the Bible is about God. God is the hero of the story. Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation are the major landmarks that help us travel along Scripture’s big idea, which is God’s story of creating all things and finally redeeming all things—the Garden to Gethsemane and finally to the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Because the subject of the Bible is God, we need to ask secondly, how does Scripture, then, apply to us? A Christian reading of Scripture will always have an eye toward obedient response, but how do we apply a story about God to our lives? Alasdair MacIntyre famously argued, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’” Rather than thinking about how God’s reality might fit into my own—stuffing God’s big story into my small story—it is best to think about how my life’s narrative is taken up into that of God’s. My story now must be reconfigured within God’s story of redemption if my life or my actions are to make any sense at all. Seeing my life’s story and purpose as set within God’s overarching story transforms how I understand my past (the ultimate beginning is creation) and my future (the ultimate end is God’s eschatological redemption of all things). Re-inscribed within this new storyline, I come to understand my actions, attitudes, goals, and desires as reordered by a new and larger (and much more compelling) purpose now narrated by Scripture.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on February 9th: How Do We Read the Bible as the Unfolding Story of God?

Darian Lockett is the Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Talbot School of Theology. He served on the Translation Oversight Committee for the Christian Standard Bible. Learn more about the CSB here.