Saturday, November 13, 2010

Story and History

Every Bible translation I have ever read and enjoyed (NOT the Message) has read in a slightly different way than newspapers or novels read. The wording and sentence structure is ever-so-slightly archaic and formalistic, which is, of course, deliberate on the part of the translators. I wholeheartedly approve of this, because it gives the Word of God a majesty and solemnity (not the bad kind of solemnity--in fact, I may write a note on this later) even in its literary structure.

Unfortunately, this method does have some drawbacks. For instance, because it doesn't read like any story we have ever read, we tend to forget (especially if we are already familiar with it) that it is, in fact, a story. When we read in The Hobbit how the respectable Bilbo Baggins, with neither warning nor explanation, is suddenly forced to have no fewer than thirteen dwarves over to tea, we recognize that this is an absurd situation. We realize this and feel Bilbo's surprise alongside him because we read it as a story, an account of things that have happened. (The fact that such an event did not, technically, occur does not impact our ability to act and feel as though the story is real) Even without Bilbo's subsequent nervous breakdown, we realize that this is something quite out of the ordinary. However, when we open the Bible to the calling of the first disciples, we aren't surprised at all when Peter and Andrew "Immediately... left the boat and their father and followed him." We pass over this with barely a second thought, although we would have not only a second thought but a third and fourth as well should the same thing have happened with Bilbo and Gandalf.

My point: that elusive, slippery thing that so often evades my grasp. We don't read the Bible as a story. I was originally going to say that we don't really read it as a record of things that have happened, but that's not true. We do read it like that. But we don't read it as a record of actions, actions committed by real people, real individuals with real personalities. If we did, we would wonder about the inner motives, emotions, thoughts, that would cause two people to leave their livelihood, the only thing they had ever known, and follow a relatively unknown rabbi.

As my friend Kyle just said, the Bible doesn't take place in its own little world. It's not separated from the "real" world. The people in the Bible are real people. They aren't acting a play or reading from a script. When they do something, that action, just like everything we do, is accompanied by a host of inner thoughts, motives, emotions, that usually aren't explicitly expressed in the text. But just because it's not expressed in the text doesn't mean it's not there.

This is important. By reading the people in the Bible as real people, we can make the things we read more practical, more applicable to everyday life. If we recognize that Andrew and Peter leaving their father was a risky gambit, that they had no guarantee of even making a living, much less making a difference, then we can apply that the next time God calls us to take a risk.

So, this is a rough introduction-type-thing to a bigger project I'm beginning to work on, focusing on Peter. I hope to post another note on Peter soon.

1 comment:

  1. You are a phenomenal writer, Mackenzie.
    I love the comparison of Bilbo's situation in The Hobbit versus the remarkableness of the disciples immediate dedication to Jesus.
    I actually just wrote about this in my Bible notes for Luke and Acts.
    The reaction of Caesar, as a leader, was naturally to protect the Roman populace. If someone, in today's time, claimed to be the Messiah and performed miracles, had a group of men following him everywhere, and challenged the highest religious/political leaders in the area, it would only be natural that our government officials would be concerned and even defensive.
    By no means am I defending Caesar's decree to have Jesus crucified!! I am supporting your point, though, in saying that people read the Bible with the automatic assumption that Jesus is in the right and the "absurdity" of events that took place were perfectly natural.

    I can't wait to hear more about your thoughts on Peter! =)