Thursday, 10 January 2013

How do we know if someone understands The Bible?

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I recently had another enjoyable meeting with locally-dwelling Christian blogger Alastair Roberts

https://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/

during which he made what seems to me a very important point:

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If The Bible is to be understood properly, we need to see it as a story consisting of stories: a narrative of God's dealings with his People.

It is not, therefore, primarily an abstract philosophical discourse, nor a set of principles or instructions: it is a collection of stories which tells a big story.

Or, a big story within-which that same big story is retold many times, at many scales, with many variations.

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So, how should we proceed if we want to understand the Bible as the narrative that it primarily is - when the answer to questions is not to be an abstraction?

What is the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis, of a story like Jonah or Job, of a parable by Jesus' or an event from His life?

The answer must be 'another story', or stories - further narratives which elucidate the particular narrative under investigation.

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But we can be somewhat more specific than this.

Understanding comes from expounding and condensing.

Expounding a story means looking at parts of a specific story as microcosms of the whole specific story - so that individual parts of a story are seen as recurrent themes in which the whole specific story is being alluded to. So that the parts of  a Book in the Bible, or the life of Christ, or a parable can be seen as miniature examples of the whole parable.

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(The correspondence is, as Alastair said, more akin to a musical theme than an abstract symbol; music in fact consists of thematic elements - a phrase or melody contains in miniature aspects of itself, and also a larger piece of music revisits themes which are recognizable even as repeated with variations and transformations.)

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Condensing a story involves the ability to make a shortened (summary) version of the story, so that it can be told as part of a longer story.

So that a Book of the Bible can be seen as summarizing the whole of the Bible, and the same can be said of the Life of Christ, an event in the life of Christ, and a parable of Christ.

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In sum, to understand a story - to explain a narrative by narrative - is to bring out that a real specific story is on the one hand a microcosm of the whole story; and on the other hand contains microcosms of itself.

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So, a person who understand the Bible is - by this account - a person who can tell the story under consideration, and tell the smaller recurrent versions of itself within the story; and can tell bigger stories which include a condensed version of the the story under consideration.

Stories clarifying stories - and not abstractions extracted from stories: story is the proper primary model of Christian discourse.

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