I wish I could tell you I know everything that there is to know about the Bible. I have read the New Testament several times, and the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) at least once. But I don’t think that is enough. It will never be enough for me. Reading the whole Bible does not make anyone an expert on faith matters. It definitely does not mean someone has more understanding of spiritual things.
When it comes to revelation, I believe God is the only One who graciously gives it. You don’t have to be the pope, or a preacher, or a priest or an imam to relate to God. God gives wisdom generously to ALL without finding fault, if they ask for it. If you ask TRUTHFULLY, do not doubt when the answer comes.
“This is not the word of God. It is corrupted Scripture. I read the book of Genesis last night, and it is a history book, not Scripture. Some of it should not even be mentioned, like Lot getting drunk and impregnating his daughters.”
Ibrahim’s comment reveals a significant divergence between the Quran and the Bible. As far as I understand, Muslims believe that every word in the Quran is an exact copy of a heavenly original. Christians do not believe that the New Testament is a replica of a Scripture in heaven, but rather that it is inspired by God. It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Even the Torah, which quotes many passages in God’s name, never asserts complete divinity. Of course the Bible has a human component, but that doesn’t make it less sacred.
There are plenty of literary styles within the whole Bible – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Knowing the context and understanding the style of a particular paragraph or book will help us to grasp much better what is being said. This is of utmost importance for me, as I would like to narrate what led me to make the decision to follow Jesus. In the words of Al Fadi, I am embracing Jesus as presented in the Bible even if He is a figment of my own imagination.
So what are some of the literary styles presented in the Bible?
In Psalm 91:4, we have a good example of POETRY.
God shall cover you with His feathers,
and under His wings you shall take refuge
You should not understand this verse literally. That would be a very dangerous thing. Are you seriously implying that God is an eagle? Of course not. Something very similar happens with Numbers 23:19, which is a perfect example of PROPHECY.
God is not a man, that He should lie;
nor a human being, that He should change his mind
Obviously this verse is by far one that Muslim and Jewish apologists use to deny the possibility that God became flesh in Jesus. But this passage in the Torah has to be read within the whole context of Numbers 23.
Balak, King of Moab, is trying to put a curse on the Jewish people by hiring a false prophet (Balaam). When Balaam tries to prophesy against Israel, he is not able to do it. Actually, he ends up blessing the nation. King Balak gets upset, and asks Balaam to curse them a second time. It is ONLY in this second prophecy that God is not a man makes sense.
Arise, Balak [King of Moab], and listen;
God is not human, that He should lie,
not a human being, that He should change his mind.
Does He speak and then not act?
Does He promise and not fulfill?
I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot change it.
No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
no misery observed in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
the shout of the King is among them.
There is no divination against Jacob,
no evil omens against Israel.
In the context of PROPHECY, the false prophet Balak is telling King Balaam something like this, “Listen, Balak, God is not like you, human beings. He doesn’t lie like a human does, and He doesn’t change His mind like a human does. He has decided to bless Israel and He will continue to bless Israel. So no matter how much you want me to curse them, I cannot do it because God will not let me”.
God is not done with Israel, you see. He loves them dearly.
You’d better not mess with Israel.
Another literary style used in the New Testament, for example, is EPISTLES. These are letters that were written for a particular church or individual by the apostle Paul, and often addressed several topics. These letters were written with a familiarity of the problems being discussed, and with an apostolic tone of authority. Examples of these are the letters to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.
We also have GENEALOGIES in the Bible. They document family lineages. These lists of names cover many generations (sometimes even skipping generations) showing lines of descent over many centuries at times. Genesis 5, for example, provides us with the genealogy from Adam to Noah.
We also have PARABLES, which are stories used to illustrate a single point. I personally believe Jesus was the Rock Star of Parables. The Prodigal Son really speaks to my heart. It talks about a forgiving Father whose character remains constant throughout the story. The Father represents God. The younger son symbolizes the lost souls, and the elder brother represents those who are self-righteous – thinking their good deeds will be enough to please God. The meaning is so deep that entire books have been written about that parable alone. If you would like to read more into it, you can see a more detailed explanation here.
PROVERBS and WISDOM styles are short statements of truth for common and general rules of life (which have exceptions). Proverbs 20:9, for example, asks the rhetorical question,
Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
The answer , of course, is NO ONE.
HISTORICAL NARRATIVE is another literary style within the Bible. These are factual accounts written in prose of what happened at a certain time and place and involve people, nations, and events. The writers of these historical records often did not make judgments on what was happening. They only reported what actually occurred – both good and bad. When making judgments, historical narratives must be viewed and interpreted in the full light of Scripture. Examples of these are the Book of Joshua, the Book of Acts, etc.
Much of the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) is statutory in nature, written in LAW style. Old Testament laws are worth understanding as they show us what God required of His people. Although many of the laws are no longer applicable (such as priestly laws), they still teach us what God is like, and help us understand what He desires of us. Specially for me, as a Gentile, they are very important as I worship the God of the Jewish nation.
As I said before, I am not an expert in Bible matters, so there might be more literary styles that I am not aware of. Something is true though, God always communicated with His people through prophets. Jews, Muslims and Christians are always at odds with one prophet in particular: Jesus. Jews hold Jesus as a false prophet and a false Messiah. Muslims uphold him as an only-human prophet, but still THE Messiah.
Christians uphold Jesus not as a Messiah, but THE Messiah (There have been some fake messiahs in history, believe or not).
While it is true that Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D., Jesus himself said that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come. After Elijah came, there would be no need for any more prophets. If the LAW and the Prophets prophesied until John, what do we do with Jesus? What do we do Muhammad?
According to the Prophet Malachi, when that Elijah came, the Messiah would follow shortly after. And the Messiah would bring reconciliation. Messiah would bring a new covenant between man and God, according to the Prophet Jeremiah. Not a covenant like the one God made with Israel – no more laws. God’s laws will be written in our hearts. And God would forgive our sins, and remember them no more.
How is that possible? What are these prophecies about? There are more prophecies about the role of Messiah, by the way.
On the way Jesus asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.
But what about you?, Jesus asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’
As you read the Hebrew Bible, The New Testament and the Quran, you will have to face the question that has intrigued millions of people for two thousand years. I understand the challenges of that. When you come to an answer – whatever that is- I pray that your answer is based on you reading about these matters, and seeking God with an open heart.
Who do YOU say Jesus is?