By Bob Flynn
I don’t recommend reading the Bible from the beginning to the end, especially for children. I don’t remember how long it took me to read the Bible my parents gave me when I was nine. I do know that much of what I was reading was just words because I didn’t understand the text, the historical and cultural context or the intent of the writer.
The audience to whom you are writing deserves some consideration. You want the reader to stretch a little bit to understand but not so much the audience gives up in frustration. Have you recently read 1st Chronicles, Chapters 1-4, with all its begats? Some of the Bible is record-keeping and important to Biblical or cultural historians and many Jews, but unlikely to entertain or educate most Christians. That’s also true of the dimensions of the temple. The dimensions of Noah’s ark have provided believers with centuries of arguments with much entertainment but little insight.
That’s also true of the language of Revelation, another biblical book that you may not have read recently. You can make the symbols mean many things especially if you pretend the book was not written to be meaningful to its first audience but to you and your time in history. When I read my astrological predictions it isn’t often and it’s always when the prediction is out of date. That’s so I can watch myself shape yesterday’s, last month’s or last year’s prediction to fit the time period, fully aware that 12% of the world’s population received the same forecast that I did.
I can read Revelation and parts of Ezekiel and some other books the same way. But I don’t. Parts of those scriptures are applicable to me and to my time on earth, but only in the huge context of God’s relationship to his creation. More on symbols later, but keep in mind that symbols grow out of the theme of the book and sometimes the audience sees symbols that the writer does not. Read Freudian interpretations of common fairy tales and see what you missed.
That means we will have to differentiate between the factual and the truth, between literal language and figurative language, between writing styles such as historical, political, imaginative, symbolic, poetic, irony and sarcasm, etc. The most important thing is not to lose the intent of the writer in arguments over individual words.