Biblical Story and the Way it Shapes Our Story Essay Share three (3) things that Goldingay says in his essay “Biblical Story and the Way it Shapes Our Stor

Biblical Story and the Way it Shapes Our Story Essay Share three (3) things that Goldingay says in his essay “Biblical Story and the Way it Shapes Our Story” that you find helpful or interesting. After identifying each statement, briefly share what you find to be helpful or interesting about his point. For citations, simply include the page number of the essay in parenthesis (p. 1). Share one thing from Mann’s “Time-Traveler’s Tips” that you find helpful or interesting, and then one thing that is surprising or confusing. No APA citations necessary. A Time Traveler’s 8 Tips to Understanding the OT
By Steve Mann
In his 1916 essay entitled “The Strange New World Within the Bible,” Karl Barth
speaks of the
Bible as a doorway to country that we enter when open its pages. 1 When we enter into this
strange country, Barth comments that we encounter a world that is different than our world.
He brings up the fact that many of the narratives of the Bible are surprisingly lacking in good
examples to follow, and says:
At certain crucial points, the Bible amazes us by its remarkable indifference to
our conception of good and evil. Abraham, for instance, as the highest proof of
his faith desires to sacrifice his son to God; Jacob wins the birthright by a refined
deception of his blind father; Elijah slays the four hundred and fifty priests of
Baal by the brook Kishon. Are these exactly praiseworthy examples?
And in how many phases of morality the Bible is grievously wanting! How little
fundamental information it offers in regard to the difficult questions of business
life, marriage, civilization, and statecraft, with which we have to struggle! To
mention only a single problem, but to us today a mortal one: how
unceremoniously and constantly war is waged in the Bible! . . . Time and again,
serious Christian people who seek “comfort” and “inspiration” in the
midst of
personal difficulties will quietly close their Bibles . . . Time and again, the Bible
gives us the impression that it contains no instructions, counsels, or examples
whatsoever, either for individuals or for nations and governments; and the
impression is correct. It offers us not at all what we first seek in it. 2
1 Karl Barth, “The Strange New World Within the Bible,” in R. Jenson and C.E.
Braaten, eds., A Map of Twentiethcentury Theology: Readings from Karl Barth to Radical Pluralism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
2 Barth, “The Strange New World,” 25-26.
While some of our questions go unanswered, Barth points to a series of questions for which the
Bible seeks to answer:
Who then is God? What is his will? What are his thoughts? What is the
mysterious “other,” new, greater world which emerges in the Bible beyond all
the ways of men [humanity], summoning us to a decision to believe or not to
believe? In whom did Abraham believe? For whom did the heroes fight and
conquer? Whom did the prophets prophesy? In whose power did Christ die and
rise again? Whose name did the Apostles proclaim? . . .
To these questions there is a series of ready answers, serious and well-founded
answers taken from the Bible itself, answers to which we must listen. . . 3
Barth challenges us to “find God in the Bible.” 4
I would like to suggest that the best way to find God in the Bible, to understand its testimony of
who God is and what he has done, it is crucial to be able to understand the strange new world
of the Bible. When you visit a foreign country, it is best to listen and learn rather than to tell
everyone how they should think. If you have the benefit of a tour guide, that person can explain
some of the strangeness for you when you encounter it. If you want to understand what the
people around you are trying to tell you, you must try to understand them on their terms, not
yours. Only after you understand them can you being to process what all this means for you.
Here are eight tips on understanding the strange new world of the Bible. My aim is
to prepare you for some key concepts and assumptions that you will encounter as you read the
Old Testament in general and the Pentateuch, or Torah, in particular. I have chosen these tips
because I have found that in my teaching I often end up bringing up these points to illuminate
what I think the text is trying to say.
3 Barth, “The Strange New World,” 28-29.
4 Barth, “The Strange New World,” 30.
1) The Bible does not speak English, so a translator is needed. The NT is written in Greek, and
most of the OT is written in Hebrew. [I say most of the OT is Hebrew because there are several
chapters written in Aramaic in the later books, Ezra and Daniel, as well as one verse in Jeremiah
(10:11)]. Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jewish people, and it was the
language that Jesus spoke in the NT.
2) The OT is not written like a modern science book. It is written in the style of Ancient Near
Eastern (ANE) texts. This does not mean that the OT is not true. It does mean that a modern
audience might become confused at the ways in which the OT conveys truth. Scripture was
written before scientific language became the presumed mode of conveying truth, i.e, the
Enlightenment period of the 17th and 18th centuries. Modern western Christians have assumed
that truth must be scientific and historical, and since the Bible is true it must also be scientific
and historical. But the Bible in general and the OT in particular doesn’t claim to be history
science, yet it is true! If we are to understand it, we must not confine it to recent expressions of
truth but rather seek to understand its true testimony on its own terms.
3) Some of the true stories in the Bible (both OT and NT) are inspired fiction. As we see with
Jesus teaching in parables, God sometimes uses fictional stories to teach. Now, a parable can be
historical, such as Nathan’s parable to King David. (So there are two telling of David v.
Uriah and
Bathsheba: the straightforward story in 2 Sam 11 and the parabolic version in 2 Sam 12.) But
the truth of a parable must not be measured by its historical nature. For instance, if after
reading Luke 10:29-37 we press Jesus to tell us to which inn exactly the Good Samaritan took
the man in distress, or what year this event took place, we miss the point of that part of Jesus’s
teaching. Parables do not attempt to inform us of historical facts, they attempt to transform the
audience. We tend to think that truth can only be communicated through historical stories; this
is part of our horizon. The Bible assumes that sometimes (but not all the time) truth must be
told using historical stories, and sometimes it must be conveyed with fiction. (We’ll talk more
about this later in the class.)
4) The OT doesn’t try to tell you who wrote it.
We assume that you can better understand a book if you know more about the author, so
authorship is a big deal to us. But most of the books of the OT, and the books of Genesis
through Deuteronomy in particular, do not tell us the author. Jewish and Christians tradition
holds that these are the “books of Moses” and modern audiences sometimes assume
that this
means that Moses wrote it. But to say that these are the books of Moses is to speak of the most
important person, and that person is Moses. Similarly, we might call the NT gospels the
of Jesus” because Jesus is the most important figure. We wouldn’t assume that Jesus
wrote any
of it, although they do contain many of his teachings and try to highlight the significance of the
One of my assumptions is that the Bible gives us everything we need in order to understand it.
The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy do not assume that we
need to know their authors in order to understand these books.
5) The OT is directed towards communities
In the modern western world, our default setting is individualism. We look for what the text
says to me. In the OT (and in the NT, actually), the text most often assumes the default setting
of community. Many (but not all) of OT texts are directed to ancient Israel as a group, while
many (but not all) NT texts are directed to various churches and/or groups of believers.
Our assumption: if we can foster individuals who live for God, we will have a Godly
OT & NT assumption: if we can foster a Godly community, we will have Godly
6) The OT is not trying to teach about the afterlife.
In the modern western world, we believe that the afterlife involves either heaven (eternal life
in the presence of God) or hell (eternal life in the absence of God). While the NT does speak in
something like these terms, the OT assumes that everyone, good and bad, go to
“Sheol” (the
grave). Sheol is not a place of torment but a place of rest. There is an awareness that God can
pull someone out of Sheol, but the OT doesn’t presume that it knows what God will do
with the
afterlife — the focus is on life today (and the future life of your descendants). See, e.g.:
o Ecclesiastes 3:19-22
o 1 Sam 2:6
o Psalm 6:1-5
o Psalm 139:7-8
The resistance to imagining what God might do for individuals after their death is particularly
striking given the more complex and sometimes systematic perceptions of the afterlife by
cultures surrounding ancient Israel (e.g., Egypt). The OT is reserved with what it does not know.
It doesn’t make up something to fill in the gaps. (This is O.K. and even admirable; they
know about Jesus because the incarnation happens in NT times, not OT times.)
The NT does speak of eternal life, and I’m sure that the OT folks will be very happy that
following Yhwh includes eternal life after death (see 1 Peter 3:18-20). But we can learn from
their motivation:
Our motivation for following God can sometimes regress into convincing people to pray
to receive Christ so that they can escape hell. (There is truth to this, but the motivation
is self-preservation and individualism; Christianity becomes a message of escaping pain
and suffering rather than responding to the love of Jesus.)
Since the OT doesn’t know about eternal benefits to following God, the OT motivation
for following God is a response to 2 things: (1) he created you (all), and (2) he redeemed
you (out of Egypt). So you are His. I think that Christians would benefit from listening to
the OT’s motivation for following God. Perhaps we would then be more motivated to
live this life for Christ (as the NT tries to convince us to do) and not merely wait for our
life in heaven.
7) Much of the OT is directed to audiences that assume the existence of many gods and
assume that God / gods work with a heavenly divine council.
In the modern western world, we assume that there is heaven, with God and his angels, and
hell, with Satan and his demons. While the NT does speak in something like these terms, the OT
directs its messages to audiences who assume the existence of many gods and messengers of
the gods, not Satan and demons. Major divine players in the ANE scene: Baal, Asherah, Yamm,
Most biblical texts are not attempting to say that Yhwh is the only god (although some
texts do that, esp in Isaiah); but rather which God Israel is to follow. They are not to
follow Baal, Asherah, or El because Yhwh is their God. He saved them from Egypt and
they are his people. Furthermore, Yhwh is God of gods and Lord of lords. A recurring
question is, “Who is like Yhwh among the gods?” (e.g., Exodus 15:11) The answer:
“Nobody! Yhwh is God Most High!”
In the OT, Yhwh sometimes makes decisions by speaking to a divine council. Here are some
texts that assume the existence of a divine council:
Psalm 29
Psalm 82
Deut 32:8-9
1 Kings 22:15-23
Isaiah 6:1-8
Here are a few examples of passages that mention other specific gods as opposed to just divine
Baal: e.g., 1 Kings 22:51–53; Jer 23:27
Asherah: e.g., Deut 16:21
Sakkuth, Kaiwan (the gods mentioned in Amos 5)
Some passages speak of divine beings not listening to God (so Psalm 29 and Psalm 82), and the
NT is similarly aware of the existence of heavenly beings that resist God’s authority (e.g.,
Ephesians 6:12). But the NT directs its messages about God to communities who have a
different horizon than the OT audiences. So it is more likely to talk about Greco-Roman gods as
opposed to the ancient Babylonian and Assyrian gods.
IMPORTANT NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: The OT is not teaching that Baal, Asherah, (etc)
or even
the divine council exists in the manner that ANE audiences assumed. Rather, the OT conveys its
messages about God to these audiences so that they will follow Yhwh rather than these other
“gods.” In this approach, the Bible is a good missionary in that it doesn’t try to deconstruct the
whole worldview of its audience. Instead, it helps them to understand God.
For a great example of this, see Paul’s approach to the Greeks in Athens, found in Acts
17:16-34. Even though Paul is distressed when he sees all their idols (v. 16), he presents
his gospel message in a way that fits with their assumptions (see vv. 22-23), and even
quotes from their own philosophers (v. 28)!
8) When you see the English word “evil” in the OT it is not what we think of as
In the modern western world, we have a concept of evil that by its definition is something that
is counter to the character of God (hence the philosophical “problem of evil”). God
doing evil
would be against his own character, so with Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) we might say
that God disappears in a puff of logic.
The Hebrew word that gets translated as “evil” is always the word “ra”. “Ra” means “bad /
disaster.” Every time you see the word “bad,” or “disaster,” or “calamity,” in our translations it
is always the Hebrew word “ra.” So the sort of “evil” that the Bible attributes to God
is more
like natural disasters or death. And these are troubling, but they aren’t evil things in terms of
being satanic or demonic. God brings ra’, but he doesn’t want to do so. For example, see Jer
18:5-12; 1 Sam 16:14-15.
In giving you these 8 tips I don’t want to give you the impression that our ways of thinking
about God and talking about God (which are connected to our horizon) are necessarily wrong
and the OT horizon is right.
WHAT I AM SAYING, is that we can’t force our assumptions upon the OT if we want to
understand it. Understanding Scripture’s testimony about God starts with listening to Scripture
on its own terms! When we understand what God inspired the Holy Spirit to say to ancient
communities, we are in a good position to understand what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us!
Biblical Story and the Way it Shapes Our Story1
By John Goldingay
Christian spirituality has often emphasized the power that resides in our telling our story and hearing
other people do so. This telling plays a powerful role in connection with our growth as Christians and our
contributing to our brothers’ and sisters’ growth in Christ. Christian tradition has also assumed that the
story the Bible itself tells is designed to make us grow, to shape the identity of the church and the individual. Pentecostals have emphasized the importance of sharing testimony as an approach to sharing in Bible
study.2 They believe in a “hermeneutics of testimony.”3 In considering the power of telling our own story,
not least in connection with the interpretation of Scripture, it is illuminating to reflect on the power of
Scripture’s own story. [i.e., the Bible’s testimony!]
Narrative, story, history dominates Scripture. Sometimes we set “story” and “history” over against each
other, as if a narrative is either factual history or “only a story,” when we put it that way, we imply that
factual history is what really counts. Story is mere entertainment. I do not want to imply an antithesis of
that kind between story and history. With biblical narrative in general, it is important both that it relates to
events that actually happened, and that it is not a mere chronicle of happenings, but more than that; it is a
narrative that brings out a message in the story and shows how it relates to its hearers. To say “story” is to
say that this is not mere dry-as-dust history but a narrative with something to say to us.
The dominance of narrative, story, in Scripture is indicated by the way more than half the First Testament and more than half the New Testament is story. Although at one level Christian tradition has always
recognized the importance of story, you would not guess this from the nature of Christian theology, or
from the nature of much writing on Christian spirituality.4 Until story became a fashionable subject in the
late twentieth century, the discursive form of theology that characterizes great works such as Thomas
Aquinas’s Summa theologica, Calvin’s Institutes, or Barth’s Church Dogmatics, seemed the natural way
to do proper theology. It is indeed a natural and biblical way to do theology; it takes up the discursive
method of Paul. But narrative is Scripture’s more dominant way of doing theology, and it is therefore odd
that subsequent Christian theology has not tended to take narrative form. It is especially odd given the fact
that the reason for narrative’s dominating Scripture is itself theological. It corresponds to a fact about the
content of Scripture, to a central aspect of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not a set of timeless
truths, assertions that are always true about God and us. Christian faith is a gospel, a piece of news about
something God once did. Its characteristic expression takes the form not of statements such as “God is
love” or “God is three and God is one” but of statements such as “God so loved the world that he gave….”
The Christian faith is a narrative statement. One would therefore reckon that story would be a natural way
to do theology, or to do spirituality.
My starting point suggested another, related reason why story is a natural way to do theology. Alongside
the way the gospel is story-shaped is the fact that human experience itself is story-shaped. This fact underlies the significance of story to spirituality. If I want to tell you who I am, I am likely to do so by telling you something of my story. The story-shapedness of Scripture corresponds to the story-shapedness of
human experience as well as the story-shapedness of the gospel itself. I imagine that all these links are
more than coincidence. Scripture is story-shaped because the gospel is story-shaped; the gospel is storyshaped because human experience is story-shaped. Very likely the logic also works the other way round.
If it is important to human experience that it is story-shaped, and if human beings are made in God’s image, then this points to the idea that God’s experience is story-shaped, that God lives in narrative sequence. That is how Scripture describes God. God moves from not being incarnate, to being incarnate, to
knowing from the inside what it is like to be a human being. As with human beings, God has a consistent
nature and in this sense an unchanging nature, but Scripture also portrays God as living in narrative sequence, as human beings do. Human experience is story-shaped because the gospel is story-shaped because in some sense God lives in narrative sequence.5
Scripture is dominated by story and this story is designed to shape us, especially as we set our story
alongside its story. How does that work?
1 Stories Told More Than Once
First, the scriptural story is a story told more than once, told in more than one way.
A full two-fifths of the First Testament, from Genesis to Kings, comprises a mammoth single narrative
running from creation via the story of Israel’s origins and triumphs to its decline and fall and its return to
the Babylon whence it came. The books we may think of as separate works (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
and so on) are not finally separate and self-contained…
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