The Story of Stories

I have said elsewhere the sermon I’d most like to listen to in the Bible is the one Jesus gave to two disciples of his on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32.) It says that Jesus on this relatively short journey opened the Scriptures to them and explained everything concerning himself. A complete Bible study class from Jesus himself, that is absolutely fantastic! (I so wish I was there.)

Naturally, we would think Jesus talked about the prophecies concerning himself. The gospels are filled with statements that say Jesus fulfilled this or that prophecy. By someone’s estimation about 25% of the Bible is prophecy and there are said to be over 300 specific prophecies relating to Jesus. A common apologetic argument is try use the statistical probability of these prophecies being fulfilled to demonstrate Jesus is who he claimed to be. As mathematically impressive as that argument is I believe it completely misses the point, especially with what was going on during the journey to Emmaus. When the gospel writers say Jesus fulfilled a certain prophecy they were connecting what was happening to a larger tradition. I do not think Jesus recited a prosaic checklist of predictions he had met to the disciples. John records in his gospel that when Jesus was crucified he said he was thirsty. He was given a sour concoction of wine. The author tells us he did this to fulfil the Scripture. Especially under those conditions Jesus was not just desperately trying to finish his bucket list of things to do before he died.

The way I believe Jesus explained everything in the Scriptures is not a blow by blow exegetical commentary from Genesis to Malachi. What I think Jesus did was tell a story. In “The One Sermon” I mentioned how they preached in Acts was to recount the story of the people of Israel. If this is how disciples understood things I think it is not too far off to think the Master taught them and understood things in that way.

For me one of the fundamental questions that I have tried to tackle is the nature of the Biblical canon. The Bible is not really a book but a compendium of 66 books written over a period of 1, 500 years by about 40 different authors across 3 different continents. How does it all fit together? The traditional arguments of the process of canonization are pretty good. In particular the way the Bible is kind of self-referencing is a reasonably good argument. These arguments still did not satisfy me. As Christians we take the Bible a priori to be the word of God, but really why should we put such a high level of confidence in it?

I started seeing the answer when I started to take the Gospel very seriously and started investigating what it meant. The Gospel is a story, the story of Jesus. In fact it is the central story of the Bible. On a seemingly superficial level without the Gospel there is no continuity between the “Old” and “New” testaments. If the Gospel is a story what about the rest of the Bible?

If you follow any series whether they are novels, or television shows or even films you know you need to pay attention to each story. It is very possible for someone to read only one story and enjoy it without completing the series. The overall story that is told however, is greater than the sum of its parts. The Bible is the same. The Scriptures form a historical metanarrative, that is, a story of a story. This is the reason why they preached the Gospel in the way they did. They saw the stories of Adam, Rahab, Job, Ruth, David etc. as all interconnected in a grand narrative.

This way of viewing the Scriptures caused a paradigm shift in my understanding of the Bible. The moment you begin to see the Scriptures in this light it starts to make a lot of sense. It is no longer a disparate bunch of ancient and woefully irrelevant stories but an ongoing unfolding drama of which you and I are both active participants.

Stories are very powerful things. Every human society has its own stories. Every year Hollywood makes huge profits from selling stories to the world. When we want to teach children about the world and their role in it we tell them stories. Whether it is Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm or in my part of the world Anansesɛm (the Tales of Kwaku Ananse) these cherished tales are a part of us. Even as individuals we all have our personal story. To get to know someone is to get to know their story. Knowing someone’s biodata doesn’t count because people are not a cold set of statistics but rather living beings.

When I speak of the Bible as a metanarrative I am not referring to the arbitrary connection human beings share because we belong to the same species. The Bible talks of a greater and a deeper connection than biology.

To understand the nature of the story, that is, what the story is about, we have to start at the beginning. The purpose of Genesis 1 is not to tell us God made everything ex nihilo even though that is certainly true. Its purpose is not to tell us why there is something rather nothing. God is presented in Genesis as the Holy Creator-King. God did not just make something but he created a kingdom, an ordered realm in which his will and purpose is fulfilled. The Bible tells us we are in God’s world and we are a part of his story. God declared through the prophet Isaiah, ‘the heavens are my throne and the earth is my footstool, what is the house you will build for me, what is the place of my rest?’ (Isaiah 66:1.) The very creation is his house. In the Bible a cosmic story is being told that affects all of creation.

The Biblical account is not deluded. It along with the rest of humanity knows that all is not well. The world is in pain but all the suffering and brokenness, death and decay cannot be the full stop of our existence. The Bible tells us the story of how the world fell into trouble through the disobedience of humanity. The divine order and way of doing things had been disrupted and therefore creation became disjointed. The solution to this disobedience therefore has to be obedience, the re-establishing of divine order on the earth. When you think about it the true hope of creation is when God takes charge of affairs. If he made it, he certainly knows how to fix it. When children make a mess at home they usually do not know how to fix it. However, when the parents arrive they seem to know exactly what to do to put things back in order no matter how daunting it might seem. When you have an electronic device that you are having difficulties with you call the manufacturer. They implicitly have the expertise to resolve the situation. The biblical story of the Gospel is like that. The Creator is the one who restores and redeems the creation. It is the promise of hope to the creation in the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The Bible is not really a proper name when you think about it. It simply means the books. There are so many writings in the world so what distinguishes this volume from the rest? If the compendium of Holy Writ was to have a proper name I would call it the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the Biblical metanarrative. It is the good news of hope in Jesus that brings all these pieces of ancient literature into a meaningful whole. Yet we can still call it the Bible because it is the only must read for humanity, the Book of books written by the Author of authors. It is the most important message to hit the entire cosmos, the very word of God. It is God who has masterfully crafted these ancient lives and accounts to form his very own message to humanity. The same God who formed the world out of the waters of primeval chaos, saved Noah and his family from the Deluge, rescued the children of Abraham from harsh bondage in Egypt and raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, is restoring the world with a mysterious new creation. It is my hope that God-willing in the future we can take a closer look at this new creation.

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