In my quest to read the Bible as God intended, I’ve come to understand that ultimately God wants us to read it as a story.
The Bible is however an unusual story because it is comprised of many disparate parts written over several centuries by many different authors in various times and places. It is therefore a composite narrative, and a unique genre of story with its own literary conventions as to how it is to be read. Reading the Bible as a story therefore requires understanding how to connect its disparate parts into a unified coherent overarching narrative.
The Bible is in fact like a quilt of stories. Each of its individual stories being like different patches of cloth that have been knit together into a unified pattern revealing a bigger picture or story. Like a quilt, the individual parts are bound together by common threads running throughout the whole. These common threads in the Biblical story are repeated patterns, words or motifs which recur in the individual stories and connect them to each other.
These kinds of connections which knit the Biblical story into a whole can be discovered at several places in scripture. However, it is particularly instructive that Jesus himself relied on repeated patterns, words and motifs to connect different parts of the Biblical story together into an overarching narrative which pointed to him.
In Luke 24, for instance, Jesus teaches his disciples that a repeated pattern in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible (comprised of the Law, Prophets and Writings) which was fulfilled in his own life pointed towards him being the suffering Messiah, who was to bring salvation for many.
The repeated pattern which Jesus identified in the Old Testament as pointing to him is as follows: (1) there is a favoured / righteous / anointed one (the Messiah), (2) who undergoes unjust suffering, (3) and is eventually vindicated by God resulting in redemption and salvation for many.
In Luke 24:13-24 the resurrected Jesus encounters two of his disciples who are disconsolate in the wake of his crucifixion and are unable to recognize him. These two disciples could identify in the recent events of Jesus’ life, each of the elements of the above pattern. However, they were unable to interpret them as pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, because they did not have the correct mental map or template with which to view these events. They needed to be taught how to see the big picture / story the Bible conveyed by means of repeated patterns, words or motifs.
Here are the pieces of the pattern they identified but were unable to interpret as pointing to
As the disciples had all the pieces but failed to put them together using the template given by scripture, Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Essentially what Jesus did was to show them that the repeated pattern in the Old Testament was that an anointed one went through suffering before entering his glory (or vindication resulting in the salvation of many). Further, that this repeated pattern in the Old Testament pointed towards his role as a suffering messiah who would be vindicated by God and bring salvation to many.
As a result of Jesus teaching these disciples to read the Bible in this way, we are told, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, …” and “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:31-32 – emphasis added).
Apparently, reading the Bible as a story in this way reveals Jesus to us.
Jesus later encounters the eleven and those gathered with them, and he also teaches them that the Hebrew Bible by means of this repeated pattern pointed to his coming as the suffering Messiah (anointed one) to save many:
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47).
The result of Jesus teaching them to read the Bible in this way was that they also were able to see him clearly and worship him and were filled with great joy (Luke 24:52).
But where does Jesus find this repeated pattern in the Old Testament? There are in fact a number of places where this repeated pattern can be identified in the Old Testament. These include the stories of Abel, Joseph, Moses, David, and Job, as well as the accounts of the suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, and many of the Psalms.
However, for sake of illustration, we can briefly outline this pattern in the story of Joseph, which interestingly Stephen in Acts 7 also recounts, alongside the story of Moses, as a story pointing to Jesus. We can trace the repeated pattern as follows in the story of Joseph:
Favoured / righteous / anointed one: In the story Joseph is the favoured son of Jacob.
Unjust suffering: Joseph undergoes unjust suffering as a result of sibling jealousy leading to his betrayal for silver and being stripped of a richly ornamented robe. (The betrayal for silver and being stripped of a richly ornamented robe are motifs which recur in the story of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. Jesus is also portrayed as being handed over to crucifixion out of the envy or jealousy of the Jewish leaders, who were his ethnic brothers.)
Vindication, redemption and salvation for many: God vindicates Joseph by raising him up to the second highest position in Egypt and in Genesis 50:20 he says that God intended his suffering for good to accomplish the saving of many lives.
In Jesus’ way of reading the Bible as a story, the story of Joseph and many others, by their use of this repeated pattern are all knit together to tell one unified story of Jesus’ coming as God’s favoured son to suffer to bring salvation for many.
We can see Jesus more clearly if we also learn to read the Bible in this way. Like the disciples in Luke 24 we just need to allow him to open the scriptures to us, to open our minds to understand the scriptures, and to open our eyes so that we can see him.