By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
At the same time he promoted the reading of the Bible, the great reformer Martin Luther expressed concern that critics might analyze Scripture down to little pieces, missing the point altogether. “Reason,” he said, “is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things but -- more frequently than not -- struggles against the divine word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
Jesus chose to continue the biblical tradition of revealing God’s truth by means of stories. The characters in his parables -- the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son, the Sower, the owner of the vineyard, and others -- are products of the storyteller’s art.
Jesus was not a journalist reporting on individuals with names, addresses and email locations, but a teacher with a gift for creating vivid characters whose stories persuade our minds, touch our hearts and change our lives forever.
C.S. Lewis sympathized with scholars who maintain that the biblical account of creation and the flood were derived from ancient Semitic stories mythical in origin. But Lewis balked at the notion that the biblical accounts could be reduced to pagan fantasy. Instead, he noted that the original tales had been developed, corrected and reworked into stories that describe a transcendent creator and a true creation.
In short, Lewis argued that the original tales had been altered to serve God’s purposes; in the process, they became inspired.
Contemporary biblical scholars, no longer content to merely explain the Bible, attempt to cut away its layers of myth, poetry and revelation to discover its underlying history. Many scholars are particularly keen to discover the historical Jesus as opposed to the Jesus of faith, whom Christians love.
Theirs is not an unworthy quest, but it is ultimately doomed, because the Bible is a testament of faith rather than history. Pilate and the Pharisees knew the historical Jesus and did not believe his claims, but they took him as a threat and had him executed. Had Pilate written an account of Jesus, it could not be more credible than the Gospels, because the Roman failed to take Jesus seriously.
Pilate demanded of Jesus, “What is ‘truth’?,” in ignorance of the truth itself (John 18:38). The merely historical Jesus, if he could be found, would have aroused skepticism rather than faith. The Gospel accounts are calls to believe in him.
The Gospels are good news. They are neither biography, history nor propaganda, but testimonials of faith calling for faith. Even the most doubting persons who open the pages of the Bible today are the unwitting products of a Christian culture, 2,000 years old, ingrained in the way we think and the things we value. Our literature and law bear the indelible mark of faith.
David Yount is the author of 14 books on faith, spirituality and confident living, including “Be Strong and Courageous” (Sheed & Ward). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and firstname.lastname@example.org.