Did you know that a billionaire guy in England has built an amazing state of the art chocolate factory? His chocolate is known for its astoundingly creamy taste, and he attributes this to his unique manufacturing process. No other chocolate factory has anything like it. It is a chocolate river that ends up in a waterfall, so I guess you would call it a chocolate fall. The churning of the chocolate as it crashes to the bottom of the chocolate fall creates its unparalleled creamy taste. As you can imagine his process is top-secret, and no one is allowed in there so they don’t steal his method. But in a genius marketing move, he decided to send out a handful of golden tickets hidden in random chocolate bars, distributed around the world. The people who discovered the golden tickets were going to be treated to a special all-access behind the scenes tour of the chocolate factory.
Let me pause the story right there and ask: Am I telling truth?
Nope. Not one bit of it. It is a completely false story. And yet, my guess is that a whole bunch of you know exactly what I’m talking about. What story is this?
Did you guess Charlie and Chocolate Factory, which features the factory owner, Willy Wonka? It was first a book, and more recently has been turned into movies. Here’s the thing. While that story is based in reality, we all know it is fiction. Yet none of us is concerned about that. We’re used to that. In fact, we know that Roald Dahl, who is the author of that story, had a reason, or an intent, trying to communicate something to us. He was using literature to teach a lesson.
If you have read the book or seen the movie, what would you say is the lesson? “Don’t be selfish,” maybe?
What this reminds us of is that we need to understand genre! We need to see that even fiction literature can be used to teach a lesson. Jesus did this in his parables. He created stories about realistic things, but to teach a lesson.
In other words, we do not need to read the Bible with hyper-literalistic precision in order to keep the Bible pure, and to keep our faith in God. Instead, ask: “What was the author’s intent? What can I learn about God’s heart from this? What should I do with that information in my life now?”
I believe that the Bible is truth. We can read the Bible and learn what God and the human author were trying to teach us. It is one very important way God lovingly communicates to us about the way of his Kingdom.
Therefore, I conclude this series with some other important points to keep in mind.
First, every time you are about to study Scripture, whether publicly or in private, remember what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2, that we have the promise of the Spirit’s guidance. Pray for God’s Spirit to help you understand what you are reading.
Next, before you seek to apply Scripture to your own life, try to understand how the original audience would have understood it. This is what we saw many times in the Deuteronomy study. That means identifying the genre you are reading. It will also mean having an awareness of the historical and cultural situation of the original audience.
Learning genre and what a passage meant to the original audience might require you to get help. There are plentiful resources you could turn to, but one that I have found very accessible and helpful is The Bible Project. They have created artistically gorgeous and biblically rich videos that will help you learn genre and historical context of each book of the Bible.
Next, seek the principle in the passage that could relate to all time periods and cultures. Then with that principle in hand, test the principle by asking “does this fit with the teaching of the many books of the Bible?”
For example, if you are reading Psalm 1, you could conclude that the principle is “don’t make friends with sinners.” But when you cross-check that with the rest of the Bible, you realize that Jesus made friends with sinners, so maybe there is another way to look at Psalm 1.
Once you have the principle in hand, then you can apply it to your life. As James says, “do not just be hearers of the Word, do what it says.” Back to Psalm 1, we could amend the principle to “be on guard against falling into temptation by regularly immersing yourself in the teaching of God’s word.” We can then apply that to our lives by creating a plan for consistent study of the Bible, and even doing so with others to add encouragement and accountability, working together to understand and apply God’s Kingdom ways to our lives.