The idea that the Bible somehow expresses its authority in a series of arbitrary dos and don’ts or as a handbook of essential doctrines is, to any who have read the book, quite simply absurd. There are dos and there are don’ts, and there are doctrines too, all of which are found within particular contexts but the majority of Scripture is written as narrative. From the first sentence to the last, in whichever way you choose to order the individual books, the Bible is the story of God and his dealings with his creation.
This is not to say that it is all written in ‘story form,’ as one continuous narrative, but all other genres such as prophecy, poetry, wisdom literature, epistles, etc. fit into the story in their appropriate places. They enhance it and bring it vitality and authenticity, whilst at the same time revealing more of God and his purpose to us. The overriding story also provides the overall context which is absolutely vital to our understanding of all that is written.
The authority of narrative
To understand the authority of the Scriptures, we must understand the authority of the Biblical story. It may seem a little strange to think of a story as having authority, but if we think in terms of the story as providing us with an understanding of the whole world and of our own place within it – as a worldview or a metanarrative – then it might make more sense. The Bible can then be understood as being the one, true story of everything – the truly authoritative way of viewing or interpreting all of reality. It becomes the interpretive framework through which we might make sense of all the data of life and the world. Bauckham offers this:
To accept the authority of this story is to enter it and to inhabit it. It is to live in the world as the world is portrayed in this story. It is to let this story define our identity and our relationship to God and to others. It is to read the narratives of our own lives and of the societies in which we live as narratives that take their meaning from this metanarrative that overarches them all. To accept this metanarrative as the one within which we live is to see the world differently and to live within it differently from the way we would if we inhabited another metanarrative or framework of universal meaning.
In this sense the Scriptures are not just the authoritative explanation of everything, they are also the authority by which we live our lives in harmony with the whole purpose of God, becoming a part of that same true story in which Jesus, Moses, Abraham, et al. played their parts. Lives that are transformed begin with minds that are renewed (Romans 12:2), with minds that have first learned to see and understand everything according to the story of God in Scripture. This is why some people just don’t understand why those who believe in Jesus do the things they do, and live the sort of lives they live – they are simply living in a world that looks completely different.
The authority of narrative is the authority of the worldview that both precedes and succeeds all other worldviews. And its authority is an authority of grace in which God is seen as always and only acting in the best interests of his creation, however difficult to grasp that may at times appear.
- Bauckham, Richard, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 2002: 64-65.
This article is from BiBloS, a teaching resource of the British Bible School. To read more articles or download the whole of Issue 2, click here.