Writing has taught me a lot about sentence structure and grammar, but more importantly, it has shown me how to make connections, to practice vulnerability and to pay attention to our world. Specifically, it’s given me a deeper appreciation for other written content; words I used to simply consume without much consideration for how they were prepared.
As a faith writer, the Bible as a piece of written work is of particular interest to me; this sacred text which has offered life-saving words as well as been the source of much division and strife. It may be presumptuous to compare my blogging to the Holy Word of God, but despite being canonized as divine special revelation, the Scripture was also drafted by human writers.
Crafting my own words has helped me ponder the process in which the Biblical writings have come to be in the following five ways. I hope it provides an alternative viewpoint through which we can study and appreciate the Bible.
1. Poetry or Prose
Before I ever drafted my first blog post, I had been a long time avid blog reader. I read mommy blogs, theology blogs, travel blogs, food blogs, and more. By the time I decided to add my voice to the blogging community, I had familiarized myself with various niche blogs and was intentional about what kind of blogger I would or would not be. For example, I loved humor blogs, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to write in a funny way. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy jokes or like to laugh; I do, I just knew that wasn’t going to be my unique contribution to the blogosphere. I write serious, thought-provoking posts about faith and culture, and I stick to this style of writing consistently.
This reminds me of how the biblical writers were also dynamic human beings who may have other interests and facets to their personality. However, they also studied the genres of similar literary conventions of their time, and intentionally chose their specific style of writing. In order to more fully understand why and how they write, it would help if we became familiar with the various genres they had consumed before adding their voice.
2. Open Letters, Anyone?
Although most writers I know write alone, our writing is never in isolation. Any form of writing is a conversation with the ideas and prevailing voices of our current time. My blog posts don’t come out of thin air. Most of the time they are the result of having engaged with someone else’s ideas; a response or an addendum or a rebuttal.
In Scripture, the writers are doing the same thing. Some of Paul’s epistles directly address specific people (or group of people.) Other biblical books are more subtle. The four gospels, for instance, appear to be self contained narratives of the life of Jesus, but they also are pieces which are meant to be a reaction to a specific conversation taking place during biblical times. We need to answer these questions to help us appreciate their words: Who were the conversation partners of their time? What were they saying? How do the biblical writers agree or disagree with them?
3. The Deeper Meaning
I blog because I have a message to share. I have learned that the most effective way to write is to show rather than tell that message. This means I use stories, metaphors, relevant news snippets in order to communicate my message. My ideas are embedded within the context of my posts. For example, I recently referenced comedians Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in a post about finding common ground with other Christians. Even though these two celebrities featured prominently in my title and their picture was my chosen blog image, my message was not about them. Rather, the reference to these two pop cultural icons were simply a vehicle for carrying the message I ultimately wanted to share.
This is why it is sometimes misleading to read the Bible literally. The biblical writers borrowed stories, metaphors, and news contemporary to their time in order to deliver their message effectively. If we are serious students of the Bible, we must be serious about reading for the truth they wanted to convey, and not mistake the Amy Poehlers and Tina Feys of their day to be the deeper meaning of their writing.
4. Target Audience
Although I am Chinese, I blog in English and I understand that my target audience are mostly English speakers from North America and other English speaking countries. I know that if I reference the latest political scandal in Taiwan – NO ONE will get it. However, even casual mentions of a blockbuster movie plot line will immediately be recognized by this audience. I don’t have to explain what movie I’m referring to or laboriously list the names of the movie actors. If it is a popular movie, I assume my readers know what I mean without spelling it out.
Our biblical writers are also making assumptions of what their readers know and do not know. Because our cultural context vary so distinctly from the readers of ancient biblical times, we must take care to learn what ancient readers would have been assumed to possess knowledge of, to help us make sense of what the writers were trying to communicate.
5. Selective Text
As a writer in this age of twitter sound bytes and quick information turnover, we are told to blog in 1000 words or less. Any more than that, readers with limited time and attention span will opt out. This word count limit forces us to carefully pick and choose which details of a story are the most important to leave in and which ones to do without. Many of my ideas never make it to see the light of day, not because they aren’t good, but because I had to be selective about what to include.
The Bible was never meant to be a comprehensive manual of every last detail of Christian living. It tells a very specific story about God and God’s people—ONLY details relevant to this story make it into the final canon. It may be the most important story for Christians to hear, and the Bible’s narrative provides the lens through which we discern how to live in relationship with God and the world, but there are many countless details which aren’t included within the text.
The Bible was never meant to be a vessel which contain the only beauty and truth. It is a story about salvation; a liberation call to the people of the world to continue the task of filling in the details of this story of God and God’s people. The story continues to be written through art, song, research, tending children, healing patients, and planting gardens. The story keeps getting told and retold, edited and refined, recited in communion or whispered in the quiet.
What makes the Bible come alive is that her words were never meant to be the last. The power of the Bible is such that it infuses her power into the people of God to speak, to sing, and to blog. It is the Word of a God who has always, from the beginning of time, invited us to collaborate with God’s activity in the world.