For my faithful followers, I apologize. Due to illness, I have been absent from this blog for many days.
A great definition for the “romantic” that I learned in college many years ago is, “interest in the long ago and far away.” This is tied to the Romantic periods in literature, music, and art that flourished in the 19th century. It was tied to a revival of the study of the ways of the ancient Romans (hence the name) and originally had nothing to do with human love stories.
In this sense, the study of the Bible must needs be “romantic,” because it presents a strange world that knows nothing of Twitter, iPads, jet airplanes, nuclear war, stock exchanges, American democracy, or blogs. Yet there is a persistent attempt to read the Bible as if it were the product of the late 1970s, a little out of date but pretty close.
I am teaching a class on the Parables of Jesus right now, and as I revisit this familiar material, I am again struck by the many things one must know about the ancient world in order to make sense of this subject. Today I am talking about the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4, and let me just list a few issues in Mark 4:1-20 in order to understand the text correctly:
- Why would Jesus teach from a boat beside a lake?
- What really is a “parable”?
- What does it mean to “sow” in a field?
- Why would anyone put seed on a path?
- Is a crop that returns 30x or 60x or 100x a good one?
- What is a “mystery” in the Bible?
- How can Satan snatch the word from people who have just heard it?
- Why does “deceitfulness of wealth” mean? How can wealth deceive?
These are just a few things I notice. If we go on through the chapter we might list a few more:
- What is a “lamp” in the biblical world? Why might you put it under a bowl?
- What is a mustard seed or a mustard tree?
For those of us who have been reading the Bible for decades, we slip into this strange world of the Bible quite easily. Of course Jesus was teaching outdoors. Of course fields were seeded by hand. Of course a “mystery” was something revealed by God, not a detective story. We know these things.
But with the rise of biblical illiteracy, these things are not self-evident or self-explanatory to the vast majority of the unchurched, nor to many who attend a service on Sunday.
This may seem like it is leading to a pitch for Biblical Higher Education, and it is. We need a ministry of church leaders who are well versed in this strange, romantic world of the Bible, and can explain its details without becoming simply infatuated with the ancient world. We need biblical scholars, not classicists. This sort of training does not happen in the local church any more. It does not happen in the home. Some of this information is available on YouTube or in a study Bible, but those sources are thin, inconsistent, and often just plain wrong.
Students at Nebraska Christian College, I am talking to you because I know many of you read this blog. Learn these things well. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand references in the Bible and find the answer. When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy,” what does that mean? Why Stephen accuses the Jews of being “stiff-necked,” what does that mean. (Hint: these two answers are related.) Let us be servants of the Word who unlock this strange world of the Bible for our people, and thereby shower them with the riches of God’s Word.