James Meehan - How To Read the Weird Parts of the Bible?
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Well, what's up Bible nerds? Here is my question for you today. What do Harry Potter and a cookbook have in common? If you guess that they are both books, you are correct. Now, what is different about them? If it's that one is about a young wizard boy who rises up against the forces of darkness as the chosen one to defeat he who must not be named and became a bestselling movie franchise, you're correct, but that's not the answer that I'm looking for. The answer I'm looking for is that, while Harry Potter and cookbooks are both kinds of books, they are different kinds of books.
And this is really important because when we read books whether it's fantasy, sci-fi, history, cookbooks, or whatever, if we don't realize the kind of book we're reading then things can get really confusing. So imagine for a second that you are preparing to cook a meal for your family and you're not really sure what book to grab. So you just grab the closest one and it's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and as you open up this book, you find a page that is depicting this weird potion that these wizards and witches learn how to brew at Hogwarts. And you just do your best to take all the ingredients in your pantry and turn that into a meal for your family. It's probably not gonna work very well.
Now on the other hand, imagine it's a nice, beautiful Sunday afternoon. You go to the park, you hook up one of those little hammocks between trees and you lay down with a good book just to enjoy the day. And you open up a cookbook, hoping that it's gonna be a fantasy epic with characters that you can follow and an adventure that will inspire. But instead you find yourself reading about how many cloves of garlic are needed to cook a dish of chicken Parmesan for a family of four. Yeah, that's probably not gonna help you accomplish what you're trying to accomplish. So with all of that being said what in the world do Harry Potter and cookbooks have to do with the Bible? The short answer, everything. No, I'm just kidding. Not actually everything, but just like they're both books but they're different kinds of books.
The Bible is a book, but it's a very different kind of book because the Bible is not just one single book. It's actually a collection of 66 different books that are all woven together to tell this beautiful story about Jesus and how God sent Jesus to rescue us from our sins make us right with him and invite us to play our part in restoring the world. And those 66 different books that make up the Bible are not all the same kind of book. Just like there is history and biography, and fantasy, and science fiction, that you might find in your library. In the library of ancient writings that is the Bible, you're gonna find history, you're gonna find poetry and parable, there's prophecy, there's even some letters in there. And if we want to read the Bible wisely we've got to acknowledge that the Bible is a unified story made up of all sorts of different types of writings that are all leading us to Jesus and inviting us to become more like Jesus.
And that's what makes reading the Bible so beautiful. It's also what makes reading the Bible so challenging. And that's why the big idea for today is this. If you want to read the Bible wisely, remember that the Bible is meant to be read literately and not just literally. Now, what does that mean? Well literately means according to the literary genre in which it was written. That means we read history like history, and we read poetry like poetry, and parables like parables, and letters like letters. Because if we don't read things the way they were meant to be read, we're not gonna really understand what the author was trying to communicate to the original audience so long ago, and to us in our world today.
Now there are absolutely some places where the Bible is just meant to be taken at face value meant to be read literally but there are some places where that style of reading is gonna get us into trouble really quickly. And that's why what I wanna do is actually look at two different examples from the Bible of literary genres. The first we're gonna look at a parable from Jesus and the second we're gonna pull from one of Paul's letters. So in Matthew chapter 13:33, Jesus says this. He says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough".
So if we start with this parable that Jesus told and we tried to read it purely literally then you might walk away thinking the kingdom of heaven is made of bread which I know sounds absolutely ridiculous. Like nobody would ever believe it but I'm telling you, I have seen it. There are really weird things that we sometimes do when it comes to reading the Bible. But if we read it that way, then we miss the deeper meaning that Jesus is trying to communicate because parables are these illustrations and teachings that Jesus gives to people to help them discover a deeper truth about God and about his kingdom. So what is that deeper truth here in Matthew chapter 13:33? Well, Jesus is talking about a little bit of yeast, a whole lot of dough, and eventually that little bit of yeast spreads throughout all of the dough. And Jesus is saying somehow that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Well, if we think about the history of the Christian movement and this revolution that Jesus started. It started with just a small group of people. Jesus and his 12 disciples, and slowly but surely over time it's grown to the point where there are now Christians on every single continent. There are churches in every corner of the world. The mission and the message of Jesus has spread all around the globe but it started really small and it grew really slowly. But now you can see the evidence of how God has been working everywhere we look. This is what Jesus is trying to communicate with this parable that the Kingdom of God starts small. It grows slowly, but eventually it will make its way through the entire world until people everywhere hear the good news that they are loved by God. And that there is freedom and forgiveness found in his son.
Now, if we don't read that the way it's meant to be read then we might just walk away assuming it's about bread and not realizing that it's about the mission of God that Jesus started. That's why it's important to read the Bible not just literally, but also literately so that we can better grasp what the author is trying to say. Now, the next part we're gonna look at is coming from one of Paul's letters in Roman chapter 12:9-10. The apostle Paul writes this. He says, "Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other".
So how should we read this? Should we read this the same way that we read the parable of Jesus talking about yeast and bread and dough? Or should we read it a little bit differently? Well, because this is not a parable, it's actually a letter. It's important to recognize that that requires a different way of reading. If somebody were to write you a letter, would you automatically assume that there's some deeper meaning hidden beneath the surface that you have to investigate to discover or would you assume that what they wrote is actually what they meant? I think that's probably the best assumption for when it comes to reading letters in the New Testament, that whatever the author wrote is likely what they meant.
And so when Paul says, don't just pretend to love others. I think he means don't pretend to love people. I think he means, really love them. Like do whatever you can to show them genuine affection. Hate the wrong things, but love the good things and take delight in honoring each other. I think what Paul wants us to get out of these words is exactly what they say. That loving each other can't just be something we do for show. It has to be something that's genuine, that's real, and is driven for a heart to care for other people.
Now, it's also important to recognize that when it comes to letters specifically, all of those letters were written by an author to an audience and that original audience isn't actually us living in the modern world. And so there will be some times where understanding how to apply the teachings of a letter can require some wisdom and discernment. But I think it's important to acknowledge that that wisdom and discernment doesn't mean just throwing out what they're saying all together. It just requires doing a little bit of investigation to discover who it was originally written to and what it might mean for us today. And if you want some more information about how to do that we've actually already recorded an episode in our Bible Nerds 101 series that talks exactly about that, that you can find in the playlist here on our YouTube channel, because all of this it's a journey that we're gonna go on together to better discover how to read the Bible wisely.
So when you are reading the Bible and you're having a hard time understanding what something means or how to read it, I just wanna encourage you to remember that the Bible is meant to be read literately and not just literally. So as you're reading, here are a few suggestions that might be helpful. The first thing that I would do, is I would ask yourself the question, what genre am I reading? Is this history, poetry, parable? Is it prophecy? Is it something else? Is it a combination? Because sometimes the genre isn't always obvious but it's helpful to start with that question, because that at least get us thinking and moving in the right direction. The second suggestion I would make is actually check out the graphic that we have attached in the description down below because it'll give you an overview of the different books of the Bible and the literary genres that they fall under.
And that's a really good starting place to sort of get a grasp of all of the different books and the types of genre that they are. And the last thing that I would say is you can subscribe to our Bible plan. It's a Bible Nerds 101, how to read the Bible plan in the YouVersion Bible app, that's gonna go even deeper into some of the topics that we've been talking about in this series to help you grow in your wisdom, in your understanding of how to read the Bible well, so that you can better discover the important truths that God wants you to know, so you can live a little bit more like Jesus. So when you find yourself having a hard time figuring out how to read the different and the difficult parts of the Bible, remember that the Bible's meant to be read literately and not just literally. And at the end of the day, when we start to do this, we discover how beautiful this book really is, and how every single page and passage leads us to Jesus and invites us to become more like him. So with all that being said, take care and stay nerdy.