What message am I supposed to be learning when reading the Bible?

By Blogger Karin Heller

Hi Karin,

Is it logical to believe in miracles or extraordinary stories in the Bible? For instance, when I say I believe in miracles, it is because it would appear that whatever just happened can’t be explained by man. But then sometimes I wonder if it hasn’t been explained because humans just haven’t had enough time to explain it yet. Stories like Jonah living in a whale for three days and Noah’s Ark and God burning cities full of people – did these things really happen? What is the message I am supposed to be learning when I read stories like these? How can I open my heart to understand God’s message?

 Thank you for all of your time and patience regarding my questions, Karin. 

 – Caleb

Dear Caleb,

Dr. Karin Heller

The miracles you cite – such as Jonah in the belly of the fish or the ark of Noah – belong to a particular literary genre. The Bible uses a lot of literary genres such as poetry, fiction, prayers, historical accounts and legal texts. The story of Jonah, for example, is a so-called “midrash,” a story that combines fantastic elements with theological wisdom. It works like a Walt Disney production. These productions are a literary genre in which animals speak. We all know that animals do not speak, but we are writing stories where animals speak, because it attracts our attention, it’s funny and that’s why we retain the message. The animals’ messages carry across better than when “normal” human beings say the same things. The Bible uses such effects to get the message better across!

If you really want to learn the message God has in store for you, then stop asking “did these things really happen?” and ask yourself, “what is the spiritual meaning of all this?” “What does God want to teach me through these incredible, sometimes horrible events?”

We don’t have access to this spiritual meaning merely by reading the text by ourselves. We need other people for that. The Bible is inseparable from God’s people. It’s WITHIN God’s people that the Bible starts making a deeper sense! I spent years and years listening to people’s commentaries on the biblical texts, reading good commentaries, and discussing with other people what I heard and read. That’s how I discovered how important table talks are! The spiritual meaning of biblical texts is very often given to us by OTHER HUMAN BEINGS!

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University.Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.

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2 responses to “What message am I supposed to be learning when reading the Bible?

  1. Excellent post Karin!

    • You are very welcome, Bruce!
      Thanks for your kind words! And sorry for my late reply …I was in France during Christmas, New Year and January …
      Karin Heller

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