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How Do You Read the Bible? (part 2)

Post Title: What is the Standard Narrative Model?

I am making a case for understanding both the standard narrative model of connecting the Testaments and the 2nd-century milieu from which it arose. Further, I am suggesting that this model can be placed in an even bigger picture that was inherent in the text from the beginning. When we see these things with fresh eyes, it makes compelling changes to the way we relate to one another, to the world, to our salvation, and even to the end times.

As I said earlier, the focus of the standard narrative model has been the motif of sin and redemption. There are four categories that define this model: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

From the second century on, this was the big picture way of seeing the whole of the Bible story. It begins with creation, then comes the fall, then comes the redemption in Jesus, and finally comes Christ's return and the consummation of all things. Creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. That's how we read the Bible. It is our basic programming, to use a modern computer analogy. The operating system that runs all our software.

Consider the following portion from one of the earliest creeds of the church, the Nicene Creed.

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible."

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end."

The early creeds were composed not only to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy but also to inform Christians concerning the essential truths of our faith. If someone says to you, "What do you believe?," you could quote the creed and thereby give the gist of what true Christianity is all about.

I am not minimizing the value of our creeds. What I want you to see is that the essence of this creed talks about the Creator, it talks about the Son of God as the one who redeems us from the fall, and it talks about his coming again. It represents the standard narrative model.

Don't you think it is rather odd to go directly from Jesus being born of the virgin to being crucified under Pontius Pilate in the very next sentence? What happened to the 33 years of his life? Do they have any significance for us? Even if it never occurred to you before, it is a glaring omission once you see it.

It also strikes me that this whole creed, in typical Western fashion, focuses on what's called ontology—on the beingness of things as opposed to history. There is virtually nothing said here about the history of God's dealings with the earth.

Look at all that is said about Jesus. There are seven sentences trying to explain his philosophical beingness yet not even one sentence about his 33 years of life on earth.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not putting this creed down. In my seminar One God & One Lord, I show how valuable the creeds were in combatting heresies that were trying to destroy the church from the inside out. What I am trying to show you now is how it springs from and reinforces the standard narrative model held by the church for centuries.

In this paradigm what is ultimately relevant for us as we read the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is, basically, four categories of activity: the creation, the fall, the redemption in Christ, and the consummation of all things. That is the big picture that puts all the other pieces in their place for us.

But I see several problems with this approach. The first problem with the standard narrative model is that it functionally ignores nearly all of the Hebrew Scriptures, the very Bible of Jesus!

After beginning with the creation of Adam and the fall of Adam and Eve along with the curses and their expulsion from the garden, it then leapfrogs from Genesis 3 all the way to Matthew. There is the creation in Genesis 1-2, there is the fall in Genesis 3, and the next really important thing for us to see in the big picture is the birth of Jesus in Matthew—followed by his death and resurrection in Matthew 27-28.

This strikes me as problematic because what it says to us is that we have ignored virtually the whole of the Hebrew Bible to define our understanding of ourselves, our mission, and the future. We have fundamentally relegated it to a secondary or tertiary or insignificant level of importance.

We completely ignore all of God's dealings in the Torah with his people Israel. We completely ignore the Exodus as being crucial to our doctrinal understanding of the whole of God's dealings with the earth. We ignore Sinai, the history of Israel, the prophets, and the destruction of Jerusalem. We ignore the festivals, we ignore the songs except just to inspire our own little interior spirituality. We ignore the prophetic promises of the future except as just being incidental to the fact that they point to Jesus. From Genesis 3 we suddenly pick up the narrative motif again in Matthew and we keep right on truckin'.

Rather than connecting the Testaments, this way of thinking is the cause of a huge disconnect.

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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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