Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2015

It’s Not Just a Story

Is the story of Balaam and his donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Bible tells to make another point? It's possible to accept it as something that happened, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Is the story of Balaam and his talking donkey something that actually happened or just a story the Biblical writer tells to make another point? It’s possible to accept it as rooted in genuine events, but be sending your kids a completely opposite message through your choice of words. Image: Source

Several weeks ago I attended a Saturday morning breakfast organized as part of a national initiative, the Canadian Christian Business Federation. They are currently operating in six provinces here, and this was my second time at the local chapter.

Some of the best interactions in situations like this happen outside the boundaries of what was formally organized. It turned out that the person sitting next to me at breakfast was from Florida, where he is part of a Creation Science ministry.

We met up later in the morning at the Christian bookstore, and he was looking at Children’s products. I started talking about some of my recent conversations with parents on how as kids, we learn the ways of God through narratives. Adam and Eve. David and Goliath. Jonah and the large fish. Joshua and the Wall of Jericho. Three men in the fiery furnace.

At one point, I used the word story to describe these, and at that point he corrected me, and it’s a correction I’ve been very consciously aware of over the past few weeks. Better, he suggested to use the word account.

The problem with story is that in some peoples’ minds it is synonymous with tale or myth. Now, I realize as I write this, that there are some people — even among readers here — who do in fact see some of these as allegorical tales. Especially the creation narrative with which he works so closely. I suppose we need to save that one for another day.

I also realize that the New Testament in particular is full of parable. There wasn’t ever a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son; right? Or had this played out somewhere? Were there several prodigal sons? Or is the parable an amalgam of things that have actually happened at different times in different places?

There’s even a classic Old Testament parable, told by Nathan, that we could call The Farmer and the Lamb.

So how do little children — who are being taught things that are myths and tales in their English classes — separate fact from fiction? Can a Christian kid say categorically that there was a David, a Jonah, a Joshua? Or are they just reading these things as literature?

Much of our attention in the church at large is currently focused on establishing the authority of the New Testament gospels. We know the disciples were willing to die for what they believed; what they had heard and seen with their own eyes and ears, or the testimony of witnesses they considered to be reliable.

But what about the authority of the Old Testament historical books?  Are the children in our sphere of influence as confident in the story account of the three men in the fiery furnace, or in their minds, is it in the same class as the one about Goldilocks and the three bears?

By better controlling our use of language, and especially thinking in terms of scriptural accounts we are testifying to the verity of the people and situations described.

 

 

3 Comments »

  1. This is a great point. Children are very concrete thinkers so differentiating between a true account and a fictional story is important.

    Comment by Richard Overman — January 1, 2016 @ 7:19 am

  2. In our English-language-world, words come and go and even reverse their meanings – like “wicked” meant “wonderful” for at least a few years. There is a long list of English words that are reversed or held captive by others. People who blow themselves in crimes against humanity are called martyrs by their fellow zealots and the news media picks it up and repeats the word until the general population accepts the new definition – martyrs are cold-blooded killers rather than those murdered. Older English speaking Christians may sort out those “reversed meaning” words but what about a younger generation that stares blankly at their cell phones while texting and doing “selfies?” How should Bible translators deal with a language in flux? Is a “wicked” king now an “awesome” king rather than an evil king?

    When the time arrived for Christian leaders to jettison words from earlier eras, there was a lot of brain-storming by ministries to figure out what would replace “Bible story.” For my work with the words Bible and Bible stories, I came up with Bible chronicles: Dictionary: Chronicle – noun, a chronological record of events; a history. Wow! History, events, and accounts all sounded serious enough words to be Christian so I bought the Bible Chronicles web address and launched my word revolution with positive vibes.

    After using Bible chronicles for several years, I discovered that fellow believers could never remember our web address – BibleChronicles.org, Whenever I felt duty-bound to tell church goers that “Bible story” didn’t cut it, they fretted and worried. After tiring of explaining, I abandoned the revolution and returned to using Bible stories.

    When a word like story is so embedded in a language, it is difficult to suddenly abandon it for other words – especially when the general population is unaware of the Christian world of words and their meanings. As far as teaching our own children, maybe we could begin with not telling them that Santa is real. If Santa knows that we are naughty or nice, who needs God? And what about the Easter bunny and a host of other fables? Do we set our kids up to think we never tell the truth?

    Whatever we parents are, our kids become – they become like mom and dad. If they come to understand that we truly love them and that we love Jesus and believe his words, we are on solid ground. Of course we need to teach by example. We also need to teach them from the Bible and about the Bible. If we see on TV that ISIS just took sledgehammers to Jonah’s tomb in Nineveh, that is a good historical lesson. Who would put a tomb there if there were no Jonah? Christian kids need to be taught that the world Christians a Jews are rooted in history. Recently, Christians have been driven from the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain by the ISIS murderers. Why not find out why churches there celebrate the Jonah fast and tell our kids while we read the Biblical account? We have the best stories ever – they are in the Bible and they are true.

    From Wikipedia:
    Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon’s Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, oriental churches of the Middle East commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drinks. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.

    Here is a video of ISIS smashing the tomb of Jonah. Scroll down the page to view it.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2685923/Shocking-moment-ISIS-militants-sledgehammers-Mosul-tomb-Prophet-Jonah-50-blindfolded-bodies-massacred-south-Baghdad.html

    Comment by Bruce Allen — January 1, 2016 @ 10:38 am


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