The content of the news very often provide important talking points for us, and newspapers are an important source for reporting and interpreting this. However we must always be careful how we read, interpret and use the content of a newspaper, a point that we considered at a parade service earlier in the summer. You might at this point want to pick up a newspaper and look carefully at it. What different sections do you notice? In a newspaper there are many different sections. Perhaps you may have noticed some of the following:-

 

  • news reports
  • adverts
  • family announcements (births, marriages, deaths)
  • problem page letters
  • letters to the editor
  • a political cartoon
  • an obituary
  • a list of stocks and shares
  • a list of horse races
  • a crossword
  • a celebrity story
  • .. .and more besides perhaps.

They are not all written to the same style, of course, and the intelligent reader will remember this as they read: there is a considerable difference between something written as political satire, a serious report, or an advert for instance. So it is with the Bible also. The Bible is not one type of text, and its books are written for different purposes. The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), known as the Pentateuch, tell the stories of the Creation, Noah, The Patriarchs, the Exodus and the time spent wandering in the desert, as well as the many rules that the Israelites received to live by. They contain a mixture of narrative and law. The books from Joshua through to Esther tell of the history of the Israelites to just after returning from exile (with a significant link being made between the quality of the leaders that Israel/ Judah had, their actions, and the survival of children of Israel as a nation). The following books from Job to Song of Songs contain poetry, songs, and thoughts. Thereafter the remaining books of the Old Testament are those of the prophets (which mix some narrative, with prophecy and visions).

In the New Testament, the life of Jesus is told through the four gospels, the activities of the apostles through the book of Acts. Thereafter follow various letters (many attributed to Paul), written to the early Christians for different purposes, and therefore emphasizing different points. The last book, Revelation, was written to encourage the early Christians to hold on in the face of persecution, whilst awaiting Jesus' second coming.

When reading a newspaper it is important to appreciate the point of view that the writer is adopting, and the extent to which this can affect the interpretation of an event: compare a selection of our national newspapers reporting on the same event and we can see this. It can also occur in the Bible where different writers report on the same event. Take the accounts of King Manasseh of Judah for instance. In {bible}2 Kings 21 v. 1-18{/bible} we have a picture of a man who was thoroughly bad, and a disgrace to the house of David. If we read {bible}2 Chronicles 33 v.1-20{/bible} we read a different side. Was Manasseh all bad or did he really have redeeming qualities?

Similarly we have to be careful about rigid literal interpretation of all that we read in the Bible (witness the book of Revelation and the second half of the book of Daniel, chapters 7 to 12). Many have come unstuck here trying to predict the end of the World!

The existence of such passages and viewpoints does not invalidate the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. However it does emphasize the need for an understanding of the Bible. Passages should be read in context, with knowledge of one another, and thought as to when and why they were written. Revisiting and re-reading passages is also important so that we may deepen our understanding and insight, just as re-reading a newspaper article, or a book might show us some aspect that we had previously overlooked. By doing this, and by asking God's blessing through prayer, we may find that God's Word is truly revealed to us.

Chris Noyce