The Bible as Literature “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” -Augustine. This quote is amazing, and shows how uniquely He loves each and every one of His children. He takes delight when we read and study His word, the perfect guide to how our lives should be lived. However, His word is not just some book full of random stories. The Word of God can be read also as literature. Ryken’s packet states that literature “Conveys a sense of life – a sense of how the writer thinks and feels about what really exists, what is right and wrong, what is valuable and worthless…” God has masterfully put together His word in a way that is perfectly understandable; yet shows His divine nature, using elements of literature such as tragedy, comedy, parable, poetry, and more. As said in Ryken’s packet, “Literature, Always calls for interpretation. Meanings are achieved indirectly.” God’s word fits that description perfectly! The Bible itself, is the most masterful piece of literature ever to be written.Tragedy, as defined in Ryken’s packet, “Moves from prosperity to catastrophe, of the tragic hero from an elated position to ultimate loss because of a tragic flaw of character…” A story of terrible tragedy is found in Judges 13-16, the story of Samson. Samson was chosen by God to be a Nazarite, for the entirety of his life, which was very uncommon. This special covenant with God put restrictions on his life. These included; what he was to eat, that he was not supposed to cut his hair, nor be near a dead body. In return for following God’s rules, he was blessed with exceptional strength. However, Samson violated these rules, which turned his life into a tragedy. He slayed a lion, which broke the rule of being near a dead body. This lead to Samson’s riddle, which in turn led him to kill 30 more men. Samson was a man with great power who everyone feared. He single handedly went to war with the Philistines because they burned his wife to death, after Samson had burned all their grainfields using 300 foxes with their tails tied together. Later, Samson was able to kill 1000 more men with the help of the Lord. But he had a flaw. Samson fell in love with an evil Philistine woman named Delilah, who eventually found out the source of his strength, and in the dark of night, cut his hair and gouged out his eyes. Samson’s strength and power from the Lord was now gone, and on top of that he had been betrayed and tricked by a woman he thought he loved. The Philistine leaders then took Samson and used him as entertainment, for he no longer had great strength. He cried out to God “Let me die with the Philistines as an act of vengeance for my two eyes.” So he pushed the two pillars apart, bringing the roof down on all the Philistines and on himself. He died having judged Israel for 20 years in the days of the Philistines. As said in Ryken’s packet, “Human choice leads to the plot of tragedy; the tragic hero is responsible for the downfall.” In the story of Samson, his flaw was lust for women. He was given a choice to be with an Israelite woman, but decided instead to fall for a woman from from the Philistines, who he was at war with. His lust for this woman blinded Him to the fact that she was deceitful, and did not really love him. She took advantage of Samson, therefore he was responsible for his own downfall. Ryken says that, tragedy “Is the story of exceptional calamity; it expresses what is inevitable.” Samson went from a chosen man of God, to basically betraying God, the man from which His strength came, through his own sinning. The inevitable part of this story is the sin of lust that Samson was committing, is ultimately what destroyed him. Another element of literature found in the Scriptures is comedy. Ryken’s packet defines comedy as, “The story of the happy ending. This genre follows a defined shape, a U where the beginning is prosperous with a descent into tragedy and a rise at the end to happiness.” The story of Ruth, found throughout the entire book of Ruth, displays comedy. In the beginning of this story all was well, Naomi was married and had two sons, that got married to two women; Oprah and Ruth. The story descends into tragedy when Naomi’s husband dies, and not long after her two sons die as well, leaving three widows. Naomi then wanted to move to Moab, because she heard of how God provided for the people there. Ruth decided to go with her, but Oprah did not. When they arrived, Ruth decided to go into the fields to gather leftover grain, because they had hardly any money. Boaz, who owned the land, immediately took notice of Ruth and allowed her to gather grain in his best field, and he ordered his men to take special care of her. She later fell in love with Boaz, and since the closest family redeemer did not want her, Boaz took Ruth as his wife. Ruth later gave birth to a son, which made the whole family extremely joyful. This story is just one, of may examples of literary comedy throughout the Bible. Ryken’s packet states, comedy “goes from problem to solution, from bondage to freedom. Obstacles must be overcome to ge a happy ending.” At the beginning of this comedy, Ruth is faced with a problem; stay at home with her sister Oprah, or go to a new land with her mother-in-law Naomi. She chooses to go with Naomi, where she becomes a female slave. She is now in bondage to a man named Boaz. She then overcomes the obstacle of being a widow by being able to marry her love Boaz, and she obtains freedom! Ryken also says, comedy, “is built around the unforeseeable and is the dominant narrative form in the Bible.” The ending of Ruth is definitely unforeseeable. She was a slave girl, who married a wealthy landowner. At the time this was unheard of, and anyone reading this story for the first time today, would be in awe of how greatly God provided for Ruth, and in turn provided for Naomi by giving Ruth a son for her to take care of. Finally, Ryken’s packet states that, “Typical ending of a comedy is a reconciliation, a feast, a marriage, or victory over enemies.” The happy ending in this story is indeed a marriage! Everything about the amazing love story of Ruth, shows the qualities of a literary comedy. Another element of literature shown in the Bible is the parable. A parable is defined as, “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.” The parable of the lost sheep is found in Luke 15:1-7. In this parable, The Pharisees were complaining that Jesus, who claimed to be God, welcomed all kinds of sinners, and even had dinner with them! He challenged them asking if they had 100 sheep and lost one, would they not go try and find it? Then when it was found would they not rejoice in the fact that the sheep had been found? Jesus then related this seemingly unrelated story back to the sinners He was eating dinner with. He then explained to the Pharisees that there would be more rejoicing in heaven over one lost person who repents, than over 99 who would never repent. Ryken’s packet says that the parable embraces, “The rule of suspense, where the opening situation arouses the reader’s curiosity about its outcome.” The beginning of this parable is just about a shepherd losing one of his sheep. Seems like a simple story just to catch the attention of the Pharisees at the time, and the reader of today’s. The reader is now interested to see what is going to happen next, so they continue reading, or in Jesus’s time, listening to when Jesus brings home his point. In more complex parables where the main point is not so easily interpreted Ryken’s packet says to, “Interpret these details symbolically, if needed, by thinking of the allegorical continuum.” Another method of interpretation would be to, “Apply those themes first to the listener, and then to the reader now.” Times are a lot different now then when Jesus was around; so the parable of the lost sheep had a little more value then. Because of how valuable it was to own animals, losing just one would be devastating to the shepherd, and a great loss of money or food for his family. Another literary element found in Scripture is poetry. Poetry is defined as, “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” Ryken’s packet states that, “Poetry is the second most dominant genre of literature in the Bible.” Psalm 3, in particular is a poem that displays many examples of figurative language as well as many elements of poetry. This Psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving from David when he fled from his son Absalom. David is praising God for shielding him from his enemies and for answering his prayer in the time of need. Ryken says, “Poetry is a language of images that the reader must experience as a series of imagined sensory situations.” This poem creates a beautiful image of a man praising God after he has been delivered from his enemies! What could possibly be more beautiful than a man praising the Lord for all his goodness, and deliverance from evil? As also stated in Ryken’s packet, ” When coming across a simile or metaphor, first meditate on the literal/physical half of the comparison and then analyze how many correspondences can appropriately be drawn between that situation and the subject of the poem.” Throughout this poem there are many verses that seem strange when taken at a literal level. But after examining them through a figurative language lense, they beautifully pull together the poem, and give it a much deeper meaning than before. Going in chronological order, verse 3 of this poem says that the Lord is a shield. This demonstrates metaphor. The author of this Psalm also goes on in verse three to use metonymy where he portrays The Lord as lifting up David’s head. The lifting of the head represents the change from helplessness and despair into confidence and hope! Later in verse six the author uses hyperbole to show that the author was feeling like there was no way of escape, but now he says he is no longer afraid of the “thousands” of people. There were not literally thousands of people against him, but it felt that way before he had God’s help. But now that he has the Lord, he is no longer afraid. He used the exaggeration of people to get his point across.The first two lines in verse seven are synonymous parallelism, saying the same thing in two different ways. “Rise up Lord, Save me, my God.” By repeating this line in a different way, it emphasises the cry out to God, and shows how important it really is. At the end of verse seven the author uses metonymy when he says God will, “break the teeth,” of the wicked. This physical action represents what the Lord will ultimately do to his enemies in battle. Ryken’s packet states that one of the reasons for figurative speech elements, “Is to be concrete and vivid, to say much with little, to convey a multiplicity of meanings, connotations, or associations-thus achieving wholeness of expression.” Through the use of figurative language in this poem, much more meaning has come.
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