On Getting the Whole Story

Psalms, The Phantom of the Opera, and a Mask. November, 2011. 



The New Testament Concealed, the Old Testament Revealed


When Rich surprised me with a Kindle in September, I underestimated the impact it would have on my reading habits. I take it with me to doctor’s appointments and skip the tired stack of ancient magazines. I  look up unfamiliar words on the fly. You know–those words for which you have a good sense of their meaning, but you couldn’t write a clear definition? Kindle has a built-in dictionary. What a boon for students of English! When I finish one book, I can leap right into the next one without leaving my cozy space on the sofa with one dog snuggled in beside me and another at my feet.

And most significantly: Because I’m chea–er, frugal, and because Amazon’s selection of free Kindle editions of classics is extensive, I’m catching up on many of those “I’ve always meant to read this” titles. I’ve read Sinclair’s The Jungle, Cather’s My Antonia, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice…books I should have read, but hadn’t.

I also read Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. I’d seen the stage production twice; reading the original novel added depth and detail I’d missed sitting in the theater. In the book, great detail is given to Christine and Raoul’s shared childhood. Raoul’s relationship with his older brother, and the tension that arises between them due to Raoul’s relationship with Christine, is absent, so far as I recall, from the stage production but a major theme in the novel. The Persian, a key figure in the book, is also absent from the stage.

And then there are all those kegs of dynamite in the bowels of the Opera House…but I’ll stop there. If you’ve ever read a book and seen a film or stage adaptation of the same tale, you understand the phenomenon. Films and plays are designed to be consumed in a single sitting, once through, in no more than a few hours. Books invite us to read awhile, set the work aside, take it up again, read more, reflect, return to a particularly luminous passage, write in the margins (or add a note, if you’re reading on an e-reader).

Books are meant to be savored before they’re digested.  Books give us the whole story.

In the midst of reading Phantom, I began to reflect on a Christian friend of mine who once told me that she’d never read the Old Testament. Considering her comment in light of my Phantom-reading epiphany, I’m trying to imagine her Bible-reading experience. I’ll admit it’s difficult for me because I don’t know how to pretend I’m naive of what’s written in the Old Testament. I’m also intrigued, as my husband assures me he knows many Christians who confine their study of scripture to the New Testament.

My read-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule begins with Genesis in January, and reaches Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the New testament, in…..October. The Old Testament comprises three-quarters, roughly, of the Bible. That’s a lot of backstory to miss.

No flood.
No escape from Egypt.
None of the psalmist’s songs and poems, crying out in despair and abandonment, exulting in God’s goodness.
No pithy life instructions from the Proverbs.
No Job, sitting in silent misery with his friends as Satan tests his fidelity to God.
No Abraham leading his son up the mountain to sacrifice him to God, and no last-minute appearance of a ram, sparing the child’s life.
No prophesies pointing us to the Messiah.

Take away the Old Testament, and you miss the relentless cycles of disobedience that began in the garden with a snake and an apple and continue, like a recurring bout of eczema on the skin of humanity’s soul, throughout the books.

If you skip the Old Testament, you miss all the reasons we need a Savior, and all the signs, uttered hundreds of years before that night in a manger in Bethlehem, that tell us that Jesus is Immanuel. The Messiah. Fully human and fully God. 


The story makes a lot more sense when we start at the beginning.

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

Zechariah 9:9 (NASB)


Comments

  1. Brandee Shafer :

    I've been all over the Bible and read big chunks of it, but I've never read it the whole way through. Planning on it, next year. Excited.

  2. Brandee,
    You clearly know your Scripture better than I do. I hope you enjoy reading the whole Bible.

    Do you have a reading plan picked out?

    For me, it's a helpful structure to keep me in the Word every day. I spent huge chunks of my life as a student. So give me a reading assignment, and I'm right at home. 🙂

  3. We were talking in Bible study yesterday about the value of reading the Old Testament, especially since so much of it is quoted in the New Testament. I was schooled in both throughout my childhood, but it wasn't until college that someone helped me see that all of scripture is one big story, all of it pointing to Jesus. Author Nancy Pearcey said something to the effect that the gospel doesn't begin with accept Jesus as your personal Savior. The gospel begins with "In the beginning God…"

    And I love me my Kindle!

  4. Nancy, Yup!

    The children's Bible I've bought for my young grandkids has the subtitle "Every story whispers His name."

    Aren't Kindles awesome?!

  5. One of our Bible teachers pointed out that a crimson ribbon flows from Genesis through the entire Bible. As a 12 year old, when I determined to read a portion of the Bible daily, I was awestruck by the Old Testament, but when I arrived at all the begats, I began to read one chapter from each the Old and the New. This year I will complete the Bible all the way through again. Your posts are always so encouraging and I love spotting God everywhere you take us.

  6. I agree! The New Testament took on much deeper significance after I started studying the Old Testament. I spend a lot of time in the OT. Its richness blesses and teaches, cheers, and encourages.

    I'm so thankful, too, that I have Scriptures in my own language, because millions around the world don't have any in their own languages.

    Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

    Linda

  7. Hazel,
    "A crimson ribbon." That's a great way to look at it. Thanks for your kind words. Enjoy that walk through the Word in 2012.

  8. Linda,
    You're so right. I know that, about translations not being available to all, but I don't think about it much. I should.

    A blessed Thanksgiving to you, too.

  9. Well, phooey. Now I want a Kindle.

    But I will satisfy myself with the thousand or so physical books I have amassed in four decades of living and reading.

    Including the Word. It's sitting right next to me, my One-Year Bible (ESV). I like that it assigns a portion of OT, NT, Psalms, and Proverbs. We cycle through the psalms twice. It gives a wonderful overview and even though they simply split it more or less evenly, some days offer uncanny connections, where the NT passage addresses a lament or cry of the OT passage.

    My friend can't stand that way of reading it–seems disjointed to her. I love it. We all have to find what works for us.

    Someday I thought it would be interesting to get a Chronological One-Year Bible. I don't know precisely how they organize it, but perhaps they start with Job, which is thought to be the oldest written book of the Bible? Or maybe they stick with Genesis. At any rate, I think they line up sections that are in the same time frame, so prophets would be read alongside 1 Kings, say, or a Psalm of David would be possibly read around the historical event preserved in 2 Samuel. I'll have to investigate. Maybe that can be for next year.

  10. Ann,
    How I love comments that begin with "Well phooey."

    Last year I read a chronological NLT Bible. It began with Genesis, then riffed off into Job partway through. I enjoyed it a lot.

    I think I'll take on the ESV next year. I haven't read that translation yet but it comes highly recommended.

  11. The other day, a woman told me about her own mother who – it turns out – met Jesus in a bible study class. The class was heavy, and they studied the bible in its entirety. From Genesis to Revelation. The woman's mom decided to follow Jesus somewhere in Galatians. I heard this story, and all I could think about was the fact that this woman who didn't really know much about the bible had sat through Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and that it hadn't made her run for the hills. instead, it was part of the story God used to show her how much he loves her. And us.

  12. Deidra,
    I love that story!

    It makes sense to me, though: The Good News looks even better when we study it through the context of all that came before it.

  13. Cassandra Frear :

    One of the things I love about Jesus is his humility. It's staggering, really, when you think about it.

    Thanks for your comment at Poterion. I left a reply there.

  14. Yes, Cassandra, it is staggering.

    I remember when my boss, the president of our company, brought me coffee before a meeting (I had one arm in a cast.)

    His humility stretches so far beyond that.

    Staggering. Yup. That's the word.