What The Bible Is All About 2

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I AM he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. (John 8:28)

And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29)

Then many who heard him say these things believed in him. (John 8:30)

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. (John 8:31)

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)



important – don’t. no immediate reward.

Like bible: People know they should understand the bible

Relationship w/ bible – important

So many people like to live in their biblical ‘safe zones’ and ignore two thirds of our holy book.

But that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ isn’t working for lots and lots of people


past year – journey – lay down assumptions of the bible, find the heart of it

i believe god is honored by our humble seeking – “i still have much to learn”


When we go to bible with the wrong questions, we frustrate ourselves

5 better questions to ask of the bible

  1. Why did people find it important to tell this story?
  2. What was it that moved them to record these words?
  3. What was happening in the world at that time?
  4. What does this passage/story/poem/verse/book tell us about how people understood who they were and who God is at that time?
  5. What’s the story that’s unfolding here and why did these people think it was the story worth telling?

Written by people

To people – Specific time – Specific location – Gonna miss a lot


(Read parable – Read interpretations)

If I were to interpret all her words as being to me, “I trusted you” “WE COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING GREAT” I would misunderstand.

People read bible like this – everything addressed to christian in 2014

Afraid “who, when, where” – implying – irrelevant

Always returning to our questions


Specifically, fish that swallow people for three days and then vomit them up.

…Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land…

Tiglath-Pilesar, king of Assyria, came…and deported the people…

Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it

(2 Kings)

Invading is what happens when you raise an army and then march into another country and take it over using force and power and violence.

Deporting is what happens when you capture the inhabitants of said country you’ve invaded and forcibly remove them from their homes and jobs and towns and land and then take them far away.

Laying siege is what happens when you surround a city with your army and in doing this sever the city from its food and water sources so that so many people are starving and suffering and dying that eventually they give up and surrender.

Assyrians – mean. Nasty, brutish, violent, oppressive – made life miserable for Israelites. Year after year

during this time – story emerged – a man named Jonah. Israelite – God: “take a message to the great city Nineveh.”

Ninevah – in assyria

Assyria? Our worst enemy? Those hated infidels who have made life for our people a living hell time and time again? You want me to go into the center of the beast-and do something good for them? Seriously?

Jonah – ship – opposite direction.

Of course he does. We would too.

(Side note: Often this story is told in such a way that Jonah’s disobedience is the point of the first part, along the lines of See what happens when we don’t do what God tells us to do? But how do you imagine the first audiences would have reacted to this story when Jonah won’t go to Nineveh? They hated the Assyrians. Would they have focused on his disobedience or would they have cheered him on because they could totally relate?)

STORY in 20 seconds: So he gets on the boat, a storm comes, there’s a discussion among the crew about the cause of the storm, they determine he’s the problem, they throw him overboard, he’s swallowed by a fish, he prays in the belly of the fish, the fish spits him out, he then goes to Nineveh, the Ninevites are fantastically receptive to his message, and then the story ends with him so depressed he wants to kill himself because of a gourd.

God appoints a gourd plant to grow. jonah is happy with the gourd. god causes a worm to go eat the root of the gourd, the gourd dies, and jonah wants to die because he’s so upset.

Where to start?

Where do WE start? We’ll get to the swallowed by a fish part shortly, but first, I’ll start with the sheer strangenessof this story.

You would assume that a story told by Israelites about Assyrians would stick to fairly straightforward categories of good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and evil.

But GOOD GUY- runs opposite direction – boat

pagan, heathen sailors – figure out why this storm has come – Jonah is the problem, something Jonah knew all along.

And then, when he finally does get to Nineveh, after he’s resisted God again and again, these horrible, mean, nasty Assyrians turn out to be open to God’s message, really open-so open that the king orders

The king orders

…Let man and beast be covered in sackcloth.

Sackcloth was what you wore when you were crying out to God, when you were acutely aware of your sins, when you were asking for God’s mercy. The king orders everybody to repent and wear sackcloth-including the animals!

(Animals repenting? Wha….? A fairly surreal detail, to say the least. One of the many hints that the author has a larger point in mind…a point we’ll get to shortly.)

We’re familiar in the modern world with frameworks that see things in dualistic terms: there are the good people, and then there are the bad people, there is the right thing to do, there is the wrong thing to do, there are the people who need saving, and then there are people who do the saving.

Lines blurred – good guy – defiant, lazy – Bad guys – receptive, open

Good guy – so upset – wants to die

He says to god:

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.

Bizarre – no one does what you expect them to

Back to our questions:

  1. Why did people find it important to tell this story?
  2. What was it that moved them to record these words?
  3. What was happening in the world at that time?
  4. What does this passage/story/poem/verse/book tell us about how people understood who they were and who God is at that time?
  5. What’s the story that’s unfolding here and why did these people think it was the story worth telling?

First: story about a man, but really about a nation

Can jonah forgive assyrians = can israel forgive isryians?

When god forgives them, jonah is mad. of course he is. it stinks when good things happen to people you hate.

Academy Awards – pretend happy

Larger theme: god has been calling israel from early on (genesis 12) to be a light to the world. show gods redeeming love. – haven’t lived up to.

Question: can you forgive your worst enemy and ALLOW god’s redeeming love to flow through you to them?

Question for jonah b/c question for Israel

book doesn’t end – jonah – question

Should I not be concerned about that great city?

asking people w/ reasons to say… ‘no’.

What about the fish part?

insane discussions about the bible – massives distractions from ‘what the bible is all about’

2 responses:

Really? It’s 2014! Haven’t we moved past all that magical/mythical thinking? Haven’t we outgrown these fairytales? Aren’t these the exact sort of claims that have turned off so many people from the Bible-let alone God and faith and Jesus and all that?

If the Bible says a man was swallowed by a fish, then a man was swallowed by fish! If you deny that this story happened as the author says it happened then what about all the other stories? If you deny this one, then aren’t you denying all the others with miraculous elements in them? And if you deny this one but affirm others, aren’t you essentially picking and choosing which ones you want to believe?

What do I think? I think it doesn’t matter what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish.

If you don’t believe it literally happened, that’s fine. Lots of people of faith over the years have read this story as a parable about national forgiveness. They point to many aspects of the surreal nature of the story as simply great storytelling because the author has a larger point, one about the Israelites and the Assyrians and God’s call to be a light to everyone, especially your enemies.

Right on. cool. just 1 problem: some deny it’s truth just because “those things just don’t happen”

Questions: Why not?

  • Do we only affirm things that can be proven in a lab?
  • Do we only believe things we have evidence for?
  • Do we believe or not believe something happened based on…whether we believe that things like that happen or not? (weird sentence)
  • Can we only agree with things that make sense to us?
  • Are we closed to everything that we can’t explain?

If we reject all things – can’t explain, shrink world to what we Understand. no fun.

“Of course he was swallowed by a fish, that’s what the bible says!”

Fine. Just one problem. It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies.

Original audience – tough – open wound – Bless the Assyrians?

Hard b/c it insists that

Your enemy may be more open to God’s redeeming love than you are.

Religious people

Us & them

Religious people – us & them – good/bad – sinners/saints – holy club/wicked world – not here

the ‘us’ guy: furious – God & ‘Them’ we’re all close now! – rather die.

Which takes us back to the fish: it’s easy for the debate about the fish part to provide a distraction from the tensions of the story that actually have the capacity and potential to confront us and disrupt us with God’s love, the kind of love that can actually transform us into more mature and courageous people, people who love even our enemies. (Nod to Jesus there.)

Possible to defend ‘facts’ – miss part changes – heart.

People – spent lives defending

Air pocket in fish

People have spent their lives defending the possibility of an air pocket in a fish.

Christiananswers.net – it has been well established that the phrase “three days and three nights” in ancient Hebrew usage was an idiomatic expression meaning simply “three days,” and was applicable even if the beginning and ending days of the period were only partial days. Thus refers to a period as short as about 38 hours. furthermore, Much like people, whales can have gas. in that case, air accumulates in the whale’s stomach, and, as long as the animal it has swallowed is still alive, digestive activity, technically, will not begin. Thus, Jonah’s experience happened entirely within the framework of natural law.

We’re talking about bitterness in our hearts.

You can argue endlessly about fish, thinking you’re defending the truth or pointing out the ridiculous outdated nature of the man-in-fish-miracle, only to discover that everybody in the discussion has conveniently found a way to avoid the very real, personal, convicting questions the story raises about what really lurks deep in our hearts.


Learn to ask the right questions

Find heart

Learn who God is.

Learn how our understanding of God has evolved over thousands of years, ultimately landing on a crucified Christ.

Learn to look to the bible with the right eyes. look for jesus. look for redemption. look for love. if you look for arguing points, and ways to prove the goodness of ‘us’ and the wickedness of ‘them, you’ll be frustrated. because the bible is about redemption, and forgiveness. the bible is about god making wrong things right. as bible puts it, it’s about god reconciling all things to himself. and making all things new.