The Bible, Newspapers and History Books
The Swiss Reformed Theologian Karl Barth is purported to have said “hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”. I find this quote very helpful in our effort to make our reading of the Bible become more meaningful. We know for a fact that the Bible is relevant. However, due to the gap between our time and the period it was written and published, though it was not written in one specific year or period; the earliest ones being approximately written 3,500 years ago, most of us find it hard to understand.
Reading the newspapers alongside with our reading of the Bible, makes us cognizant of the current situation of our community, country and the world at large. Any serious reader of the Bible must be kept abreast of the latest developments in his surroundings.
To illustrate this, here are some examples from the Bible:
The Old Testament prophets spoke based on contemporary political and religious landscape of Israel and other Near Eastern countries. The prophet Isaiah for example, dealt primarily with the “Assyrian threat” (Fee & Sturat: 175), he opposed the social evil of his time and consistently tried to persuade Judah of the risks of engaging in foreign alliances.
Jesus in his parables engaged the political and religious stalwarts of his time. In one of his encounters with them (Jewish leaders and including the Herodians) in the Gospel of Luke, he was asked about his authority as a teacher and about paying taxes (Luke 20: 1-26). They wanted to trap Jesus so they can find something to charge him. As to his authority to teach his answer put them in a dilemma. As to the paying of taxes, Jesus asked for a denarius (v. 24), the primary coin of the Roman empire during Jesus’ time, and asked them, Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. (NIV)
That’s where the answer became obvious. One should “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (NIV). Luke further stated that the stalwarts “were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” (NIV)
The truth is, almost everything you read in the Bible are all based on contemporary events in people’s lives, their relationship to God, to their fellow human beings, and to their government. We will do well in our reading of the Bible if we are in touch with the current events.
Furthermore, conscious reading of the Bible will show you that it is deeply rooted in Israel’s history. Several books of the Bible deal with it, such as Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and Haggai. Moreover, Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Job also contain substantial narrative portions. (Fee & Stuart: 89) The book of Acts in the New Testament traces the history of the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, “and to the ends of the earth.” (NIV)
In this regard, I would like to propose that a student or reader of the Bible should not only follow the news but must be kept abreast of the history of his people so he would know how God moved in every facet of their history. He need not be a historian unless he wants to be one. History are stories or narrative description of past events which gives meaning for the present and provides direction for the future. The Bible narratives are no different from such stories. One can always look back and find traces of God’s work in history and trust the same God to direct his future. Moreover, history is also a conveyor of culture. Reading and studying history will automatically bring you to the study of culture. Reading the Bible exposes the reader to the cultures that influence the people in Biblical times.
My reading and study of the Bible coupled with my knowledge of the history and culture of my country brought so much enlightenment and love of God and country. I’ve develop the discipline of following the news long before I became a serious reader and student of the Bible. Thanks to my grandfather who influenced me to hear news from his battery-powered transistor radio when electricity was not yet available to our humble Barangay in one of the rural communities of Bicol region, Philippines. During my grade school days my principal introduced me to the newspaper. Now I am benefiting so much from the training I received from these influential persons.
Today’s generation has a lot of advantages in terms of technology. They can follow the news not only through their TV sets but through their social media accounts as all news network has developed their online news networks. They don’t have to go anywhere to find a newspaper, through their social media accounts, they can follow or subscribe to the social media accounts of the different news agencies.
Bible reading will be more meaningful and beneficial if we couple it with the discipline of following the news and looking back at our history.
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Manila: OMF Literature INC., 2004.