"The Bible and Fiction"

Written by Jeri Massi

This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the author.

Some parents/teachers argue that if the Bible is sufficient (and it is), then why use fiction at all? Why not the Bible and only the Bible for literature and storytelling. After all, the Bible has plenty of stories in it, and each one is true. Furthermore, each is divinely inspired.

First, I want to make clear that if it comes down to an either/or question, then the Bible wins hands down. But I don't know why it would come down to an either/or question.

Next, I want to emphasize the difference between a true story and fiction.

What a true story accomplishes and what fiction accomplishes are usually separate. Oh, I know that many "true" stories are "adapted" for fictional purposes, but these "adaptations" means that the true story has been turned into fiction: the events are altered to suit a literary purpose.

We know when we try to tell a story to children that the effect is entirely ruined if the children believe that the story is true. We WANT them to know it is just a story. We know how useless it is to continue when a very small child gets tangled up in whether the story is real or not. And if we get bogged down in trying to explain that it is not real, we ultimately give up.

And that is the difference. Bible stories are REAL. They are not merely stories, and there needs to come a point where--for the sake of the spiritual growth of our children, we expect them to do more than just "sit back and enjoy the story." The fact is, the stories in the Bible are very spare on the details of setting and character. Why? Because they are not trying to be fictional. They are trying to get across to the reader some attribute of God. They are trying to explain who God is and what He has done (and has promised to do) for His people. To do this, the writers stripped out a lot of what would make so-called Bible stories really literary stories. They did not want their readers sidetracked by a luxury of detail or authorial consciousness.

This is what bothers me about Bible-as-literature courses. Literature is man's effort to communicate on a higher, more complex plain with each other. But the Bible is inspired by God and not man. It does use great literary devices (and I'm glad, because it provides us with reasons to also use them), but it also has sections that lack literary style. It even has sections that include grammatical errors. Why? Because the goal of the Bible is not literary greatness nor grammatical accuracy, but Truth: Who God is, and what His plan is: His greatness, His holiness, His union with His people. I'm convinced that teaching the Bible only as literature is a first step toward degrading it from what it REALLY is. I don't mean that we should not be aware of the literary devices that are used in the Bible. I'm keenly interested in the parallel forms of poetry that make up the Psalms. But if I value the Psalms ONLY because they use parallel meaning as a form of poetry, then I have truly missed the meaning of the Psalms. So even though I am interested in learning what literary devices the Bible uses, such a study must be only a part of my greater goal to learn what God is saying in the Scripture, and what He is saying to me.

Fiction merely fills a learning need in the child to expand reasoning and appreciative skills. As a messenger of truth, fiction is valuable only as much as it conforms to the teachings of the Bible, and it is possible for us to find a happy union between some great fiction and Scripture, yet fiction will always be a distant second to Scripture, able to echo its truths but never able to create any on its own.

In the same sense, ANY discipline is a distant second to Scripture, but this does not mean that we are not to study other disciplines. Nor does it imply that the Bible itself is a storehouse of all factual knowledge. It is not. As the Word of God, the Bible clearly dictates that man must "occupy" the earth, indicating that it is man's job to study the Creation and come to know it, protect it, and give God thanks for it. The Bible tells us where the academic and trade disciplines started in the book of Genesis, but it does not bother with the details of the secrets of such knowledge. This is man's domain.

So we can safely assume that the Bible has not set out to be a library of stories for children to give them the rational and appreciative growth that their growing minds will thrive on, no more than it tells us how to build a house or make a combustion engine or even how to preserve the scrolls and ink that the Bible was originally written on. All of these items are left out, because putting them into the Bible detracts from the central truth that the Bible imparts: the Person of God, of His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit. Anything else, no, EVERYTHING else is intrusive and beside the point.

If we can make use of the incidents in the Bible as story, we can do it only for a short time, most often BEFORE our children become independent readers and their minds start seeking the detail and fabric of sensory experience that makes up much of fiction. Soon enough, our children must pass to a more mature application of the Scripture to themselves. We want them to stop reading it as story and to start reading it as sacred text. That same maturity will prompt them to explore other disciplines and elements of education: history, fractions, black and white newsreels of WWII, and yes, fiction. This curiosity is not bad. Satisfying it with a wealth of experiences from the best of children's fiction is also not bad. God made man a curious soul who seeks to learn and to know all his environment. Providing a wealth of experience and appreciation to our children can only help them to build a framework of experience from literature that is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Mere Morality: The Problem of "Wholesome" Christian Fiction
Reactionism and Reductionism in Christian Thought
The Use of "Pagan" Symbols in Fiction
The Broadly Educated Christian
The Bible and Fiction

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