Why Isn’t the Bible More Black and White?

Why is the Bible so circuitous?  Have you ever wondered, “Why doesn’t God just come out and say what he means?”  Things are rarely black and white; the Bible is full of narratives that spell things out in 50 different shades of gray. Wouldn’t the Christian life be a lot easier if the whole Bible read like the Ten Commandments?  We would know exactly what to believe if things were spelled out plainly: “Thou shalt [this]…Thou shalt not [that].”  So why did God make things harder than they need to be?

We Are Talking about an Infinite God Here.

The first thing we have to realize is that the Bible is not merely a moral textbook.  The Bible is revelation.  It reveals to us God himself.  In the words of Scripture we meet the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Once we realize that the finite number of words in the Bible reveal to us an infinite God, it becomes more clear why God chose not to communicate solely in strict directives (i.e., “Do this…”, “Don’t do that…”).

Simple commands are a very narrow form of communication.  How much information can be communicated by the statement: “Do not steal another man’s wife”?  In contrast, consider how much more the prophet Nathan is able to say to King David after he stole another man’s wife when he uses a story:

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.  (2 Samuel 12:2-4)

Nathan’s approach does communicate that it is wrong to steal another man’s wife, but it connects with us on more than a simple cerebral level.  It elicits a visceral response.  We feel outrage at injustice.  We feel sorrow for the robbed poor man.  We see that stealing another man’s wife isn’t simply an issue of lust.  It also has to do with selfishness, entitlement, and disregard for of others.  It ruins a relationship nurtured by years of tender marital love and care.  Narrative is a wide form of communication.  I would argue that a story can communicate more truth than a list of strict directives.

God is not merely a God who wants to control what we do.  He is complex.  He loves, He is creative, He has emotions, He is holy, He is glorious, He is redemptive, and He wants to be known by his creatures.  If the Bible only contained morals list of do’s and don’t’s or tables of orthodox beliefs, it would present a one-dimensional God.  The Bible has every form of literature imaginable–some moral commands, many narratives, poetry, prophecy, songs, letters, and logical arguments–in order to present a faceted view of an ever-complex and beautiful God.



Discovering Love.

There are scholars who believe we cannot read Old Testament passages with a Christological focus unless the apostles of the New Testament specifically mention it.  We are told that the apostles were infallible in their interpretation of the OT, but we are fallible.

I want to assert that the apostles were setting an example for us.  They present us with several Christological readings of the OT in order to encourage us to follow in their footsteps and make our own discoveries.  Matthew could have written, “Jesus is the New Moses.”  Instead, he tells a story about a baby named Jesus who narrowly escapes infanticide, comes out of Egypt, passes through water, enters the wilderness, overcomes testing, and goes up on a mountain to present His Law.  Rather than overtly stating the truth, Matthew allows us the joy of discovery.

The apostles left many things unsaid, especially with regards to OT interpretation, because they wanted to allow us to discover for ourselves.  This is the second major reason I believe the Bible is written the way it is: to encourage discovery.  The Bible is like a deep cave.  With our torches we explore deeper and deeper, traveling through tight and winding tunnels to discover beautifully vaulted caverns.  The apostles could have simply described the beauty of the cavern to us.  Instead, they encourage us to explore it for ourselves.  Along the way, they have left candle smoke on the walls to point us in new and exciting directions.

As we make discoveries in God’s Word, we are driven deeper into the heart of God.  We learn more and more about who He is.  When we search with earnest, longing to know God more, we will discover His love, beauty, and wisdom in the pages of Scripture.  We grow to love Him as we grow to love His Word. God made the Bible a place of discovery.  God is a God who reveals himself.  He takes pleasure in being known by us.  We were designed to search for Him and to discover Him more and more.  That is exactly what the Bible is designed for us to do.  As God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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