Why You Shouldn’t Read Isaiah Like You Read Romans

How a Comic Strip Communicates

In our modern society of e-readers, many may have forgotten what a newspaper looks like. Yet hopefully we can all grasp the following illustration. When we pick up a newspaper from a big city, we find many sections. We expect to see the main headlines and news reports on the front page or in the first section. Later on we come to the entertainment section and find there the comics or funnies. Now, here’s the question I want to ask you: can we say that we find truth on the front page and entertainment only in the comics?

A lack of proper reading strategies is exactly the problem some have with reading the Bible.

The more we think about how to answer that question, the more we come to realize that there may, in fact, be more truth in terms of comment on family life, morals, political events, and current philosophical or social issues in the comics than we find on the front page. However, we can miss it because of what we expect to find in particular types of literature or genres.

The Literal Interpretation of Scripture?

A lack of proper reading strategies is exactly the problem some have with reading the Bible. When I went to seminary in the 1970s, prior to the shift to postmodernism, the focus was on how to interpret the letters of Paul. But what kind of literary work is a “gospel”? What literary strategies or techniques do narrators or storytellers use to help the reader grasp their main points? And how do we read and understand the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament? In one sense, prophecy is not a particular genre or type of literature, since the prophets use every possible genre and literary type to communicate their messages. Even more difficult to understand are prophecies such as Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation, which are frequently described as “apocalyptic” literature.

How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets

Peter J. Gentry

Using illustrations and clear examples, leading Old Testament scholar Peter Gentry helps readers understand how to read the prophetic texts as they were intended to be read.

A central problem in the Christian church, especially during the last one hundred years, is that we have been reading the Gospels of the New Testament, the narratives of the Old Testament and the book of Acts, and the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament and New Testament (e.g., Revelation), including apocalyptic prophecies, exactly the same way we read Romans. In addition to this, we support our interpretation by claiming that we are following a literal interpretation of Scripture. But every day as we read the pages of our newspapers (for those of us who still do), we don’t even think about mentally switching gears as we turn from the front page to the comics.

Something All of Us Can Do

What I hope and pray is that all believers learn how to read and understand the texts of the biblical prophets on their own. They are a different kind of literature from Romans, as much so as comics differ from the front page of a newspaper. We need to spell out in detail the rules for reading this kind of literature if the church is going to understand these texts as the authors intended us to understand them.

This article is adapted from How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets by Peter J. Gentry.

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