Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [129-152]

In chapter seven of Reading the Bible as Literature, Crain focuses on the major themes and motifs in the Bible.  Crain points out that “literary and theological themes contribute continuities among the texts…and offer a framework for examining the Bible as a whole” (Crain 129).  While themes and motifs are “an ongoing debate between the author’s meaning and the reader’s interpretation” (131), overall, themes and motifs work together to organize a set of expectations for the reader and create overarching meanings that connect the Bible together as a whole.  I will focus on several of the main themes of the Bible revealed by Crain.

Relationship to God and with other human beings is a theme revealed frequently in the Bible.  Jesus relates these relationships to what was revealed in the Old Testament law.  Jesus interprets Old Testament law based on “fundamental principles [which] outweigh the mere keeping of traditions” (134).  In Luke 24: 44, Jesus says to the disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms…the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”  The fundamental principles that Jesus interprets are merely to serve God and preach God’s name as he did.  At church, we were introduced to some of the traditions of the Pharisees.  For example, “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.  And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles” (Mark 7:3-4).  When asked why Jesus’ disciples don’t live according to the tradition of the Pharisees’ elders (because the disciples were eating their food with defiled hands), Jesus replied, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!  …you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down” (Mark 7:9, 13).  Jesus emphasizes in the Old Testament that we are to follow only the commands that God gave us, not read in our own traditions to follow. 

Relationship based upon promise and obligation is one of the main themes emphasized throughout the Bible.  While God made many covenants/promises throughout the Bible, I believe the most important is God’s promise to us that he will forgive us of all our sins if we accept the body and blood of Christ.  “Blood functions as the repository of life…” (139).  Crain highlights such an important aspect of the Bible – that blood is the source of life.  In Matthew 26:27, during the last supper, Jesus, after giving thanks, encourages his disciples to “drink from [the cup of my blood].  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is the reason that blood has so much importance to accepting communion.  Drinking the blood of Christ is sacred; Jesus’ blood gives us new life in that his blood “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  However, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…whoever drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).   

God’s mercy is a major theme in the Bible.  God mercifully blessed us with salvation, sacrificing his only son to save us from our sins.  Therefore, “for great is [God’s] love, higher than the heavens” (Psalm 108:4).  Then, Crain states a twist - “love becomes synonymous with fearing, obeying, and serving God” (143).  I am so glad that Crain pointed this out.  This is actually a topic that we recently discussed at a Bible study I attended – loving God doesn’t really mean just loving him as in the emotion.  Loving God means so much more – serving him by doing good works and living out His word, obeying His word, and the most confusing concept to me, fearing God.  Why would you want to fear someone who loves you?  God says, “I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18).  If we are God’s children, why should we fear him?  An interesting way to relate this fear of God is to the fear of a child’s father.  When I misbehaved when I was younger, the worst thing my mother could tell me was “your father will deal with you when he gets home!”  I loved my father, but I feared what would happen when he got home, so I would immediately stop misbehaving.  This fear instilled in me is the sort of fear that I believe one should have of God – a love for God, but a fear that God is the one and only God and disobeying him can bring consequences.  As said in Proverbs 19:23, “The fear of the Lord leads to life.”

The Bible frequently mentions the theme of heroic quests, such as that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Heroic quests in the Bible are similar to those in other forms of literature – “with…themes of alienation and sense of not belonging, initiation, exile and suffering, and transformation and rebirth” (146-147).  An example of a work of literature that highlights the theme of the heroic quest is a series of books that I read when I was in middle school, Dragons In Our Midst. These books reveal the story of alienated Billy and Bonnie, children who must face many struggles and battle evil in order to preserve their dragon heritage. Billy and Bonnie's faith and courage are tested throughout the series. In the end, they are heroes, and they both realize their God-given strengths and abilities.

Another theme that I see constantly revealed in the Bible is the theme that death brings life. For example, Jesus Christ died upon the cross, but on the third day he rose again, alive in spirit. So, in turn, when we die, we are brought new life in heaven with God through the salvation of Jesus Christ.

An example from another form of literature that highlights this theme that death brings life is from a book titled The Island Within. This book took place on an unidentified island in Alaska, and illustrated the adventures that Richard Nelson (the author) experienced on the island. One day, Richard noticed that a sperm whale’s carcass had washed ashore onto the island. He observed this whale. What he discovered is that while this whale had died, its remains brought needed food to the bears, eagles, and other scavengers of the island. Therefore, the whale’s death had spurred life.

Overall, each of these themes brings the Bible together as a whole, instead of as 66 individual books.  The themes that Crain revealed are helpful in focusing “on entering into and reliving the experiences of the many characters of the Bible, considering them as representative of the universal human quest to understand [the Bible’s] nature, destiny, and place in the universe (132).  While themes are always authors’ hypotheses about a text, they do function “to provide unity and coherence to a piece of literature” (131).  I believe that the themes listed in the chapter will help me to focus on how each of the 66 books in the Bible are unified as one.

Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [129-152]