The Bible is the most read and most quoted book of all time; it belongs to our cultural heritage, and many would say that its values and ideals have defined our national identity. In this article we will look at how the biblical texts also represent literary qualities.
The Good Samaritan
Now a jurist got up to tempt him. “Teacher,” he said, “what am I to do to inherit eternal life”? Jesus asked, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The jurist replied, “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with your whole strength, and with your whole mind. Also love your neighbour as yourself.”
“A right answer!” said Jesus, “do that and you will live.” Anxious to make an excuse for himself, however, he said to Jesus, “But who is my neighbour?”
Jesus answered, “A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among robbers, who stripped and attacked him and then went off, leaving him half-dead. Now it so chanced that a priest was going down the same road, but on seeing him he went past on the opposite side. So did a Levite who came to the spot; he looked at him and passed on the opposite side. However, a Samaritan traveller came to where he was, and felt pity when he saw him; he went to him, bound his wounds up, pouring oil and wine into them, mounted him on his own steed, took him to an inn, and attended him. Next day he took out a couple of shillings and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Attend to him, and if you are put to any extra expense, I will refund you on my way back.”
“Which of these three men, in your opinion, proved a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” The jurist said, “The man who took pity on him.” Jesus said to him, “Then go and do the same.”
From the Gospel of St Luke chapter 10, verses 25-37
From The Sermon on the Mount
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
From the Gospel of St Matthew chapter 5, verses 38-48
To Everything there is a Season
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
From Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 1-8
Tasks and Activities
- What would you say are the main differences between these biblical texts?
- Which one of the texts is from the Old Testament?
- What is the difference between the Old and the New Testament?
- Which one of the texts could also be called an allegory?
- The first text is a parable; what is that?
- The teachings of Jesus are quite uncompromising; find some examples in the second text.
- In the second text Jesus says “You have heard that it was said” – what is this reference to in particular? (See also question 3.)
- “Turn the other cheek” is a familiar quote from the Sermon on the Mount. What does it really mean?
- What do you think is the general message in the last text?
- Can you point out any poetic elements in the last text?
- "Whoever loves money never has money enough” is another famous quote from Ecclesiastes. Explain, and state whether you agree or not.
- Where do you see traces of a Christian cultural heritage in our modern day society?
- Where does humanistic ethics link up with Christianity?
- Do you know your biblical history? Why is it a point that the good person in the first text is a Samaritan? Search the net and find out. (At that time Palestine was divided into three parts, Samaria was in the middle, between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north.)
- The texts above are taken from the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible. Who was King James, and when was his Bible version authorised?
- Check the drawer of your bedside table next time you stay at a hotel. You probably will find a copy of Gideon’s Bible. Go on the net and find out - who is Gideon, and why has he left a Bible in your hotel room?