When you read Matthew or Luke or one of Paul’s letters, do you ever wish the authors had told you more of what happened or had told it in a different way? Many readers would like to know about dress or hair. Emotions. Reactions to the important events in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ boyhood. What people said to Paul. Even insignificant actions or conversation by New Testament characters. Not every moment of every life was a moment of deep drama with far-reaching consequences. Many involved with the trial of Jesus, for example, did not understand that he was anything more than a country rabbi gone ambitious.

The Bible approaches this vivid descriptive level at times. Arguments between Peter and Paul, the fear experienced by certain apostles, impetuousness, reluctance to change the status quo. But the Bible is not a novel. It gives us what we need to know about the work of God in our lives. The gaps in its accounts are not weaknesses but strengths in two important ways. First, they point to the truth of Scripture. Too many details with no loose ends or vague statements would indicate a man-made product. A first-rate novelist would not construct the books of the Bible as we find them. Second, God in giving the Bible to us in that form feeds the imagination of writers. In theme and plot the Bible is the major source of Western imagination.

The Bible does not produce complacency or satisfaction. It disturbs us; we cannot be satisfied when we read it. For those whose imaginations are highly developed, it raises questions like “How did that happen?” “Why did Pilate or Elijah or Peter react that way?” The Bible brings a writer’s imagination to boil. What comes from that imagination depends on how good he is at his craft, but also on how intuitively ...

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