A young couple has just returned from church perplexed. Their pastor has preached a stirring message on the intimate relationship between Christ and the believer based on Song of Songs 8:9–10: “May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth. I belong to my lover and his desire is for me” (NIV). Their confusion arises because, before this sermon, they thought this passage described their relationship as husband and wife. Whose interpretation is correct?

A young college student has grown up believing that the Bible contains accurate history. Today, however, his professor lectured on the Micaiah story in 1 Kings 22, pointing out repetitions and internal inconsistencies, and arguing that two or more original sources have been put together rather shoddily. These sources, according to his professor, probably did not even come from the time of Ahab. After all, Ahab’s name is not mentioned in the story.

The distressed student goes back to his room, opens his Bible and, sure enough, there are apparent inconsistencies. Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the Lord. Ahab sends for 400 prophets of the Lord, and when they are done, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the Lord again. What’s going on? Furthermore, as the professor said, Ahab’s name never occurs in the text, only an unnamed “king of Israel.” Perhaps the story was originally connected with another king.

These questions are often best answered by applying the attitudes, insights, and methods of secular literary studies to the Bible. This literary approach is the hottest new method in biblical studies. Actually, the literary approach is not really new. But it involves a “paradigm shift” in interpretation, ...

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