The Fiction of Jesus

Fiction: “The telling of stories which are not entirely based upon facts. Although the word fiction is derived from the Latin fingo, fingere, finxi, fictum, “to form, create”, works of fiction need not be entirely imaginary and may include real people, places, and events.”

Parable: “The word ‘parable’ comes from the Greek parabol, the name given by Greek rhetoricians to any fictive illustration in the form of a brief narrative. Later it came to mean a fictitious narrative, generally referring to something that might naturally occur, by which spiritual and moral matters might be conveyed. A parable is like a metaphor that has been extended to form a brief, coherent fiction.”

I was having a talk with an indepedent, apostolic pastor several years ago in reference to a popular book of fiction written by a Christian. The pastor told me he didn’t see a point in reading something that wasn’t true.

Jesus, the savior and Lord of all Christians, certainly did a number of things that make you wonder. Like, with Him being God incarnate, why wait till he was 30 to start his public ministry? And then, in a world desperate for hope and truth, he tells stories, lots of them, primarily using a form of short fiction called a parable. In Matthew 13:34, it says, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”

So, instead of speaking the truth directly, and appealing directly to the intellect, he told stories that people could relate to, yet stories that many didn’t understand. Even the disciples weren’t sure what Jesus was talking about at times. It’s even harder for us to understand that sort of thing. We aren’t very patient people, and ruminating over a story or poem to find the layers of meaning is not very natural in a very busy society. Yet, these stories of Jesus gave people a chance to discover meaning for themselves. And we are more likely to retain and ‘own’ what we discover ourselves.

We say we believe the Bible is true, so is it? Are metaphors true? Are parables true? Is Biblical poetry true? If we define true as factual, then the answer is no. Yet, we can get really hung up on facts, and we can lose the story. We can also lose the heart. And Jesus, he knew the power of story. He spoke to many who were the least, and he gave them hope. And he told them truth, by using fiction.

In summary, I believe the Bible is true, and factual in regard to what should be interpreted as fact. The Bible makes great use of metaphor and short fiction as well in the wisdom literature, prophets, apocalyptic lit, and parables of Jesus. As such, I rejoice in both fact and fiction in the Bible.

We underestimate fiction and it’s place in our lives as Christians. We underestimate how well fiction can convey truth.

And if you have any comments, agreeing or disagreeing, feel free to share.

One thought on “The Fiction of Jesus”

  1. Joshua Keel says:

    Good points. I sometimes wonder why certain people gravitate towards fiction and others seem to like (or read, at least) mostly non-fiction. I have a hard time being very interested in a lot of non-fiction (although I’m reading Orthodoxy by Chesterton right now, what can I say?), but I love fiction. There are other people I know who almost exclusively read non-fiction. I just wonder what the reason for that is.

    Anyway, more on-topic, Jesus also used fiction to actually keep people from seeing the truth of what he was saying.

    Luke 8:10:

    He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.'”

    It’s as if the people’s hearts were already hardened to his message, so he spoke in parables so that only the ones who were ready to receive his message heard.

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