Knowing the writing style of the Bible will help us avoid confusion when we read it
Since my days as a teenager, I’ve spent time most every day to read and study the Bible. I’m also a writer who writes every day. I like to share what I’ve learned about both subjects. Here goes:
I don’t want to trigger unwelcome flashbacks to junior high and high school, but here’s a brief reminder about point of view in writing: When we tell stories of what we did, we use first person (as in “I drove…”). When we tell stories about others, we use third person (as in “she drove…”).
And there are two variations of third person perspective: limited (restricted to what only one character can see or know) and omniscient (knowing everything, like God).
In days of old, writers used third-person omniscient. Nowadays, third-person limited is all the rage, with the industry turning up its snobbish nose at third person omniscient writing.
The books I read in third person are always third person limited. In this I’m restricted to one person’s perspective per scene, just like a movie camera.
Reading, “he thought the idea was silly, but she was thinking the opposite,” is jarring because we hop from one person’s head to another in the same sentence. This is verboten in today’s writing style, third person limited.
Yet the Bible does this all the time.
For example, how was Jonah aware that the seas calmed down after the sailors tossed him into the water (Jonah 1:15)? Or when Philip left the Ethiopian eunuch, how did he know the eunuch went on his way (Acts 8:39)? With today’s writing style, they can’t. We see things from Jonah and Philip‘s point of view and, according to the rules of third person limited writing, we can’t be privy to what happens when they aren’t present.
Yet most of the Bible uses the third person omniscient point of view, not third person limited. Therefore, consistent with this writing style, we can know these things. And given that God is omniscient and inspired the words of the Bible, it’s completely logical that the Bible would align with his omniscient point of view.
It took me way too long to figure this out.
Over the years I’ve heard people criticize the Bible’s accuracy because of these passages about Jonah and Philip, as well as scores of others. They assumed the Bible should obey the rules of today’s in vogue writing style of third person limited. Yet third person omniscient is the style of older literature, including the Bible.
God is omniscient, so it follows that his book would be omniscient, too.
Does knowing that the Bible uses third person omniscient point of view affect how you read it? What parts of the Bible use first person point of view? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.