The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of View

Knowing the writing style of the Bible will help us avoid confusion when we read it

The Bible Uses a Third Person Omniscient Point of ViewSince 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.

Read the Bible as Literature

Studying scripture teaches us about classic literature and writing to inform our literary perspective

Read the Bible as LiteratureMy post “13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible” started out as a top ten list, but I couldn’t stop at a round number. I kept going and couldn’t pare my list down to just ten reasons. And if I had kept thinking about it, I would likely have come up with more.

A related topic is considering the Bible as literature, the classic of classics. So much of what we read today has allusions, though sometimes subtle, to scripture. We see biblical themes repeated in TV and movies.

Knowing the Bible helps us to more fully understand God but also to better appreciate literature and entertainment. Consider what the Bible has to offer:

  1. Variety of Genres: The Bible contains different styles of writing. Much of it is history, with some biography and even autobiography. There are several poetry portions (albeit without rhyming and meter), which reveal ancient poetic styles and can inform modern day poets. The books of prophecy reveal the future, some of which has already come to pass and other portions, not. Books of wisdom give as wise advice. Other sections reveal God, serving as the first theology text. The Bible also contains letters from teachers to their students. There are epic dreams documented for us to ponder. And two books, Job and Song of Solomon, read much like the modern-day screenplay.
  2. Multiple Viewpoints: The Bible contains four biographies of Jesus (gospels). The four respective authors reveal different aspects of Jesus based on their personal perception and target audience. Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s writing contain the most similarities; John is the most different. Similarly, 1 and 2 Chronicles provides a counterpoint to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Last, some of the prophets provide additional historical accounts to round out what we learn from the prior six books of history (1 and 2 Chronicles, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings)
  3. Different Perspectives: Much of the Bible is written in the third person point of view, while some passages are in first person. I especially enjoy these first person accounts as it places me in the middle of the action, as if I am there, living it with the speaker.
  4. Multiple Levels: Reading the Bible is analogous to peeling an onion. Each time we unwrap one layer, we find another that gives us additional insight and added meaning. There are many tiers, virtually unlimited. We will never know all of what the Bible says, but we do strive to learn more of what it reveals. With each successive read we are able to connect different passages together and glean deeper insight into its stories, lessons, and writers – as well as the God who inspired it.

The Bible has much to offer, not only from a spiritual perspective, but also from a literary one. Reading the Bible as literature will increase our appreciation of other things we read, what we write, and the world in which we live.

What is your favorite genre of the Bible? How does reading the Bible as literature inform your perspective. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s May newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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How Do You Affect Others?

We have an effect on everyone we meet. We can touch them in a positive way and leave them better off for whatever time we spend with them, or our interactions can have a negative impact and produce the opposite results. This might be at the store, how we drive, with our neighbors, during work, and when we’re at church. This happens through our actions, our words, and even our nonverbal communications. It’s in person, on the phone, via text, and using email.

How Do You Affect Others?

We have many opportunities to affect others. We can help them, encourage them, guide them, and pray for them. Or we can irritate them, cause them distress, criticize them, and discourage them. We can make their day a bit brighter or a tad duller. We can subtly point them to Jesus or turn them off.

Though I want to live my life with intention and have a positive effect on everyone all the time, I fear I fall short more often than not. Here’s what I recently learned about this:

We Don’t Always Know the Effect We Have On Others: A few weeks ago I was at a writers conference. I attend it every year to learn and to share. Three people surprised me by individually taking time to thank me for something I said or did for them the year before. Who would have known?

We Need to Thank People When They Impact Us: Another person thanked me for the writing newsletter I send out each week. She told me how helpful it is for her and that she looks forward to it. I thanked her for her encouragement. What I didn’t tell her was that I was quite discouraged with the newsletter: for the time it takes to do each week and my assumption that no one really cared. She refueled me to press on.

Sometimes God Leads Us to People When They Need it the Most: I also led a couple of breakout sessions at the conference. The second one did not go well. Though I know I shared useful information and provided value, I also feared I caused just as much confusion. I do know I didn’t communicate clearly: talking too fast and stumbling over my spew of words. When it was over the phrase “train wreck” kept popping into my mind.

Then our enemy, the father of lies, began his attack. My mind quickly spiraled out of control. Within an hour I had retreated to the bathroom to wallow in despair. I couldn’t think clearly and didn’t know what to do. Prayer eluded me.

When I emerged from my seclusion a friend’s gaze caught my attention. I don’t know if she beckoned me or if I was drawn to her. She thanked me for my presentation, the information I shared, and the value I provided.

She couldn’t be talking about me; surely she must be confused. But no, she had sat in the back row during my session. She was there for my train wreck but didn’t see it that way.

I thanked her profusely and told her just how much I needed to hear her words. My eyes misted over, and I gave her a hug of appreciation. Her words rejuvenated me, and the rest of the conference went great – thanks to one person willing to follow God’s prompting to search me out. She had a positive effect on me just when I needed it the most.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s October newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Do you want to receive his complete newsletter each month?]

Why Do I Write on Sunday?

Part of how I follow Jesus is to treat Sunday as different from other days. I spend time with other followers of him, both at church and apart from church. I worship him, hopefully in spirit and in truth.

I don’t work or do very little work, not with legalistic fervor but with the attitude that this day is a set apart day to focus on him. I rest and relax. I may spend time with family, go for a walk, read, do a crossword puzzle, or watch a movie. And I write.

For a long time I didn’t write on Sunday, not one word. Since I write for work – even though writing seldom feels like work – writing on Sunday seemed like I was laboring on my set-apart day. I didn’t want that.

Why Do I Write on Sunday?But what if I directed my Sunday writing solely towards God? After my habit of writing five days a week, became six when I included Saturday, I later added Sunday, but just temporarily I thought. It would be just for a season to work on a project about God. Since I typically write in the morning, my Sunday writing time fell before church.

Soon I realized that writing about God on Sunday morning was my first worship of him for the day – and often my best. It served to center my thoughts on him, preparing me for a day set apart to focus on my Lord and Savior. Some Sundays, writing was the highpoint of my day, not that my words were great, but that my time with God, as I wrote, was.

When my Sunday morning project ended, I didn’t want to say goodbye to my morning spent with God through writing. So I continued to write each Sunday morning, just as I do every other morning.

Sunday morning is when I write my blog posts for the week, a blog about God, the Bible, and his church. As I write, I focus on God and worship him. For me, that is what Sunday is for – and what he created me to do.

What do you do to worship God on Sunday? Are your Sundays different from the other days of the week? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s September newsletter. Do you want to receive his complete newsletter each month?]

 

If You Have a Message to Share, You Need to Speak Up

Last weekend I attended the Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids Michigan. Speak Up is a two and a half day educational and networking opportunity for Christian speakers and writers. As a bonus, it was also a spiritual experience.

Speak Up ConferenceIn addition to making new friends and reconnecting with existing ones (some of whom regularly read this blog – thank you!), I also learned a lot. The highlight for me was being able to meet agents and acquisition editors to talk about some of my books. There was much interest in my just completed work Women in the Bible, as well as two others that are awaiting publication.

I also attended several workshops and learned some tips on various topics, such as how to better connect with readers, editing my work, balancing writing and life, interjecting humor into my writing, social media, and developing our writing voice. As an added treat, two of the sessions were given by friends Amelia Rhodes and Lorilee Craker.

The conference was held on the campus of Calvin College at The Prince Center. Everything was first rate. Some people think of this as a women’s conference, but guys attend as well, even though us males were an unrepresented minority.

If you are a Christian writer or a speaker – or want to become one – I encourage you to consider attending next year’s Speak Up Conference. It will be July 7-9, again at the Prince Center in Grand Rapids Michigan. Maybe I will see you there.

Were you at the Speak Up Conference? What did you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

I Am a Writer – And Much More; Who Are You?

I started writing as a teenager. As an adult, many of my jobs involved writing, but I never thought of myself as a writer. Writing was something I did, not who I was. That changed about five years ago when I realized writing was an ongoing thread in my life. I had been a writer for a long time but had never verbalized it. Though I had to force myself to say it, I eventually croaked out the words, “I am a writer.”

Mug displaying "I am a writer."When speaking at writers conferences, at some point I lead new writers in saying, “I am a writer.” They smile. We do this a few times, each time louder and with more confidence than the time before. By the end, many are grinning. For some it is sweet confirmation of their identity, while for others it’s the first time they’ve ever voiced their unspoken dream. At that moment they take their first step in becoming writers. They are affirmed.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we become who we say we are.

However, I am more than a writer; I am other things, too. I am also a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, a volunteer, a magazine publisher, an editor, and more. But my most important identity is as a follower of Jesus. Saying each of these labels, affirms me in those roles, cementing my self-image through positive identification.

There is also the opposite of this. Though unintentional, many of us cause ourselves pain with the negative labels we heap on ourselves. Perhaps you’ve said or heard someone say some of them: “I am dumb,” “I am lazy,” “I’ll never amount to anything,” “I’m a failure,” “I can’t lose weight,” “I’ll never get out of debt,” “I’m a victim,” “I’m unlovable,” and so on.

Whether this is a dip into self-pity, an attempt to gain attention, or an admission with a sliver of reality, these statements are damaging. With negative talk such as this, we inadvertently move ourselves closer to becoming what we say, whether we believe it or not, whether it’s true or not. Who we think we are is what we become.

Let’s use our words to become our very best. Although being a writer is laudable, my identity starts with “I am a follower of Jesus, a child of the king.”

Who are you?

[This is from the March 2015 issue of Peter DeHaan’s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

Is Writing Art?

Is author Peter DeHaan an artist?I’ve never called myself an artist, in large part because I think I’m one of the most uncreative persons on the planet. I’m good at building on the work of others and adept at making something that flows from logic or order, but when it comes to creating something completely new, something unique, something with unprecedented innovation, I fall far short. Pure originality is not my strength.

I’ve grown to accept this, marveling at the free-spirited artists who through some innate ability (aided, no doubt, by years of practice) originate fresh works of genius on a regular basis. Like them, I long to start with nothing and make something, an awe-inspiring something. But for me that seldom happens.

I’m talking about the visual arts, and I’m not a visual artist. What about preforming arts? No, that’s not me either. I can’t think of much worse than to stand in front of people (or a camera) in order to entertain.

So, I’m not an artist; I’m a writer. However, as a writer, I do create, at least partially. I arrange and rearrange words in a way that no one else does. I have my own style; I’ve developed my writing voice. Sometimes the result is a pleasing arrangement, while other times my assembly of letters falls short. Still these words make up my work, my art, my written art.

Like me, I’ve never met another writer who used the label artist. Maybe that should change. Perhaps we wordsmiths need to embrace the creative element, that is, the art aspect of our work.

Last year, I saw my first indication of someone else wondering the same thing. At ArtPrize – an international art competition that celebrates the visual and preforming arts – a group of visionaries dared to produce a book of words as part of the festivities. The result was Imagine This! An Art Prize Anthology. With hundreds of submissions, I received the honor to have my place, albeit a small one, in the finished product.

Now, as I ponder what to submit to this year’s competition, I realize I’m one step closer to considering myself an artist and to calling my writing art. It’s still a strange thought, but I’m warming up to the idea.

[This is from the February 2014 issue of Peter DeHaan’s newsletter. Sign up to receive the complete newsletter each month via email.]

News Release: Peter DeHaan Wins Halo Magazine Writing Contest

Follower of Jesus shares his story and spiritual journey in Christian publication.

Mattawan, Michigan, January 15, 2014 – Peter DeHaan is the first place winner of Halo Magazine’s first annual writing contest. DeHaan’s winning submission, “How I Found Jesus,” appeared in a recent issue.

“I’m honored to have won first place in Halo Magazine’s annual writing contest,” said author Peter DeHaan. “I felt I submitted a solid piece, but I was concerned it might be too unconventional, as my journey isn’t the typical conversion story. Thankfully the editors saw merit in it and awarded me first place!”

Also in the issue is another of Peter’s articles, “Do Rituals Have a Place in Our Spiritual Growth?” “Having a second piece in this issue is an added bonus,” enthused DeHaan. “I knew it was accepted for publication, but didn’t know when they would use it. It was a complete surprise when I stumbled upon it in this issue.”

Peter DeHaan is no stranger to readers of Halo Magazine. His prior work includes a tribute poem, “An Ode to Peanut” in the January 2013 issue and a memoir piece “Serving God in My Community” in the October 2012 issue.

Marian Newman Braxton, the editor-in-chief of Halo magazine, notified Peter of his winning submission. She said, “We truly enjoyed reading your article.” Delbert Teachout, the managing editor, implemented the contest and evaluated the submissions.

Last year, Peter DeHaan entered another contest and was selected as a finalist with his poem, “Why I Write,” for the literary publication Imagine This! An ArtPrize Anthology. The book was released September 2013.

News Release: Peter DeHaan Writes about Transformation in New Book

The Transformation Project: A West Michigan Word Weavers Anthology includes Personal Essay from Peter DeHaan.

The Transformation Project
Mattawan, Michigan, December 10, 2013 – Peter DeHaan’s personal essay, “The Transformation of Peter DeHaan,” is included in the book, The Transformation Project: A West Michigan Word Weavers Anthology. A collection of memoirs, personal essays, and short stories, The Transformation Project is published by West Michigan Word Weavers. The work highlights the writing of the group’s members, including Dr. Peter DeHaan.

“I’m honored to have my work included in this amazing book that explores transformation,” said Peter DeHaan, PhD. “I don’t want to give anything away, but my piece ends with a unique twist, so it’s a fitting thought to serve as the book’s concluding chapter. I’m pleased that my words are the finale for The Transformation Project.”

“Transformation is inevitable,” said Anna Moore Bradfield, president of Word Weavers West Michigan. “Why not embrace it?” And embrace it they did. Eighteen members wrote on the topic, providing twenty-two readings for the book.

“Our entire lives are about transformation,” added Eva Marie Everson, president of Word Weavers International Inc. She hopes that readers will use this book to consider their own transformations.

The Transformation Project: A West Michigan Word Weavers Anthology is available from Amazon.com in printed form and for Kindle. The book is also available on Smashwords.com, KoboBooks.com, and BarnesAndNoble.com.

Learn more about The Transformation Project at Amazon.com.

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News Release: Peter DeHaan Addresses 2013 Breathe Conference

Writer Workshops by Local Author and Publisher are Well-Attended and Earn High Praise

Mattawan, Michigan, October 25, 2013 – Peter DeHaan spoke at the 2013 Breathe Christian Writers Conference on October 11 and 12, 2013, in Dutton Michigan. Conference attendance set a new record, with many attendees greatly anticipating Peter DeHaan’s two workshops. He opened with “Jumpstarting Your Writing Career” on the first day and concluded with “10 Tips to Improve Your Writing” on day two.

“Both sessions were well-attended, far surpassing my expectations. I was so encouraged by the high turnout and enthusiastic participation,” said Peter DeHaan, PhD, who is also a magazine publisher and editor. In between the sessions, DeHaan met one-on-one with several attendees to discuss their writing and careers.

“The response was incredible,” added Dr. DeHaan. “The attendees were eager to learn and share with each other. The Breathe writing conference is one of the best, and the enthusiastic attendees are one reason why.”

Joni McArthur, an attendee at his first workshop, said it was a “very good session filled with helpful tips.”

“Peter effectively relates his own evolving call to the vocation of writing to instruct and inspire,” stated Beth Ernest.

Esther Clark added, “His seminar took me to a new level.”

“His speech was like an orientation session for a new job!” said Nellie deVries. “Today I said, ‘I am a writer,’ thanks to Peter DeHaan.”

Sara VanLaan appreciated “the ‘rubber meets the road’ advice on writing.”

As a follow-up, Dr. DeHaan is providing additional information and free writing services to those who attended his workshop.

Learn more about the Breathe Christian Writers Conference and Peter DeHaan.