Shakespeare in the Bible?! Study the Big Picture First [BIBS]


A Trip To the Library

You walk into a library and plan on reading a book. Even before picking up the novel, you scan the library for what shelf to start looking. You see signs hanging from the ceiling: Non-Fiction, Periodicals, Children’s Books…

You are drawn to the kids’ section but have to keep scanning.

Ah! There it is! The fiction section.

Already, you have an idea of what type of book you will be reading. Fiction. It will be a story. It will not be a reference book, a poetry book or a school book. It will be an entertainment book.

As you walk toward the fiction section, you hone in on the shelf you typically read from. Science Fiction. (You nerd!)

You browse the Astro-Galactic-Fighter-Spaceship-Mega-Alien Series for the next one in the lineup. Right at eye level, you scan the spines for the right title.

“There you are!” you think to yourself. You reach up for The Battle of the Mega-Galactic-Alien-Invaders: The Glonkin Tribe Returns and pull it off the shelf.

You glance over the front cover and notice the author’s name at the bottom center. You see the title and think, “That’s a weirdly long title, but it pretty much tells me what the book is going to be about.” You notice the graphics. The dark black background implies outer space, and the bright green and blue lettering indicate the laser-gun battles that are to come.

You flip the book over and read the summary on the back cover. You get the gist of what the book will be about. You read the author’s biography and see what type of a person he is.

Before opening the book, you have a good idea of what direction it will take.

You walked to the fiction section. You browsed the science fiction shelf. You found the particular series and book. You scanned the front cover and read the back cover.

You know the genre and the author. You know the setting, the mindset, and the people in the story line. You have read other books in the series, so you have an idea of the history of the book’s characters.

Guess what? The way you approach a novel is the same way you should approach the Bible. What you do every time you browse the library for a novel is what we will call Observation.



Think about the library trip again. You did not blindly walk up to a random shelf, pick out a random book you knew nothing about, and start reading in the middle of the chapter.

Yet we do this with the Bible all the time… at least I did.

I would open my Bible, look for a verse I had marked in church or memorized in AWANA and start reading.

I never observed.


What is Observation?

You may wonder, “What is observation?”

Observation is what I like to call the “birds-eye view.” Before diving into the book, take a look at the broad picture. Fly up into the sky and view the text from above. Before starting at the introduction and chapter 1, start with the author and genre instead.

In our library analogy, picture yourself walking into the library front doors. You are looking across the aisles of books. At the end of each shelf is a sign that tells what genre—or type of literature—each book on that shelf is.

Ask some broad questions in your observation of the Bible text:

  • Why was the book written in the first place?
  • What happened in this story before this text?
  • To whom is it written?
  • What is the problem with mankind that God is trying to fix with this text? (It has to address some need… what is it?)
  • What type (or genre) of writing is it?

Observation is a simple step back. It is a survey. It is the background information. It is the width before we get into the depth. It is the big, Big Idea—the ultra-super-Big Idea.


Careful… You Might Die!

Please do not skip this step! Too often, we dive right into a text when we have never taken the time to observe. Observation helps keep us from error. It keeps us from reading things into the text rather than getting things out of what is plainly there.

Did you know that the Bible includes lies? Yep. It does.

Before you get confused or mad, remember that the Bible records everything perfectly, including the lies of Satan. When Satan speaks, the Bible records his words, even when they are lies. Observation helps you step back from your reading and say, “Wait, who said this?”

We get into trouble when we “cherry-pick” our favorite verses out of Scripture. For example, you might have heard the (fake) story of the guy who was frantically searching for God’s will, so he flipped open his Bible, pointed to a random verse and started reading how Judas “went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). Scary! He flipped several more pages and read Jesus’ words in red: “Go and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37) The man thinks, “Wait, WHAT?! This can’t be right!” So he flips the pages again and reads, “That thou doest, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

No, that is not a true story. And no, that is not how God leads.

If this man had observed, or gotten the bigger picture, he would have understood those verses.

Before diving into a verse, look at the context. Observe the whole letter. Step back from the one phrase you are stuck on. Instead of building an entire theology on a snapshot, study the whole scene.


Shakespeare In the Bible?!

To insert your own theology into a text is to put words in God’s mouth. He has not hidden his Word. He has no deep secrets that He reveals only to the smartest people.

People who study numbers, patterns and figures in the Bible often go so deep that they miss the plain truth of Scripture. If you look hard enough, you can find practically anything in Scripture. For example, Shakespeare is “in the Bible” because the 46th word from the beginning of Psalm 46 (KJV) is shake and the 46th word from the end of the Psalm (not counting Selah) is spear. People read that and say, “See! Shakespeare’s in the Bible!” Don’t be crazy. Just read the Bible and stop trying to use it as your little secret codebook.

People named Mark might like Psalm 37:37, “Mark the perfect man,” but is God really saying that people named Mark are perfect? Nope.

“Try the spirits” in 1 John 4:1 is not God’s approval on drinking alcohol (spirits). Read the whole context to find out what God is communicating.

Study the Bible like it is a letter with a specific intent of the author. The details might seem like a rabbit trail, but the author has an overall goal. He has a Big Idea. Find that Big Idea first.

If you lift a verse out of context, without observation, you could look like a fool. Ignoring observation is like lifting choice words out of a letter. You might get an entirely different outcome!

Dear Darla, I hate your stinkin’ guts.  You make me vomit.  You’re scum between my toes.  Love, Alfalfa.

If Alfalfa had really sent that letter to Darla, do you think she would have read that and said, “Oh how sweet!  Alfalfa wants me to love him because he put the word love in there!”

No way! She would have punched him in the face.

You open a letter from your landlord:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, This letter is to inform you that unless you pay your bill, you will be forcibly removed from the premises. You have 5 days before you are evicted. Have a nice day.

You would not read that and say, “Oh how nice.  They want me to have a nice day.”

Just like the eviction notice has one point (get out of the house), so too does a book of the Bible have one point. Do not cherry-pick verses. Read the whole letter. Just like the eviction notice, ask, “What is the point of this letter?”

Here is a hint… the eviction notice’s Big Idea is not, “Have a nice day.” Do not forget to observe.


Excerpted from BIBS: Big Idea Bible Study.



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