There were many iconic scenes in the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, which have become part of the landscape of American culture. One of these scenes involved the main character, Indiana Jones, confronting a big villian wielding a very large sword, aiming to kill our hero. After trying to impress Dr. Jones with his swordmanship, Indiana nonchalantly pulled out a pistol and shot him, which prompted laughter from the audience. After all, swords in the 20th century were already outdated weapons. Imagine how much more outdated these types of weapons have become for kids in the 21st century, raised on video games.
Every English teacher knows that a metaphor has a shelf life directly related to its intended audience. This was especially true in Bible times since there were no pictures, movies, videos, slide shows, computers or projectors to aid in getting the speaker’s point across. Since there was no way to photograph loved ones, the ability to mentally capture those details would have been sharpened. Just as people today who have lost one of their five senses have greater sensitivity for the remaining ones, people in Bible times not able to take snapshots of their children, would more acutely be able to create mental pictures of details surrounding them.
From cover to cover, the Bible is saturated with metaphors and word pictures as its writers tried to help their audience mentally frame their stories and teachings. The problem is that, just like the sword illustration in the movie, every single metaphor and illustration in the Bible is now outdated. That doesn’t mean that the word pictures used in Scripture have no relevance; it’s just that time and circumstance have greatly diminished them so that they now have only a fraction of the emotional impact that they did when the original words were spoken. For example, when Paul painted the vivid word picture about a soldier’s weaponry for his Ephesian audience by noting that the word of God was the “sword of the Spirit”, that would have framed a powerful image for his readers in the first century. However, swords are now an irrelevant weapon, which waters down any reference to it in Scripture.
Young people are leaving the church in staggering numbers for various reasons but one of those reasons could be because they are fed from a diluted biblical broth. These kids are being bombarded with visual stimuli from every direction from television, movies, video games and computer graphics. Using ancient illustrations included in the Bible to teach timeless lessons is like having a family night but showing silent movies from the 1920s. The teachings of the Bible are timeless; its illustrations are not.
We have to reinvent the way we teach the Bible by refocusing how it was taught to us. Even though they did not have pictures, movies, videos, encyclopedias or computers to aid their mental connection in the first century, we certainly do and should use them to accomplish that goal.