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How to Read Biblical Fiction (Free Download!)

Do you want to compare the novel to the biblical narrative? Are you a bit uncertain about how Bible stories can be shown in fiction or in art? Art has a way of bringing the Bible to life. If the subject of the art is the Gospels, it brings Jesus to life.

Music is one of the art forms most often used in worship. It transforms biblical messages to melody and engages both our heads and our hearts. Songs like "He is Lord", "The Lord's My Shepherd" and "Amazing Grace" move the biblical message to engage our emotions. However, music sung in worship reflects our theology and beliefs. For example, I enjoy singing "In Christ Alone", but the lyrics include "as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied", which is a divisive view on atonement and "Jesus commands my destiny" affirming predestination. Similarly, many churches do not include "We Three Kings" as a Christian hymn at Christmas because it is not biblically accurate. In the same way, some lyrics are adjusted to include male and female. For example "Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns, Let all their songs employ" (previously was Let men their songs employ). Art impacts and reinforces our beliefs.

Visual arts, including sculptures, paintings, and stained glass windows have long been used to bring the Bible to life. In the middle ages, the church commissioned art as a way of telling biblical stories to an illiterate population. While we have a more educated population today, writing biblical fiction portraying ordinary people using everyday language makes concepts of biblical equality easily accessible to everyone - not only those who attend theology schools. I write about my motivations and why I wrote this novel here.

Wikimedia Commons Fernando Gallego (1440-1507),_1480-1488,_oil_on_panel_-_University_of_Arizona_Museum_of_Art_-_University_of_Arizona_-_Tucson,_AZ_-_DSC08349.jpg

Art impacts how we remember a story. When we see a picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we look at how the people are portrayed, the emotions they show, the symbols of authority, how people are positioned and who is most prominent, if women and people of colour are represented.

We are accustomed to thinking only men were at the Last Supper because the 1490s masterpiece by Leonardo DiVinci shows only men. The Last Supper was likely a Passover meal which was a family meal. However, when in 1573 Paolo Veronese painted the Last Supper showing men and women and midgets, drunks and even a dog, the church called it a capital offence and he was required to change the title to Feast in the House of Levi. The visual art had to match the theology of the day. In the 16th century the church approved the view of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in art. Art has also skewed our perceptions of Eve as being in partnership with the Serpent as opposed to being deceived by the Serpent. Art has a powerful impact on how we visualize and remember biblical stories.

Like visual art, biblical fiction allows you to place yourself in God's story and connect on an emotional level. I have written several blogs about how art has influenced our understanding of theology and Bible stories. Here's where I write about stepping into Scripture and imagining yourself in Bible stories.

Photo: Elaine Kelly

Drama is another form of art that brings Bible stories to life. Think about children's Christmas pageants: by seeing and hearing people in the roles of Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, the story is made more personal and meaningful. The audience empathizes with the fears and hopes of the characters. These earthly dramas can reveal the heavenly truths that the Messiah came into the world for all of us: born to a poor, young woman, blessed by the elderly female and male prophets in the Temple, and worshipped by wealthy sages from a foreign country.

We use drama in worship each time we take Holy Communion. The officiant plays the part of Jesus, saying his lines, and believing men and women take the part of the disciples. We replay the drama of Easter morning when we tell one another "He is Risen!" Christians have a long history of placing ourselves in stories of God's help in the past to strengthen our faith in the present. A novel, TV series, or movie set in the time of the Gospels allows you to see Jesus as a person interacting with people. Art allows us to experience God with us.

Like the annual Christmas pageant, biblical fiction blends fiction with biblical stories. Drama is like a parable: an earthly story revealing divine truths. Drama creates familiar, relatable stories to demonstrate unfamiliar concepts or truths. Like a parable, Forgotten Followers tells a creative, relatable story to encourage fresh perspectives on familiar stories. Like the parables of Jesus, it sometimes takes time to see the hidden meanings. Here's where I write about Biblical Fiction as a parable.

Like music, visual art, and drama, biblical fiction is constrained by the biblical narrative; the creativity provides details and backstories that are plausible and fit what we know from the Bible. Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold does not dilute the way Jesus overturns power hierarchies, empowering women, so those who think God designed gender hierarchies may wonder how the fiction is consistent with the biblical narrative. I hope that reading Forgotten Followers stimulates questions about what the Bible says about gender equality and encourages a desire to study the Gospels more closely and compare the fiction to the biblical story.

Pexels photo by Artem Podrez

In the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyal encourages imagining yourself in Bible stories as a method of prayer, contemplation, and reflection. Music, visual art, drama, parables, and fiction allow us to imagine ourselves in Bible stories, to understand and remember them. Forgotten Followers may be read to stimulate prayer and contemplation.

Free Download!

Do you want references so you can compare the biblical and fictional accounts for each chapter of the novel?

Are you looking for prompts for your journaling, contemplation, or prayers?

Would you like questions for discussion or reflection on the novel's themes of racism, abuse, and equality?

Are you seeking hope and healing?

Click below to download your Free Reference Note for Forgotten Followers: from Broken to Bold!

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor


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