Essay / Misc.

The Romance of the Bible

From 1927 to 1928, G. Campbell Morgan taught at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. In May of 1928, every student in residence was given a copy of his lecture entitled The Romance of the Bible. By “Romance,” Morgan did not mean “love story,” but . . . well, he explains immediately what he meant:

“Romance,” according to his desktop dictionary, could mean “a work of fiction, or adventure. To invent and tell fictitious stories; exaggerate, lie.” But it could also mean “A blending of the heroic, the marvellous, the mysterious, and the imaginative, in actions, manner, ideas, language, or literature.” This caught his eye.

This second definition permits my use of the word, for the history of the Bible is a romance. It is a blending of the heroic, the marvellous, the mysterious, the full significance of which only the imagination can grasp. It is wonderful in its history. It transcends the ordinary. So it is a romance.

Readers familiar with C.S. Lewis’ use of the idea of “myth” will notice a similarity, I think. Lewis thought of the Christian religion as built on the true myth, arguing that “myth” need not imply “untrue.” Myth could be true, could even be something so concrete as fact, and yet retain its character as a delivery system that gets reality into the imagination in the fullest way possible for humans. “In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.”

Morgan was a defender of all the conservative truth claims for the historical accuracy of the Bible, in an age when they were under attack by overweening critics in the flush of academic victory. But he didn’t become defensive or restrict his appeal to the factual and historical. While defending those in theory (his doctrine of scripture is impeccable) and in practice (his expositions of Bible texts are not skewed by skeptical criticism), he also reached out beyond those things to claim something more for the Bible. It is God’s self-revelation in a history “the full significance of which only the imagination can grasp.”

This significance evoked the word “myth” from Lewis, as it had drawn the word “romance” from Morgan. Can the Bible be confessed as the word of God in any other way? Won’t we always have to seek a word for our encounter with this miraculous “something more” that blows where it wills and carries scripture along with it? The confession is not for those who have already given up prematurely on the truth claims, historical and otherwise, of the scriptures. They forfeit myth and romance by defecting from fact. But it is also not for the apologist who lets the tiresome carping of the critics scare him from the turf of the fantastic. God makes himself known in “a blending of the heroic, the marvellous, the mysterious, and the imaginative,” and the book bears the marks of all of these. “So,” as G. Campbell Morgan said, “it is a romance.”

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