I don’t mean that it makes jokes about Battlestar Galactica, or that it pontificates about privacy issues inherent in Google or Facebook. But a geek can spot an obscure reference at a hundred places, and that’s a great skill to have when you’re reading a book full of obscure references.
Part of that is due to what the Bible actually is – it’s not a single book but a collection of writings from a bunch of different authors, originating across different times, places and contexts. And, to extend the geek metaphor, those writers tend to be ‘fans’ of one another, throwing in quotes and references to each other in order to make a point.
Here’s an example of this I came across recently. We know next to nothing about Jesus’s childhood – he’s born in Bethlehem, then we hear nothing until he’s 30 and getting baptised by John the Baptist. Except for one story.
Luke 2:41-52: Jesus is 12, and he and the family have been to Jerusalem for the Passover festivities. Now, because people used to travel in convoy, everyone looking at each other, Mary and Joseph have been travelling home for a day when they realise Jesus isn’t with them.
(I know that fills modern parents with utter horror , but all I can say is that it was a different time.)
After three days they find him, sitting in the Temple having in-depth philosophical conversations with a bunch of religious teachers. Mary and Joseph were probably about to ground him for eternity (which would have been a theological nightmare), but the point of the story is to illustrates Jesus’s passion for God and his genius for teaching; after all, he’s only 12, not quite a man in Jewish thought, and yet he’s going toe-to-toe with priests. This is a big deal.
But what’s interesting here is how the story ends in verse 52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Because that’s a near exact quote that describes someone else: in 1 Samuel 2:26, the boy who would grow up to become the prophet Samuel is said to have “Continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with people.”
Now, you might say this is a coincidence, but I don’t think it is, simply because of what goes on to happen in 1 Samuel 3. Because here we have Samuel who, in Jewish tradition was said to be 12 years old at the time, getting called by God in the Temple, which leads to him undergoing a learning experience with a priest. Hmm.
So what does this mean?
I don’t know.
I mean, I’m convinced the link is intentional, but I’m not entirely sure what it illuminates. Maybe it’s the idea that God will raise up servants even at a young age. Maybe it’s the idea of a young man standing between two eras – Samuel was the bridge between the Judges and the Prophets, Jesus stood on the cusp of a new phase of God’s salvation plan. Maybe linking Jesus with the first of the Prophets establishes Christ’s own credentials.
I’m not sure.
Seriously, I’m not sure – if you have any ideas, please leave a comment. But that’s not the point, because the fun is in the discovery. Look for those obscure quotes and references and hints, track them down, try to figure out why the writer decided to use it. Because those learning curves will be valuable; they’re always valuable.
In short, get your Bible geek on!