Dr. James Coakley’s Purpose For Writing His Book
“There are plenty of how-to books for general Bible study, observation, interpretation, and application. However, that’s not what I wanted to do with this book. I have found that even though the Bible is the most-read book in the world, sadly, it’s not often read well.
We need to give people a strategy to read it with a lens of what to look for. We tend to let the texts come into our minds, instead of engaging with what we’re seeing or asking why it is this way.”
How Dr. James Coakley Was Impacted by Diving Into The Details of The Bible
“David probably struck me the most. He is anointed in 1 Samuel 16, and then we have him fighting Goliath in chapter 17. So we see him doing several things. In those first couple of chapters, we see him as a shepherd. Then at the end of that chapter, we see him as a musician in Solomon’s Court. Then in the next chapter, we see him as a warrior fighting Goliath.
It’s interesting that out of all the information, the story arc of David shares those three occupations. Right away, the first actions we see David doing will be a job description the rest of the way. It’s also intriguing that we never hear him speak in 1 Samuel 16, even though we know that he does in real life. But the first time we hear him textually speaking with his voice is a very intriguing statement he makes when he goes to the battlefield.
We all think about David being a man after God’s own heart, but the first words that came out of his mouth were, ‘What’s the reward?’ It’s a perfect snapshot of David. He’s selfish, but then he’s also a man after God’s own heart. It’s a beautiful blend of warts and all, David’s good traits and bad traits.”
Chapter Three: Step up to The Mic
“Something that has revolutionized my reading of the Bible, especially when I’m reading narrative texts, is looking for quotation marks. Because what’s happening is the author is the one controlling the account, but every once in a while, he’ll allow the characters within the story to speak.
And that’s when you see the quotation marks. That’s a choice that the authors make as to whether or not they allow you to hear a character within a story speak with their own heart. And so, time and time again, the words reflect what’s in their heart. Especially in the Gospel of Luke, all the big ideas that I’ve been able to discern in those accounts come on the lips of one of the characters within the story. Follow the quoted material, and you’ll be close to the theme that the gospel writer is trying to outline.”
How Do The Tools in Dr. James Coakley’s Book Help Readers of The Bible?
“I give examples in every chapter of how these techniques are found in all good literature and film. These are good oral or written communication skills. I’m trying to surface what’s already there, not read between the lines.
So, how often, how prevalent, and how common are these things? A lot of these techniques will be found more in narrative books. But that’s a good chunk of the Bible right there. Some of the techniques work in any book.”
The Launching Pad Technique
“We don’t often consider the technique of paying attention to the upfront material because these books are not written chaotically. Instead, they have a goal, intent, purpose, and design with it. So, they don’t have the same things we do today, like a table of contents or a forward. But, they certainly would front load key ideas, notions, and themes in the early material of the book. And so if you pay extra attention to that, it helps set you up to find the themes.
I am amazed at how often I see it. I see it with Isaiah. The story of Cain and Abel sets up not just Genesis but the rest of the Pentateuch. You have sibling rivalry throughout the book of Genesis; Cain and Abel’s story sets that up.
How do they know what to bring as a worship sacrifice? There are no instructions given there, but the whole of Leviticus will tell you what animal sacrifices are all about. So it’s priming the pump; it’s setting up the reader for later. Cain is told to do right, but what does that mean? You find out in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Cain is worried and has become a restless wanderer on Earth due to his sin. What book of the platitude do we have that talks about restless wandering as a result of sin? The whole book of numbers. And so that story is a true story, Cain and Abel actually happened, but it also doubles as a literary, theological theme preface for the rest of the Pentateuch.”
How to Get Through Complex Books of The Bible
“There is as much vocabulary in just the book of Isaiah as in all the Greek New Testament. But, unfortunately, learning to sightread Isaiah is a pipe dream for most of us. There are so many rare or infrequently used words that it’s hard to become just a site reader of that.
But I always say with the prophets that you need help understanding how they work. Of course, we read them in written form, but most of them were orators that were well-polished, good communicators.
They could be sarcastic because they were trying to box the ears of the people who had tuned out the word of the Lord. They have to do whatever it takes to grab people’s attention and get them back to Deuteronomy.
You can’t read the prophets apart from Deuteronomy. They are always hearkening back. And that’s why the Lord sends them; they come when a nation is sick. The prophets always pull the people back to living by the law.”
Finding The Bookends in Scripture
“This is what’s called inclusio. The content is framed by similar statements, and the poster child’s example is Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have, ‘His name should be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.’ And then you fast forward to the last chapter, and you have Jesus up on a high mountain giving the great commission, saying,
‘I am with you always until the end of the age.’ God’s presence is the theme from the beginning to the end. That bookend provides a sense of closure coming full circle.
Rhetorically it is very satisfying, but the payoff is that it helps you to identify themes. That, to me, is worth it for personal reading and communicating God’s word in whatever vehicle you are doing it in.”
The Importance of a Big-Picture Understanding of The Bible
“We often are so micro-oriented in our Bible reading. We need to realize that there is not just beauty and design in how a chapter or a paragraph is laid out but also in how the whole of scripture is laid out. For example, a very impressive bookend is how the first chapters of Genesis mirror the last chapters of Revelation, in that they discuss the new heavens and the new Earth.”
Objects and Props in The Bible
“Each major patriarch in Genesis has an object associated with them. For Abraham, it’s trees; he’s planting trees everywhere you go. We have Isaac, who’s always under his father’s shadow or overshadowed by his son.
But there’s one chapter he’s by himself, and one object is associated with him: wells. Stones or rocks were focal objects in Jacob’s life. Finally, clothes were a constant topic in Joseph’s life.
They seem to be an intentional sidekick to these characters, but they infuse it with a bit of metaphoric meaning because Abraham is the father of faith. He’s setting down roots in the land. Isaac is a child of promise. Everything he does in the land is bountiful. So he’s associated with the Abrahamic promise and land and blessing, and we see that in his life.
At the end of his life, Jacob says to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my life have been long and hard.’ What could be harder than a rock? And Jacob, throughout his life, is encountering rock after rock after rock. Throughout Joseph’s life, he changes garments, and those are transitional markers in Joseph’s life. So is it the main point? No, but it’s interesting that infused with these stories are these objects that coincide with the character.
What I’m hoping to do by introducing a chapter like this is give people a little work in the shallow end of the pool to realize that the Bible is so much richer and deeper than we could ever imagine. Regarding scripture, Leon Morris said, ‘it’s shallow enough that a child can play in its wake but deep enough to drown an elephant.”
Poetic Diamonds in The Bible
“We normally think of poetry in books like Psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but embedded in other genre types, especially narrative books, you find pieces of poetry injected into the narrative.
Most of the time, we may think that they interrupt the story. But in reality, they serve as a main exclamation point for the themes of the surrounding narratives. And so these songs are helpful to understand what the goals thematically are of the biblical authors. And for our male listeners, you need to pay more attention to poetry because it helps to make the lessons and the theme pop.”
The Importance of Locations in The Bible
“I want readers to view the setting and the location just as they would a character. So even though they don’t speak as characters do in these accounts, they still communicate. There’s a backstory. There’s a theme and a thread that they’re trying to tap into.
I think there are seven mountains in the gospel of Matthew. Suddenly, you can see it’s a structuring device, but that location is significant because he’s presenting Jesus as a new Moses. Geographically Matthew is tying the sermon on the mount to Mount Sinai. Just as a law was given on Mount Sinai for the people, we have a new law, along with Jesus gathering a multitude in a high place.
Matthew keeps on talking about mountains because mountains are significant places in revelation. Paying attention to the scene of a mountain in the gospel of Matthew is just another way to freshen up your reading. So don’t just read the sermons of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus, but also be cognizant of the location of where these events are taking place because they’re also seeking to ‘have a voice’ as it were.”
Clock Management in The Bible
“Often, we track the accounts and these Bible books, and we’re not paying attention to how much the authors speed up or slow down the text. Many people aren’t aware of this, but if you crunch the numbers, the focal point of Abraham’s life is not his total 175-year lifespan. The first 75 years are blank because we don’t encounter him before that. And in the last 75 years, there’s very little we know.
So it’s basically from age 75 to 100. The focal point of Abraham’s life is 25 years. 13 years are blank. From Ishmael’s birth to when he’s 13 and Isaac is born, we know nothing.
Upon examining scripture closely, we can see how things slow down and where they speed up. And so this is another thing to be on the lookout for. You will freshen up your reading by just paying attention to the use of the clock within the texts. If we’re spending all this time on one day or a short period, there must be something important here that I need to be aware of, and then examine the reasoning as to why that might be.”
Encouragement For Apathetic Bible Readers
“Well, the big thing for many people is carving out time to do it. One of the things I do regularly now, especially when commuting from the suburbs to Chicago, is listening to audio versions of Bible books. There are so many apps now where you can have the Bible read as you go about your daily activities. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gets God’s word into your mind and lets you quickly listen to large text swatches.
That way, you’re washed over with the full context. That’s why I wrote the book. I’m more than excited because I have a reading strategy again. I’ve seen time and again how productive they are in big insights and small insights. Marvel at this God who put the world around us with structure, order, and beauty is the same God who wove that in everything He gave us in His written word.”
About Dr. James Coakley
Jim Coakley has taught Bible at Moody Bible Institute for over twenty years in both the Seminary and Undergraduate school. He is married to Gayle and has two adult children and three grandchildren. He is a frequent tour leader to Bible lands and a guest on several Moody Radio programs. In addition, he contributed to the Moody Bible Commentary and the Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy.
14 Fresh Ways to Enjoy The Bible by Dr. James Coakley
The Moody Bible Commentary by The Faculty at Moody Bible Institute
The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy by Michael Rydelnik and Edwin Blum
Living by The Book by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks
Grasping God’s Word by J Hayes and J Duvall
Holiness to the Lord by Allen Ross
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