The Bible Is Much More Than Command

One of the tensions I’ve experienced in shifting from NT studies to OT studies is how to appropriately exegete and explore narrative and prophetic texts.

Apparently, this isn’t unique to me. Christopher Wright has one good explanation for why this might be in his book, The Mission of God:

However, even if we strongly affirm our acceptance of biblical authority. The association of authority primarily with military-style command does not sit comfortably with much of the actual material in the Bible. There are of course many commands in the Bible, and indeed the psalmists celebrate this as a mark of God’s goodness and grace (e.g., Ps 19; 119). Those commands that we do have from God are to be cherished for the light, guidance, security, joy and freedom they bring (to mention a few of the benefits praised by the psalmists). But the bulk of the Bible is not command –in the sense of issuing direct commands either to its first readers or to future generations of readers, including ourselves.

Much more of the Bible is narrative, poetry, prophecy, song, lament, visions. letters and so on. What is the authority latent in those forms of utterance? How does a poem or a story or somebody’s letter to somebody else tell me what must I do or not do? Is that even what it was intended to do? And more importantly in relation to our task here, how do such nonimperative sections of the Bible connect to mission, if mission is seen primarily as obedience to a command? I would suggest that it is partly because we have so tightly bound our understanding of mission to a single (and undeniably crucial) imperative of Jesus that we have difficulty making connections between mission and the rest of the Scriptures, where those other Scriptures are not obviously or grammatically imperative. We do not perceive any missional authority in such nonimperative texts because we conceive authority only in terms of commands.

Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 52.