Every child in the world knows that you can learn how to live from stories. And the biblical authors themselves teach us to read the biblical stories for instructions on how to live. They get doctrine from narrative. They treat the stories as prescriptive.
And so ought we to do.
Of course, we have to interpret them properly. “Brothers, do not be children in understanding. In malice be children, but in understanding be mature.”
So how does this work? When we read Genesis, it teaches us. The story of creation teaches us how the world is organized. We have mostly disregarded those lessons since the Enlightenment, but let’s take one of the cases where we’ve gotten it right. In the beginning, God made one man, and from his side, He brought forth one woman. He brought her to the man and created the first marriage, an image of the Trinity: God unites man and woman. It is, as the popular saying goes, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Also not Eve and Charlotte, nor Adam, Eve, and Charlotte, nor any of the other permutations.
Jesus took the story of marriage’s very beginning and showed that it taught a lesson about divorce: “What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.” Now, divorce is nowhere mentioned in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. There is no direct prohibition of divorce in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve; in fact, divorce is never mentioned anywhere in the whole story. But a particular marriage can harmonize with the origins of marriage and fulfill what marriage is for, or it can be out of harmony. Jesus’ prohibition of divorce is a call for individual marriages to harmonize with the paradigm case of marriage. The exception He allows, in cases of adultery, is also in harmony. The divorcer, in that case, is not putting asunder what God joined together, because the adulterous spouse has already done that. In broad strokes, this is the way a true origin story can be applied.
So what origin stories do we have to work with? Genesis 1 is the origin of the world, and man in it. Genesis 2 is the origin of man in particular, and marriage. The story of Noah is the formation of the geophysical world we now live in, and the origin of civilization as we know it. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the origin of Israel as a people, and Exodus is the origin of Israel as a nation-state. Acts is the origin of the Church.
Wouldn’t it be something if our ecclesiology began to reflect that last one? If our actual church practice began to harmonize with our origin story? But that’s another post.