Did Paul contemplate suicide while imprisoned? Listen again to Philippians 1:22-24: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” It does, in fact, sound like Paul is contemplating an option: “Yet what shall I choose?” Life or death?
Several scholars have noted the striking resemblance between Paul’s own speech and ancient writings, which also describe death as a “gain.” These ancient writings consider death a gain because it sets the person free from worldly troubles. Moreover, other scholars have noted that Paul was not, in this imprisonment, facing “imminent execution.” In other words, death was an ultimatum Paul seems to have given himself. These two considerations combined suggest, according to some, that Paul must have been contemplating death by his own hand.
In anticipation of the release of new BBC Sherlock Holmes episodes, Jessie and I read a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories. The collection includes the first twelve of Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, originally published in Strand Magazine. While reading these stories, I began to recall an essay by David C. Steinmetz titled “Uncovering a Second Narrative” (in The Art of Reading Scripture edited by E. Davis & R. Hays). In that essay, Steinmetz uses detective novels to explain what he calls the “second narrative” at work beneath the story of Scripture. The second narrative, he says, can only be explained at the revelation of a detail previously unknown to the reader. Upon discovering that detail, the reader is able to fill in the blanks in the narrative, finally culminating in the mystery being solved. For Steinmetz, Christ is the detail that helped to reveal the second narrative that underlies the entire biblical drama.
What I found in Sherlock was perhaps less profound but no less helpful in our quest for learning to read the Scriptures well. So, let us ask, What may we learn from Sherlock Holmes about reading the Bible?