How Should We Interpret Historical Narratives?

Narrative is the literary genre that communicates through story form. Within the Bible, narratives intend...
October 4, 2021

Narrative is the literary genre that communicates through story form. Within the Bible, narratives intend to teach truth through what has happened to highlighted individuals.

Narrative Paradigms

  • 60% of the Bible is composed of historical narratives.
  • While the Bible tells what happened, it doesn’t always plainly comment regarding the ethics of what happened.
  • If you grasp the biblical expectations, you can discern the worth of the examples portrayed within the narratives.

Narrative Parts

  • Top Part – The top part consists of God’s complete plan to bring about redemption in his creation.
  • Middle Part – The middle part traces critical aspects of God’s plan focusing upon God’s people.
    • Old Testament – The Israelites
    • New Testament – The Church
  • Bottom Part – The bottom part comprises numerous individual narratives that provide the personal content moving along the other two parts.
    • Example – David & Goliath (1 Samuel 17)

Narrative Principles

  • To grasp the significance of the bottom part, you must read with the other two parts in mind.
  • In every single narrative, God is the undeniable hero.
  • Our titling of biblical narratives reveals our bent toward making it about us.
  • Biblical narratives do not intend to give every detail of a given story.
  • Since narratives highlight complex people, they are often complex stories.
  • Narratives are descriptive and not prescriptive.
  • Biblical narratives tell us what happened but not always what should happen.
  • Just because the Bible records someone doing something does not mean you should do the same.
    • Example – Gideon’s Fleece – Judges 6:36-40; Deut. 6:16
  • Search for editorial comments within the narrative to determine the author’s intended meaning.
    • Example – David’s Activity – 2 Samuel 11:1
  • Authors often indicated thematic principles through the usage of repetition.
    • Example – Mark’s emphasis on people’s amazement at Jesus – Mark 1:27-28, 45; 2:12; 3:7-12; 4:1

Narrative Pitfalls

  • Don’t allegorize narratives.
    • Narratives are stories of what God did; you cannot improve on them by attempting to over-spiritualize details.
    • Example – Origen’s explanation of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 (He taught the robbed man was Adam, Jerusalem is paradise, Jericho is the world, the priest is the Law, the Levites are the prophets, the Samaritan is Christ, the donkey is his body, the wounds are the man’s sins, the inn is the Church, and the return is Christ’s Second Coming.
  • Don’t decontextualize narratives.
    • If you ignore the context to focus on specific words, phrases, or events, you will actually detract from the intended meaning.
    • Example – Acts 27:12 – And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.
  • Don’t moralize narratives.
    • Narratives intend to show God’s progress of his plan – not simply to illustrate moral principles.
    • Example – Acts 15:39-41 – And there arose a sharp disagreement… (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11)
  • Don’t personalize narratives.
    • It is self-centered to claim positive outcomes from narratives while avoiding unfavorable circumstances.
    • Example – Genesis 50:20 – As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.