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Appendix Two: Genre and Interpretation- Old Testament Narrative


A. The relationship between the OT and other ways of the chronicling of events

1. Other Ancient Near Eastern literature is mythological

a. polytheistic (usually humanistic gods reflecting the powers of nature but using interpersonal conflict motifs)

b. based on the cycles of nature (dying and rising gods)

2. Greco-Roman is for entertainment and encouragement rather than the recording of historical events per se (Homer in many ways reflects Mesopotamian motifs)

B. Possibly the use of three German terms illustrates the difference in types or definitions of history

1. "Historie," the recording of events (bare facts) 

2. "Geschichte," the interpretation of events showing their significance to mankind

3. "Heilsgeschichte" refers uniquely to God's redemptive plan and activity within the historical process

C. The OT and NT narratives are "Geschichte," which leads to an understanding of Heilgeschichte.  They are selected theologically oriented historical events.

1. selected events only

2. chronology not as significant as theology

3. events shared to reveal truth

D. Narrative is the most common genre in the OT.  It has been estimated that 40% of the OT is narrative. Therefore, this genre is useful to the Spirit in communicating God's message and character to fallen mankind.  But, it is done, not propositionally (like the NT Epistles), but by implication, summation or selected dialog/monolog.  One must continue to ask why this is recorded. What is it trying to emphasize?  What is its theological purpose?

This in no way is meant to depreciate the history.  But, it is history as the servant and channel of revelation. 

II. Biblical Narratives

A. God is active in His world. Inspired Bible authors chose certain events to reveal God. God is the major character of the OT.

B. Every narrative functions in several ways:

1. who is God and what is He doing in His world

2. mankind is revealed through God's dealing with individuals and national entities

3. as an example specifically notice Joshua's military victory linked to covenant performance (cf. 1:7-8; 8:30-35).

C. Often narratives are strung together to make a larger literary unit which reveals a single theological truth. 

III. Interpretive principles of OT narratives

A. The best discussion I have seen about interpreting OT narratives is by Douglas Stuart in How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 83-84

1. An OT narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.

2. An OT narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.

3. Narratives record what happened—not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time.  Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral of the story.

4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us.  Frequently, it is just the opposite.

5. Most of the characters in OT narratives are far from perfect, and their actions also.

6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge that on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in the Scripture. 

7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21:25). What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.

8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions.  They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere, in other ways.

9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).

10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

B. Another good discussion on interpreting narratives is in Walter Kaiser's Toward Exegetical Theology.

"The unique aspect of the narrative portions of Scripture is that the writer usually allows the words and actions of the people in his narrative to convey the main thrust of his message. Thus, instead of addressing us through direct statements, such as are found in doctrinal or teaching portions of Scripture, the writer tends to remain instead somewhat in the background as far as direct teaching or evaluative statements are concerned. Consequently, it becomes critically important to recognize the larger context in which the narrative fits and to ask why the writer used the specific selection of events in the precise sequence in which he placed them. The twin clues to meaning now will be arrangement of episodes and selection of detail from a welter of possible speeches, persons, or episodes. Furthermore, the divine reaction to and estimate of these people and events must often be determined from the way the author allows one person or a group of people to respond at the climax of the selected sequence of events; that is, if he has not interrupted the narration to give his own (in this instance, God's) estimate of what has taken place" (p. 205).

C. In narratives the truth is found in the whole literary unit and not the details. Beware of proof-texting or using OT narratives as a precedent for your life. 

IV. Two levels of interpretation

A. YHWH's redemptive, revelatory acts for Abraham's seed

B. YHWH's will for every believer's life (in every age)

 C.The first focuses on "knowing God (salvation); the second on serving Him (the Christian life of faith, cf. Rom. 15:4; I Cor. 10:6,11)


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Related Topics: History, Hermeneutics

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