Reading the Bible as narrative

Photo by Ove Tøpfer; from Stock Xchange

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we read the Bible. One aspect that I need to learn more about is how to read the Bible as narrative. Interestingly enough, several people have been looking at the same question lately. Among others, Sean Palmer and Patrick Mead have recently written about this. Sean approaches the subject from the point of view of preaching. I haven’t had a chance to read Patrick’s yet, but knowing the kind of research and study Patrick does, I have confident his thoughts are worth reading.

I was also directed to an article called Why “The Bible is our Instruction Manual” is the Worst Metaphor in the History of the World over at a site called The Ruthless Monk. While there, I explored the site and read a bit about reading the Bible as narrative.

I see at least two related trains of thought on this subject:

  1. We need to learn to read the narrative parts of the Bible for what they are. We don’t handle narrative that well. Maybe that’s one reason why the writings of Paul are so popular in our brotherhood. Narrative doesn’t always seem as “practical” as we might like.
  2. We need to learn to read the Bible as a continuing narrative. Each part of the Bible contributes to the overarching story. Too often we isolate verses, chapters or even books, without trying to place them within the whole narrative of the Bible.

I want to spend some time exploring these related ideas. I’m very open to insights, suggested resources, related questions, et. What do you think?

8 comments on this post.
  1. Jerry:

    Tim,
    I’m glad you’re taking up this topic as a follow-up to your critique of CENI. Several years ago, a youth minister pointed out to me how narrative is appealing to Gen-Y youth. It is also important to those with a post-modern mind-set. While we have approached the Bible with a black or white, Modern Mind-set, the post-modernist is more reachable with narrative than with propositional truth. This does not deny the fact of proposition as one way to express Truth; it is say that narrative may be a better way to reach certain people with Truth than through argument of propositions.

  2. Adam Gonnerman:

    A narrative approach is certainly a healthy way to approach it. If God had intended for us to have a volume of systematic theology that could be proof-texted, he’d have given us that. Instead we have a one-volume library of writings representing diverse voices, interests, and time-periods in a variety of genres…all somehow telling the same big story. It’s text to be wrestled with and lived, not fully understood and domesticated.

  3. Jeffrey Hobbs:

    I recommend Walter Fisher’s book, “Human Communication as Narration.” It is a communication theory book. He argues that all communicaton is narrative (an account of events). If this is true, even the epistles can be interpreted narratively. Fisher argues that narratives compete for our values, beliefs, and actions. People who accept different narratives behave differently and I am reminded of John’s statement that these things were written so that you might believe. Fisher believes that humans are narrative creatures and judge the truthfulness of narratives on two criteria: narrative probability and narrative fidelity. Basically, narrative probability is internal consistency–the story does not contradict itself–and narrative fidelity is external consistency–the story is consistent with other things we know to be true in our life. Several years ago, a friend and I presented a paper on the use of narrative at the Christian Scholars Conference. If you are interested, there is a chance that the ACU library may have a copy of it.

  4. guy:

    Tim,

    i think you might enjoy this site:

    http://postost.net/

    The blogger there does some fairly heavy interpretive work using narrative hermeneutics.

    Also Eleanor Stump has a book called Wandering in Darkness where she has a lot to say about how narrative actually gives us more than can possibly be had or reduced to propositional knowledge. She considers four different biblical narratives in the course of the book.

    –guy

  5. nick gill:

    Christopher JH Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is one of my favorite books ever.

  6. K. Rex Butts:

    I am in favor of a narrative approach and I too think that Christopher J.H. Wright’s book “The Mission of God” is an excellent resource. I would also recommend “The Drama of Scripture” by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

  7. K. Rex Butts:

    Adam,

    I really like your sentence about the Bible… “It’s text to be wrestled with and lived, not fully understood and domesticated.”

  8. Travis Flora:

    I guess I’m a little lost on this one. What exactly is a narrative hermeneutic? I’ve always tried to study the Bible within the context of history, setting, etc., keeping in mind that it’s part of a large story broadly summarized as the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind. Everything from the early chapters of Genesis thru the Gospels is one continuing story of God’s plan for our redemption. From Acts thru Revelation is the story of the church (both individuals and corporate), the bride of Christ, which is God’s vehicle for delivering His people from eternal separation from Him. Is this different from what is being considered in today’s post? Sorry, haven’t had time to search out the linked items.

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