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Old Testament – Narrative

For some people, using the word “narrative” might imply that the events described in the Bible are fictional; but that is not how the term “narrative” is understood by Christians nor how it is used by the authors of Grasping God’s Word. According to J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, “Narrative is a literary form characterized by sequential time action and involving plot, setting, and characters.”[1] In order to read and interpret Old Testament narrative correctly, we must utilize the tools given in previous Funsized Bible Study posts; particularly we must take note of all the small details in the particular passage in focus as well as the surrounding passages.

To help us better understand the narrative form, Duvall and Hays list some important elements:

  1. Plot: “Plot is the organizing structure that ties narrative together,”[2] say Duvall and Hays. Most plots have an exposition describing the basic setting of the narrative, a conflict (internal, external, or between two people or groups), and a resolution. When reading narrative, make sure to identify the main plot.[3]
  2. Setting: This is where the events in history are taking place. Perhaps we’re reading about Pharaoh’s court in Egypt, or the Sinai desert, or on the threshing floor in the dark. The setting affects how we understand the narrative. While reading make sure to identify any changes (if at all) in the setting.
  3. Characters: “Usually the meaning being conveyed in the text is tied to the behavior of one or more characters in the story.”[4] Oftentimes the Old Testament author will leave out certain aspects or information that might be helpful in fully understanding a particular character’s motives. Even if we are not entirely certain of a character’s motives for what they do, we still have the salient details necessary to strain out a passage’s theological significance. Do the interpretive work that you can while being mindful not to transpose unnecessary elements onto the text.
  4. Viewpoint of the narrator. Sometimes the author clearly expresses his view during narration. Sometimes the author might implicitly suggest a point of view. “So, read carefully. Watch for details that indicate the viewpoint of the narrator.”

Remember the five steps of the Interpretive Journey during your studies and always strive to be mindful of the historical context to get a proper understanding of what you’re reading.

Check back next week for Chapter 19: Old Testament – Law.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 334.

[2] Ibid, 339.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 340.


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