Stories. These are the backbones of the experiences of any culture. These are what children long for before they fall asleep. These are what sages pass down to the difference-makers of the next generation.
The Bible is one long story. As we said last week, it begins in a Garden (Genesis 1-2) and ends in a new Garden (Revelation 21-22). And in between, we have the great story of fall and redemption. Jesus is of course the centerpiece of that grand narrative. More of the Bible could fall under the genre of "narrative" than any other literary form. Genesis is almost all narrative, as is most of Exodus. The historical books from Joshua all the way through Esther may contain some poems and genealogies, but these are narrative books...containing sequences of stories that tell of faithfulness, unfaithfulness, justice, and grace. And then we reach the Gospels themselves, which are four narrative perspectives on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth...one of them being the first edition of a two-part series that culminates in the Acts of the Apostles who continue in the footsteps of their Lord.
So what are some observations in your reading of the Bible's stories that will help you get the most out of your study?
Setting: Biblical Narrative is essentially historical, so we are often told a particular time and place that each serve as a setting. The setting can help us understand why certain actions take place. For example, knowing the centrality of the Nile River for Egyptian life and economy helps the reader understand why the first plague on Egypt in turning the Nile to blood would have been so alarming and devastating.
Characters: Who is/are the protagonist(s)? How about the antagonist(s)? Do I identify with any of these characters? What if each character has noticeable flaws, as is often the case? Most Bible stories in some way look to the ultimate need for a Perfect Savior/Redeemer, of whom we may see shadows in other stories but always looking either forward or backward to Christ. So a great character question to always ask is: What shadows of Jesus do I see in the faith and actions of this individual? And what is lacking in the faith and actions of this individual that indicates his/her need for Jesus?
Plot: You should find some conflict between characters in Bible stories, and that conflict usually finds some resolution. When you don’t see a clear resolution, the plot is probably left open for a reason – possibly again looking to the need for Jesus, the One who brings resolution to all the Bible's great themes.
Repetition: We often discover the theme of a text by taking notice of which words or phrases are repeated. I encourage you to find a paper Bible or an electronic “app” which you can mark on, and every time you see two or more mentions of the same word or idea, underline/circle/box/highlight those portions of the text in a particular color. Then use a different color for the next set of repetitive ideas you see within the same chapter or book. This study method will help you detect patterns of what the story is meant to highlight to its readers.
Meaning: Examination of the other elements of narrative will help you decipher its message. The ultimate questions are – What do I learn about God in this story? What do I learn about myself in this story? All Bible stories have relevant meaning. Some of those meanings are more obvious than others. But most Bible stories are not just about the characters involved. They convey universal truths about humanity.
Next time we'll examine biblical poetry...
To His Glory,
Preaching & Outreach Minister