Narratives are often portrayed as "stories;" which may convey a sense of fiction. As a distinction, the
narratives in the Bible are honest and truthful historical reports by men who could be seen as "journalists."
With over 40% of the Old Testament written as a narrative, this literary style is the most common type of
literature in the Bible.
Because biblical history and theology are intertwined, narratives do not simply inform;
they should elicit a response.
Narratives force us to know ancient history. Because they are referenced by other books
of the Bible, there are certain narratives you should know well for both their historical and theological
significance. Much of Christianity's principles are derived from historical narratives; however, historical
narratives are also where many controversies lie.
The writers of the Bible were chosen for their faith and obedience to God
(i.e. Isa 6:8), which implied their fidelity to the truth in
journalism. Each author had personal reasons for writing in the manner he did including the use of literary
devices such as metaphors, chiasms, etc. Thus, careful observation of the details matter to the reader.
These impeccable reporters documented among other things:
- The presence / absence of God, His Son, and His Spirit
- The biography / genealogy of the leaders of God's people
- God's laws governing God's people
- World events that affected God's people
- Supernatural events and the fulfillment of prophecies that validated God's Son Jesus Christ
As divinely inspired journalists (2 Tim 3:16), the writers
of the Bible wrote:
1. As personal eyewitnesses.
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we
know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were
written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
2. As reporters who carefully used secondary sources as a basis to write their own
a) The source may be divine
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these
words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty
nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten
Commandments. (Ex 34:27-28)
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by
human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
(1 Cor 2:12-13)
b) The source may be a reliable and trustworthy person whose reporting may be checked.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made
king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the
number of the years which was revealed as the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of
the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. (Dan 9:1-2)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished
among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants
of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to
write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about
the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
God's written word of retelling past historical events serves to guide and give meaning to people of the
present. It would be meaningless if the narratives were not true. The narratives are constructed in a manner
that is viewed through three hierarchal conceptual frameworks:
1. The Immediate Historical Plot
The character of the person or peoples of a nation involved in the plot serve as examples
of good or evil. Their choices and resulting consequences impact our understanding of situational ethics or
illustrate a moral lesson.
2. The State of Man Under the Old and New Covenant
Under the Old Covenant, the person or people of the narrative were usually portrayed with
their attitude towards the Law in view. Did one have a genuine faith in God that engendered an obedient
commitment to the Mosaic Covenant? Under the New Covenant, the person or people were being introduced to the
death and atonement of Jesus Christ, and the implications of faith, being conferred with the Holy Spirit and
3. The Glory of God – how He plans to redeem His good Creation
God's Lovingkindness – His fidelity to His unilateral and unconditional covenant
How He provides His New Covenant
How He fulfills His promises to Abraham and its culmination as the Kingdom of God
The Hermeneutics of Biblical Narratives
1. Narratives should be read literally as the author intended. When Jesus taught, He placed an emphasis on
seeing and hearing. Truth corresponded to reality.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So
the other disciples were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands
the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will
not believe." After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors
having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here
with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving,
but believing." (John 20:24-27)
While some narratives may not correspond to our current understanding of science, objectivity
demands a literal reading and cannot rule out the possibility of the supernatural.
Example: When the account of the Flood is examined, the dimensions of the ark are realistic.
In comparison, other ancient mythological accounts of a great flood
Epic of Gilgamesh) do not
have realistic and survivable boats.
Caution: Read literally, biblical narratives may not be in chronological order, and
anachronisms may exist. With careful study, most of these confusing incidents can be worked out and explained.
Details really do matter.
2. Look for patterns and see if there is a lesson to be learned.
Example: Judges is not simply a cycle in history of apostasy, covenant chastisement,
repentance and deliverance. What pattern do you notice of moral character of the judges themselves?
Example: Note the sequence of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. What do you notice in
Satan's seductions? How does this compare to the temptation of Adam and Eve?
3. Narratives may include other literary styles and devices and introducing figures of speech, which may
require the appropriate hermeneutics.
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing
they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see
with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would
But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of
these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around
his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt 18:5-6)
4. Narratives may include observations of things and events that the author has never seen before as he
attempts to describe from his perspective. In this instance, figures of speech do not serve as a poetic device.
Example: The Book of Revelation is seldom seen as a narrative; however, the apostle John
states repeatedly that he is recording what he is seeing
(Rev 4:6; 5:1-2, 6, 11;
6:1-2, 5, 8-9, 12; 7:1-2, 9;
8:2, 13; 9:1, 17;
10:1; 13:1-3, 11;
14:1, 6, 14; 15:1-2, 5;
19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11-12;
21:1-2, 22) and hearing (Rev 6:3, 5-7;
9:13, 16; 10:4, 8;
14:2, 13; 16:1, 13;
18:4; 19:1; 21:3)!!
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the
things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who
testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the
sound of a trumpet, saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to
Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on
me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I
am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen,
and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first
voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you
what must take place after these things." (Rev 4:1)
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.
5. Ask these types of questions:
a) What is the main plot and who are the characters involved? Were the characters similar or
a contrast? Did the moral qualities of the character change over time? Was there anything being repeated? What
was the outcome of the plot? Did it illustrate any type of ethics? Was this a good example or one that should
not be followed?
b) What do you observe in the context of the Mosaic Law? What do you observe in the context
of the New Covenant?
c) What do you observe in the context of the Abrahamic Covenant? What do you observe in the
context of the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and its culmination as the Kingdom of God?
As the primary means of documenting God's active involvement with His Creation, narratives are an essential
literary style in the Bible. Take the time to carefully study this literature literally, and as you observe
within the three contextual frameworks, the elegant beauty of God's logic and plan emerges. There is no other
narrative like the Bible!!!