In the study of hermeneutics, one of the most critical steps is learning how to interpret narratives.  Narratives are the story form of literature.  60% of the Bible is composed of historical narratives.  How should we interpret an event that happened one time to one person or to one people?

Narrative Principles

In reading the biblical narratives, we must be aware of the three levels:

  1. Top Level – the complete universal plan of the Sovereign God being worked through his creation
  2. Middle Level – key aspects of God’s plan centering around God’s people
    • Old Testament – Israel
    • New Testament – the Church
  3. Bottom Level – composed of hundreds of individual narratives that provide the content for the other two levels
  • To grasp the full significance of the bottom level, we must read it with the other two levels in mind.
  • God is the hero of every narrative.
  • Narratives are not intended to give every detail of a story.
  • Since narratives highlight complex people, they are often complex stories.
  • Narratives are descriptive and not prescriptive.
  • Just because the Bible records someone doing something does not give you the rights to do the same (E.g., Gideon putting out the fleece – Judges 6:36-40; Deut. 6:16).
  • Search for editorial comments within the narrative to determine the author’s intended meaning.
  • Authors often indicated thematic principles through the usage of repetition (E.g., Mark’s emphasis of the people’s amazement at Jesus – Mark 1:27-28, 45; 2:12; 3:7-12; 4:1).

Narrative Pitfalls

  1. Don’t allegorize narratives. ¬†They are stories of what God did. ¬†That information is sufficient.
  2. Don’t decontextualize narratives. ¬†Ignoring the context and focusing on specific words, phrases, or events can detract from the intended meaning.
  3. Don’t moralize narratives. ¬†Narratives are meant to show God’s progress of his plan, not simply to illustrate moral principles.
  4. Don’t personalize narratives. ¬†Even when approaching the Bible, our self-centeredness can be revealed when we expect to experience the same outcomes as the positive biblical narratives.
Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.