One of the significant developments in the field of biblical studies over the last few decades that I have witnessed becoming increasingly widespread (especially on a popular level) over the last several years is a narrative approach to Scripture: reading the Bible as literature, and specifically, as literature that is telling a grand, overarching story about who God is and what He is doing in the world.
For some, hearing about the Bible being literature or story immediately sets off warning alarms in your head, because sometimes we hear the words “literature” and “story” and assume that they refer to things that are not true, and if we apply those words to Scripture, doesn’t that negate or diminish the truth of it?
Certainly I want to affirm that the Bible is true, and we want to read it in ways that reinforce our confidence in its truth and reliability, but it’s worth pointing out that stories can be true. In fact, we talk about “true stories” all the time. Sometimes we’ll tell someone a story and maybe there’s a bit in there that is hard to believe, and so we say, “True story!” to reassure our listeners that what we are telling them really happened. Sometimes we go to the movies and before the film begins it might say, “Based on a true story,” which means that they have taken Hollywood liberties and added some details and twists to make it more exciting, but it’s based on something that actually happened.
Well, with Scripture, what we have is not based on a true story; it is the true story! It’s the truest story of all! But it’s still revealed to us as a story, and we read it more accurately and more faithfully if we read it as a story.
And that’s what I want to do in this series. For several posts, I want to look at Scripture As Story. We will look at the grand, overarching story that the Bible is telling, and we will also look at various ways in which the biblical authors use literary techniques to reveal truth about God, and how we can read the Bible better and more faithfully if we understand and look for these techniques.
I hope you will join in and follow these posts. For me, coming to appreciate the literary nature of Scripture and the story that the Bible is telling has deepened my respect for and interest in the biblical text, my wonder at the nature of inspiration, and my own sense of mission and purpose in God’s world. In short, it has helped my faith to grow.
It is my hope that this series will, in a small way, help others similarly.
Other posts in this series:
- Scripture As Story: The Big Picture
- Scripture As Story: A Literary Masterpiece
- Scripture As Story: Jesus, the New Moses
- Scripture As Story: Women at the Well
There are a ton of resources out there now on a literary approach to Scripture. A few that I will highlight include The Art of Biblical History by V. Philips Long, which was very influential to me personally, and The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter, which was kind of a game-changer in the field. Also, The Bible Project Podcast has done some good work on this as well, including “Setting in Biblical Narrative,” (March 25, 2018), and “Design Patterns,” parts 1-4 (April 2-23, 2018).