How can I properly interpret the narrative portions of the Bible?
Someone in our TBC Career Group submitted this question during a recent Q &A time in Sunday School. This is a great question. Many of us have made the mistake of using a piece of a Bible story (or piecing together several stories) to construct a defense for doing things a certain way. I have been guilty of doing this and have also seen Biblical narrative(s) used in some very interesting ways – like the time I heard someone make applications to the Christian for each of the “five smooth stones” that David picked as he went to confront the giant Goliath. The first stone means “this” and the second stone mean “that” and so on.
How should we read the narrative portions in the OT and NT so we are not twisting the story into something it is not saying? How can we glean God’s timeless principles from these wonderful passages of Scripture? The first and most important question we need to ask of a passage in Scripture is, “What does the text say?” The most important question at the start is not, “What does the text mean to me?”
Here are some practical tips to help us learn what a narrative is saying:
- interpret the narrative by the didactic, not the other way around (didactic = instructional portions of OT & NT)
- remember that the purpose of the narratives is to illustrate and the purpose of the didactic Scriptures is to instruct, give commands or teach principles
- the climax of the narrative usually holds the main teaching point
- look for repetition of key words or key phrases or key doctrinal ideas
- look for the illustration of a timeless command or a timeless principle(s)
- always interpret the narrative in light of the rest of Scripture. We can easily come to an erroneous understanding of a narrative or a piece(s) of the narrative when we interpret it in isolation. (here Strong’s concordance or an Bible online word/topical search tool is useful – try biblegateway.com)
- another IMPORTANT exercise we should always do when reading any portion of Scripture is to ask, “What does this passage show me about what God is like and what God likes?” I like to keep a notebook where I write down the answers to that question as I read a passage of Scripture. You may enjoy doing that to since the most valuable use of the Scripture is to lead us to know God as He is.
thanks for submitting your questions – keep them coming in