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March 18, 2005



Bill --

Nice post, and I haven't read Wright's article just yet, but some thoughts:

In order to derive from any text (and especially Scripture) the meaning worth getting (for there are many meanings in most texts, if not all), we must read the text on its own terms. This means reading it as that genre is meant to be read. Today we do not read a political cartoon with the same tools and categories as we read a textbook on microbiology. So, we have to read poetry as poetry, history as history, epistle as epistle, and story as story. The difficulty, of course, is realizing that the genres of biblical texts are not all easily discerned, nor are they always either/or decisions. For example, the Apocalypse of John comes to us in two discernable literary genres of the ancient world: the epistolary and the apocalyptic. Reading that book is a challenge because we must read it as two different kinds of literatre.

I write this to say that "viewing the Bible as narrative" is not possible in a strict sense. Sure, some of it IS narrative, but what KIND of narrative is it? Also, not all of it IS narrative. Some of it is poetry (see the Psalter and other wisdom literature). So we have to be careful with what we mean to signify by the word "narrative."

I would argue on the other hand that there is great value in using a narratival lens to view the Truth found in Scripture. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus spoke only in parables. Jesus taught indirectly, and so should we learn how to read indirectly. Narrative -- reading the story -- is one way of doing just that.


I certainly think that it doesn't mean we treat Romans as a narrative. We must be true to genre and interpret appropriately. What it does mean, though, is that we treat all of scripture in the context of the grand narrative. If I interpret Romans, for example, in a way that isn't true to the plot of the story, then I have probably missed the point of Romans. So here are my questions as I read, in this order:
1. What is the plot of the grand narrative of Scripture?
2. How does this particular scripture fit into the context of the plot of the grand narrative?
3. How does my story align with the larger plot as well as its particular elements in this particular scripture?


I like what you have to say Scott, makes sense. I would emphasise your point of remaining true to the genre of of the text. THis I think is the heart of the matter, because for many years we have approached scripture as if it was all a letter. Who wrote it,who was it written to, what were the specific circumstances etc. And while these are valid questions when they form the basis of our understanding of all books we miss the point.

The gospel accounts for example are narrative, not letters. Interpreting them as letters does a disservice to the point they are making. Likewise an appreciation of the big story helps understand where a letter may fit in the story, and particularly how it relates to the story that has gone before. (ie the story of Israel)


Actually Glenn the Gospels are theological presentations, not simply just narratives. There is a lot of sermonic and debating discourse within them. A minor note, however, since I think I agree with what has been said about relating everything to the larger narrative picture (although the interpretive problems for what that picture is remains).


Can you clarify what you mean by "theological presentations," tooaugust?

I think you're on to something if you mean that they are not merely reportage devoid of theological intention. They are stories, but they are organized in such a way as to communicate a certain message. We also have to account for the fact that the narratives contain other forms of writing (i.e. sermons, parables, poems).


Actually, I'd argue that all narrative in the Bible is theological presentation. Granted, "gospel" is its own genre in some ways and doesn't play by quite the same rules as other narrative accounts (which is where I think tooaugust was going). Still, there is theological interpretation applied to every narrative passages. Biblical narrative does not tell you what objectively happened in the sense that a newspaper article attempts to be objective. Scriptural narrative is told unapologetically from a perspective and with an agenda. That's why I think it's particularly important to identify plot - it's present purposefully and contributes greatly (understatement) to understanding the story.


I can't believe it! Scott and I actually agree. Although it can't be en toto, since I don't believe modern newspapers or any reporting is objective (although I know you said they "try" to be, and not that they are). The idea that Scripture is reporting history as opposed to using history to communicate theology has been a hard one for liberals and fundamentalists, who want the Bible to be reporting history so that they can either validate or invalidate its theological claims (the irony is that they usually miss the theological teaching of the text because they are looking at the text in a way that's completely different from the theological intent of the author (both God and the human author). Liberals had a field day with the fact that John places the Passover in one place in his chronology and the Synoptics in another as though the Gospels are supposed to be Chronological history reporting! A good way of showing all of this is to compare the Gospels in the NT and see how each is tailored to its own theological aspect of Christ and the Gospel and the same can be done for the OT by comparing Samuel/Kings and Chronicles.


"Although it can't be en toto, since I don't believe modern newspapers or any reporting is objective (although I know you said they "try" to be, and not that they are)." - That's exactly what I was getting at. I wasn't saying that they are objective so much as the purported goal of such reporting is objectivity.


This is what I think is constructive about postmodern philosophy. We get real with the fact that we can't be as objective as we thought we were.

I think that we should still TRY to be objective. We don't want to fall into subjectivISM, which says that truth is entirely relative to the person.

Notice that I am not saying I buy into everything that postmodern philosophers have said. I'm merely trying to benefit from the positive observations that have come out of that philosophy.


Well said, Bill.

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