In order to understand what narratives are and how to read them, it is helpful to observe what narratives are not. Fee and Stuart present a summary:[ref]Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 92-93.[/ref] First, they are not stories about people who lived in an ancient age. They are stories about what God did to and through these people. Second, they are not stories filled with allegory or hidden meaning. Third, they are not always direct in their teaching. Fourth, they do not always have a specific moral of their own.
Next, they present some targets to shoot at when reading narratives.[ref]Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible…, 106.[/ref]First, they do not directly teach a doctrine. They illustrate doctrine that is taught elsewhere in Scripture. Second, they record what happened, not what should or could have happened; therefore, not every narrative has a moral. Third, the actions of the characters in the narratives are not necessarily the correct actions to imitate. Most characters are not hero models to follow. Fourth, the story does not usually tell us if the actions were good or bad. We are left to make up our minds based on what God has taught in the teaching parts of Scripture. Fifth, these stories are incomplete and selective. Not every detail or even all needed details are given. What does appear in the story is what the inspired author thought important for the reader to know?
The narrative is not written to answer theological questions. First, narratives may teach by stating something clearly, which should be the action of the reader, or by implying something without actually saying it. Second, God is the hero of all of the biblical narratives. In the final analysis, they demonstrate how he has acted in relation to his people. By that, we can know how he will act on our behalf.
Narratives according to Fee and Stuart are not written for the reader to become a monkey-see-monkey-do person. Remember, no biblical narrative was written especially for a person living today. The narrative concerning Joseph is about Joseph and demonstrates how God worked through him. We can learn a great deal from narratives, but we should never assume that God expects us to do exactly the same things that the Bible characters did. Otherwise, we would have to live part of our lives as sinners following characters that sin and become righteous when they show signs of righteousness. Our task is to learn from these narratives how God has acted concerning his children, not to do everything that was done in each one of them.
Narratives demonstrate and illustrate God’s acts among men.[ref]Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible…, 90-91.[/ref] Why do we find things in narratives that are not there? Here are some possible reasons: First, we wrongly expect that everything in Scripture applies directly to each part of our lives. Second, we are desperate for information from God that will help us through some problem or situation. Third, we are impatient and want answers now from a specific verse in a specific chapter in a specific book in Scripture.
Fee and Stuart suggest that being selective by combining verses contextually that are not connected naturally and allegorizing is not helpful.[ref]Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible…, 102-106.[/ref] The authors suggest: First, do not practice selectivity: Do not pick and choose specific words and phrases to concentrate on while ignoring the overall context of the passage. Second, Do not combine verses contextually not connected: Do not combine a verse from here and a verse from there and a part of a verse from yet a third place and place them together as God’s word for a situation.
The problem of “selectivity” is addressed by Richard Hays under the concept of intertextuality, which is the “imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a later one….”[ref]Richard Hays. Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. 14.[/ref] Kent Yinger sees “intertextual play” found in “all strata of the OT” which helps us have a “better understanding” of concepts like “grace and works” in the New Testament.[ref]Kent L. Yinger. Paul, Judaism, and Judgment according to Deeds (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series), (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY), 19.[/ref]
What Paul and others may be doing when they quote a text from the Old Testament (remember, the Old Testament was not yet canonized and certainly not versified at this time in history) is simply drawing attention to the whole story from which the text being quoted is. A present analogy would be the use of “keywords” in a search engine such as Google to find the larger context in which those words are recorded. It just might be that we have taken our propensity to prooftext and projected it back on Paul and other writers of the New Testament.