What Narratives Are Not

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God's <abbr>EPIC</abbr> AdventureIn 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.

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Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)