Some Guidelines for Reading Old Testament Narrative

If you’ve ever begun to read through the Old Testament and been filled with more questions than answers, you’re not alone. Many of the stories of the OT are hard to understand and hard to apply.

We know that narratives are inspired and ‘useful’ for us (2 Tim 3.16-17), but how? Are we really supposed to cheer on Samson? Are we always supposed to take Abraham as a positive example? Are we really supposed to take the admonitions of God to Joshua as personal words of exhortation & promise to us?

Here are ten hopefully helpful principles for interpreting Old Testament narrative. It’s important that we get this right, since this genre of Scripture makes up about 66% of our whole Bible.

10 Principles for Interpreting OT Narrative: 1

  1. A narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine but rather illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere
  2. A narrative records simply what happened, not necessarily what should have happened or what should happen every time
  3. We’re not always told at the end of the narrative what was good & bad; narratives invite reflection and thoughtful pondering based on other teachings
  4. The things that happen in a narrative are not necessarily a positive example for us, even if the person is a positive figure by and large
  5. Most people are far from perfection; so are there actions
  6. All narratives are incomplete and selective in details; sometimes what is left out is as important as what is included (what is important is that we know everything the inspired author intended of us to know)
  7. A narrative is not written to answer all our theological questions and they are misinterpreted if we come with our questions, rather than the questions the narrator wants to answer
  8. God is the real ‘good’ character and the hero of all biblical narrative; he is the only one always worthy of emulation
  9. The historical narratives are always to be interpreted by the teaching material
  10. Always remember that Jesus told us the story is about him; you haven’t finished understanding the narrative as a Christian until you see how it helps you to understand and know and love him

 

Notes:

  1. This list is compiled from various sources including How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, and An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Kostenberger and Patterson.

9 thoughts on “Some Guidelines for Reading Old Testament Narrative

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  4. Thanks for the reminders. I'm preparing to preach in 1 Kings and these are great things to consider as I do so.

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