How to Study the Bible (Narrative)

by Sean Perron

by Sean Perron

How to Study Biblical Narrative – audio.mp3

Why care about stories?

  • Stories are memorable.
  • Stories involve real people with real lives.
  • About 60% of the Bible is in story format.
  • Biblical stories are meant to persuade.

The biblical stories are not meant to be cute. They are meant to persuade. They are meant to lodge truths deep into our hearts. They must be reckoned with. They are not frivolous tales.

Trouble with the Tales:

  • There are usually no direct commands given.
  • How does this relate to my tomorrow?
  • Are the details important?
  • Is this descriptive? Or is this prescriptive?

Tips for Interpreting Narrative:

1) Notice themes highlighted throughout the story

  • OT – Judges 2:11-13; Judges 3:7, 12; Judges 4:1; 6:1 –  Everyone did what was right in their own eyes
  • This is not a good time in the history of Israel. This should give us a big warning before we go through Judges and begin to interpret it. When you read the book of Judges, ask yourself – is this something that is ideal? Is this the best course of action for me to take? Or is this been tainted by the rampant sin throughout the land.
  • NT – Acts 1:6-8; 28  – Great Commission launched by Christ. Acts 28 ends with Paul in Rome preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. Ask yourself, how does this part of Acts related to the expansion of the kingdom? The signs and miracles are confirmations of the gospel. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) is designed to bring unity to the church and spread the gospel among the gentiles. These things will help inform you when reading the story.

2) Notice characters mentioned in the story

  • OT – Gideon and the Fleece. Judges 6:11-40

There are many people who read this story and interpret Gideon’s actions as a perfectly acceptable way to seek God’s will for your life. Test the Lord by asking him to show you a sign. Place a fleece out at night and let if it is wet, then you shall know it is God’s will for your life. Or perhaps not a fleece, but a billboard or a cloud. I confess that I used to think this way. Lord, if it is your will for me to date Jennifer, then let me see a bright spot in the clouds when I come around the curve on the road. Or if it is not your will, then let my tire be flat on my way to visit her. But Gideon was a fearful man who lacked faith. Only hold out a fleece if you lack faith and even then it is a bad idea. Gideon was hiding in fear when God found him (Judges 6:11). The author of Judges does not want us to follow the example of Gideon

  • NT – Ananias and Sapphira
  • Acts 4:32- 37 – Good example of Generosity.
  • Acts 5:1-11 – Bad example of Generosity.
  • The main point is not that you have to sell everything you own. The main point is to be generous

Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-47. In these texts, members of the church generously gave up property in order to “hold all things in common.” Those who were wealthy sold their possessions and brought the proceeds to the Apostles in order for them to allocate the funds to the needy. Should modern churches follow the example found in these two passages and sell their possessions in order to distribute money evenly among church members? It appears the primary application from 2:44-45 is that the church should be willing to give freely to the church. This is confirmed by the blessing of God on these actions. Chapter 2 concludes with verse 47 saying “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The narrative portrays these events in a very positive light. There is also a character highlighted as a good example at the end of chapter 4 in verses 36-37. Joseph is apparently held up in honor by the Apostles and is called a “son of encouragement.” He seems to be portrayed as a positive example to the community due to the fact that he sold a field and brought the money to the Apostle’s feet. If these were the only textual indicators found within the narrative, one might conclude that these actions are totally prescriptive. However, a full reading of the context shows this is not the case. A negative example is given in chapter 5 through the characters Ananias and Sapphira. Luke is careful to note that Ananias and Sapphira were not required to sell their land and give it to the church. On the contrary, in 5:4 the Apostle Peter states it belonged to Ananias and was his to do with as he chose.   The prescriptive nature of this text is not on the selling of possessions, rather it is on generosity.

3) Notice comments made by the storyteller

  • NT – Acts 8:14-17
  • Should we all be asking God to baptize us with the Spirit after our conversion? (See Ephesians 1:13)
  • NT – Acts 8:14-17
  • Should we interpret the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as normative for the Christian? Should we all be asking God to baptize us with the Spirit after our conversion? This takes place four different times in Acts – Jerusalem, Samaria, Gentiles Cornelius and the Ephesian disciples of John. In each one of these instances, there is a specific reason why the Holy Spirit fell on them. Luke makes a comment to show the unusual nature of these events and the overarching theme of the Great Commission is at work. The same gospel delivered in Jerusalem is now being spread throughout the world. This is groundbreaking for the Jews and unprecedented in history. It is not normative nor is there a particular pattern being laid. (See Ephesians 1:13).

4) Notice patterns repeated throughout the story

  • NT – Baptism is only for believers.
  • Acts 2:4; 8:34-40; 9:18; 16:15; 10:47; Matthew 28:19-20
  • When it comes to the book of Acts, it is significant that every occurrence of baptism is only for those who have consciously placed their faith in Jesus. The example in Acts 2:41 is that baptism is for believers only and it does not mention anyone other than “those who received his word.” In Acts 8:34-40 recounts the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who was evangelized by Philip and was only baptized after Philip shared the Scriptures with him. This is also true of Saul’s baptism in 9:18, Lydia’s baptism in 16:15 and the baptism of the gentiles with Cornelius in Acts 10:47

                                Are there any passages of Scripture that would show evidence to disregard this pattern? Some have pointed to the “household baptism” of Acts 16:33 as evidence for infant baptism. Yet the text never says infants were baptized. The immediate context actually demonstrates that everyone baptized in the household was able to place conscious faith in the gospel. The whole family “rejoiced” in verse 34 and Peter exhorted the entire household to believe in verse 31. The household baptisms actually point in the direction of believer’s baptism. Second, baptism is directly tied to the great commission and cannot be separated from conscious faith in Christ. Matthew 28:19-20 includes baptism in the great commission alongside the imperative to teach everything Jesus commanded. The church will always be in a state of missionary endeavors and focus on spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. Allison rightly points this out by saying, “New disciples of Jesus— and the church must be constantly making such— are to be baptized and taught the Christian faith, and infants are not capable of following the Lord and learning all that he has taught the church to obey.”

Two Lenses for viewing Narrative:

1) Zoomed in:

  • Authors comments
  • Good and bad examples

2) Zoomed out.

  • Recurring themes
  • Repeating patterns


Small Group Questions:

  1. Was there anything in tonight’s lesson that stuck out to you in a fresh way?
  2. Have you ever thought God revealed his will through signs like he did with Gideon?
  3. Have you thought much about baptism after conversion? Have you been baptized? If so, explain. If not, is anything preventing you?
  4. How are you doing on sharing with others and being generous? Do you find yourself clinging to worldly possessions or willing to give them away freely?

One thought on “How to Study the Bible (Narrative)

  1. Pingback: How to Study the Bible « Unspoken

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