Thoughts On the Bible As Story

– The first thing to note when thinking of the Bible as story is that, by modern standards, it bears little to no resemblance to a story. Caution is in order, since it is very easy to simply relegate Scripture to the status of ‘story’ and thereby make it that much easier to be held at arms length.

– For example, there is little focus on the emotional/psychological states of the characters – the texts tend to focus on the external actions of the characters and the consequences of said actions. There isn’t a linear plot – while there are indeed large trajectories present in Scripture, these don’t really take the form of dramatic plots (exceptions do exist, of course), they don’t really take the form of a story with a centralized plot.

– In fact, a good deal of Scripture isn’t really narrative in any sense – one would be hard-pressed to fit Leviticus or Paul’s epistles into the category of narrative. Other parts are more easily seen as story – Esther, Ruth and a good deal of the Old Testament definitely fit into some kind of story category.

– It may actually be a bit more productive to think in terms of ‘trajectory’ rather than ‘story’, considering that Scripture has its telos in Christ, a fact which is seen by reading the Bible backwards, as it were.

– This seems to make a good deal of sense to me, since there are multiple trajectories which can be traced in the Scriptures. The Messianic themes, for example, seem better explained as trajectories, paths towards an end, than as stories.

– This raises the issue of the role of canon, which isn’t something I’m really informed enough about to comment on other than I see it being fairly significant.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts On the Bible As Story

  1. Chris Falter November 13, 2014 / 7:50 pm

    Useful and thought-provoking post, Josh. To me, the story metaphor carries a few key ideas, among them:

    * God has been acting in history, and the Scriptures capture that interaction between God, His people, and His creation.

    * That story does have a telos, or trajectory, as you state, even though it is not a single novel-like narrative. Or perhaps we can say the trajectory/telos is multi-faceted.

    * Not every verse in the Scripture is intended to be interpreted as in a historical/literal/scientific fashion.

    * God is *still* interacting with us; He is still fashioning His story. It’s not all about adopting a philosophy.

    * God did not give us the Scriptures with the primary goal of prompting us to devise a systematic theology. I wouldn’t claim that systematic theology is useless; however, it must, like anything else we do in God’s name, be seen as useful but contingent.

    I would be interested in further explorations of the “Scripture as story” theme.

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    • whitefrozen November 13, 2014 / 9:10 pm

      I don’t really disagree with any of your points – the thrust of my post is more on how to approach the category of ‘story’ a bit more critically, instead of simply adopting the term and bandying it about. I rather had in mind more recent uses of the term by more progressive (and also by conservative) circles – the term ‘story’ has become a buzzword that is invoked, rather than critically examined. For example, a topic NT Wright takes up in his (excellent) book ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ is how, exactly, a story can be said to be ‘authoritative’, which is surely something we want to be able to say of Scripture – an overview can be found here (it’s basically the same as the book): http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

      ‘There are various ways in which stories might be thought to possess authority. Sometimes a story is told so that the actions of its characters may be imitated. It was because they had that impression that some early Fathers, embarrassed by the possibilities inherent in reading the Old Testament that way, insisted upon allegorical exegesis. More subtly, a story can be told with a view to creating a generalized ethos which may then be perpetuated this way or that. The problem with such models, popular in fact though they are within Christian reading of scripture, is that they are far too vague: they constitute a hermeneutical grab-bag or lucky dip. Rather, I suggest that stories in general, and certainly the biblical story, has a shape and a goal that must be observed and to which appropriate response must be made.’

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