Interpreting Historical Narrative

            People have different ideas about how to interpret the different stories in the Bible. Some view them as fairy tales or folk lore that parents told their children to make them behave. Others view the stories in the Bible as parables that are meant to teach something to their readers about God. Yet, this is not how the narratives present themselves in their book context or in the context of the rest of the Scriptures. So, what are historical narratives, and how are they to be interpreted?

Historical narratives have all the elements of a story:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Irony
  • Conflict
  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Climax
  • Resolution

Yet, historical narratives have all the elements of history:

  • Real names
  • Real places
  • Real events
  • Genealogies
  • Real people

It is clear from the content and the context that the historical narratives are meant to be historical events told in story form to prove a point. It is clear not only to young children, and this writer, but also to hermeneutical experts like Duvall and Hays,

“To some people, the terms narrative and story imply the events described may not be true, historical events. We do not use these terms in this way, for we believe that the narrative described does describe true events. However, this literature is more than just history.”[1]

They believe this literature could be also effectively called “theological history”.[2] As these historical stories reflect truth about God. However, most liberal scholars do not have an accurate view on how to interpret these stories because they have a strong hatred and bias against God and miracles due to their unproven, unwavering belief in naturalism. Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser put it accurately,

“Unfortunately, the reverse system seems to be in vogue in scholarship at the present moment: the text is guilty by virtue of its divine claims, miracles and talk about God… the text is impugned as full of all sorts of impossibilities due to its nature of being from God himself.”[3]

The first part in interpreting historical narratives is to put aside the preconceived ideas, hostile or positive, and let the text speak for itself. Then look at the context of the passage to determine its meaning. Then see if there are any immediate commentators that interpret the text to see if your interpretation is correct.

This can be the case with the Genesis creation account. Moses interpreted this event to be a real event. He gives a genealogy for Adam and his descendants, a location, and real names. He also lists a general overview on how God made the heavens and the earth, a flashback in chapter two on the sixth day, a prohibition from God to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and a look at the majesty and miraculous power of God. The theological lessons are that mankind is created in the image of God and have inherent worth, God is the one we should obey, God created marriage to reflect His nature, God views marriage as good, God views original creation as good. The original commentators of the creation account being real and therefore its lessons were real were Moses, Joshua, David, the other prophets, and Jesus. Time keeps me from listing all the references to this but it is clear that we have to leave our biases aside and let the historical narratives speak for themselves.

I hope this has blessed you. Please check out the resources section for yourself and buy my books on how to better interpret the scriptures. Lord bless you.


[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 2nd Editions. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2005). 306

[2] Full Ibid.

[3] Walter C. Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relanent?, (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Academic, 2001). 27.


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