Five Ways to Identify Historical Narrative

            Last week we discussed how to interpret historical narrative using the creation account as a model text. This week I want to show you how to identify a historical narrative using five easy steps. This process is called genre identification. Genre identification uses the five c’s by looking at the content, context, congregation, critical thinking, and consulting the experts of the passage in question. We will again use Genesis 1 as our model passage.

Content

  • Does the passage contain elements of narrative: plot, main character/s, conflict, action, protagonist, antagonist, irony, and resolution? (Not all narratives contain antagonists, or every aspect of a story).
  • Does the passage in question contain elements of history: geography, genealogy, names of real people, etc. (again not all elements need to be listed for this to be historical)?
  • Does the grammar reflect historical narrative? The historical narrative typically uses the words “and then” repeatedly to denote a series of events (in Hebrew it is called the vav consecutive).[1] Genesis 1 is a textbook example of this, while also using a prepositional phrase to note the beginning of time.[2] When the author wants to break from the typical pattern of “and then” he will use the past tense/perfect tense to make a point. Genesis 1:10 does that nicely.[3]

Context

  • How the rest of the book uses the passage is also a key to determining if the passage is historical narrative.
  • One can see this in the immediate context of Genesis 1, as Genesis 2 takes a flashback to describe in detail the events that happened on the sixth day of creation to set up for what happens in chapter 3.
  • The book context clearly shows everything results from the first act of creation and in no way states it was anything else that what really happened.

Congregation

  • As noted last week, checking the immediate audience is one key to properly identifying the genre of a passage. See Interpreting Historical Narratives Part II.
  • The most compelling argument for the Genesis 1 account to be interpreted as historical narrative outside of the evidence already given, is where Moses attributed the reason for keeping the Sabbath is because the LORD rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth for six days (Exodus 20:11).
  • As noted last week, other Old Testament passages point to Genesis 1 being interpreted by the writers as historical.

Two Other Identifiers

Two other ways to identify a genre is to consult experts and to do some critical thinking. These two identifiers go hand in hand for a few reasons.

  • Not all experts are equal. Some have done more extensive study than others.
  • All experts are biased one way or another.
  • One has to use their critical thinking skills that lines up with all the other evidence when consulting the experts.
  • Genesis 1 is the most highly contested passage because of the evolution myth, presupposed ideas, and historical criticism.

Some things to keep in mind when using critical thinking.

  • Internal evidence is to be preferred above external evidence.
  • You can only work with the evidence you have, (you can’t use the Document hypothesis that breaks the text un into different imaginary authors, because we have no manuscripts that differ greatly, and we do not have manuscripts that reflect the theory the text evolved overtime).
  • The goal is authorial intent, not what makes us feel better or satisfies people hostile to the text.

Applying Consulting the Experts and Critical thinking to Genesis 1

There was an expert named Dr. Steven Boyd, who was a noted Hebrew scholar. He did an extensive study on the use of the preterit verbs in historical narratives as compared to poetry. He discovered narratives used a high percentage of preterit verbs in historical narrative, some including 80% of verbs being in the preterit, while poetry had little to no preterit verbs.[4] He did a calculation comparing Genesis 1 to this data and the result concluded Genesis 1, with almost a 100% certainty, to be historical narrative and not poetry.[5]

When determining if the historical narratives in the Bible are factual or mythological. Dr. John N. Oswalt actually studied The Bible Among the Myths and concluded Genesis 1 taught, “There is only one God; God is the sole creator of all that is; since this world is not an emanation from him, it has a real existence of its own; God has revealed himself to humans primarily in the context of their unique experiences in space and time…”[6] Mythology on the other hand teaches, “So gods are humans and natural forces; nature is divine and divinity has human-like characteristics; humanity is divine and is one with nature.”[7] In other words, the Bible is the opposite of myth. Evolution has more in common with mythology as it tries to understand the world through nature; just like all other false religions do.

Dr. Kenneth Gentry has five other indicators that prove Genesis is history: Jewish interest in history; Moses’ concern for the upcoming generation not to be idolatrous; the structure of Genesis being a collection of history or “genealogy”; the style of Genesis’ grammar pointing strongly, a practical 100% certainty, to Genesis being historical narrative; and the purpose of Moses setting up the creation account for the real history of how the Israelites came to exist.[8]

Conclusion

To identify a passage’s genre, one has to consult the five c’s of genre identification: content, context, congregation, critical thinking, and consulting the experts. We put Genesis 1 through those texts and have found the creation account to be historical narrative that Moses and God intended the reader to interpret the material as historical. This text can be applied to other passages of scripture and can accurately determine to what genre it belongs.  For more in-depth resources on how to interpret the Bible, consult the resources page. Check out the books at amazon.com. They will help you to know and love Jesus more. Lord bless you.   


[1] Russel T. Fuller and Kyoungwon Choi, Invitation to Biblical Hebrew Syntax: An Intermediate Grammar, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kregel Academic, 2017) 27.

[2] Full Ibid.

[3] Full Ibid.

[4] Steven Boyd, “Proper Meaning of Genesis 1:1-2:3”, Dr. Don DeYoung, Thousands … Not Billions: Challenging an Icon of Evolution Questioning the Age of the Earth, (Green Forest, Arizona, 2005) 164,165.

[5] Ibid. 168.

[6] John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2009). 23.

[7] Ibid. 48.

[8] Kenneth Gentry, As it Is Written: The Genesis Account Literary or Literal?, (Green Forest, Arizona, Master Books, 2017). 63-88.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s