Reading Old Testament Stories Well

George Guthrie, in his interview of Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, concludes with the following points that will help us read, understand and apply the stories of the Old Testament (Read the Bible for Life, p. 93):

  1. God is the main hero of the Old Testament stories.
  2. The Old Testament stories parallel our lives in many ways.
  3. The Old Testament stories have strategic tension crafted in.
  4. Through their stories, the Old Testament writers were writing history, reinforcing ideas about the covenant between God and people, and seeking to write beautifully.
  5. The Old Testament stories have a structure.
  6. Context is vitally important for understanding an Old Testament story.
  7. Sometimes Old Testament characters teach us what we should not do.

The following ten principles can guide us also in getting to the heart of every Old Testament story. Taken from Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (2nd ed.), pp. 83-84.

  1. An Old Testament narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
  2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
  3. Narratives record what happened – not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen everytime. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral of the story.
  4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite.
  5. Most of the characters in Old Testament narratives are far from perfect and their actions are, too.
  6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge that on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in the Scripture.
  7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given. What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
  8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions. They have particular, specific limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere, in other ways.
  9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
  10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

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