Document 186975

How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth Lesson 5 “The Proper Use of Hebrew Covenant NarraAves” Objec&ve -­‐ To understand how Hebrew narraAve works in order to understand its message for us today. Materials • The Bible. • Book -­‐ Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, third ediAon (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2003). PAGE 1 OF 25
• David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell, Narra7ve in the Hebrew Bible, in The Oxford Bible Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). • ArAcles. • Lectures. • The Internet. Procedures 1. To explore the nature of Hebrew narraAves. 1.1.
To explore the three levels of the Biblical narraAve. 1.1.1.
The metanarraAve. 1.1.2.
The story of God redeeming a people for his name. 1.1.3.
Individual narraAves that make up the content of the other two levels. 1.2.
To explain what Hebrew narraAves are not. 2. To explore the characterisAcs of Hebrew narraAve. 2.1.
The narrator. 2.2.
The scene or scenes. 2.3.
The characters. 2.4.
The dialogue. PAGE 2 OF 25
The plot. 3. Features of structure. 3.1.
Composed for oral presentaAon. 3.2.
Use of RepeAAon. 3.3.
Use of Inclusion. 4. Reading between the lines. 5. Some cauAons. 5.1.
Avoid allegorizing. 5.2.
Avoid decontextualizaAon. 5.3.
Avoid selecAvity. 5.4.
Avoid moralizing. 5.5.
Avoid personalizing. 5.6.
Avoid misappropriaAon. 5.7.
Avoid false appropriaAon. 5.8.
Avoid false combinaAons. 5.9.
Avoid redefiniAon. !
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The most common type of literature in the Bible is narraAve. Over 40% of the Old Testament is narraAve and the Old Testament makes up three-­‐quarters of the whole Bible. Books like Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah and Haggai are almost enArely composed of narraAve. Other books such as Exodus, Numbers, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, also contain major sustained porAons of narraAve within them. It should be noted that large porAons of the New Testament are also narraAve in nature, but here we are concerned with specifically Hebrew narraAve. The focus in this lesson is intended to guide us toward a good understanding of how Hebrew narraAve works so that we may read our Bibles more knowledgeably and with a greater appreciaAon for God’s story for us.1 In recent years there have been a number of efforts to direct us to look to the Bible from a Hebrew perspecAve. One of those, that many at our church acAvely been a part of, and have found extremely inspiring has been the work of Ray Vander Laan. “Ray’s preaching 1 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, third edition (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 89.
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and teaching ministry is focused on understanding the Bible in light of the historical and cultural context in which God placed it. This perspecAve on the Bible highlights God’s call for His people to be a transforming influence on their culture. Vander Laan uses the research of the scholars in the fields of archaeology, history, and Biblical study as tools to explore the Biblical text deeply. His gils, experAse, and calling are to link that cultural informaAon and the Bible so that its message applies to our lives today in very pracAcal ways.”2 The intense teaching of Ray Vander Laan has inspired people to have a new appreciaAon for texts that have long been neglected, misunderstood, or even rejected, as no longer relevant for the church of today. Exploring the Ameless message of the Hebrew Scriptures does require some effort on our part, but that effort is rewarded exponenAally as these ancient texts come to life with a vibrancy and power that impacts us to the very core of our being. Understanding what the original readers will have heard from these texts not only impacts our understanding of the texts in their original semng it will 2 http://rvl-­‐
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also impact, deeply, and powerfully, our understanding of the New Testament documents as we recognize that most of them rely heavily on the Old Testament and these stories and teachings represent the foundaAon on which the hope of the Gospel message rests.3 God prepared this special people, with a special culture, to bring his special message to the world. Despite the fact that the words of the Old Testament were wrinen thousands of years ago, when we will take the Ame and the effort to allow the original message of God to form before us there is tremendous power and beauty for us as we recognize the voice of our Creator/Father. Our concern in this lesson is to help parAcularly with Hebrew narraAve; to understand how it works in order that we will be able to glean the great richness embedded in Old Testament stories. The promises, and the calling of God, were given to Israel in the context of history. When interpreAng a passage from Hebrew narraAve it is crucial that we place it clearly within its historical context. Failure to do so leads to improper interpretaAons and even to us claiming a 3 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-­‐breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. NIV
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message as Biblical that is not Biblical at all.4 It is not only recognizing the historical context that is important when we come to Hebrew NarraAve, but also the nature of this literary form, and how its original audience will have understood it from their expectaAons of this form that is of value to us. NarraAves, by their very nature are stories; Hebrew narraAves are purposeful stories that retell historical events of the past which are intended to give meaning and direcAon to people living in the present. This is not a unique aspect of Hebrew narraAve alone it is the purpose of stories in general in any cultural semng. Despite similariAes, there are major differences between Biblical narraAves and other stories. 1. The Biblical narraAves are inspired by the Holy Spirit. 2. We need to recognize that the story being told is not so much our story as it is the story of God and it becomes our story as God gives it to us. The story of the Bible is the ulAmate story because it is about the ulAmate;5 it is about God and his relaAonship with his 4 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 89-­‐90.
5 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 90.
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creature, created in his image to proclaim his nature to the rest of his creaAon. To more fully appreciate a Hebrew story it is helpful to know some basic things about Biblical narraAves -­‐ what they are and how they work. At the very basic level Bible narraAves tell us about things that have happened in the past. NarraAves have three basic parts: characters, plot and plot resoluAon. Most narraAves presuppose some type of tension or conflict that needs to be resolved. In tradiAonal literary terms there are characters that are central in the story: they are the “protagonist” (the primary person in the story), the “antagonist” (the person who brings about the conflict or the tension), and someAmes the “agonist” (the other major character or characters who are involved in the struggle). In the Biblical story God is the “protagonist,” Satan (or someAmes evil people or powers ) is the “antagonist.” God’s people are the “agonists,” in the Biblical story. The basic plot of the Biblical story is that Yahweh created a people, to bear his image and name, to be stewards of the earth that he created for them. An enemy entered into the story and persuaded the people to bear his “image” rather than the image of God and thus PAGE 8 OF 25
to thus estrange themselves from God. The plot resoluAon is the story of God seeking the redempAon of his people from the enemy’s clutches, the restoraAon of them to bear his image, and finally the restoraAon of the heavens and the earth to God’s original intent.6 It will help you in your understanding of the Old Testament narraAves if you recognize that the story is being told on three levels. The top level, the third level is the one that has just been described above. This is olen referred to as the “metanarraAve” and in the context of Biblical history has to do with the enAre universal plan of God being worked out in his creaAon. Key aspects of the plot at this level are such things as the fall of humanity, the power and the universal presence of sin, the need for redempAon that is brought about through the incarnaAon of Christ and his sacrifice. The second level of the plot is the story of God redeeming a people for his name, consAtuted by their entering into covenant with Him. Finally, there is the first level. At this level we find hundreds of individual narraAves 6 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 90.
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that make up the other two levels. It will be here that we will primarily focus our efforts.7 An awareness of the hierarchy of a narraAve should help us in our understanding and applicaAon of the Old Testament stories. An example of this hierarchy can be seen in the words of Jesus at John 5:398 where Jesus refers to the top level of narraAve (third level) in which his entrance into creaAon ulAmate atonement, and subjecAon of all creaAon to him is the climax of the central plot. In John he was obviously not speaking about every short individual passage of the Old Testament. What Jesus is saying in John’s Gospel is that the Scriptures, in their enArety, bear witness to him and his divine mission.9 We need to take some Ame to talk about what Hebrew narraAves are not. 1. They are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings. It is certainly true that there may be aspects of Hebrew narraAves that are not east to understand, but we should 7 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 91.
8 You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. NRSV
9 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 90-­‐91.
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always make the iniAal assumpAon that these texts had meaning to their original audience. They are not allegories, despite the fact that there have been some Jewish commentators who have interpreted them as such (i.e. Philo). 2. Individual Hebrew narraAves in the Old Testament are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the narraAves is to retell what God did in the history of his people and not to offer examples of right or wrong moral behavior. It is correct that we can recognize from the story of Jacob and Esau the negaAve results of parental favoriAsm. This is however, not the purpose of that narraAve in Genesis. Its purpose is to tell us how Abraham’s family line was carried through Jacob and not Esau. It serves as one more example of God not following human cultural norms. The reason for the narraAve is not to illustrate the negaAve consequences of sibling rivalry.10 3. It should be noted that despite the fact that Old Testament Hebrew narraAves do not necessarily teach morality directly, they olen do illustrate what is taught explicitly, and categorically elsewhere. This means that these types of text represent an implicit 10 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 92.
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kind of teaching that illustrates the corresponding explicit teachings taught elsewhere in Scripture. An example of this can be seen in 2 Samuel 11 where you will not find an explicit statement indicaAng that David’s adultery with Bathsheba was wrong. You are expected to know that it is wrong from where it has already been taught explicitly (Exodus 20:14). This passage certainly teaches about the harmful results of adultery, but it does not systemaAcally teach about the morality of adultery.11 There are some characterisAcs that are unique to Hebrew narraAve and if these are recognized they can greatly enhance our ability to hear the story from the perspecAve that was originally intended. To illustrate this supposiAon we will examine Genesis 37-­‐50 which primarily focuses on the story of Joseph. As we begin, it is criAcal to pay anenAon to the narrator. There are two very important things that we need to know about the narrator’s role in the unfolding story. 1. He is the one who chooses what to say in the story. This person never shares all that he knows, nor does he usually comment, explain, or evaluate during the unfolding of the story itself. 11 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 92-­‐93.
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His role is to tell the story in such a way that the reader, or hearer, is drawn into the story so that he can see things for himself. Secondly, the the narrator is responsible for the perspecAve, or point of view, from which the story is told. UlAmately, he will provide the divine point of view. Very olen perspecAve comes by way of one of the characters in the story. Note that Joseph provides this in our story (50:2012). It is important as you read the various stories from the Old Testament that you constantly are on the look out for how the inspired narrator discloses the point of view from which the story is to be understood.13 Rather than building the story around the characters the predominant mode of narraAon in Hebrew storytelling is “scenic.” This might be likened to the way a movie or television drama tells a story through a succession of scenes. Each scene has an integrity of its own and yet the progressive build up of scenes makes up the story as a whole. This can be seen in the story of Joseph as we move from scene to scene and see the story being built up. There is the part of 12 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. NRSV
13 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 93-­‐94.
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the story where Joseph is clearly the favorite of his father and this provides the reason for the brothers to hate him. This scene quickly shils and we are given two further scenes in which Joseph recounts two dreams which then sets up the next scene where he searches for his brothers and in the midst of the story we have the arrival of the Midianites that provide divine deliverance for Joseph and allow the story to conAnue onward. It is the scenes that act separately, and together to make the story work.14 In the scenic nature of Hebrew storytelling, the characters are the central element. It is important to note that in Hebrew characterizaAon there is no interest in creaAng a visual image of the character for the reader. When physical elements are give, for instance Ehud’s being lel-­‐handed (Judges 3:15), we need to immediately ask why? In characterizaAon two features stand out: 1. Characters olen appear either in parallel or in contrast. In the narraAve we are following from Genesis, Joseph stands out in contrast to his brothers and this feature lies at the heart of the unfolding narraAve. 2. The predominant mode of characterizaAons 14 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 94-­‐95.
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come in the words and acAons of the character and not in the narrators descripAons of the character. We see this in the incident of PoAphar’s wife where the moral character of Joseph comes alive, and his moral character lands him in prison (Genesis 39). His highest level of character is demonstrated in the way that he deals with his brothers in chapters 42-­‐45. He weeps for them, but he will not reveal himself to them unAl they are tested and they prove that their character has changed.15 The next feature that is crucial for us to understand about Hebrew narraAve is that dialogue is a crucial feature of this story form and also one of the chief methods of characterizaAon. There are three things that we need to look for in the rhythm between dialogue and narraAve: 1. The point of dialogue is olen a significant clue as to the plot of the story and the character of the speaker. Note how this plays out in the story of Joseph with the brothers having one reacAon (that of hatred) and Jacob having a different reacAon (Jacob “kept the maner in mind” 37:11: this is a narraAve clue that the audience should do the same). 2. “ContrasAve dialogue olen 15 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 95.
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funcAons as a way of characterizaAon as well.” An example of this can be seen in the contrasAng length of Joseph’s reply (39:8-­‐9) to the very brief invitaAon of PoAphar’s wife (39:7). 3. It is very olen the case that the narrator will emphasize the crucial parts of the narraAve by having one of the characters give a summary of the narraAve. This happens in the speeches of the brothers at 42:30-­‐34 and 44:18-­‐34 in the speech of Judah. These repeAAve secAons are important.16 A narraAve will not work without having a plot and a resoluAon to that plot. This means that any narraAve must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, which will lead to the buildup of dramaAc tension that is eventually released. It is normally the case that the plot is thrust forward by some form of conflict that generates a desire for a resoluAon. SomeAmes there can be subplots within a narraAve that vie for anenAon such as in the story of Joseph, but the central plot has to do with how Israel ended up in Egypt. At Ames the 16 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 96.
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narrator will slow down the speed of the plot and this can olen provide an indicaAon of the narrators point of view.17 In ways that most modern readers cannot really appreciate Hebrew narraAve used a whole series of structural features to capture the anenAon of the hearers and keep them focused on the narraAve. It is important to recognize that the Hebrew narraAves of the Old Testament were primarily designed for hearers and not for readers. “RepeAAon” was one of the aspects of Hebrew storytelling that was used to keep the hearers focused and to help maintain the hearers anenAon. The use of “key words” was another mechanism which was olen combined with repeAAon. In Genesis 37 the word “brother” occurs fileen Ames. The conflict dimension of the plot is carried forward by the repeAAon of the word “hated” (37: 4, 5, 8) and the word “jealous” (37:11). RepeAAon can also be used as a mechanism for resuming a narraAve aler an interrupAon or an interlude. A technical form of repeAAon is “inclusion” where a narraAve begins and is brought to a conclusion in the same way. An example of this occurs with the brothers of Joseph bowing to him at 17 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 96-­‐97.
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37:6-­‐8 and 50:18. It is crucial to look for the presence of God as the narraAve unfolds. It is important to be constantly aware of God’s presence in the story.18 Another aspect of Hebrew storytelling that is so important for gaining that deep color and richness of the story is to be able to read between the lines. The book of Ruth provides a good example of the need for this. Many read the book of Ruth as if it is some kind of Hebrew love story, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. This is where the admoniAon of people like Ray Vander Laan needs to echo in our ears as we read. We need to ask quesAons as we read the text. QuesAons like why something needs to be repeated over and over again. Why is the book of Ruth in the canon, what is the message we are to get from this book and where is God in the story? There are lots of quesAons that need to be asked about individual aspects of the story too. At its heart, the book of Ruth is a story about the kindness of God, but it is also criAcal for us as ChrisAans because it traces the lineage of David, and through David the lineage of Jesus. In all of this, more of the nature of God is 18 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 97-­‐98.
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revealed. This is very different from looking for hidden meanings. These meanings may be hidden from us today, in our Ame, and in our culture, but they will have been plain and clear for the original Jewish, Eastern, audience to see. This is where we need to clearly hear from people like Ray Vander Laan as they remind us of this. We need to be able to learn the lessons that are explicit in the text as well as those things that are implicitly taught. The explicit message is usually quite clear and easy to see. Finding the things that are implicitly taught requires skill, hard work, cauAon, and a prayerful respect for the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the text. Some things that are implicit in the book of Ruth are her conversion (Ruth 1:16); and that Boaz was a righteous man who kept the Mosaic law (Ruth 2:3-­‐13, 22; 3:10-­‐12; 4:9-­‐10). The message that foreign women are in the ancestry of David, and by extension, in the ancestry of the Messiah (Ruth 4:17-­‐21). We are made aware of the excepAonally faithful community of people living in Bethlehem. This contrasts with other parts of Israel that the original audience will have been aware were very different in their obedience and faithfulness to God. We can see this contrast clearly by reading Judges and recognizing that PAGE 19 OF 25
this is part of the contextual background for the book of Ruth. Just a word of cauAon here: implicit is in no way secret. Implicit means that the message is capable of being understood from what is said for person of that culture, and the Ame when it was originally delivered and for us today, with some hard work and diligence.19 Some final cauAons for us to be reminded regarding are those that are olen commined by interpreters of the Old Testament stories and that is allegorizing, decontextualizing, selecAvity, moralizing, personalizing, misappropriaAon, false appropriaAon, false combinaAon, redefiniAon and making the stories about ethics. Below are some principles to aid in avoiding the pitalls listed above. !
19 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, pp. 98-­‐102.
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Principles for Interpre&ng Hebrew Narra&ves 1.
An Old Testament narraAve usually does not teach a doctrine. 2.
An Old Testament narraAve usually illustrates a doctrine, or doctrines taught proposiAonally elsewhere. 3.
NarraAves record what happened -­‐ not necessarily what should have happened, or what ought to happen every Ame. Therefore, not every narraAve has an individual idenAfiable moral applicaAon. 4.
What people do in narraAves is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite. 5.
Most of the characters in the Old Testament narraAves are far from perfect -­‐ as are their acAons. 6.
We are not always told at the end of the narraAve whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly, and categorically, elsewhere in Scripture. 7.
All narraAves are selecAve and incomplete by their nature. Not all the details are always given (cf. John 21:25). What does appear in the narraAve is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know. PAGE 21 OF 25
NarraAves are not wrinen to answer all our theological quesAons. They have parAcular, specific, limited purposes, and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways. 9.
NarraAves may teach either explicitly (by clearly staAng something), or implicitly (by clearly implying something without staAng it.). 10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narraAves.20 !
20 Gordon D. Fee, and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 106.
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As we approach the study of the Bible it is important for us to recognize the type of literature that we are reading and the most common type of literature in the Bible is narraAve and in parAcular Hebrew narraAve. This type of literature expects us to approach it in a certain way. That would have been the way the original author and audience will have approached the story. This is olen dramaAcally different than we today, especially in the west would approach a story. Hebrew narraAve has certain inherent traits that those hearing it are expected to be aware of as they listen. One is that, for the most part the literature is composed to be heard orally. They are wrinen to change the present by recounAng this story from the past. Biblical narraAves are inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell the story of God to his people. NarraAves share certain traits such characters, plot and plot resoluAon. They share certain characters such as the antagonist (God), the protagonists (Satan or evil) and olen an agonist (God’s people). The purpose of the metanarraAve of the Old Testament is to PAGE 23 OF 25
reveal the story of God redeeming his creaAon. It does this through his people and this story is told using the stories of hundreds of individual characters. We must avoid the tendency to allegorize, search for hidden meanings, moral lessons and such things in narraAves. Their primary purpose is to tell the story of God. Hebrew does this using scenes with characters that are central within these scenes. The dialogue within stories will olen reveal to us clues as to the plot of a story. It is important to be able to read between the lines in Hebrew narraAve, which is not the same as looking for hidden meanings. They may be hidden for us but they will have not been hidden for the original audience. We need to look for both the explicit as well as the implicit lessons in the text. Please note the cauAons at the end to help us avoid misinterpreAng the Old Testament stories and creaAng meanings that they were never intended to convey. !
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1. Why do you think stories are important for people? 2. How can stories shape people? 3. How do you think Hebrew stories differ from our stories today? 4. How do stories that are designed to be read differ from stories that are meant to be told orally? 5. Why do you think God chose to use stories to reach us? 6. How can things like archaeology, history and Biblical studies assist our understanding of the stories of the Bible? 7. Why do you think God layered the stories that have come down to us in the Bible? 8. How can you find the story of God in a story? 9. Do Biblical stories apply to me today? Why or why not? 10. How is God the primary character of the stories of the Bible? 11. Why do we need to be cauAous when reading Biblical narraAves? 12. How can we bring the old stories of the Bible alive for us today?
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