The Bible as Literature

Dr Loken taught us last night about how to read the Bible as literature. It also seems to me that this is one of his favorite subjects. His dissertation involved these very same concepts as they applied to the Book of Nehemiah. His focus tonight was on the narrative form which makes up most of the Bible.

The basic idea seems to be about analyzing the 5 elements of narrative literature (setting, characters, plot,  point of view, style) in order to gain more understanding of the author’s intended meaning. The five rules that he laid out for us are:

1. Investigate every detail of setting that the author includes.
2. Analyze each character and determine how he contributes to the message of the story.
3. Be aware of how scenes work together to form the plot.
4. Determine what the narrator is trying to communicate to the reader.
5. Explore whether or not the structure of the story offers any clues to the author’s intended meaning.

He also gave us a few examples of how these types of questions can lead to a better interpretation and understanding of the Scriptures. Here are a few that I wrote down:

1. Setting – By investigating the setting of the Nativity story, you discover that Nazareth was a “branch” city of Bethlehem. The name “Nazareth” actually means “branch” and it was named this because there had been many people of the line of David who left Bethlehem and settled there. This also means that when Joseph left for Bethlehem with Mary, he probably had many relatives including his parents, his brothers, sisters, and lots of other folks who traveled with them to Bethlehem. In reading the Biblical text, we only see Mary and Joseph mentioned, but the original readers would have already known and understood that Nazareth was full of people in the line of David who would have been traveling with them. Also, in studying the setting, we see that Bethlehem is at most a 3-day trip from Nazareth. Sometimes we have thought of it as a longer more difficult journey – not to make light of Mary being on a donkey for 3 days.

2. Setting – The Philistines were  a constant threat to Israel because they lived in the plains near the Mediterranean Sea and knew how to smelt iron. They had iron chariots which Israel could never defeat down in the plains where they lived, but the Philistines could never really take Israel either cause those same iron chariots didn’t do so well in the foothills of the mountains where the Israelites lived. Once Israel learned how to smelt iron (under Saul) they wipe out the Philistines and you never really hear about them again in the Scriptures.

3. Character and Setting – Why was Abraham so quick to be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac? This has to do with setting – he had cone from the land of Ur where it was very common practice to sacrifice children to their god. We look at those verses and are shocked at Abraham’s willingness, but in that culture, it was normal. In some strange way, it didn’t take much faith for him to be willing to sacrifice his son ’cause everyone was doing that. If you’ll notice in Hebrews, (This is the character part) Abraham isn’t commended for having faith enough to sacrifice his son, he is commended for the faith he exercised in believing God’s original promise to make of him a great nation through his son Isaac. In the Genesis account Abraham fully believes God’s promise believes that if God made that promise and wanted him to kill his son, then He must be planning on raising him from the dead too. This was an original thought. No one had ever risen from the dead! Abraham is commended for faith that God would raise his son from the dead in order to fulfill the promise that He had made to him! Cool stuff!

4. Structure/Style – Look at 1 Samuel 24-26. (24 and 26 are almost identical – so what’s in the middle of them must be important – 25 is a little strange until you figure out the symbolism in it.)

Anyway, it was a good class last night.

Lord, thank you for these classes. Thank you for you Word. Thank you for this supernatural hunger that you’ve given me for it all lately. Thank you for the ability to attend – for providing the money and the time for me to come. You are amazing and I can only stand in awe of You! You’ve certainly given me more than I deserve – I deserve nothing but death, but this life you’ve given me is incredible! Thank you for my beautiful bride and her support, and for our families, our friends, and our church. I am overwhelmed by all You’ve done, but even more so by who You are. All that You have done flows out of who You are – it’s just an expression of Your character. You are more than I can imagine and I love You! AMEN.

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