Monday, July 16, 2007

The Primary Emphasis When Interpreting Biblical Narratives

....biblical narratives are primarily about God and God's redemptive activity among humanity, and their authors' claim to reveal God truthfully. This may seem like a truism, but we often focus our attention on the ethical dimensions of narrative rather than on its theological dimension. In other words, it is too easy to ask the question of narratives, What should I be like? rather than, What is God like? or, What is God doing? The ethical question is not inappropriate. Yet, our primary interpretive emphasis should be theological. Our first question ought to be the "God question." As John Goldingay asserts, "The shaping of character is rarely the direct aim of biblical narrative; we are not told stories about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Paul chiefly in order that we might let our characters be shaped by theirs. The primary concern of biblical narrative is to expound the gospel, to talk about God and what God has done, rather than to talk about the human characters who appear in God's story." By centering our attention on the theological question, we will be in a better position to hear well the ethical stance of the text.


Our tendency to derive ethics apart from theology in the narratives of Scripture is nowhere more pervasive than in teaching the Bible to our children. We routinely teach Bible stories to children to make an ethical point: "Be like Samson, Ruth, and David. Be like Joseph and share with others just as he distributed food among the Egyptians." The latter point was expressly made in a curriculum I was to teach to the Sunday school class of my three-year-old daughter. What a marvelous lesson for self-centered three-year-olds: share! the problem, of course, is that Joseph also "shares" food with his long-lost family, while in the process not only hiding his identity from them, but also putting his own silver cup in their food bags, so that he can drag them back to Egypt and deceive them a bit longer (Gen. 44). This is not exactly the kind of sharing we want to inculcate in our children! In contrast, if we make our first question the theological question, not only will we teach that God is good even when human beings fail, but we will also provide the right point of view from which to evaluate the human characters of the Bible's narratives. 
               - Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 162-163

1 comment:

mrclm said...

I have found Dr. Brown to be both incredibly intelligent, as well as enormously gracious in my time at Bethel Seminary. She's an absolutely wonderful person. I haven't gotten to read this book yet, but it gets good reviews from some "biggies".

Big Chris