From the first post, we learned that preachers are hestitant to preach narratives because of homiletical reasons. But there are hermeneutical reasons as well. David Deuel asks, ”Why do preachers usually not preach biblical narratives (i.e., stories) as stories?….Many seem uncomfortable in preaching narrative as story, perhaps fearing to appear ridiculous or sound condescending….Narratives make its own point(s) in an interesting and effective manner, while the selection and arangement of the story’s details provide clues for finding them” (David C. Deuel, “Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. Richard Mayhue. Waco, TX: Word, 1992, 274). In the next three posts we deal with some hermeneutical issues associated with preaching narratives.
In addition to the homiletical paradigm shift there has been the hermeneutical shift from the grammatico-historical method of exegesis to a more literarily minded approach. Greidanus confirms: “Biblical studies has recently entered into a new world: it has undergone a paradigm shift from historical to literary studies so that scholarly interest today is focused not so much on history as on genres of biblical literature—with a concomitant shift in homiletics to forms of sermons” (Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988, xi).
Kaiser believes the grammatico-historical method of exegesis is weak only in “that it fails to go far enough in describing the main job of exegesis.” In Kaiser’s syntactical-theological method, he stresses the importance of knowing the genre of Scripture being studied. “Often the key to the use and function of language is the literary form in which it was cast” (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981, 89).
I will divide this discussion into three parts: Writers of narratives were theologians, prophets, and literary artists.
Writers of Narratives were Theologians
In spite of the paradigm shift from the historical to the literary aspects of hermeneutics, both are indispensable to “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Interpreting narratives historically is essential because the writers of Scriptures were theologians who theologically shaped their historical writings. The most prominent genre in Scripture is historical narrative which records God acting in history. The Bible is the story of the Kingdom of God. The sovereign king rules over the affairs of men.
For example, John Martin called the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel “theological history” (John Martin, “The Literary Quality of 1 and 2 Samuel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141, no.562, April-June1984: 132). These narratives present God as the Sovereign who rules over the affairs of His subjects. Sometimes the Sovereign rules publically and miraculously as at creation, where God did not mediate through natural means, but God “spoke and it was done; he commanded, and it stood still” (Psalms 33:9). At other times, the Sovereign rules secretly and providentially as with the birth of Samuel. God had sovereignly made Hannah barren (1 Samuel 1:3) and Hannah’s co-wife, Peninnah, provoked and irritated Hannah because of her misfortune. Yet, Hannah acted righteously, and God reversed her circumstances and blessed her with a son. “Reversal of fortune as an index of divine sovereignty is another significant motif” in 1 and 2 Samuel. However, God reversed Hannah’s fortune providentially through natural means. “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19).
Interpreting narratives historically is absolutely necessary because the authors were theologians who were recording the Sovereign’s mediate and immediate rule over his creation in history. In my next post, I will discuss the importance of interpreting narratives historically because the writers of narratives were prophets who wrote to persuade. This has a distinct advantage for preachers.