Narratives are true stories. Over 40% of the Old Testament Scriptures are narratives. Generally, the purpose of a biblical narrative is to show the Lord at work in His creation. Every genre found in the Bible presents unique challenges for understanding. Narratives are no exception. With narratives we think in scenes, plot and character, rather than paragraphs and outlines.
Here are some guidelines for studying narratives.
Find the setting
Read the text to get an understanding of the setting for action. Where or under what circumstances is the action taking place? Describe this setting based upon the events of the preceding passage and/or upon the opening few verses of this passage.
Make an outline
- Read the entire passage carefully noting the shifts in focus on persons and events, or the shifts of scene from one place to another.
- Separate the passage into major scenes and write a one sentence summary of each scene, putting the story into your own words.
- As you read answer the “5Ws and H” (who, what, when, where, why and how”).
For each of the scenes in your outline answer the following questions:
- What words are repeated in the text? What words or ideas must you understand to understand this scene?
- List common themes in each scene. Note key words that help lead to your conclusions.
- List the similarities and contrasts between the scenes.
Consider the characters
- Who are the main characters?
- How does the passage give insight into the characters and what motivates them?
- Describe the relationships between the characters in each scene, noting any changes from preceding passages and chapters.
- Do you see God at work either explicitly or implicitly?
- If God’s prophet or messenger, appears in the scene, what is his function?
- If God’s King is in the scene, what is he suppose to learn?
Identify themes & spiritual principles
- Consider the descriptions, actions of and reactions to the people of God in this scene. Does any of it remind you of passages in the gospels concerning Jesus? Or other New Testament characters?
- Look for and state any spiritual principles from this passage. (A spiritual principle is a universal, timeless truth.) For example, does this passage teach something about the nature of mankind that is always true of one who has the Spirit and/or one who does not? Does something in the text reveal God’s character, or how He works or acts?
- Do you see themes in this passage that go beyond this text and are repeated in other passages of Scripture?
- Look for patterns or examples of success or failures and what we learn from them that we could apply to our lives today.
These books are entirely narrative:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1&2 Kings
- 1&2 Chronicles
These books have large narrative sections
- Gospel of Matthew
- Gospel of Mark
- Gospel of Luke
- Gospel of John