A Helpful Word on the Interpretation of Old Testament Narrative

I’m currently preparing to preach my first sermon this Sunday on the book of Ruth. This word from Daniel Block I found to be particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with historical narratives in the Old Testament like Ruth:

…Biblical narrative pose special challenges for those who seek the authoritative meaning. Whereas in didactic (e.g., “You shall love love the LORD your God with all your heart”) and many forms of lyrical texts (“The heavens are telling the glory of God”) the intended message is declared explicitly, in narrative the permanent lesson is often, if not generally, implicit in the telling. With respect to short stories like the Book of Ruth, which are at the same time historiographic in nature, the biblical narrator’s aim is never merely to recreate or reconstruct past events. And we have not fulfilled the demands of the text even when we, in our minds, have come to recognize exactly what has happened. In the Scriptures historiographic compositions are primarily ideological in purpose. The authoritative meaning of the author is not found in the event described but in the author’s interpretation of the event, that is, his understanding of their causes, nature, and consequences. But that interpretation must be deduced from the telling. How is this achieved? By asking the right questions of the text: 

1)What does this account tell us about God?

2)What does it tell us about the human condition?

3)What does it tell us of the world?

4)What does it tell us of the people of God–their collective relationship with him?

5)What does it tell us of the individual believer’s life of faith? 

These questions may be answered by careful attention to the words employed and the syntax exploited to tell the story. But they also require a cautious and disciplined reading between the lines, for what is left unstated also reflects an ideological perspective.

from, The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth Vol. 6. Daniel I. Block pg. 604-5.


One thought on “A Helpful Word on the Interpretation of Old Testament Narrative

  1. Pingback: The Split Screen: A Helpful Word on Reading Old Testament Narratives | All of Grace

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