Engaging Exposition (10): The Importance of Structuring the Text

Once we have determined the genre of a biblical text, it is essential to analyze the structure of the text. The second step of the inspection process is the development of a teaching outline. Today, some pastor-teachers minimize or neglect this aspect of exegesis altogether. We remain convinced, however, that the practice of outlining remains one of the key components for discovering the author’s main idea of the text (MIT). Remember, the author wrote with a specific purpose in mind. To accomplish this purpose, he chose words, developed sentences, and organized those sentences into a specific format.

Discovering the Author’s Content

Seek to develop a “genre-specific” outline of a biblical text. Identify the key events, people, and language cues (key words and sentences) necessary to interpret the text. Look for key theological themes that are revealed in the text. Note the various contextual elements in the text which will help you discover the author’s MIT.

Analysis of Historical Narrative

Prose is the most prevalent genre in the Bible.

Setting
Interpreters must begin with the setting of the story when analyzing a Historical Narrative. Setting refers to the circumstances and location where an event takes places.

Characters
Every story revolves around a cast of characters. Generally, every story has a protagonist (the hero) and an antagonist (the enemy). In Historical Narratives this is slightly different, however. Ultimately, God is the hero of every narrative in the Bible. This must never be forgotten! The human characters described in the Bible are participants in God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Ultimately, understanding the characters and their role within the story is important for discovering truth about God.

Point of View
In narratives, point of view refers to the perspective of the person telling the story. This, in turn, leads us to consider why he is telling the story. There are a number of ways to tell a story, but most Historical Narratives are told from the “omniscient point of view.” In other words, “the story is told by the author, using third person, and his knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited” (Perrine, 175). Our understanding of the inspiration of Scripture also means that the biblical writers recorded the events as God willed.

Identify the Plot
Once you have discovered the setting, characters, and point of view of the story, it is time to identify the plot. This is a simple exercise. Read the account and place the events in their proper order. This will help you get a sense of the development of the story over time, including the introduction of the characters and the problem. The more familiar you are with Historical Narratives, the more likely you are to skip this step. You should exercise caution before assuming that you know the plot of the story. Remember, the key to interpreting a narrative is not simply the ability to tell the story. The key is to discover what the story reveals about God and his relationship to his people. The principles contained in Historical Narratives must often be inferred, because they are not stated explicitly. We will find those principles embedded in the details of the plot.

For example, David and Goliath (1 Sam 17) is more than a story about a young man who kills a giant. It is an exposé that reveals Saul’s lack of faith in God and the spiritual impotence of Israel. It is a reminder that there are always people, perhaps even in your own family, who are prepared to stand in the way of your own journey of faith. It is a testimony to the power of God, which is greater than the perceived strength of any enemy. It is a story about David and his victory over evil that anticipates a greater Son of David and His ultimate victory over evil when He crushed a head, the head of Satan (Rom 16:20)! You might miss some of these principles if you do not take the time to discover the plot, as well as consider the story in the full canonical context of Scripture.

Identifying the Peripeteia

The peripeteia is the “turning-point moment” in a narrative. It is the event that abruptly changes the direction of the story and begins moving it towards its denouement, or conclusion. It is critical to find that sudden, unexpected turning point, because that event often sheds light upon the primary meaning of the story.

Identifying the Theological Themes
Once you have looked at all of the different aspects of the narrative, you are ready to begin identifying the theological themes. Most Historical Narratives yield their theological truths via inference. In 1 Samuel 17, there are a number of theological themes: fear vs. faith; weakness vs. strength; self-reliance vs. reliance upon the power of God. Each of these themes can be found throughout the narratives of Scripture. Yet, all of these themes are subordinate to the primary theme-God alone has the power to deliver his children from their enemies.

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