The narrative imperative

A recent LOGOS training video lists recommended considerations in Bible study.  Among these items, the instructor suggests paying special attention to the main characters.  While “characters” as such may not immediately appear in poetry or epistles, in narrative, they do.  In other words, the characters involved are more of a background factor in Galatians and Psalms, although still important to be aware of; understanding the characters is essential if one is to grasp Mark or Acts.

So, when delving into narrative, it is imperative to pay special attention to the characters—how they act, what they say, how other characters react to them, how they appear to change over time, any “speeches” they make, and more.

Lists of Bible study steps, considerations, and aspects frequently overlap each other but are never identical if they display any detail.  The Logos list mentioned above includes these items (phrased slightly differently below) in its “Observation” category:

  1. Read the passage in context multiple times
  2. Identify themes
  3. Compare translations
  4. Explore literary contexts
  5. Explore historical/cultural contexts
  6. Pay attention to the characters

Gary D. Collier’s PROBE method prepends important “Pre-read and Pray” and “Recap” steps before to Observations phase; Logos’s list categorizes and delineates somewhat differently, including most of the same elements.  If one such list doesn’t at least resemble the others you’ve seen in some respects, it is probably suspect.  And, if a teacher or book doesn’t at least employ such a list in the methodological background, merely assuming that each verse “stands on its own” and “means what it says,” it’s probably better to move on to another teacher or method.

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5 thoughts on “The narrative imperative

  1. Steve 01/21/2016 / 4:34 pm

    (Sorry–just picked my jaw up from off the floor after reading this entry….) I guess I’m missing something here–for if I recollect, a certain blogger recently eschewed using a certain mega-church pastor’s book ‘Effective Bible Study Methods,’ one being reflection on Biblical characters?? Help me to understand why Logos’s characters study is endorsed while Warren’s character study was frowned on.

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    • Brian Casey 01/21/2016 / 8:29 pm

      What an excellent question — and one for which I have a pretty good answer (I hope).

      Key words here are “Among these items, …” and “When delving into narrative …”

      Nowhere do I remember ever downplaying the idea of examining the role of characters in a narrative, and I regret it if I left that impression. That kind of examination is part of contextually aware Bible reading/study (particularly in the narrative genre), and I’m all for it!

      In specific reference to Warren’s character-based recommendations, I had said these two things:

      #3 (“character quality”) turns out not to be a study method per se. Rather, it majors in devotion and “personal application” as does #1.
      [I read this “method” as looking for “qualities” that one wants to develop; that seems to be more topical than textual. Warren didn’t really recommend the same kind of character analysis; I was think that he was after personal spiritual growth and using what one perceives in a Bible character to hone in on that, and that’s less narrative-oriented than characteristic-oriented.]

      #5 (biographical) approaches the investigation of a Bible character similarly, but I find this method more likely than #4 to bear good fruit, insofar as it goes—namely, because the student will likely be dwelling in single texts for longer periods of time as s/he tries to glean insights into a Bible character.

      [This method is closer to what the Logos video was advocating, and I was advocating it to some degree, too.]

      What I wish Warren had done is to combine 3-4 of his more contextually focused methods into one, calling that aggregate result his overall Bible study “method” . . . then discussing some other things like “Devotional” and “Character Quality” and “Topical” under a different heading that was more application-oriented.

      So, has your jaw changed position any? (Ha.)

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  2. Steve 01/22/2016 / 8:48 am

    My comment was more tongue-in-cheek than ‘outrage.’ 🙂 Sort of like a parent suggesting a certain direction to go for their teen-and the teen not going there–because it came from their parent; then a few days later the teen announcing a great suggestion was given him/her by their friend’s parent–and the teen thinks that is really good…and it was pretty much what the parent had suggested in the first place. Sort of like that…

    My jaw is recovering, thank you very much.

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    • Brian Casey 01/22/2016 / 9:31 am

      Oh, I didn’t take it as outrage … more as amusement. Glad my explanation helped to frame it all better. An additional point I didn’t make is that Logos’s video list wasn’t presented as a comprehensive method. It was just a segment — a list from about 6-8 days of a 30-day methodological training series.

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  3. Brian Casey 01/24/2016 / 12:51 pm

    I watched this short video today from The Bible Project. This is a small group putting out overview videos, and I’m impressed positively with their work. There is some “character analysis” or at least “character awareness” in this video: https://jointhebibleproject.com/?video=0-2

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