Biblical Narrative

The Importance of Narrative in Human Experience

One of the most universal human impulses can be summed up in four words:  “Tell me a story.”  The Bible satisfies this longing for story.  Someone has written that “human kind is addicted to stories.  No matter our mood, in reverie or expectation, panic or peace, we can be found stringing together incidents, and unfolding episodes” (John Shea, Stories of God [Thomas More Press, 1978], 7-8.)  As the latter statement implies, we are all storytellers, which is one of the reasons that the Bible’s emphasis on stories makes the Bible seem a natural part of our lives.

Our lives in the world have a narrative quality.  They have a beginning, middle, and end, which Aristotle declared to be the inherent shape of a story.  We live in a story-shaped world made up of the same ingredients as literary stories possess.  The events in our lives are the equivalent to the plot of a story.  These events occur in specific settings.  And our lives consist of interactions with a never-ending cast of characters. It is no wonder that we can walk into the stories of the Bible with ease.

One of the great advantages of narrative as a literary form is its power of transport.  A good story whisks us away in our imagination to the time and place of the narrated action.  A New Testament scholar speaks of how the narrative genre “draws the reader into the story as a participant.  The reader is there [in the events recorded in the Gospels] . . . .  The natural function of narrative is to help the reader hear the voices, take part in the action, get involved in the plot” (Norman Perrin, The New Testament:  An Introduction [Harcourt, 1974], 165).