Biblical Narrative

The Master Story of the Bible as a Whole

We live in a day when the term metanarrative is a household word in the academy and beyond.  The term denotes an overarching story that gives meaning to the experience of a nation or group.  The Bible is the metanarrative of the whole human race.  It begins with the literal beginning—the creation of the world.  It ends with the literal end of earthly history.  The middle is the universal history of the human race.

Several familiar narrative motifs make up this master story.  Stories have a unifying plot conflict, and in the Bible it is the spiritual conflict between good and evil.  A host of details makes up this conflict:  God vs. Satan, God contending with sinful humanity, good and evil people, and good vs. evil within the individual human soul.  Nearly every story, poem, and proverb in the Bible contributes in large or small ways to this master plot of biblical narrative.

The presence of this overriding plot conflict requires the characters in the story to make choices as a condition of living.  Every sphere of life is claimed by God and counterclaimed by forces of evil.  There is no neutral ground.  Every human event in the Bible shows an allegiance to God or rejection of him.  The Bible concentrates on the person at the crossroads.  Life is momentous for the actors in the biblical drama.  This is the greatest story ever told, and an additional dimension is that we are not only readers of the metanarrative that is placed before us but also participants in it.

Every story has a protagonist or central character, and in the story of the Bible the protagonist is God.  He is the one whose presence unifies the story of universal history.  A literary scholar named Roland M. Frye has given us the following excellent description of the situation:

The characterization of God may indeed be said to be the central literary concern of the Bible, and it is pursued from beginning to end, for the principal character, or actor, or protagonist of the Bible is God.  Not even the most seemingly insignificant action in the Bible can be understood apart from the emerging characterization of the deity.  With this great protagonist and his designs, all other characters and events interact, as history becomes the great arena for God’s characteristic and characterizing actions (introduction to The Bible:  Selections from the King James Version for Study as Literature [Houghton Mifflin, 1965], xv).

The story of the Bible is a record of God’s acts in history, in nature, and in the lives of people.

Progression is important in every story.  The unfolding purposes of God provide the progression in the master story of the Bible.  One strand is the acts of judgment that God executes as he contends with forces of evil.  This is one of God’s perfections, and just as the psalmists celebrate God’s acts of judgment, so should we.  The acts of God also make up a story of providence—God’s superintendence of the events of history and people’s lives.  Additionally, the term that theologians most regularly apply to the metanarrative of the Bible is salvation history—the history of God’s plan to save people who believe in him from their sin and its eternal consequences. A summary statement is that the Bible tells the story of all things within a supernatural framework of God’s acts of providence, judgment, and redemption.