Lecture 28: Hermeneutics for Historical Narrative (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 28: Hermeneutics for Historical Narrative (Part 2)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Historical Narrative (Part 2)


Alright now, you have two groups, the rationalists, sometimes called the naturalists and the supernaturalists, those who believe in miracles and those who did not.

What the rationalists sought to do was to reconstruct what actually took place. Maybe there is some way we can find out what literally took place. And a kind of example of that would be the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  You might come across something like this “Well, what really took place is that we find …” You probably would be careful not to word it that way.  You might say, “On that particular day when Jesus was out there, there were a lot of hungry people, there was no food around, and the disciples did not know what to do. But a little boy came and he said ‘Teacher. My mother sent with me these loaves of fishes and I know there are a lot of hungry people out there.  I would be willing to share some of this with others.”

And this was overheard and Abraham and Sarah – they were just about to open up their large bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and they couldn’t handle that and they said “Sarah. You know, we can’t eat all of this. Why don’t we share some of that?” And then Jacob, Rachel, Leah had brought a whole ox with them and they were bar-be-cuing that.  And Jacob said to Rachel, “You know. I doubt that we can really eat more than a quarter of this thing, so why don’t we share that.”  And the result was that, this swept over the whole crowd and people began to see, if you share things like this, then there would be more than enough to go around. And everybody had more than enough to eat.  They were all full.

And brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are willing to share what God has given to us in surplus.  There will be more than enough that we can share with others.  That is how you preach your sermon.  Now the supernaturalist also believes that an event was out there, but they believe the event was true.  And so they would talk about the miracle itself. And they would talk about what took place and what we can learn from the miracle, and about Jesus’ supernatural power and so forth and so on.

Now the difference between this however and the looking for the author’s meaning is very very important. Here the supernaturalist are giving their own interpretation to the event.  Now many times, the interpretation they would see here would be pretty much what the Biblical author intended to teach by it. Sometimes the context unconsciously gave them that understanding.  But what they were doing is also rejecting the author’s meaning. They were dealing with what happened and they were playing the same game that the non-supernaturalist or the naturalists were dealing with.  The meaning was to be found in the event and they reconstructed the event saw meaning [ inaudible ] They didn’t reconstruct the event and they gave meaning to it, but the author was left out on both of these. 

Now on the other hand there were those who argued that it is the author who gave meaning to the text.  Now how do you believe that if you think the author’s are wrong. Well there are two ways. One was by accommodation.  And what they argued was this. The Biblical authors knew that these miracles didn’t take place. But they were writing to people who believed in miracles. And they tried to teach great Christian values by using miracle stories. So they accommodated what they were trying to teach – the biblical evangelists – and they wrote and put into miracle form, the ideas and the values and morals they sought to teach.  They were accommodating themselves to what the author, to to what they were trying to teach by making up this miracle story.

Now in doing that, a problem arose.  Accommodation never really caught on much.  Because how do you explain the greatest moral teachings in the world, coming from the pens of outright liars. Great morality by people who knew they were lying out of their teeth in all these miracle stories.

The other thing is… it became rather clear that the Evangelist really believed these things and later on the critics like Rudolph Bultmann, he doesn’t believe in miracles, but the one thing he knows is that the Evangelist believes these were true. They were wrong but they were sincere people; they were just wrong. So accommodation never really caught on.  And I don’t think you would hear… you would find it hard-pressed to find a preacher trying to teach this way of finding meaningfulness in the event.  Meaningfulness, it may be found in reconstructing what happened and trying to find some moral to it like the naturalist or finding the meaningfulness in the event itself as a supernaturalist, but it really gets difficult to find meaningfulness in the outright lying of the Evangelists in this regard.

The other approach was the mythical approach. And what this argued was as follows. The Evangelist really believed these things. But the way these stories arose in the mindset of the believing community, they had urges and desires of hope and everlasting life and out of those urges there came stories and dreams and desires that gave birth to these myths and what we should do is to try to find out what is this myth trying to teach us.

And so the Eastern myth teaches us that needed within us is that desire for life everlasting.  Somehow we know through stories like it. And the deepest feelings of the human soul give birth to stories like this that death is the end.  There must be something more and the resurrection arise out of that urge that – that subconscious desire for life after death. 

So now you have real problems. The accommodationists had real smart evangelists. The Gospel writers were smart. They knew these things were not true. They were dishonest [ inaudible ] but they were smart. 

Now the mythical meaning had people whom were very very devout and honest and of great moral character, but they were just plain dumb. They don’t have the faintest idea of what they were writing. So you have kind of a choice. You have morality or intelligence. You can’t have both. You can’t intelligence down here in the mythical meaning because then they are not – if they are intelligent, they know that this is a myth. But if you have integrity you can’t have the accommodation so the approach here is the difficult one.

Today, rationalism, you find it every now and then, but for the most part, people who do not believe in miracles take the mythical approach. Made famous by David Strauss in 1835 in The Life of Jesus, this century de-mythologizing. Have you ever heard that expression? To de-myth means to go back to that basic yearning that gave birth to this myth.  To de-myth it, to get at what that basic existential truth is or religious truth or whatever you call it.  And in the 19th century it was a great religious truth and in the 20th century, this great existential reality that was being dealt with.  But it is essentially the same. It is just that, the philosophy of the time determines what you are looking for. 

So those are the main approaches to historical narrative. If you no longer accept a correspondence between the author’s meaning and the text – what the text is describing - the subject matter. You have the approach of the rationalists, the accommodationists or the mythical meaning.  The supernaturalists believed the event was true and sort meaning in his understanding of the event but the conscious meaning of the author is a rejected.

Now please note, when we talk about the definition of meaning. I added something that was not in the original text.  I added something that was not in the original text. I added the word, “conscious”, conscious-willed meaning, because that separates, conscious willed meaning from this mythical approach. Ok. Still will allow for accommodationists but[ inaudible ]

Alright. How we doing? Makes sense? Its superficial to you in some ways and kind of foreign to us who believe in the Bible.

Student: Was this sort of treatment mostly related to miraculous happenings or did they then take this and say [ inaudible ]

Dr. Stein: No. The only approach that this really affected in the Bible was narrative miracles. It didn’t have anything to do with Psalms. Anything to do with Paul. These are not historical events. These are philosophical concepts, religiously expressed feelings and so forth. You can’t disprove them.  Historical narratives and…

When you think of how much of the Bible is historical narrative, you have Genesis, Exodus, parts of Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, large parts of the prophets.  The New Testament alone, the largest part of the New Testament is historical narrative, with the 4 Gospels and Acts together, its more than the all the rest of the New Testament. This also raises the question in preaching.

I may get myself in hot water, but I don’t think you can preach narrative easily with what we call expository preaching. I think you preach Biblically, but it is much more difficult to preach narrative, I think, expositorily verse by verse. That is usually dealt with text, like Paul’s letters, where he argues carefully in this way. The large amount of narrative is [ inaudible ] in religious literature. Not usually you find reams and reams of teachings. Morals and laws and things like that. The Bible has an awful lot of narrative, because the God of the Bible who acts in history.

Student: I am thinking of something like the story of David and Bathsheba. Would these people say that that was a story that was made up using [ inaudible ] in the past in order to [ inaudible ]

Dr. Stein: No need for it. No miracle.  Not a problem at all.  David and Goliath, it becomes a little more problematic this way. Or you just say, he was really a great shot.  Honed his skills on the range [ inaudible ] Something like that. Ok. Now.

Student: [ inaudible ]

Dr. Stein: Narrative it was much more of a concern that way, but when you get to the place where Jesus makes unique claims about Himself, by definition, they can’t be true. For instance, the title, the Son of Man, is a title describing in Daniel 7, a pre-existing special person who sits at God’s right hand and comes to judge the world.  In the Journal of Biblical Literature, one author wrote that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of Man, because to do so, He would have to be crazy and we know He wasn’t crazy, therefore He never said it. [ inaudible ] research apparently.

So on certain things like that, yes they will deny it.  You can’t help but read the Jesus Seminar and see yes … oozing out all sorts of bitterness and hatred towards the Gospel.  Some of them may understand the Gospel pretty well as a result.  To me [ inaudible ] that angry, you probably understand it.

Student: Can the Jesus Seminar can even be taken seriously by the liberal scholars of the19th century?

Dr. Stein: Not really. They get a lot more press than they deserve in Europe. Not much going on there. It is too absurd.  The minute you say, “the most valuable sources of studying the life of Jesus are the Gospel that we never have seen.  That’s the one we should trust. We haven’t seen it. One guy said he saw it, but doesn’t know where it is anymore. The Gospel of Thomas which is so clearly Gnostic in the 2nd Century… “lift up the rock and there you will find me.” You compare that to the Gospels and you are saying “I should take the Gospel of Thomas more seriously?” And other kinds of things like, the various Q versions, though no one has Q.

We do have Matthew, Mark and Luke and John.  Strange and they are all before 1st Century.  So, you can’t take that seriously.  So German scholarship, British scholarship, they don’t deal with anything like that.  But they have a big budget. And the media loves it.
 

If you write a book that Jesus was the Virgin born Son of Mary, I don’t think the Press is as interested than if you say, He was the bastard Son of Mary and a German soldier, who was pressed in the Roman Legion. You get press for the insane things.

And I think, it makes you realize that the media is really hostile to traditional Christianity. Alright now, some clues for interpreting narrative. I am most frustrated with my book on this section because I have read lots of books on narrative and read lots of things about plots, subplots, characters and so forth.  I always say, how can I make that so that a lay person can understand it? Because after all lay people read these accounts and they pretty much understand them pretty well. 

Now if your hermeneutic makes it so they can understand it, I don’t know if it is particularly helpful. So I always say, how can you make this more useful? And I have not found a great deal of help. So here is some of mine.

Any individual account should be interpreted in light of narrative.  And [ inaudible ] that I am going to say because the example I have is Mark 5:1-20, and I think you are going to become familiar with that in the next week or so. But think for instance of a thousand piece puzzle.  You get a single piece, how will you know best what that piece is trying to do?  If you only have one piece, on story, it doesn’t do real well.  But now if you put the other nine hundred and ninety nine pieces together, and then you put the piece in there, then you know exactly how that piece functions.

If you have a Gospel with a hundred stories, and you put the other ninety-nine together and the story you are wrestling with is the other one, I think you will know real well how that one fits.  And so you always want to put together how that fits in the context.  And the context of a passage in the Gospels is the whole Gospel.  The context of a story in Joshua is the whole book of Joshua.

And somehow the author thinks that you are going to interpret in light of the whole puzzle and not to do that is really very foolish. So – the whole context.  Secondly, an author many times gives clues to his readers as to how to interpret a text and I will not give you the first example, because that’s the one we are going to do next week.

Sorry about that but there are some Old Testament ones that I can use here.  For anyone who wants to buy a peek at this, ten dollars a minute. Alright now, if you look at some of the Old Testament passages, themes tend to be shared with the author.

1 Kings 15:5 and 6, ok? Here the author intrudes in the story and helps the reader, because David did what was right in the sight of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that He commanded all the days of his life except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

Ok. You go to chapter 22, verse 43, “He walked in all the ways of his father Asa, he did no turned aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet the high places were not taken away.”

2 Kings 14.  You have repetition where the editor intrudes in the story. “In the 15th year of King Amaziah, son of Joash of Judah, king Jereboam’s son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria.  He reigned for 41 years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jereboam, son of Nebat which he caused Israel to sin.”

Now these are – that’s not a story. That is not part of the narrative in the sense that its part of a story in the narrative. It is a comment by the editor who comments about the story. And as he does time and time again, this reveals what the editor is trying to teach.

2 Chronicles 33:2 and following. “1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign; he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.

Constant repetition of these things. Another train of comments by the editor is found in 1 Kings 12:15 and following.

 

“So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.”

Now that tells you about the next event in which he gives bad advice to the king and so forth. 

“As soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam; he left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the LORD that he

spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite - ”

What God says takes place. It always happens according to the Word of the Lord. Now one of the things that I find very nice and helpful is to read an account and I read the first time through the book and just mark off what I think, the Biblical editor is adding to the historical traditions he writes.

In other words, the introductory comments or its summaries or its insertion of a … you can get a feel after a while about the editor now giving it an interpretation of the account.  And then what I would do if I was reading that book and studying it, I would list all of those, maybe even mark them in a Bible or something like that.  And then when I have done it all, I would go to the beginning of the book and just read those editorial comments and you will see things repeated time and time again. Emphases repeated time and time again. And now when you have gone through that, now you know what the editor is trying to tell you in the story.  Now you start reading all these accounts, how do they fit into what the editor is trying to teach here?

 

Very very helpful to do it that way.  Good advice to what the Biblical author is trying to teach with this individual’s story and that individual’s story and so forth.  As I say at the beginning you might be a little unsure as to what is an editorial comment or not, but I just ask each time when you had a question like that, “Is the story that is being told, is this a necessary part of that story or is the editor telling you something about that story to help you understand it?”

Another thing, sometimes an editor or an author provides a thematic statement as to the theme of the book.  For instance Acts has an opening statement in Acts 1:8 which tells you the whole theme of the book. 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Now as you go along, you start seeing this paradigm taking place. In 6:7, you have a little editorial summary, doesn’t have anything to do with any particular story:

“The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

You will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  Second chapter, Day of Pentecost.  You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem. Here we have Jerusalem, 6:7.  When you get to 9:31, another summary-like statement:

“Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”

Then you have other areas of growth taking on. So you can see the spread of the Church.  The Gospel being proclaimed. Jerusalem. Judea. Samaria. And the book ends with the Gospel being proclaimed in Rome to the Emperor himself.  Now the purpose of Acts is fulfilled at the end.

And that raises the question, well how do Peter and Paul fit into this? What part of the book do you read the most about Peter? The beginning. Why? Is this a biography of Peter?  No. No. But he is the one that brings the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.  Now after that has been done, he has a role in bringing the Gospel to a Gentile, Cornelius – that is recorded. But the rest of the book is devoted to Paul, because he is the one that brings the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

So the question for instance “Why does the Gospel not tell us about the death of Paul?” is irrelevant.  It doesn’t tell us about the death of Peter. It doesn’t tell us about … because that is not relevant.  The relevancy of Peter is that he is an instrument that God uses to bring the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.  And now Peter is dropped… Wouldn’t it nice to know what Peter did in the 50s. Yeah.  But that is not part of Luke’s story.  Not his interest.

It is important to know what Paul does in 50s and 60s, because he is the one that brings the Gospel to the ends of the earth. So sometimes you have a thematic presentation this way that helps you to understand what the whole book is about.

Sometimes you have a repetition of the same thought in a book, which gives you an understanding of what the book of Judges for instance is about. In Judges 3:7-9, you have this four-fold repetition of events.

“The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim; …”

I tried to do it real quick, so you wouldn’t know I was making a mistake.

“ … and the Israelites served …” Yeah. The first guy 8 years. “But when the Israelites cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for theIsraelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. 10 The spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the LORD gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram into his hand”

What you have here… Israel rebels against the Lord. There is retribution from the Lord against Israel.  Israel repents. And then Israel is restored.  Now that same pattern comes up in all these other places.  So you have repetition of these same things.

Another theme that comes up.

17:6 - “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

18:1 – “In those days there was no king in Israel…”

19:1 – “In those days, when there was no king in Israel,…”

And then 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

I think you have to realize that the book of Judges sees the time without a king as a bad time, a time of anarchy.  A time of anarchy, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, and an apology for the coming of the Davidic throne and the establishment of the rule of David and his descendents.  Ok.

When you didn’t have David, when you didn’t have his descendents, everybody did what was right in their own eyes.  They looked forward to the coming of a king.

Those are some thematic statements, some repetition, some editorial comments in the context.  Put those together and they give you a pretty good hint as to what the meaning of a book is and how to go about trying to understand it.

Questions and comments about the narratives?

Dr. Stein: Well. We can look at each other for another 20 minutes or so or go home.

Student: Let me ask you something. Are you continue with narrative or are you going to wrap it up?

Dr. Stein: Uh. We have to go on to the next theory of the epistles next week.

Student:  Ok. I wanted to ask you, do you consider the Gospel’s a sub-genre within the narrative?

Dr. Stein: Some have tried to make the Gospels a unique genre and I would argue that historical biography, narrative kinds of things existed in the world of the New Testament and these fit pretty well into that area.  It is nothing so unique as a genre. The content is unique, but that is not part of the genre. The genre is a form and there were narratives like this that could exist. I don’t think we have to say that the Gospels were a unique literary genre.

Student: Would the author of the Chronicles [ inaudible ]

Dr. Stein:  Yeah.  The writer of the Chronicles has something of a little different emphasis too. They are not contrary, but they are unique. Sure.  Otherwise why would he bother writing it? He has much more of a pro-Davidic stance than Samuel and Kings does.  And he kind of minimizes David’s flaws as a result of that.  He is the Lord’s anointed and as a result he can overlook some of his sins where Samuel and Kings don’t do that. Yeah.

Alright. So I ran out of material. Just don’t have anything more to say.