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How to Study a Narrative Passage

March 2, 2011

George Guthrie writes, “Large portions of the Old Testament come to us in the form of stories. They call us into a world both foreign and familiar, challenging us to find our place in a big story different from the small, boxed-in set of our personal, time-bound, culturally conditioned tales. They call us to enter God’s grand story, which tells what He is up to in the world” (Read the Bible for Life, pg 77).

Like portions of the Old Testament, the book of Ruth is a story.

It has all the elements of a story I used to have my 8th grade English students find in their reading assignments: characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.

It has all the qualities of a good story:  a stark setting, betrayal, disappointment, death, suffering. It has tension- racial tension, financial tension, and sexual tension. The “bad guy” at the beginning of the story turns out to be the “good guy” at the end. It is ultimately a love story.

So how do we “study” a book like Ruth? How could the simple telling of a story that happened thousands of years ago make an impact on our lives today?

First, we understand that the main character in every story in the Bible is God. When we read a passage (whether narrative, poetry, law, or epistle) we ask the question, “What does this teach me about God?”

Second, we remember that narrative passages are descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. Meaning they describe what happened, not what should always happen. We don’t read the book of Ruth as a how-to manual for what to do if there is a drought. Or what to do if your husband dies. Or even step-by-step instructions on how to woo a man. We read it like a story, as it was intended to be read. It is a true, inspired, sanctifying story, but a story none the less.

After we find God and understand the story is not prescriptive, we are able to better see ourselves. After answering what the passage teaches us about God, we ask what God wants us to do based on what we read. We see God’s love for widows and take a minute to write a note to a widow in the church. We see His providential plan for Naomi and Ruth and trust that no matter what situation we are in, God has a plan for our lives. Ultimately, we see Christ, who is in the family linage of this poor, young Moabite widow.

God’s Word is living and active. That includes the stories written thousands of years ago. We are praying that this month’s study of the book of Ruth will teach us all more about God and His love for us!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011 8:44 am

    “the main character in every story in the Bible is God.” – Amen, Sandra! If only we would get that straight we would understand so much more of God’s Word!

  2. March 2, 2011 9:11 am

    Great reminders Sandra of how we should view a story in God’s Word. Good foundation for us to get started, thanks!

  3. Julie Sanders permalink
    March 2, 2011 10:10 am

    Setting this perspective on what to learn from a Biblical story makes all the difference. “Descriptive, not prescriptive.” Helpful to get us started!

  4. March 2, 2011 12:02 pm

    Sandra ~ I love how you said, “After answering what the passage teaches us about God, we ask what God wants us to do based on what we read.” When we read God’s Word, the challenge, as well as the call is to do something with what we’ve read. To respond to it. Can’t wait to see how God speaks to us through the study of Ruth!

  5. March 2, 2011 4:06 pm

    “After we find God and understand the story is not prescriptive, we are able to better see ourselves.”

    So true. With the non-story portion of the Scriptures, sometimes I find it hard to understand. But with a “story” I find it easier to put myself in the place of one of the characters – making the lesson digestible. I guess that’s why Jesus told lessons as parables.

    Sandra, I also love what you said about doing something after we read about what God has done. And by doing something we “show” others that God’s Word is living and active.

  6. March 2, 2011 5:43 pm

    Thanks Sandra! The Word of God is indeed living and active. Looking forward to the study of Ruth this month.


  7. March 3, 2011 2:15 am

    Awesome post. Thank you for starting the series off with these points… very important to consider before we dive into the stories.

    I agree with Kristi’s comment above – What a difference it would make if we always remembered that God is the main character of EVERY story!


  1. Your turn! « Scripture Dig
  2. Ruth Recap « Scripture Dig

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