Paul's Passing Thoughts

Bible as Story? Have We Lost our Minds?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 6, 2013

ppt-jpeg4Here at the Potter’s House we do family readings. Right now, we are reading through the novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The book is what we call a historical novel. These are fictional books that attempt to convey the experience of historical facts. Historical novels attempt to put you into the historical event experientially.  So, historical novels aren’t “just facts,” but attempt to enable you to understand how people in said historical event experienced it.

This is done well in Speare’s Blackbird Pond. You feel Kit’s angst as she peruses the Puritan shoreline of America for the first time. She senses the abysmal aura as set against the colorful structures in Barbados. And for anybody who knows Puritan history, Kit’s suspicions that something is culturally array in the new land is truly chilling. You want to say, “Run!” But, of course, it’s just a story. Historical novels “put you in the story.” The counterpart is academic history which focuses on facts and is not concerned with personal experience.

Vestiges of the concept can be found in mythology and Plato’s concept of Genre which Aristotle and others helped him develop. The concept was integrated into biblical hermeneutics circa 180AD. The idea of Bible as historical narrative was eventually dubbed Biblical Theology by Johann Philipp Gabler (circa 1785) and further developed by Geerhardus Vos in the 19th century. It was known as Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics in the Dutch Reformed churches during the 1940’s. In the secular realm the debate rages as to which approach educates more effectively (

And here we are today. The propagation of Bible as a history narrative is in Blitzkrieg mode. The Bible is not to be researched grammatically, but is to be approached like a novel; our goal is to enter into the “unfolding drama of God’s redemptive story.” Those are the words that are actually used. With any novel, it is the writer’s burden to draw the reader into the plot; in this case, the Holy Spirit. All that is necessary is to approach the Bible as gospel narrative, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. In fact, many Reformed teachers assert that the Holy Spirit will not teach unless you are reading your Bible as a gospel narrative:

That which makes the Bible the Bible is the gospel. That which makes the Bible the Word of God is its witness to Christ. When the Spirit bears witness to our hearts of the truth of the Bible, this is an internal witness concerning the truth of the gospel. We need to be apprehended by the Spirit, who lives in the gospel, and then judge all things by that Spirit even the letter of Scripture.

I want you to feel the truth and depth and wonder that awaits your lifelong labor of love in pondering the inexhaustible portraits of Jesus given us by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image (Paul Dohse: The Truth About New Calvinism pp. 99, 100).

Recently, I made some observations  about Wade Burleson’s blog, Istoria Ministries:

“If the Bible is God’s revelation to man, and it is, be sure that he will also reveal how he wants his word to be interpreted. Fact is, the Bible has built-in rules for interpretation throughout. ANY rules of interpretation for a text must be validated by the Bible itself. So, what about Bible as story or narrative? After an exhaustive study on what the Bible would state about this interpretive model, it begs the question: where is it?”

On that note, let’s start with a blog named “Istoria Ministries” by Reformed teacher/pastor Wade Burleson. The subtitle reads as follows:

Istoria is a Greek word that can be translated as both story and history. Istoria Ministries, led by Wade and Rachelle Burleson, helps people experience the life transforming power of Jesus Christ so that their story may become part of His story.

Burleson is right, it is a Greek word, but is it in the Greek New Testament? After hours of research, I cannot find it anywhere. In fact, Hebrew or Greek canon words that project the English idea of history, narrative, or story are either extremely scarce or nonexistent. The closest idea is the word “parable” which is a story that helps define truth. It’s a teaching tool. But in every case where a parable is implemented as a teaching method, the Bible plainly introduces it as such beforehand. It doesn’t appear that parables in the Bible are meant to be stories that explain the story.”

The next day, Burleson changed the subtitle to the blog as follows:

“I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Greek: istoria) with Cephas.” Paul’s words in Galatians 1:18.

Only thing is, the word is not “istoria,” it is “historeo.” Istoria seems to be a word that, in fact, can be interpreted as story and history both, but is primarily a Greek word of contemporary origin. Not only that, according to Spiros Zodhiates, historeo appears in the Greek New Testament ONCE; specifically, the verse Burleson cites in his revised subtitle. A Strongs number search with Olive Tree software confirms such as well.

We don’t obey novels. We don’t obey narratives. We don’t obey stories. And the Lord wants us to experience what we learn in the Bible by applying it to our lives (James 1:25). Parables in the Bible are teaching tools that aid us in understanding the primary points—a history parable is not the sole interpretive genre that makes the Bible what it is.

You do not build a life on a rock by reading novels—you do it by putting what the Lord teaches into practice (Matthew 7:24). If Christ wanted us to read “these words of mine” as a story why would He have not plainly said so? If we live by the redemption story, why wouldn’t Christ plainly state that instead of, “every word that comes from the mouth of God?” If it’s a story, why would Christ call it “all that I have commanded”?

Have we lost our minds?


6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on February 6, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.


  2. said, on February 7, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    You will love the Gospel Project, then. It is all the rage in the SBC. It’s list of advisors and creators are pretty mucb from the reformed tradition. Including James McDonald, the “congregationalism is from Satan” guy who got his church in 65 million dollars of debt.

    If you think about it, making the bible one big story means the one interpreting the one story gets to decide the point of the narrative in a round about way. it really is clever. And it is a cradle to grave curriculum.


  3. Richard Abbott (@MilkHoneyedLand) said, on February 9, 2013 at 7:20 AM

    Hi Paul, I noticed this blog article on the Historical Novel Society newspaper and, unusually for me, was moved to respond.

    I wonder if there are several ways to look at this. First let me say that I am very supportive of a systematic and careful approach to scripture – about a year ago I completed a PhD under the supervision of Trinity College Bristol (UK) offering evidence that the early parts of Exodus fitted extremely well into a New Kingdom Egyptian context, and that the writing form is supportive of an authentic second millennium origin rather than being, for example, a much later invention.

    Now, it is quite clear that the Bible contains many forms of writing, from great poetry through to rather boring lists. While it might be true that say the Joseph cycle is presented in the form of compelling narrative (not that it is limited to this, but this is certainly the presentational style), other nearby books like say Leviticus have rarely been accused of being a light and entertaining read. We have to approach every part of scripture in the form that it has been given to us – and that does mean that some parts are given in the form of narrative, or poetry, rather than other more systematic forms.

    The very way that Hebrew narrative is written – and spoken to the very many people who over the years have not been able to read it – invites the reader to imaginatively participate in the incident – for example use of particles like hinneh as a device to engage audience attention. Hebrew as a language lends itself beautifully to ambiguity and allusion, and the writers of the major narrative portions well knew how to exploit this.

    Of course there are other portions which are intended not to be ambiguous, and it is clearly foolish to try to press one interpretive framework onto all the diverse pieces of writing. We should, in order to respect the original inspiration, approach poetry or narrative in a different way to legal material or instructions for life conduct. If we don’t, I believe that we fail to acknowledge the richness of the biblical material as written down.

    Now, I am not in the least trying to defend the specific examples you give, eg of istoria. My main interest in academic terms is the Hebrew part of the Bible rather than the Greek part, and I don’t have anything to add to or take away from your analysis. And most certainly I agree with you that not all the Bible is written as parable, or any other single genre. But where there is narrative, or poetry, or parable, and if we believe that biblical inspiration extended to the form in which a portion was written, then let’s approach those sections on their own merits and according to their own conventions.

    I myself have written historical fiction based around a biblical episode (specifically, the treaty between the Israelites and Gibeonites recorded in Joshua 9 and 10) and would definitely not want any readers to muddle up the difference between historical fiction and biblical text,


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on February 9, 2013 at 1:41 PM


      I think we agree:Form; ie., biblical poetry, song, parable, etc., are not hermeneutic. They are communication forms for delivering objective truth or untruth. Whether a message is delivered by telegram, cell phone, verbal communication, visual communication, or other–a message stating particular points is the issue. We can listen to the AC/DC song, “Highway to Hell” and know that the band thinks they are going to hell and are proud of it. Or, they can merely call us on the phone and tell us so. We don’t interpret the message any differently because it came to us in a song.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on February 9, 2013 at 10:25 PM


      How can i get a copy of the article?


  4. Richard Abbott (@MilkHoneyedLand) said, on February 10, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    You said “We don’t interpret the message any differently because it came to us in a song” – I guess I’m not certain of this. Maybe you’re right but I’m not convinced. We certainly _respond_ to a message quite differently depending how it approaches us – who’s delivering it, what the context is, what other liminal or subliminal messages are being passed on at the same time. And for sure some people are better persuaded by one approach and some by another.
    So while, yes, on some abstract level the message content – the deliverable, if you like – might be the same, any specific message packaging might attract some people and repel others. I dare say a lot more people were excited by AC/DC singing that song than if they’d just read the lyrics somewhere never having heard them.
    Personally I suspect that the biblical message is presented in so many different ways precisely because, for example, a direct approach appealing to the intellect is effective for some people, and a less direct one appealing say to the emotions, the imaginative faculty, or the conscience is effective for others.
    Both my PhD thesis and novel are available on Amazon as ebooks (the novel also in hard copy though it will costs rather more like that!).

    Thanks for taking time for the discussion, it’s been good exploring this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s