An Evangelical Approach to Old Testament Narrative Criticism -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:661 (Jan 2009)
Article: An Evangelical Approach to Old Testament Narrative Criticism
Author: J. Daniel Hays


An Evangelical Approach to Old Testament Narrative Criticism

J. Daniel Hays

J. Daniel Hays is Professor of Biblical Studies, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Jesus’ disciples were picking grain from the field and eating it on the Sabbath. The indignant Pharisees brought their accusation about this flagrant Sabbath violation to Jesus, declaring, “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” The Lord replied to them, “Do you not know about Old Testament narrative criticism?” Of course He did not say it quite like that. But He did say, “Have you not read about David?” and then He quoted from 1 Samuel 21, using a narrative text to correct their understanding of the Law and to explain and qualify His relationship to the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-11).

Without doubt, one of the most significant changes in the field of Old Testament studies over the last twenty years is the rise in popularity of narrative criticism as an approach to studying the Hebrew Bible. Spurred by the writings of Robert Alter, Danna Nolan Fewell, David Gunn, Adele Berlin, J. P. Fokkelman, Meir Sternberg, and a host of others, Old Testament studies (in North America at least) underwent a transition in the 1980s and 1990s. Now narrative criticism appears to be fairly well entrenched as a valid and valuable method of study, at least for the foreseeable future.

Although perhaps not to the same degree, a similar transition took place within evangelicalism, particularly within Old Testament studies. Spurred by the writings of Leland Ryken, Tremper Longman, John Sailhamer, and others, many scholars within evangelicalism have been influenced by the methods of narrative

criticism. This movement overlapped to some degree with the rising popularity of discourse analysis, a related methodology.

The rising popularity of narrative criticism among evangelicals seemed to ride in on the wave of postmodernism along with a host of other—sometimes questionable—literary approaches: rhetorical criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, and others. Thus from the beginning many evangelicals have been cautious about the approach, warning fellow evangelicals of dangers involved. For example in 1987 Henry examined narrative criticism and concluded, “The narrative approach therefore seems not fully befitting the historic Christian faith. . . . One discerns here an enchantment with the affective, a flight from history to the perspec...

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