The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 142:566 (Apr 1985)
Article: The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes
Author: Eugene H. Merrill


The Book of Ruth:
Narration and Shared Themes

Eugene H. Merrill

[Eugene H. Merrill, Associate Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

Bible teachers and preachers generally agree that biblical narrative literature, though usually well understood as literature, is frequently difficult to preach. Many tend either simply to retell the story for whatever historical, moral, or exemplary value it may have, or to allegorize or spiritualize it completely out of its context and invest it with doctrinal and theological content it was never meant to embody.1

Contemporary scholarship has begun to address the problem of narrative literature in fresh and stimulating ways.2 Probably among the most noteworthy expressions of this new effort to understand the canonical narrative texts as they stand is that of J. P Fokkelman in his deservedly acclaimed works on the narratives of Genesis3 and Samuel.4 Though Fokkelman does not always draw theological conclusions about the structure and meaning of the stories, nor does he demonstrate how to use them in preaching, he does point the way to a legitimate rhetorical criticism which can and must be applied to all biblical narrative passages before they can be preached with integrity.5

This article is an attempt to suggest guidelines that should be followed in the preparation of the story of Ruth for narrative preaching. Several commentaries and other publications provide excellent structural and exegetical analyses of the book so there is no need to duplicate that here.6 What is proposed is a holistic view which not only examines the narrative intrinsically but which also relates it to its external literary, historical, and theological settings.

Since Ruth is canonical its canonical function must be understood.7 And the corollary of its canonicity is that it must in the final analysis yield theological fruit.8 To speak of the canonicity of a biblical text apart from or opposed to its theological purpose is, of course, nonsense.

The Canonical and Historical Setting of Ruth

The ancient Jewish canonical tradition of considering Ruth a part of the Book of Judges rests on good historical and literary considerations.9 Its author placed i...

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