Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives -- By: Steven D. Mathewson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:616 (Oct 1997)
Article: Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives
Author: Steven D. Mathewson

Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives

Steven D. Mathewson

[Steven D. Mathewson is Pastor, Dry Creek Bible Church, Belgrade, Montana, and Instructor of Biblical Languages, Montana Bible College, Bozeman, Montana.]

Old Testament narrative literature offers a genre well suited to the preaching task. The reason is simple: People like stories. Whether a western by Louis L’Amour, a murder mystery by Agatha Christie, the musings of Garrison Keillor, a novel by John Steinbeck, or a yarn spun by a grandfather, a story can captivate its audience. According to Holbert this phenomenon occurs in preaching.

“They always remember the stories.” So goes the talk among preachers as they recount their experiences of preaching to young and old; rich and poor; and black, white, red, yellow, and brown. It is the stories, the anecdotes, the jokes, the biographical and autobiographical tales, the rabbinic midrashim, the newspaper snippets, and the recountings of triumphs and tragedies that people remember.1

Old Testament narratives, then, seem to provide an ideal fare for audiences who crave stories.

Unfortunately, though, preaching from Old Testament narratives resembles playing the saxophone: it is easy to do poorly.2 One contributing factor is a deficient theology that neglects the Old Testament as a source of Bible exposition and relegates it merely to illustrative material.3 But most difficulties stem from

a deficient methodology.

The best of Western seminaries and theological colleges reinforce the cultural bent toward the abstract and fill students’ heads with the importance of grammatical, lexicographical exegesis. Such exegesis is, of course, of enormous importance. But in students who do not have a feel for literature, it can have the unwitting effect of so focusing on the tree…that the entire forest remains unseen, except perhaps as a vague and ominous challenge.4

The other side of the problem pertains to homiletics. Some preachers have adopted a style of exposition that is not conducive to preaching Old Testament narratives. As Wardlaw explains, “When preachers feel they have not preached a passage of Scripture unless they have dissected and rearranged that Word into a lawyer’s brief, they in reality make the Word of God subservient to one particular, technical kind of reason.”5 Similarly Craddock wants preachers to ask ...

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