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What Are the Main Hermeneutical Issues Associated with the Biblical Narrative Genre That a 21st Century Housegroup Leader Faces When Interpreting a Passage? How Does the Concept of 'genre' Help? Illustrate How to Deal with These Issues with a Biblical

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1. Introduction

When reading or teaching from the scriptures, we are either consciously or sub-consciously trying to find meaning in the text. It is vital for us to understand this meaning in order for us to learn from it. The problem however, is that the true meaning of scripture can be easily misinterpreted, this is because there are many factors that must be taken into account before you are able to discern what the author truly intended to say.

One of the most important facts that must be recognised when reading and interpreting scripture, especially in modern days, is that scripture is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore must be treated wisely. The job for hermeneutics is to make sure that the word of God is being handled correctly, to ensure that the text is interpreted and understood accurately.

2. Hermeneutics and Narrative

Narrative is the "single most common type of literature in the entire bible."1 With nearly half of the Bible being written in narrative form, this style of writing plays a very important role in scripture. More often than not, the most memorable parts of the bible are its stories, i.e. Jonah and the big fish, Noah and the Ark etc. These stories are written in biblical narrative, in fact, the terms 'narrative' and 'stories' are often exchangeable which may help us understand the purpose of biblical narrative.2

2.1. Issues raised in the contemporary translation of Biblical Narrative

In order to understand some of the hermeneutical struggles that are faced, it is important to make sure that we are relevant for today. In that knowledge, this essay focuses on the issues that a 21st century housegroup leader would face when interpreting narratives in the Bible. This is because it is a very common situation, in which, many people may well find themselves having to interpret scripture in order to benefit themselves and others. The main issue that appears in any situation in which you are teaching from scripture is that you may be interpreting the Bible wrongly, and therefore putting yourself in danger of teaching people false doctrine. It must be assumed that this housegroup leader has some knowledge of the context of the Bible, and is trying to find meaning in the scripture that will ultimately draw themselves and others closer to God. Realistically however, in such a situation, it is unlikely for heresies to arise from a misinterpretation that would cause anyone to backslide from God.

2.11 Myth or History?

Already, by simply viewing narratives as stories, we are confronted with a large problem. How can we know if narratives are truly historical? To put it simply, did they actually happen, or was the writer merely trying to get a point across? The traditional view to this argument is that all narrative accounts in the Bible are historical accounts and not mythical stories. In other words, it was genuinely held that the real events occurred just as described in the Bible3. However, in the case of most parables, the historicity of the story is not an issue. This view had been firmly held by the church up until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During this time, groups such as deists began to question the narrative accounts in the Bible such as Joshua 10:12-14 (did the sun actually stand still?). Although the historicity was challenged, the significance of these accounts was not. The Rationalists were also a group that began challenging scripture at this time. They specifically focused

on the miracles in the narrative stories and chose to believe that they did not actually occur; rather, something un-miraculous occurred instead. The ambition for the rationalist was to discover what 'actually happened' behind these stories. For instance, their view can be illustrated in their understanding of the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). They would affirm that the fish and the loaves did not multiply, but the poor boy who gave his food away inspired others who had extra food to do the same.4 However, these attempts to remove the miracles from the biblical narratives do not serve any justice to the meaning of the accounts, and the resulting interpretations became independent and ignorant of their context.

Although it can be understood that rationalising scripture is bad hermeneutical practice, many are still tempted to rationalise the stories in the Bible today. Rather than denying the miracles or events, scientists, scholars and others find themselves instead trying to scientifically prove them. As Fee rightly says, "It is true that the Bible itself does not say how God did most of the miraculous things he brought to pass,"5 but the curiosity to find out how God performed these miracles "can drive some people to accept absurd and farfetched explanations."6 While scientifically proving the miracles in the Bible may not be such a bad thing, it can serve to dampen the awe of God behind the miracles, as well as distracting the reader from the intended meaning.

One of the narrative accounts in the Bible, which has faced enormous scepticism, is the Exodus, specifically the parting of the Red Sea. A common view involves the water sinking under the sand at low tide, leaving dry land, as is known to happen around the area of Suez.7 Other views show the event occurring in different locations and in different ways, some views completely remove the miracles by ignoring certain parts of the text. However, as Cassuto rightly says "The narrative clearly intends to relate to a miraculous event."8 He goes on to say that when people try to rationalise the stories, they are putting their own ideas into the text rather than gathering meaning from the text. In the 21st century, there is much danger, especially with modern scientific advances, to fall into the temptation of rationalising the Bible, however when we interpret narrative stories, we must avoid imposing our own ideas, and we must instead focus on the authors' intended meaning, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

2.12 Taking the narratives too literally and trying to spiritualise every part

All scripture is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), this is a well-known fact, but sometimes people can get too tied up by this. That is to say, when some people read narrative stories, or parables, they assume that every single word must have some greater spiritual meaning, therefore spending too much time and effort on detail and missing the message. Judges 9:8-15 is a parable told by Jotham to the citizens of Shechem, Jotham begins with the opening line:

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