Reading the Bible Contextually: Be Familiar With the Metanarratives

Metanarrative is the concept that in life we have larger stories that we see our lives fitting into. On a personal level it may be that things that were said to you as a child still impact you today…the words your father said or didn’t say still impact the value you see in yourself. On a corporate level organizations, congregations and even whole faiths have bigger stories that impact their identity. The story the American fight for independence, manifest destiny/Western expansion, the industrial and technological revolutions and our ability to self-govern is a metanarrative that drives much of American individualism.

Scripture has metanarratives. These are the BIG stories that you find the influences of everywhere else. The big stories that you find echoed all over both Testaments generally include:

  1. Creation – that God is creator and that he created in the beginning but also continues to create. In the NT you find that in Christ we are new creations…that creation didn’t stop in Genesis or in the Old Testament but continues today.
  2. Exodus to Promised land – that God liberated his people from 400 years of slavery, took them through the wilderness and into the promised land. You find these threads through the psalms and all over the gospels if you know what you are looking for (read John 6 to get a feel for that. In the synoptics check out the amazing book “Israel’s Scripture Traditions and the Synoptic Gospels: Story Shaping Story” by Swartley…amazing book!). The Exodus imagery is also very prevalent in the book of Revelation.
  3. Exile – The Assyrian and particularly the Babylonian exile had a huge impact on Israel. It shaped so many things that affect the New Testament and the cultural identity of God’s people. You see this happen in the historical books, talked about in the prophets, echoed in the psalms and impacting the world of the New Testament, especially the return from captivity to re-settle the land. God’s hesed/loving kindness and faithfulness can ultimately be trusted.

One more thing that isn’t in scripture but worked into the national metanarratives of Israel is what happened in the intertestamental period. I don’t have the time to get into all of that now but the Greek culture, Maccabean revolt and Roman occupation have a tremendous impact on the events of the Gospels and Acts and the culture of Palestine at that time.

Once you are aware of these threads of thought and cultural identity you will find them more often than you ever knew they were there and it will enrich your Bible study tremendously.

One Response to Reading the Bible Contextually: Be Familiar With the Metanarratives

  1. […] have a direct impact on the person we believe ourselves to be. These stories are called our metanarratives…the stories that shape us. They can be personal (what happened to you in life) or communal […]

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