Narrative Criticism

Narrative criticism is a form of literary criticism applied to biblical studies that developed in the past few decades since the 1970s. As a method of approach, it  focuses more on stories, events, people, discourses and settings. According to A Dictionary of the Bible,  “The main thesis is that readers (e.g. of the gospels) should read the narratives and respond to them as the authors hoped.” The previous approaches to biblical criticism, viz. form, redaction, historical, and textual are considered to have become obsolete and effecting no conclusive results. According to Mark W. G. Stibbe,

Until the late 1970s, the traditional methods for the study of the gospels and Acts were form criticism, source criticism, historical criticism, tradition history, redaction criticism, and textual criticism…. …traditional methods of interpretation were more concerned with what lay behind NT narratives than with their form and their literary, artistic features….

A change began to occur most noticeably in the 1980s, when two books were published on Mark as Story (Rhoads and Michie, 1982; Best, 1983); one on Matthew as Story (Kingsbury, 1986), one on The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts (Tannehill, 1986), and one on the Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Culpepper, 1983). Each of these works, and a number of lesser-known books and articles… took up the challenge of looking at the final form of the gospels and Acts in order to highlight those narrative dynamics which traditional methods had neglected.[1]

According to John David Punch, “the pendulum has swung, for literary criticism looks at the text as a whole with virtually no interest in sources, traditions, or redactional material.”[2]

Christopher T. Paris observes, “Narrative criticism embraces the textual unity of canonical criticism while historical criticism holds fast to textual divisions that arose from multiple sources and editors. Narrative criticism admits the existence of sources and redactions but chooses to focus on the artistic weaving of these materials into a sustained narrative picture.” [3]

The narrative critic tries to first establish the literary aspect and genre of the text (whether it is fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry?. Then, he goes on to analyse the setting, plot, theme, characters, story elements, etc. His goal is to understand what the narrator (author) of the narrative really wanted to communicate and how he accomplishes it.


1. Mark W. G. Stibbe, John as Storyteller: Narrative Criticism and the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p5.
2. John David Punch, The Pericope Adulterae: Theories of Insertion & Omission, Doctoral Dissertation submitted to Radboud University Nijmegen, 19 April 2010.
3. Christopher T. Paris, Narrative Obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible, PhD Dissertation submitted to Graduate School of Vanderbilt University, May 2012. p4.


The Power of Scriptural Implication and Application

There are a few truths that are discovered before their experience. Some scientific theories fall under this genre. For instance, the theory of relativity came first, then much later on its predictions were verified through experience.

The pronouncements and predictions of Scriptures are much certain than what humans discover through mathematical analyses of experience.

One doesn’t need to be experienced in certain areas in order to be able to receive truths of Scriptures by faith. One’s experience or lack of experience cannot alter the immutable truths.

For instance, in the late 19th century, a group of students under the leadership of Charles Parham began to study God’s Word and discovered that the gift of tongues always followed the baptism of the Spirit. They inferred that this is what they must expect to experience when they are filled. Soon, on Jan 1 of 1901 when Parham laid hands on a girl who was waiting on the Lord in prayer, she received the gift and spoke in Chinese. Interestingly, Parham himself had not received the gift yet. He didn’t have the experience but had received what was implied by the Scripture.

Smith Wigglesworth used to say that he didn’t walk by what he saw or experienced but by what He knew the Bible said.

I believe the Bible teaches us all wisdom we need for life, work, marriage, business, counseling, and ministry that most books based on pure experience alone cannot teach. If we have succeeded to rightly infer and know what implications God’s Word has for our situation, we can apply it to our life and live according to the Word