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How To Read The Bible – Part 7 – Setting in Biblical Narrative

The Bible tells many stories which are also part of one grander story. One important aspect of a story is its setting and setting is often understood as where (or when) a story takes place.

What might we learn about how to read the Bible by examining the use of Setting in Biblical Narrative?

Watch Episode 7 by clicking HERE. Come back after the video to continue reading.

In the video, Tim talks about how setting is used by authors to help fill in the details of a story by appealing to what we already know about a given setting. Essentially, using our expectations about situations, time periods, and places to help tell their story.

Often, settings can also be used to drive home important messages or themes. Especially if the author cleverly uses the setting to reverse or challenge the expectations we might have. This is something we see a lot when we compare stories in the Old and New Testaments.

Tim also mentions how Biblical authors will sometimes use themes as a type of setting and this helps us to see how the whole story of the Bible fits together. This type of contextual perspective helps us to see the many layers by which a setting can inform a story’s meaning.

For example: In the video they describe how the setting of Egypt is used first as a place where things go wrong for God’s people but also as a place where God provides/demonstrates his power to save them.

Later, the theme of God’s provision is reinforced through the reversal of our expectations about the setting of Egypt. In the New Testament, Israel (who has begun to look like Egypt) has now become the place where things are going wrong, and God provides/demonstrates his power to save as he sends Jesus, the Messiah to Egypt with his family.

Another example: Time periods of 40 are presented in the video as being significant in relation to the testing of God’s people. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus is tested in the desert for 40 days. However, in another reversal of expectations Jesus overcomes this period of testing where Israel had repeatedly failed in theirs.

There is certainly great potential for learning within the various types of settings used in Biblical narratives. Even so, we should exercise discernment when we read. We should never assume that settings necessarily contain these layered meanings. We should be aware of the possibility though, taking the time to consider the setting as we meditate on God’s word and its application.

Next time you sit down to read Scripture on your own or with your small group take a few minutes to consider what the setting of the passage you are reading is. Then ask whether it informs the meaning of the text. If it does, explore together what the implications of that might be. A good commentary can be a helpful tool for this as well.

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