A common interpretive pitfall readers fall into, in approaching biblical study, is placing the “story-line” over the “plot-line.” This approach, often times, shifts the focus away from God and places it onto the people, places and events first.
The Story-Line Approach
The stories of the Old Testament are quite fascinating and the reader can easily get caught up in the circumstances and actions surrounding the characters in the text. Rather than God possessing authority in holding the main role, this approach places God second in line to the characters portrayed in the story. We learn of King David’s fearless nature in his encounter with Goliath in one narrative and in another how Elijah revealed the one true God to the prophets of Baal, ultimately defeating them. However fearless and faithful both David and Elijah prove to be, the reader has only accomplished learning about David and Elijah’s character more so than God. It is at this point the reader, being satisfied, moves on knowing not much more of God than when they started. These are the factual accounts of the narrative and are to be viewed as secondary to the plot-line.
The Plot-Line Approach
The Old Testament is “God’s invitation to hear his story.” It is in this approach that we can begin the process of proper biblical translation. The “plot-line” holds its focus on the theology (inquiry of God) of biblical text, therefore deeming it as Scripture. If we place careful focus on the plot-line of the text, we then are better positioned to hear the story of God and who He is. A good example of this can be seen in Genesis 26:17-22. The story is about Isaac and his attempts at settling in the Valley of Gerar. Every time Isaac successfully dug a well, the herdsmen of Gerar claimed it as their own forcing Isaac to settle elsewhere. This happened three times, and on the third time there was no quarreling, finally allowing Isaac to settle in the land. This can be seen as a rather unimportant story if the reader is concentrating solely on the “story-line.” However, a theological, “plot-line” approach would reveal that God moves man and will use all circumstances surrounding in order to reveal his magnificent plan.
We can study the stories of the bible historically, however if God is secondary in our approach, then we should consider shifting our priority from storyline to plot-line. In placing God first, we can begin to clearly see that the bible is an account of God reaching out to us. The benefit is to us, in that we gain understanding and draw nearer to our Creator. It is God telling us whom He is and in response, we are to find ourselves in worship, commitment, and service.
. Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, ©2009), 27-28
. 1 Samuel 17 (ESV)
. 1 Kings 18:20-40 (ESV)
. Hill and Walton, 27
. Ibid., 22
. Ibid., 28
. Ibid., 23