How to Preach from a Biblical Narrative

About 40% of the biblical material is narrative, story, and is the most common single type of writing in the Bible. One of the primary faith confessions of both Christianity and Judaism is that God has chosen to reveal Himself in extraordinary ways in human history, yet in the ordinary events and circumstances in which human beings live and work. Those extraordinary encounters with God are called narratives.


The entire Scriptures tell one grand story, the story of God fulfilling His mission to restore all creation back to Himself (Romans 8:18-25). From Genesis to Revelation, God is seen as initiating and responding in human history in order to accomplish His mission. This story has seven episodes as revealed in the Scriptures: Creation (Genesis 1 and 2), The Fall (Genesis 3 to 11), Abraham (Genesis 12 to 36), Israel (Genesis 37 and the entire OT), Gospel (The Four Gospels), Church (All the Epistles), and New Creation (Revelation). It is important to understand and internalize this whole story before studying any specific story in the Bible.


All stories in the Bible have common elements. There are characters involved. Something happens or several events happen within a certain setting or context. There is a plot (or even several plots), meaning there is some kind of conflict or problem that needs to be resolved. It may or may not be resolved, depending on the story. Of course, in the end (see the Book of Revelation) everything is resolved eventually. But in human history some biblical plots may not be resolved. There are conversations or dialogues, as well as actions done by one or more characters, which move the plot (or plots) forward. There are leading men or women in the stories, as well as villains or protagonists. God is always present in each of the stories, but His presence is manifested in different ways. He also plays different roles, depending on the story. Sometimes His presence is obvious to the characters; at other times it is hidden (only the reader knows). Sometimes His participation in the story is positive; at other times it is negative (at least from the point of view of the human characters). You can only understand the significance of one specific story in the Bible if you read the whole story. So before studying the parts of the story, study the entire story first. The procedures for studying stories, whether as a whole or in its parts, is the same (see below).


To study a narrative, you apply the same DIG process but with some unique emphases. First, you need to discover the details of the story. Review the previous step (no. 2) to know the specific details you need to focus on. They are mostly pertaining to the structure of the story (i.e. characters, plot, setting, etc.). The atmosphere can be discerned from the context of the story (the occasion of the story telling) and the text of the story (the actual story itself). The literary features can be seen in the way the story is told (e.g. using delays, repetitions, action versus words, a play in words or names, etc.). These are the ways the author may be emphasizing something in the story. The author would also use dialogue as well as his own comments to highlight what he wants to communicate in the story. Terms are less important in narratives, with some exceptions. Usually the main action of the story is the most important part, i.e. what actually happens. Once a detail is noticed, you must proceed by asking relevant interpretative questions. Find the answers within the story or some back story (prequel) or after story (sequel). Make sure that you validate your answers using the entire Bible as your context as well as other people’s comments or observations about the story. Test every observation or interpretation in the light of the actual text as well as the entire Bible. Then summarize your findings by stating the theme, topic, trust and thrust of the segment of the story or the whole story itself. After doing this, you need to come up with a Take Home Message (either a Turning Point or a Tagline).


When it’s time to preach a narrative, you need to approach it differently. You still need to start with a good INTRO (Interesting beginning, Need raised, Theme, Topic and the Text used, Revelation or Relevance of the theme, topic and text, and Overview of your approach, which is narrative). But you must answer your topical question using the story as the basis and structure of the body of your sermon. The structure of the story itself will be your sermon structure. You will simply follow it, making sure that you highlight or clarify the setting, characters and plot of the story as you go along. In those parts of the story where you’ve found specific details that reveal the author’s special concerns, you will pause and expound on it (explain, prove and apply) as necessary. Usually you will only reveal the Take Home Message at the end of the story. Then you must END properly (Emphasize the Take Home Message, Nudge for application, and Direct initial response).