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Narrative-realism, Preterism, and the relevance of scripture

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By Virgil - Posted on 14 November 2008

by Andrew Perriman

I recently came across - I guess my ears were burning - a brief discussion initiated by Stephen Murray about the difference between a ’narrative-historical’ or ’narrative-realist’ approach to biblical interpretation and classic Preterism. The question is pertinent, so I will attempt here to outline what I understand by a narrative-realist hermeneutic and how it compares with Preterism, with some final thoughts on how a historical reading can still provide the basis for a dynamic and transformative dependence on the living Word of God. Historical-criticism

The historical-critical method raises different types of question about an ancient text.

There is the question, first, of how the text came into existence, which becomes a critical question if investigation suggests that the provenance of the text is not what tradition has taken it to be. Historians might point to internal contradictions, inconsistencies, irregularities, or anachronisms in a text and draw the conclusion, for example, that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses but was compiled from a number of literary sources over centuries, achieving its final form (and perhaps significance) in the post-exilic period.

Secondly, there is the question of whether the circumstances and events described in the text actually took place as stated. Is the account historically accurate? Did these things really happen? So the historical-critical method might raise doubts about the ’truthfulness’ of such extraordinary biblical stories as the exodus from Egypt or Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. The critical assumption again is that things might not be what they have traditionally seemed to be - and that we have the tools available to make a rational judgment on the matter.

Thirdly, there are questions under the ’history-of-religions’ rubric relating to the origins and supposed uniqueness of the phenomenon that is described in the New Testament. The assumption is that the emerging Christian movement can be explained in much the same way that we would explain other ancient religious movements, without recourse to presumptions of divine initiative.

A final, and in many respects more complex, type of question has to do with the perspective or point of view from which the texts are interpreted. The issue here is not so much whether what is said or implied in the text corresponds to objective reality, whether it is really what it purports to be. It is more a question of how the story is read, particularly in view of the distance in time, space and culture between the original historical context and the modern reader.

Over the centuries the church has devised numerous interpretive strategies with a view to maintaining the relevance of this ancient text for the purposes of contemporary spiritual formation. The most basic approach has been to assume that the text as inspired and unquestioned Word of God simply transcends history and speaks directly to the modern reader. So, for example, we might open the Bible at random and read: ’I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground’ (Is. 44:3). We are probably not so naïve as to take this promise of God literally, but we may well read it as a direct assurance that he will bring revival to our country - and it may hardly cross our minds that this promise was originally made not to us but to Israel in exile.

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Sam's picture

Perriman quoting Stevens.....this must be heaven. Folks, thanks to all of our work together, it's getting through....


plymouthrock's picture


"Perriman qouting Stevens"

Awesome isn't it? We must be getting through. I didn't like his off-hand comment regarding his inclination to still keep preterism at arms distance. Does he mean the theory or the people?

I planned on writing a long response on that particular issue but decided it wasn't worth it in the end.



Virgil's picture

No kidding :)

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