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The God at the End of the Story: Are Biblical Theology and Narrative Character Development Compatible?

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image of Horizons in Biblical Theology

If the end goal of theology of the Hebrew Scriptures is a description of God and God’s relationship to the world, then the Hebrew Scriptures present us with a dilemma. It is increasingly apparent that the Tanak provides a wide variety of portraits of the divine being. There are two basic possibilities for making use of all of these portraits. The first option is to lay all of them out on a level surface and allow them be in dialogue and tension with one another. The second option is to place these portrayals on a trajectory which gives a position of privilege to those which are at some particular point along the path. Of course there are three choices of trajectory: Historical, canonical, or narrative. The last two differ far more for the Christian Old Testament than for the Tanak. A strictly narrative approach, which reads the biblical story from Genesis to Nehemiah, presents a divine being who is changing and developing as a character, a process which has been well demonstrated over the past decade by Jack Miles, Richard Elliot Friedman, W. Lee Humphreys, Meir Sternberg, Jerome M. Segal, and others. There is general agreement that the divine character portrayed at the end of this narrative trajectory is the one which matches the religious experience of those who were putting the literature, both the individual books and the canon, into its final form. This conclusion would seem to point toward a narrative method of doing theology which gives this endpoint a place of privilege, an observation which raises two questions. First, does this match the actual use of texts by those who are attempting narrative approaches to biblical theology? Second, what role do those portrayals which present earlier stages in the divine character development play in a narrative approach to a theology of the Hebrew Scriptures?

Affiliations: 1: Belmont University 1900 Belmont Blvd., Nashville, TN 37212, Email:


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