One of my favorite classes this semester is Biblical Narrative with Dr. Joe Dongell. Brand new at ATS, this course looks at Scripture as a whole, proposing an underlying mega-narrative supported by a number of meta-narratives. (If that was somewhat “Greek” to you it also was for me until yesterday.) In an after-class discussion, Dr. Dongell presented what he believes to be the overarching story (“mega-narrative”) in the Bible followed by various themes (“meta-narratives”) that are present throughout.
For an introduction to mega-narrative we turn to Genesis, the book of beginnings or the place our story starts. Genesis can be broken down into basically two eras: the first recorded in chapters 1-11, and the second in chapter 12 to the end of the book.
In the first era we see God breathing life and hence order into the chaos followed by sin and death reversing the process. The progression is startling: a preference for something other than God (3:6) leads to murder (4:8), then to out-of-control revenge (4:24) and then eventually to unsustainable violence (6:5, 11). The antithesis of life is highlighted in the first recorded genealogy (5:3-31) in the phrase, “and then he died.” It’s a resounding endbeat for each life except Enoch. The first era ends with God “cleaning house” (the flood) and re-ordering the chaos followed by a genealogy that depicts a “diminishing life trend”; life spans descend from 500 down to 119 (11:11-25).
In the second era we see God establishing a people who will be blessed and be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. Just to be clear, this term “bless” and its derivatives should not be confused with that which we ask over a meal, a “good-day” to passersby, or our response when someone sneezes. Defined as “breathing life” into another, we see God infusing Abraham with life so that he can bestow it on others. Lot is successful when he is with Abraham; the redundant mention of their separation (13:11) draws attention to Lot’s downward spiral that follows when he is not connected to the one whose purpose was to breathe life into others.
God’s desire to impart life to those who bear His image constitutes the mega-narrative. God gifts humanity with an environment teeming with life and beauty, and in the middle of it all, a tree that will sustain life forever.
This glimpse of eternal life, however, is quickly snuffed out when an enemy misguides human choice toward sin (preference for anything other than God) which ultimately leads to death. The plot thickens throughout Scripture; the mega-narrative reveals a God Who is continually injecting life into His special creation while Satan undermines and destroys. God’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply (1:28, 9:1) is constantly thwarted by the satanic threads of violence and murder. Multiple stories of family dysfunction (Isaac/Esau vs. Rebekah/Jacob, Judah & Tamar, Joseph vs. his brothers) during the second era in Genesis are further evidence of Satan’s attempt to stop the Abrahamic lineage of blessing. We might also note that Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel all suffer from barrenness. Satan wants to stop a lineage that will ultimately produce a Mediator who will re-introduce eternal life.
The meta-narratives of Scripture are other themes we are quite familiar with: Sacrificial atonement, Kingdom, Covenant, and Redemption to name a few. These themes and threads throughout Scripture all tie into the mega-narrative–God’s passion for imparting life to fallen humanity.
The Bible is God’s story of eternal life for you and me. It’s His story (his-tory) that you and I are invited and privileged to join!