One of the best books I’ve come across on interpreting the Old Testament—especially narratives—is Richard Pratt’s He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives. It’s quite accessible but also a substantial volume.

Nearly 30 years ago Pratt wrote an article entitled “Pictures, Windows, and Mirrors in Old Testament Exegesis,” Westminster Theological Journal 45.1 (Spring 1983): 156-167. In it he developed a multi-perspectival way of categorizing our approach to biblical texts. This approach is explored in greater detail in He Gave Us Stories.

Pratt suggests that OT narratives can be viewed as pictures (literary analysis), windows (historical analysis), and mirrors (thematic analysis). These roughly correspond to the theological conviction that the OT is (1) canonical; (2) historical; and (3) for believers. This has some overlap with the hermeneutical triad developed by Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson in Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology.

This is a helpful way to think about various questions that can be asked of the text. Within each of the three categories, there is another threefold set of questions, focusing upon author, discourse, and audience. The results look something like this:

Text as Picture (form + content)

  • What dramatic portrait did the speaker intend?
  • What picture does the discourse present?
  • What portrait may the audience have received?

Texts as Windows (portal to historical events and periods)

  • What historical information did the speaker intend?
  • What historical information does the discourse present?
  • What historical information may the audience have received?

Texts as Mirrors (reflection of the interests and topics of the believing community)

  • What did the speaker intend to say about the subject?
  • What does the discourse say about the topic?
  • What did the audience understand about the theme?