Character in Biblical Narrative

Character in Biblical Narrative

We’re talking about how to read biblical narrative. Or, in other words, how to read stories. Right, and one of the main ingredients of any good story is characters who encounter conflict and then have to overcome it. Yeah, let’s talk about characters. In most stories, we quickly identify with characters because, just like them, we’re in our own story having our own conflicts that we need to overcome. Yeah, and good stories have characters with relatable struggles. We can watch them react to these challenges in different ways and we get to see what happens as a result. Through characters, an author can show us their view of what it means to be human. The Bible is no different. Biblical stories use characters as a mirror so we can see ourselves and discover our own human nature in the reflection. The thing about characters in the Bible is that they could be hard to relate to. I mean, often there is very little detail given about them. Yeah, biblical authors develop characters differently than modern narratives. They prefer to communicate a lot through minimal detail. For example, we rarely hear what people look like in the Bible, but when we do it’s crucially important for the story. Like we are told that Saul is tall and David was kind of a runt. These become images of their moral character. Saul’s height matches his love of status and power to impose authority while David humbly accepts his low status and allows God to exalt and deliver him. So people’s physical appearances are symbolic. Yeah, very often. Like Esau’s hairy body fits his animal-like behavior. And Jacob’s smooth skin matches his deceptive, slippery nature. What other clues do we get about biblical characters? Well, often people’s names symbolize their role in the story. Abraham in Hebrew sounds like “father of a multitude”. Jacob means “deceiver”. Ruth means “refreshment”. And Saul, his name means “the one asked for”. He is the flawed king that the people requested. So, by packing all this meaning, with very little detail, biblical stories can do a lot in a little space. They even leave out things that modern readers want to know about these characters. Like, they rarely come out and tell us people’s thoughts or motives. Right, like when Moses saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, he kills him on the spot. But, why? Was this righteous anger? Or did he just lose his cool? And, was it okay with God that he did it? Yeah, we’re not told because biblical authors usually avoid giving moral commentary. They would rather have a character’s words and actions reveal their motives and then leave us to judge their behavior by seeing the consequences In the case of Moses, this murder is the beginning of a pattern of his anger getting the best of him with bad results. This choice forces him to run and hide in the desert for forty years. So, it was a bad thing? But he does meet his wife out there, so it’s a good thing? Exactly, it forces you to ponder. Through all these techniques, the biblical narrators keep their stories compact, memorable, but also, engaging. But seriously was Moses being good or bad? Right? Like in classic stories, there is always a good guy and a bad guy, some admirable hero who faces off against some horrible villain. Sure, and simplified characters like that are helpful for teaching children there is such a thing as good and evil. But the Bible is not a children’s book. Its characters are very complex, a mixed bag of good and evil, just like us. There is hardly any flawless characters in the Bible. What about heroes of the faith like Abraham or King David? So, you mean Abraham who used an Egyptian slave for sex and then lied about his wife two times to save his own neck? And David, the man after God’s own heart, who sleeps with another man’s wife then murders him? These stories are anything but simplistic. They offer us realistic portraits of compromised people like ourselves. The real surprise is that God keeps working with them despite their failures. So, just because a person is called by God or wins a battle, becomes successful or wealthy doesn’t mean the biblical author wants me to act like them. Right. It would actually be really dangerous to imitate most biblical characters. True, but there must be something admirable in biblical characters, something I can imitate? Absolutely! Pay attention and you will notice that most biblical stories highlight the moments when characters fail or come to the end of themselves. Then they choose radical trust in God’s grace and wisdom. It is in these stories that the authors show us how to be a human who truly pleases God through humility and surrender. Yeah, the fact that God stays committed to biblical characters is a profound statement about the patience and love of God, who is also a character. Right, and by studying biblical characters, we can observe our own worst tendencies on display. We see time and again, God’s gracious response that will see this story through to the end. Hey, guys. I hope this video was helpful for you on how to understand the characters in biblical narrative. We have a lot more videos coming out about how to read the biblical narrative and other literature in the Bible You can check out our Youtube channel here, the Bible Project We are a crowd-funded animation studio. We are making loads of videos on themes of the Bible and the structure of the Bible and how to read the Bible You can be a part of this. Go to and see what we are up to.

100 Replies to “Character in Biblical Narrative”

  1. Great vid as always 🙂
    But as a hebrew speaker the meaning of Jacod is 'Ya'akov' which means 'he who follows' and not a deciever

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  3. You guys are fantastic. I am 65 years old and had a parochial school education back in the times of the dinosaurs. But with each video you present, I learn a new perspective and greater depth on the Bible.

    However, I will never forgive the Bible for subjecting gay people to thousands of years of torture, misery and execution, but there are some redeeming qualities. Perhaps some time you can comment on the vicious ignorant proclamations of the Old Testament and Paul about homosexuality. How could God be so obtuse? We know more about homosexuality now than evidently "god" did in the past. While spiteful Christians thump their Bibles on this topic, medical science has shown that much of what is said about the topic in the Bible is nonsense.

    Of course, I am leaving myself open to all the literalists out there to foam at the mouth. There is a huge conversation here in the comments that can be summed up as "What?!?! Are you saying these characters and stories weren't real? I am appalled!"

    Thus, such people miss the point. It does not matter if the story is real because the intent of the Bible is to teach spiritual truth. So you can believe every single word literally and still be clueless about how to actually live a spiritual life. These stories (literal or not) have deeper truths in them. Yet in the comments there seem to be a lot of people hung up on whether the stories are real. But it just does not matter. God doesn't care if you believe in Adam and Eve. He cares about the deeper spiritual truths in these stories and whether you have found them and made them part of your life.

    Many Christians MISS the SPIRITUAL DEPTH in the Bible because they are instead obsessed with the literal words, thereby being advocates of the LETTER OF THE LAW instead of the SPIRIT OF THE LAW. In other words, they focus on the surface level words and totally miss the spiritual depth.

    We even have a modern Christian movement trying to convince us that the Earth is flat because that is the Biblical assumption! OMG. Are we going back to the Dark Ages just to make the Bible literally true? This is what comes of looking at the Bible in purely literal terms and missing the message completely. So the Earth is flat because in the Bible God stopped the sun so Joshua could slaughter more people in God's name?

    If a story must be real for you, then I suggest that you may be focused on the wrong thing.

    Were the parables Jesus told factual? Is THAT what we must believe? In other words, is it important to believe the parables of Jesus as historical events or can we go deeper (as Jesus intended) and get the spiritual lessons he was teaching through the parables?


    If your intent is to learn spiritual truth, what difference does it make if the characters were real? The Bible is not a recipe book, it is a spiritual book. Such books always use allegory. The people in the verses represent spiritual truth regardless of whether they were actual flesh and blood or not. (I find it strange that no mention is made anywhere of Moses, the plagues or the departure from Egypt anywhere in Egyptian records. The Egyptians were obsessive historical recorders. Being a scribe was an intensely important occupation then.)

    So what matters to God? Does he care whether you believe in Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, or does he want you to get the spiritual meaning behind the story? That is what matters to God, not whether you sincerely believe that Adam and Eve (1 breeding pair of humans) somehow created the human race.

    If you feel insecure about whether the stories are historical events, then believe them as such. Go for it. But don't miss the spiritual truths that were embedded in these events. THAT is what matters.

  4. Alot of people imagine Sampson being a really massive buff guy, but think about it. If you saw a really massive ripped dude dead lift 300 lbs. you wouldn't ask him were he got his strength? I'm pretty sure that Sampson was probably a tiny little twig.

    I know that was kind of random, I was just thinking about it.

  5. I have found a new love for the Bible due to these videos. The videos are engaging, informative. I watch the video, then read the Bible, then watch the video again. Praise God.

  6. For more on symbolism in biblical narrative and characters, I highly recommend Troy Reiner's and Jonathan Pageau's channels. Dr. Reiner is a Christian counselor who uses types and shadows in the names and stories to pull out models for counseling. And Pageau is an Orthodox icon carver with a ton of insight on sumbolism.

  7. Love your work gents, but some of the imagery choices are not righteous… you guys can do better. Tight clothing and low cut blouse and women is using the world's to reach the world, i.e. the prince of this world. Jesus nor his apostles nor his prophets did anything like that. Be careful brothers, you don't drift into compromise in such story boarding choices. Bless you


    Ezekiel 14:13 “Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it.
    14 Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in the land, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.

    Here's what the Bible says about King David's life, hardly the sinner everyone exaggerates him to be. Did he fall once? yes… big time… but that was it, the only time. See below. He would not have been given the promise God gave him in 2 Samuel 7:12-14 if David was such a wretch.

    1 Kings 15:4 Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, by setting up his son after him and by establishing Jerusalem; 5 because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

    James 2:22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called THE FRIEND OF GOD. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

    John 8:39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. (*Because God thinks Abraham was pretty awesome and why He is the father of the faith and we come under him through his seed, who is Christ.)

    Abraham lied you said? Twice? Hardly, Sarai was his half sister. LET'S SEE IN GENESIS THAT SARAH WAS ABRAHAM'S HALF-SISTER.

    Genesis 12:18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” 20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

    Genesis 20:2 Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
    5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”

    11 And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.
    12 But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

    He did not lie in Egypt, she was his sister. Likewise, his wife asked him to sleep with Hagar to give him a Son, and we see that was accepted practice in those days, as God implicitly endorsed Jacob doing that with the 12 tribes, two concubines and two wives. Things changed with Moses but not before. Paul talks about Abraham with the slave woman giving the symbol of slavery that comes from the Law, and the freedom that comes from the child of the promise in Galatians. No indication their or anywhere else that God was upset with Abraham about that. We cannot impose God fully revealed standard of righteousness today, that began with Moses on Marriage and ended with Jesus new standard where remarriage while your spouse lives is adultery. Moses allowed Kings to have more than one wife, albeit he urges Israel when they have kings for them not to do that, but made allowance. over 400 years prior with Abraham, no such restriction was given to not have children through the concubine. The Bible is not clear one if God wanted them to marry the concubines or just allowed bearing children with them. We cannot impose our opinions not stated in the narrative.

  9. Painting the OT men of God as men we should not imitate shows your work here to not be of God. Very dissappointed in this one. Very sad… not what the Bible says. Did on rare occasion, men of God, walking righteously, fall? yes. Was that typical… Not AT ALL.

    2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to tartarus and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved NOAH, one of eight people, A PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, bringing in the flood ON the WORLD of the UNGODLY; 6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by THE FILTHY CONDUCT OF THE WICKED
    8 (for LOT THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing THEIR LAWLESS WORKS)— 9 then THE LORD KNOWS HOW TO DELIVER THE GODLY out of temptations and to reserve the UNRIGHTEOUS under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the unbridled passions and desires of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed.

  10. I like the concept of the call to action and the movement into new land. It's a coincidence that after watching this video the following video re-instated the concepts

  11. I really like it!!! My son watches your channel and now he knows lots of things. He even reads the Bible and listens to the teacher in Religious Education!!!

  12. that picture of Moses and his wife is legendary, i could never imagine Moses like that. lol. You guys are so funny.

  13. I love all of your videos, the design, the organisation and presentation of the theme through illustrations and animations are just perfect, the intelligence behind it is incredible, thank you for the visual artist ,coze they are doing a great job! But the only thing that is missing is the epicness and emotion through Soundtracks and Music, the musical aspect is absent and it is a major key to get more followers AKA people for Christ!

  14. This video brought tears to my eyes when you mentioned that God is also a character in the Bible at the end of the video. Something just… clicked in my head.
    It was s happy reminder that God is always faithful and has never forsaken us. He has always been there, even when we rebel.

    I’ve always known this but seldom does it hit Home like it did when I watched the video.

    Thank you, Bible Project. God bless.

  15. ¿Yo recordaba que en la biblia se mencionaba que David era Rubio o algo así?😕no recuerdo muy bien 😓(gracias por los subtítulos 👌👍

  16. Im a muslim and this is really helping me understand my own religion and others better..thank you so much

  17. Great video, but I have just one issue – your comment about Abraham using his slave for sex. How exactly did you come to this conclusion? Please clarify as I've never seen evidence of this in that story.

  18. I have learned so much from the Bible Project. Thanks guys for all your hard work God bless 😇😇😇🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

  19. Genial! entendí… es la fidelidad de Yahweh fluyendo a través de personas imperfectas pero que llegan al punto de rendición total… muy poderoso! 🔥👌❤

  20. Great videos! My only complaint is some statements made need more research. Example: Abraham did not lie about Sarah being his sister. She was his half sister Genesis 20:12. I understand you wanted to make a point but being deceptive is not the way yo do it. Abraham's sin was not lying. In this instance you didn't exercise your own plot narrative. 🙁

  21. But in real life someone's look often does NOT match their character. So if a person's look in the Bible are clues to who they are and what they do… doesn't that mean it's fiction? I mean you'd have to make up a character to match their look,name,body and character

  22. Why do we call people in the Bible "Bible characters?" Isn't this sort of implying that they are fictional, like a comic-book character or a cartoon character?

  23. This series really helped me understand the scriptures. bless you both, and everyone who was involved in these videos.

  24. ❤️ Thanks for all you do! Our family appreciates all the effort you invest in each your videos!!! God bless!

  25. Jacob does not mean deceiver… It means "heel" ala Genesis 3:15. Thanks for maligning the father of the nation of Israel…..

  26. Η προσέγγιση του ύψους σε σχέση με τον χαρακτήρα του καθενός στην παλαιά διαθήκη, πχ Σαούλ και Δαυίδ,ο δεύτερος δεν νομίζω ότι επειδή ήταν πιο κοντός από τον πρώτο τον κάνει αυτόματα πιο ταπεινό. Ο Δαυίδ ήταν αγαπητός στον Θεό γιατί ο ίδιος το ήθελε, όχι γιατί ήταν πιο κοντός από τον Σαούλ. Αυτά είναι θεωρίες που σε αποπροσανατολιζουν από το πραγματικό νόημα της ιστορίας.

  27. You're doing great work guys. Glad to be a subscriber. This channel is an excellent way for people who weren't believers, or just got saved, to become familiar with the bible. God bless you.

  28. Jesus Christ was the only person turn human that did the right thing. He turn human and could have sin and disobey God but he didn’t. Thank you Jesus for dying in the cross for my sins.

  29. The fact that the Bible documents so much embarrassing personal detail, then, must logically lead us to regard the text as an accurate, "warts and all". It proves these were real people living real lives. These historical accounts have a level of accuracy that, by comparison, we can't equal in our own "news" today. Today, partisanship causes the warts to either be hidden or emphasized, depending on who is writing. But in the OT, we get a TRULY "fair and balanced" accounting of the Jews' historical leadership.

  30. I pray all good characters in the Bible are inside and out of all that i have not prayed against, and all bad characters are inside the lake of fire as well as all i have prayed against in the name of the Lord Jesus i pray amen.

  31. Jacob does not mean deceiver that’s deceitful in its self..what are your real motives??? One question are you guys Jewish?????

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