Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bible Stories: Written or Oral?

When people learn about OneStory (creating story sets in vernacular languages to be used for evangelism and discipleship) some ask, "Are you trying to replace reading the Bible?" I was reminded of this question when Fernando shared with me the impact stories have had on several people, and it brings up two key points related to Bible storying.

First, for those from cultures where the written word is foundational for communication and learning, it can be difficult to understand the role of storytelling in cultures where oral communication is the primary medium for teaching history, instilling values, or creating entertainment in a social group. The vast majority of Garífuna people in mainland Honduras learn Spanish in school, and it is the language for written communication in this part of the world. In contrast, the Garífuna language has a wealth of stories shared orally both over time and from community to community. Spanish is a necessity for education and work, but Garífuna is the "heart language." This is why we are working to create a set of oral stories in Garífuna that illustrate Jesus' redemptive work.

Second, in both Old and New Testament times, biblical truth was often communicated orally. For example, Jesus used parables to teach spiritual truths, stories that His listeners could remember and share with others. In a OneStory project, stories must be accurate (faithful to Scripture), natural-sounding in the vernacular language, and also reproducible so that listeners can share them with others during their everyday lives. As the Lord has used oral communication to transmit and establish His truth for generations, we pray that the good news will be available and reproducible orally.

However, our goal is not for people to stop reading the Bible -- rather, we praise God for how stories in Garífuna lead people to read their Bibles more! Fernando, together with a consultant and some young men, has been creating and revising stories for the Garífuna set. One day he went to the get his hair cut and told a very well-known story to the barber, who is not a believer yet. When Fernando went back, the barber said, "The story you told me last time -- it IS in the Bible! My wife and I looked for it, and we found and read it." Because of a story (during a haircut!), a couple was prompted to read God's Word for themselves.

Fernando has been teaching the stories at one of our church's weekly fellowship groups. Everyone hears the story several times, learns to retell it, and has a discussion about it. One woman, a believer who knows the Bible very well, says that she looks up the stories afterward to compare the story to the written text. Sometimes after reading a passage many times, hearing it as a story directs our attention to what we haven't noticed before.

So, NO, the goal of oral storying is not to replace reading God's Word -- and we are seeing how oral storying prompts people of different levels of biblical knowledge to read God's Word! Please continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the story crafting process and to use storying opportunities, whether infomally or formally, one-on-one or in groups, to bring people to Himself.


  1. Awesome, Alison! I wish American Christian culture would embrace Biblical oral storytelling more because I think it's easier to remember that way. You guys are awesome!

  2. When I went to a OneStory workshop for the first time, I had a really hard time with the oral format because I was so used to a written text! But then I started noticing new things in familiar stories. And when we've used stories for fellowship groups, we see all kinds of advantages - people of all ages can participate, people with no Bible background can also participate, people who show up to visit can jump right in, you can do it anywhere without materials (or electricity), etc.!