BibleProject | How to Read the Bible


Day 7: Setting in Biblical Narrative

Every story has to take place somewhere, and very often, locations have a special meaning or significance evoked by events that already took place there. Biblical setting utilizes both place and time. As the biblical story develops, places begin to take on a symbolic/meaningful significance based on what has happened there.

Example: Garden of Eden > the east > Babylon: The human spiral of sin and selfishness moves from the garden to Babylon, as we see in Genesis 1-11.

- Adam and Eve are banished “to the east” (Genesis 3).
- Cain is banished “to the east” (Genesis 4).
- People move “to the east” to build Babylon (Genesis 11:1-2).
- Babylon becomes a superpower in the story, eventually exiling the family of Abraham.
- Egypt, Moab, the wilderness, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem all become loaded with more and more meaning as the biblical story develops.

You can tell which events are most meaningful to the author’s message by what gets the most “air time.” For example, Mark chapters 1-10 cover around three years, and chapters 11-16 cover seven days in Jerusalem—30 percent of the story for just seven days! Additionally, there are other meaningful periods of time in the Bible. For example:

- Increments of 40 represent periods of waiting and testing (e.g. Noah in the boat, Moses’ time on top of the mountain, the spies’ time scouting the promised land, years wandering in the desert, Elijah’s journey in the desert, and Jesus’ journey in the desert).
- Three days and nights
- 70 days/years

In today’s video, we’ll explore how biblical authors use setting in the narrative to either meet the reader's expectations or mess with them. Paying attention to location and time in biblical stories can unlock deeper layers of meaning.