A development in biblical studies, especially in USA, since about 1970. The main thesis is that readers (e.g. of the gospels) should read the narratives and respond to them as the authors hoped. It is suggested that the analysis of the gospels into sources and pericopae, into what is historically probable or theological interpretation has reached no consensus, so another approach is offered. Whereas scholars have often identified repetitions in a gospel or inconsistencies or gaps as indicating diverse sources or flawed editorship, narrative criticism invites the reader to assess the work as a whole and to note its stylistic characteristics which resemble those of other literary works with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Some narrative critics, however, regard the newer discipline as complementary to, not a substitute for, the achievements of previous scholarship. Primarily they are concerned with those elements in the text which are relevant to the plot or theme or story‐line: how the text engages the reader in its world and system of values; they note the characteristics and points of view of the narrator and his asides to the reader, such as Mark 7: 19 f and 13: 14. Source criticism qualifies some narrative readings e.g. in Matt. 14: 33 the disciples confess Jesus as Son of God; in Matt. 16: 16 Peter makes a similar confession as if something new. This is not narrative lucidity, but is understandable when it is realized that Matthew using Mark, has changed Mark 6: 32.
There is no single meaning in a biblical text. The gospel of Luke will be read differently by a black Christian in S. Africa from a white Protestant in the USA. Readers are active, not passive recipients of an unbiased text. For example, Paul's reference to the female Junia (Rom. 16: 7) has often been taken to be a man ‘Junias’ (as in RSV) on the ground that Paul could only have accorded apostolic status to men—‘of note among the apostles’.
Mark contains two accounts of the miraculous feeding of a multitude—of 5,000 (6: 31–44) and 4,000 (8: 1–9) and whereas historical criticism has often taken this as an editorial duplication of a single event, narrative critics read the two stories as we have them. Mark may have intended by the first story to show that Christ was the Saviour of the Jews, and by the second that he was the Saviour of Gentiles, since the event took place on Gentile soil (7: 31). Narrative critics propose to put the reader in the position of the intended readers of the gospel and ponder on the remarkable obtuseness of the disciples who fail to understand, even after the second feeding, what Jesus was teaching and signifying (8: 17). Thus the focus of narrative criticism is always in the final form of the text. Gen. 22, Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac, is an example of a brilliant narrative. ‘Narrative, whatever its medium, holds the interest of an audience by raising questions in their minds, and delaying the answers’ (David Lodge, The Art of Fiction).