Communication is a deliberate action with a specific purpose or intent. Human communication generally uses words and sentences and it uses these to convey an idea and to elicit a response. John Walton and Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture, make the point that intent is part and parcel of the authority of a communication. It is the integral and essential carrier of authority.
When we affirm the authority (or inerrancy or infallibility) of Scripture we are (or should be) focused on the intent of the communication. It is the intended message that is inspired and carries the authority of God. We read and study Scripture to understand the intended message. We are not being faithful to Scripture by forcing it to fit into a mold of our modern expectations.
When we neglect the goals of ancient literature and instead use the literature to accomplish our own goals, we engage in a cultural imposition that subordinates what the ancients considered the reality and values of their literature … to what we moderns consider to be a higher pursuit. We will never achieve a sound understanding of the literature, let alone a legitimate understanding of biblical authority, if we are always judging its suitability for reaching our modern objectives. We need to start approaching the literature as their literature rather than simply transforming it into our literature from which we draw theological inferences. (p. 201)
What does this mean for the narrative literature in the Old Testament? The stories are generally event oriented and the authors intend to convey both the events and the meaning of the events in God’s relationship with his people. This is theological history not “straight” history. The ancient Israelite authors had nothing like our modern discipline of history. “The authors and compilers do not edit events with the same goals or methods that we use.” (p. 211) Abraham, Moses and David are not merely literary figures in a historical novel of some sort … but neither are the reports of the events surrounding their lives modern historical transcripts. These are stories in community memory, told and retold and recorded, for a purpose. They are told and recorded according to perfectly appropriate conventions of the ancient world.