Performance Criticism

Click here to download an essay
"Performing the Living Word."

The full book in which this essay appears is The Bible in Ancient and Modern Media: Story and Performance.  Used by permission of  Wipf and Stock Publishers

“After about twenty centuries, we are seeking to recover something that has been lost, eclipsed, long gone from the experience of the church and from the experience of Christians—namely, the sacred art of telling biblical traditions. In the first and second centuries, the lively telling of stories took place as an ordinary part of life in the villages and communities and gatherings of early Christians. But since that time, the New Testament writings … have been broken up into small lectionary segments to be read in worship. Furthermore, these segments have been read rather than told from memory.

But here we are in the twenty-first century, seeking together to recover the ethos of storytelling in the first century—and not just individual stories but gospel narratives as a whole. In fact, we think that the gospels, along with the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation, were each originally told in their entirety at one time. The same was true for the letters in the New Testament … because if you heard only part of  any one of these you might misunderstand it. Remember, none of these writings were yet in a New Testament canon until a few centuries later. They were not written as Scripture nor were they treated as Scripture when they were first heard … they were stories to be told by memory before the firelight at night or in the market places or in public buildings or house churches.

Remember, the societies of the ancient Mediterranean world were oral cultures. It is likely only five percent of the people—the wealthy elites—were able to read or write. The overwhelming number of people experienced everything they learned aurally.”
Dr. David Rhoads, Keynote Lecture, from the 2008 Festival Gathering

Don't be afraid of the words "performance" (in our usage it doesn't mean something artifically done) or "criticism" (because it does not mean criticizing but rather refers to critical thinking!).  Instead, Biblical Performance Criticism looks at the scriptures in the context of the oral and scribal cultures from which they originated. It considers the role of the performers, the event that first called for the performance, the audience the story was developed to reach, the context of the communication and the text itself.

It is generally accepted that perhaps as much as 95% of people in the ancient Mediterranean world received all their information orally/aurally.

NBS Storytellers seek to authentically interpret the scriptures, from memory, as orally presented, internalized communications. To learn more about Biblical Performance Criticism use this link to scholars studying in this field: or visit Tom Boomershine's informative site:



Join our Network!

A membership supports your storytelling journey by providing you with printed and online resources for inquiry, study and inspiration. Membership also gives you a substantial ($100!) discount to our annual Festival Gathering! Join today.

Join our Mailing List

Watch a Story

About the Network

Get in touch

Network of Biblical Storytellers International
Indiana Interchurch Center, 1100 W. 42nd St., Suite 160, Indianapolis, IN 46208

TF 1 (800) 355-6627 | PH 1 (317) 931-2352 |

Find out more about us:

Join Our Mail List