From Fact to Fiction: the best retellings of biblical narratives
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My introduction to the Bible began with flannel graphs in Sunday school and bedtime stories read by my mom out of an illustrated children’s Bible. I began to memorize individual verses while in the AWANA program and learned about different Bible characters at church and at home. I got my own Bible with papery thin pages and small print — one that I could read and highlight like a grown-up — when I was in junior high. Those little pieces of the Bible started to fit together, forming a big picture, and a better understanding of the God I had put my faith in, as I grew older.
As I gained understanding and maturity, the Bible and its stories grew in depth and importance. Since my faith journey began at a young age, my familiarity with the Bible was fairly advanced by the time I was in college and on my own. Sometimes it was difficult to read or listen to one of those well-known stories and not be distracted by the familiarity. The living and active Word just felt stagnant sometimes, felt like there was nothing fresh to offer someone who could recite the story by heart.
Have you been there? If you’ve been a Christian for some time, Bible stories can become stale. If you’re new to the Bible, it can be overwhelming to jump in to so many stories and teachings. When I get in this type of rut, I try to, 1) pray for God to reveal new things as I read a familiar story and, 2) get a different perspective. One of my favorite ways to accomplish the latter is to read fictionalized retellings of Bible stories.
Thought it’s important to remember that these are fictional takes on the facts presented in the Bible, I find the added emotion and narrative brings me deeper into the heart of the story. I’m always compelled to revisit the original text after reading one of these novels. Here’s a list of my favorite authors and series that successfully offer a fictional take on biblical story-lines.
Francine Rivers is a talented author. Her work is compelling, poignant, thought-provoking, and among my favorite Christian fiction. In the Lineage of Grace series (now compiled into one book), Rivers chronicles the five women mentioned in the lineage of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. I particularly appreciated understanding more about the cultural practices surrounding Tamar’s story. As a woman, I also loved getting a more emotion-driven insight into each story.
I discovered Afshar last year and then devoured all three of her books. Pearl in the Sand is a standalone about Rahab that focuses more on her life post-Jericho, which I had never really considered. Harvest of Rubies and Harvest of Gold follow Sara, a talented scribe in the Persian court. Her story has romance, mystery, and redemption. Nehemiah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem weaves into the engaging plot. Afshar’s fourth novel, Field of Grace (based on the life of Ruth), releases July 2014.
The Old Testament is heavy on the history and can be a bit dry if that isn’t your cup of tea. Austin’s Chronicles of The Kings is a five book series that breathes life into the genealogy of the kings of Ancient Israel and Judah found in Kings and Chronicles. This series kept me interested through battles and political strife, effortlessly highlighting God’s plan for His chosen people.
Liz Curtis Higgs
Higgs expertly adapts various biblical plots to fit a different culture and setting. The Lowlands of Scotland series is the perfect example of her ability to tell the story of well-known characters — in this case Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and Dinah — in a fresh way. She reveals truth without being preachy. I was captivated by Higgs intentional deviations from the original story in Grace in Thine Eyes which are thoughtfully explained in the author’s note.
In The Book of God, Wangerin retells the story of the Bible from beginning to end in novel form. The page count may be intimidating, but Wangerin is an engaging story teller. Similar to translations like The Message, The Book of God makes the Bible flow for an easier read. I like to read this in tandem with my traditional Bible.
How do you avoid Bible burnout? Do you have any favorites in the Biblical Fiction genre?
We’d love to share a few Biblical fiction and related titles with you! Comment and then click the Rafflecopter forms to be entered to win (you can enter either or both!):
- Two sets of Tessa Afshar’s books: Harvest of Rubies and Harvest of Gold (sponsored by Moody Publishers)
- A set of new titles by Lynn Austin: Return to Me and Pilgrimage (sponsored by Bethany House)
Not sure if you’ve read them but Angela Hunt’s Dangerous Beauty series is simply incredible and would fit well on this list! She retold the stories of Esther, Delilah and Bathsheba. Highly recommend if you haven’t read already!
Great post! I love Francine Rivers, she is such a wonderful author! I have read some of the books you have mentioned, but I will have to check out the others. Thanks so much for the suggestions! 🙂
Two of my favorite biblical fiction stories are Vinegar Boy and Titus, Comrade of the Cross. I haven’t read them in a long time though… had almost forgotten about that genre since I tried a couple other titles that were flops in my opinion. 😉 I Won’t share those titles in case I’m criticizing someone’s favorites! Both of these are minor characters in the Bible story, a feature I appreciate since other people were certainly present during Bible accounts though not necessarily mentioned in the biblical narrative. Anything that distorts God’s Word can’t be helpful, but understanding the culture during Bible times certainly is.
I loved the Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers, I have not read any of the others. Would love to win either.
Watch for an email from the Kindred Grace team–you get to read Tessa Afshar’s books!
That’s awesome thank you!
Would love to win either!!
I’ve read a few of these selections mentioned but not all. I LOVE historical fiction so add in familiar characters and I’m in PARADISE!
Would love to read these. TY for the chance. God bless!
Thanks for the great giveaway!
I would love to win either or both of these author’s books. I am so thankful for their writing as I read through the Bible and then read their works it comes alive even more. Thank you for the opportunity.
I enjoy reading these types of books. Thank you for the change to win.
Watch for an email from the Kindred Grace team, Angela–you won Lynn Austin’s new books!
Thank you for picking me – I look forward to the books
Well researched biblical christian fiction adds another dimension to my quite time by providing cultural and geographical insights. My all time favorite biblical fiction series was the Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers which takes place after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome. I really enjoyed Mesu Andrews newest book “In the Shadow of Jezebel” which has great descriptions of temple construction, sacrifices, and feasts. Bodie & Brock Thoene’s A.D. Chronicles gave new insight to Jewish life during Jesus’ time on earth. While Lynn Austin’s Return to Me & Chronicles of the Kings (book #1 being the best) breathed new life into OT stories for me.
I’ve yet to read a Liz Curtis Higgs novel and I haven’t heard of Walter Wangerin before but I will have to pick them up soon. Thank you for the recommendations and the giveaway.
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I’ve heard wonderful things about Mesu Andrews and the Thoene’s A.D. Chronicles. They are on my list! Mark of The Lion series is one of my favorites, as well, though I didn’t include it in this list because the plot line isn’t based on a specific biblical story.
Im always looking for new books and authors. Im excited to check these out!
Thank you so much for the recommendations. I’ve read one of Tessa Afshar’s books and loved it. I also really like Mesu Andrews’ books! She write Biblical fiction as well. 🙂
I just picked up one of Mesu’s books on Amazon for free! I’m excited to read it.
I loved the Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers. I’d love to try the series by Tessa Afshar! Thanks for the giveaway! 🙂
Guess what, Rachel? You get to! Watch for an email from the Kindred Grace team to claim your copies.
I love Lynn Austin! I can’t wait to see her speak in a couple weeks.
Very cool! It’s always so inspiring to hear favorite author’s speak in person.
I totally agree with you. Francine Rivers, Tessa Afshar and Lynn Austin are my favorite authors because their novels bring different stories of the Bible to life. This novels are full of spiritual treasures….they contain deep messages, not just a simple story! I, personally, have learned very much from their novels …much more than I could learn from 10 sermons. This is why biblical historical fictions are my favorites! I haven’t heard of the other too authors but they must be very good. I will definitively read some of their books too. Thank you so much!
I love stories that go along with the Bible the best book of all I would love to win!
I started out as a 3 year old in Sunday School and Awana, yep they let me in as a Sparky because Cubbies hadn’t come out yet. I sure learned a lot of valuable lessons and many Bible verses back then, ones I still remember to this day.
You’ve chosen my all-time favorite author (Francine Rivers) and other FABULOUS biblical novels to highlight in this post! To keep my passion for God’s Word burning hot, I love do dig into research. Commentaries, maps, diagrams, archaeological journals–it’s fascinating stuff and adds so much to the cultural context of Scripture. I’ve also found that reading large CHUNKS of Scripture in a single sitting is helpful to get a better FEEL for a passage.
Thanks for the contest! I’d love to win Lynn Austin’s books! (I’ve already read–and loved–all of Tessa’s!)
Reading large chunks of Scripture is a fantastic idea for getting a better feel of the passage. I hadn’t ever thought of that being a benefit of reading more than just small pieces.
A friend just introduced me to your novels. I picked up Love Amid The Ashes on Amazon the other day and can’t wait to dig in!
Great, Emily! Please stay in touch, and let me know what you think of LATA! Blessings on your ministry here! 😉
I’ve read all of these except the Lynn Austin ones which I have in my “pile” but haven’t gotten to yet. 🙂 I love them all except for the Liz Curtis Higgs ones about Jacob and Leah and Rachel. The cultural changes she made were too much for me and, I felt, changed the central issues of the story. I liked the one about Dinah a lot though. I think you’d really like Mesu Andrews’ books. She has books about Job, Solomon, Hosea, and the events leading up to Joash’s reign. She retains the biblical settings much like Francine Rivers’ Tapestry of Grace. Speaking of Francine, I really enjoyed her novellas about the “men behind the men” as well.
Finally, I’d like to invite you to join our book-loving community at Booknificent Thursdays at mommynificent.com to share this post and any others like it!
I think that’s a cool aspect about reading and books, everyone has a different opinion. I really enjoyed Higgs’ books and thought the cultural changes were a testament to her understanding of both Scottish and Jewish traditions.
Mesu Andrews is on my to-read list!
I’m so glad you ladies are finding these recommendations useful!
Thank you for the recommendations; I hadn’t heard of most of these authors before!
My nonfiction reading is the Bible (first time from cover to cover!) right now. i am currently in 2 Kings and completely in love.
This post makes me excited to also switch to Biblical themed book for my fiction reading!
I have always wondered if books like this were worth reading. I guess I have my answer now! They look great and my reading list is quickly expanding!
These all sound fantastic! I already love Francine Rivers but I need to check some of these other authors out!
I would like to add Jill Eileen Smith and Diana Wallis Taylor to your must read list.
Thank you for the recommendations! I’m off to Amazon to check them out 🙂
Thanks for the recommendations. I will have to try finding some of these.
Thank you for this wonderful list, Emily! I’ll definitely be looking into some of these. 🙂
Yes, I enjoy good Christian fiction although I am old enough to be Emily’s grandmother, which I am her grandmother-in-law and the happy great grandmother of her adorable son.
Christian fiction is great for any age.
I love Liz Curtis Higgs and Francine Rivers – thank you for these other recommendations. I hope I win so I can check them out! 🙂
Even if you don’t win, you should definitely check them out 🙂
I am so glad to see this post- I am excited to read all these interesting new titles!
I hope you find something you like, Katie.
One of my favorite Biblical narrative series is the Dahveed books by Terri Fivash. These books are real page turners but have also helped me understand more of the Bible stories’ significance through enlightening me about the history and culture of time. They have moved me to go back to the original stories with a fresh mind and seek after God’s heart as David did.
Thanks for the recommendation Lynette!
I appreciate the non-cheesy Christian novel recommendations. Christian fiction has always had a negative connotation in my mind because if the cheesiness of most of them.
Yes, it is sad but true that Christian fiction can have a negative connotation. These books definitely promote a more positive attitude, I think!
I love reading biblical fiction to get a fresh take on the characters and stories that I’ve heard since “day one”! And sometimes just reading the passage in a different translation helps to bring out phrases or details that I haven’t noticed before.
I totally agree Elizabeth. I like to read The Message for that reason.