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Question and Answer

I have always thought that the term character referred to a fictional person, such as a character in a play or novel. But many Christian teachers and writers use this term to refer to real people in the Bible. I really don’t understand why. I’ve even noticed it in Today in the Word. Why do we not refer to the real people in the Bible as historical figures? Why do we not refer to the writings in the Bible as accounts rather than stories? It feels like these word choices subtly teach that the Bible is a collection of man-made fables and stories. When we use these words with children, they are the same words used for the fictional stories they hear. They go to school and learn of historical figures with historical accounts, and it makes the people in the Bible seem less like real, historical people. So, I am hoping to get some enlightenment about these word choices as I find them distracting. I want to understand and move on.

Thank you for this question, which perhaps many people have had. The definition you give for the word character is actually a secondary definition. The primary definition is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” So when a Christian teacher or writer talks about a character, he or she means an individual or a person with distinctive moral and mental qualities. Calling an individual a biblical character in no way renders that person an invention. In the same way, story can be defined as an account of imaginary or real people or events. When we read or tell children Bible stories, we are telling them about what happened to people (characters) who actually lived and died, a reality that of course we must always emphasize. But the word story can refer to either real or imagined events. Neither character nor story necessarily means that the person or account is fictional.

BY Dr. Rosalie de Rosset

Dr. Rosalie de Rosset has been teaching at Moody Bible Institute in the Communications Department for over five decades. She is occasionally featured on Moody Radio. Rosalie is a published author, respected speaker, and talented writer. She lives on the northside of Chicago, a city she enjoys for its natural beauty and multi-faceted art offerings.

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