Why Objects Are Significant in the Bible

James Coakley
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Keeping in mind that biblical authors were selective with the details they included, objects that are mentioned deserve careful attention by the reader to see if they add to the development of the plot and characterization. Props can be animate (goats or donkeys) or inanimate objects (fire, wells, rocks).

Look for objects or props that are mentioned in the biblical text that serve a narrative function for readers by highlighting an individual’s character traits or advancing the plot of the account.

Objects and Characters

Any physical objects that function as a part of the backdrop in cinema, stage productions, or literary works are called “props” (short for “property”). On occasion, there are props that serve a narrative function beyond their mere physical existence and ability to add detail to a composition. Some props are so intertwined with a character that it is difficult to disassociate that prop from that character.

Biblical authors can also incorporate objects with characters to artfully and playfully symbolize that person’s values or a key trait that they possess. By noticing these object lessons as we read the Bible, we can increase our delight as we see the care that the biblical authors used to craft the content of their books.


This literary device is not all that common, but when it is used (and noticed), it provides readers with rewarding insights. It is predominantly a device used within narratives since it is often connected to plot and characterization.

It is not always easy to determine when a prop rises to serve a narrative or symbolic function.


Identify objects within the text that are repeatedly associated with a biblical character, and then reflect on how the characteristics of that prop serve a literary narrative function beyond just their physical reality.


On a structural level, props help provide a cohesive element to the narrative and help bind components of an account into a larger metanarrative. Thematically, these props aid in developing a trait of the individual’s character and provide a window into the overall plot that the biblical author is advancing.


This technique is more subtle and implicit. It requires readers to pay attention to detail to determine whether there is a potential correlation between the object and the characters within the narrative. It is not always easy to determine when a prop rises to serve a narrative or symbolic function.

Parallel Props

Sometimes a prop is similarly used in different accounts, but it provides a springboard for readers to look for overlap between those texts. For instance, household idols (called teraphim) are mentioned in both Jacob’s and David’s life. Readers would not automatically connect those two texts, but because teraphim are infrequently mentioned in the Old Testament, this prop serves as a link that invites us to look for other similarities between the two passages. Lo and behold, a vast number of undeniable links become evident as the following chart displays.

The teraphim prop serves as a linking object between two different accounts that, on the surface, seem unrelated. This invites readers to draw comparisons and contrasts. In these two texts, we see fathers-in-law who attempt to make their sons-in-law out to be the villains, but it is resourceful daughters who protect their husbands from treachery. The biblical authors use teraphim, which were sometimes used as idolatrous prognostication devices by pagans, as a clever instrument to ironically unmask and expose the real manipulators in these accounts—their fathers!


Biblical authors are selective with the details they share, so we should slow down while reading and pay attention to the objects that are mentioned, reflecting on how they might connect to a theme or character trait in the text, or how they might provide a link between different passages. Tracking “Object Lessons” is a fun way we can freshen up our Bible reading and enjoy God’s Word as we observe how props can enhance our understanding of biblical characters and plotlines.

For Further Reading:

14 Fresh Ways to Enjoy the Bible

by James Coakley

The Bible is God’s masterpiece and gift to you—claim it for all that it’s worth. The Bible is the most read book in all the world....

book cover for 14 Fresh Ways to Enjoy the Bible