Bible Genre Analysis
This page is part of the Interpretation Section of our Bible Study Guide. We'll explore the various literary genre's of the Bible, including how to recognize and interpret the various types.
Probably the second most common source of errors in Bible interpretation (behind taking Scripture out of proper context) is failure to apply the proper rules of genre interpretation. Each literary genre (type, category or form of literary composition such as poetry, prose etc) contains its own set of rules which govern both the author and the reader. In order for the reader to obtain a proper understanding of the author's meaning, he must correctly determine the literary form being used and apply the rules governing that literary form.
Navigation Notes: We've split this series of articles into multiple pages. You may click on the “[TOC]” links within the pages to return to the Table of Contents.
Table of Contents
- Narratives (including Historical Precedent vs Timeless Principles)
- The Laws (including Are OT Laws binding on Christians?)
- Hebrew Wisdom
- Epistles (including Applications to Contemporary Situations)
- Prophecy and Apocalyptic (including Literary Forms of Oracles)
- Figures of Speech
- Additional Related Articles:
- Literalism (in relation to the various Genres)
The first task of Bible interpretation is called exegesis, that is, discovering the original intended meaning of the author. Most interpretation principles mentioned on our main Bible Interpretation Page will be applicable, so we must first apply them to the various genres. Next, we must determine the correct type of literature employed by the author, then apply the proper rules for interpreting that particular form. Then, and only then, can we move on to seeking the contemporary relevance for our particular situations.
The authors of Scripture submitted to the various rules (sometimes referred to as the “norms of language") governing the various forms of biblical literature, and expected the reader to do the same. I once read an author comparing a reader utilizing the rules governing a parable while reading a narrative with someone watching a football game who was only familiar with the rules of baseball. In each case, neither would understand what they were reading or observing. We'll now examine the various rules for each literary type.
While reading the Bible, you'll find some books employ only one genre, while others contain many forms. In addition, there can be overlaps. For example, many psalms, poetry, and most proverbs can also be classified as wisdom literature. Some scholars even classify some types as sub-genres of another. With that in mind, we will attempt to treat separately the most common genres and sub-genres found in the Bible while noting the characteristics in common with the other literary types.
We'll have additional information on how literary genre applies to specific Bible books in our Bible Book Introductions section.
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