ImmerseBeginnings NLT - Flipbook - Page 353
THE LITERARY FORMS OF THE BIBLE
Just as God’s word uses existing human language, the inspired authors also
employ existing human literary forms that enable words to be arranged in
meaningful ways. These different types of writing are called genres.
Today most of us are probably more familiar with the concept of genre
from watching movies. By watching the opening scene, we can identify
whether it’s a Western, a science fiction thriller, a romantic comedy, or a
documentary. Once we know what kind of film it is, we know what expectations we should have about what can or can’t happen, how things are
likely to develop, and how we should interpret what is being shown. These
expectations, created by previous films and respected by filmmakers, are
like an agreement with the audience about how its message will be communicated and should be interpreted.
Likewise, the Bible’s authors and editors, through God’s inspiration,
used and respected the genres of their day. We may be able to recognize
some of them as similar to genres we know today, but others may be less
Since understanding genres is critical to reading the Bible well, we will
describe the key types below. The compositions that reflect these genres
make up either whole Bible books or smaller sections of larger books, so
some Bible books are written partly in one genre and partly in another.
(Many of the genres introduced here will be further explained in the introductions to books or sections of the Bible.) As indicated below, the specific
genres employed in the Bible can be divided into two general categories
of writing: prose and poetry.
• Stories. Narrative—or stories—weave together events in a way that
shows they have a larger meaning. Typically, a story situates the reader
in a place and time and then introduces a conflict. This conflict intensifies
until it reaches a climax, which is followed by a resolution.
Narrative is the most common genre used in the Bible, emphasizing