What are the various forms of biblical literature?

The Bible is not simply one uniform book, but 66 books, the writing of which spans over 1500 years! Although man wrote the Bible, it is the inspired Word of God and God's communication to mankind (Matthew 5:17; Mark 13:31; Revelation 22:18–19). Since the Bible was written by so many men over such a large span of time, it contains various genres of literature. Hebrews 1:1 describes the diversity by saying, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets." This means that God inspired every genre of literature found in the Bible.

The Bible contains an enormous amount of diversity and each genre took skill and technical writing to accomplish. Within the Old Testament there are books of historical literature (1 and 2 Kings), dramatic literature (Job), legal documents (much of Exodus and Deuteronomy), song lyrics (The Song of Solomon and Psalms), poetry (most of Isaiah), wisdom literature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), apocalyptic literature (parts of Daniel), short story (Ruth), speeches and proclamations (like those of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel), and prayers (many Psalms). In the New Testament there are books with sermons (as recorded in Acts), Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), parables (such as those Jesus told), apocalyptic literature (Revelation), and epistles (Ephesians and Romans).

Some of the genres overlap between books. For example, the wisdom literature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) also contains poetry, and the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) contain history and parables. Each genre must be interpreted according its own genre to gain a full understanding of the written text. It is important to read the genres according to their conventions, because each genre offers rich and engaging ways of reading. For example, the poetry books should be actively read as poetry, taking notice of poetic devices.

No matter which literary genre an individual is reading, it is important to remember that God inspired each word. Second Timothy 3:16–17 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

It is quite remarkable that God chose to speak in so many different styles and to use numerous literary techniques. God knew that people were able to understand and appreciate various writing, and that it was enjoyable for us to engage with texts and decipher meaning. In the Bible there is foreshadowing, common themes, allegory, and pattern. The Bible is rich with literary devices, all unifying God's message of love to humankind.


Related Truth:

Why should we study the Bible?

How is the Bible inspired? What does it mean for the Bible to be inspired?

Were there different authors of the books of the Bible? Who were the authors?

What determines canonicity or that a particular book is considered scriptural? How do we decide which books belong in the Bible since the Bible doesn't tell us?

What principles are used in biblical exegesis?


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