Narrative stories are the Bible’s most common genre, making up most of the historical sections. These stories show the full range of human brokenness and sin, reveal our need for a Savior and what He is like and tell the overarching story of God saving a people for Himself. The four Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are biographical, showing who Jesus is and persuading readers to trust and follow Him. While narratives sometimes offer an example to emulate, we aren’t meant to identify solely with the “hero.” Instead, we are to consider how our brokenness mirrors those in the story and how Jesus ultimately saves us from it. For example, in the story of David and Goliath, we’re most like the fearful Israelites, not David. David’s faith-filled intervention to defeat Goliath points to Jesus’ greater intervention on our behalf to defeat the giant of Satan.
Found predominantly in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, this genre declares God’s will for human behavior and heart attitude. The Law prescribes His intended order for Israel’s government, social functioning and religious practice. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17) and credits His perfect righteousness to all who trust in Him for salvation. So, we shouldn’t come away from the Law with a list of do’s and don’ts. Rather, we should contemplate how greatly we fall short of God’s standards and comprehend how Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and endured its curse in our place.
Poetry is found throughout the Bible, but the majority is in Psalms. Poetry expresses the range of human emotion, inviting us to bring all of our emotion to God. Metaphors, figurative and highly descriptive language and various structural elements are common. A modern comparison to biblical poetry might be the way music is structured and worded. Poetry of praise reveals truths of God’s majesty. Poetry of lament or mourning expresses longing, suffering and need, as well as how God responds.
This genre consists of wise statements aimed at addressing life’s meaning and purpose and equipping readers to live in God-honoring, upright ways. Wisdom literature contains more principles than promises. The Old Testament books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are this genre, and Jesus’ parables can be categorized this way. As with reading the Law, the goal is not to produce behavioral change, but heart transformation. We can see where we fall short of God’s design and how Jesus lived that design perfectly on our behalf.
The word epistle means, simply, a letter. New Testament letters address false teaching, encourage growing young churches, provide theological clarification and even comment on specific situations. Understanding the historical context surrounding each letter and community helps in interpretation. Again, the focus isn’t on producing mere outward change, but on revealing our brokenness and how the grace and work of Christ renews us. Significant attention is also given to the theological implications of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and what that means for God’s people under the new covenant He authored.
Prophetic writing frequently contains mysterious, metaphor-laden language that was more understandable to the original audience but is unfamiliar to us. This is especially true with apocalyptic prophecy (Revelation and parts of Old Testament prophetic books like Daniel and Ezekiel). The prophets make many predictions and promises about the future (many of which were fulfilled in Christ), but prophecy isn’t only about what’s to come. The prophets often reveal God’s perspective of reality and how He acts in human affairs. In prophetic writing, we see our own brokenness echoed in that of the original audience and hear a similar call to realign our hearts to God and hope in the Messiah. Context is key to understanding, particularly in the Old Testament, as this genre of writing frequently references events from the Bible’s historical sections.
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