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This blog post is a continuation of the series discussing the excellent guidance in the September/October 2019 issue of Bible Study Magazine.  The fifth and final article is “What Kind of Passage is It?” from Logos Mobile education courses.  This article identifies biblical genres and what to look for in each genre. 

The first genre is NARRATIVE GENRE which tells the story of God’s involvement with humanity, including His people.  When studying a narrative genre, look for the movement of the whole story moving toward Christ.  Focus on what the narrative says and what it does not say.  Books that are narrative genre are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus (also law), Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Ester. 

The second genre is LAW.  This genre is a collection of legal stipulations.  The promise of Christ comes out of the law, and it shows us our need for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  When reading the law, try to see how the law factors into the overall story of the Bible.  History shows us that a person needs more than the law to be close to God.  Jesus teaching had a focus on the law as He challenged Israel’s culture, which was formed out of the law.  The books that comprise the law are Exodus, Leviticus (also narrative), Numbers, Deuteronomy.

The third genre is GENEALOGY.  This kind of genre helps us understand the connections of different people to the overall story of God.  Use the genealogies to look for where a person fits into the overall genealogy or scheme of things.  The books that comprise genealogy are Genesis, Ruth, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Matthew 1, and Luke 1.

The fourth genre is PROPHESY.  While prophesy includes predicting the future, the prophets also assessed the present day.  The prophets reported the condition of the people, as well as what caused blessings or curses.  The prophets’ message can be negative, but it can also bring hope.  When reading prophesy, look for what it says about the spiritual condition of the people, God’s expectations for them, His values and desires, and the way the people ought to respond.  The article says that:

The prophetic genre is designed to challenge God’s people, to warn them, and to call them to repent.

The books in which one will find prophesy are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel (also apocalyptic), Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. 

The fifth genre is APOCALYPTIC.  This kind of writing reports both what happens in the visible world and what goes on behind the scenes.  This kind of literature relies on symbolism and mysterious visions.  It reveals to us the existence of the cosmic battle between evil and righteousness.  Symbolism makes this kind of genre difficult to correctly interpret.  The article reads:

Consider what the passage reveals about God’s faithfulness – and the ultimate fate of those who are faithful to Him.

The apocalyptic books are Daniel (also prophesy) and Revelation.

The sixth genre is POETRY.  Parallel statements more than by rhymes characterize poetry in the Bible.  Psalms is the major component of poetry, and it deals with a variety of situations.  It instructs us how to praise God and how to cry out for help.  In the context of Bible study, Psalm 119 is a terrific group of statements extolling the benefits of God’s Word.

Along with Psalms, the other book of poetry is Song of Solomon.  Early interpreters looked at this book as an allegory representing the love between God and His people.  Modern interpreters look at this book as poems to celebrate sexuality because it is a good and essential aspect of human existence.  Song of Solomon should inform us that human sexuality is a part of God’s good creation.

The seventh genre is WISDOM.  The purpose of this genre is to equip the reader to live well.  In addition to the practical advice from the wisdom literature, as the article says, we ought to consider:

What is our relationship to our Creator?  What does the Creator do on our behalf?  What does it mean to live as God created us?

Look at the wisdom literature to guide us to know God better and his priorities for people.  The wisdom literature comprises Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. 

The eighth genre is GOSPEL.  While some could consider the gospels as narrative, the article points out that 1st Century readers would find them to be bios or “life.”   A Greek bios is different than a biography.  The article reads:

Instead, the bios genre concentrated on what the persons said and did that made them significant.  … ancient biographies tend to focus just on the sayings and deeds of the person.  The Gospels present Jesus in exactly this way. … The goal [to be like Jesus] has two parts: to help us grasp the uniqueness of who Jesus is, and to motivate us to respond to Him in faith.

In studying the Gospel genre, we should pay attention to what Jesus said and what He did.  His teachings and actions have key themes and interrelationships.  Those are the kinds of truths we need to discover.  The Gospel genre comprises Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The ninth and final genre is LETTERS.  While Hebrews is an exception, the letters begin with an opening, continue with a body, and end with a closing.  The biblical authors typically wrote letters to churches and some to individuals.  The letters provide theological insights, as well as specific advice to a particular situation.  When examining a letter, one should look at the flow and structure to discern how the topics change and relate to each other, as well as the overall message of the letter.  The article suggests that we: (1) try to identify the primary purpose behind the letter, and (2) work from the letter’s theological teaching to its application for 21st Century Christ-followers.  The Letters genre comprises the following books of the Bible: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude.

This article presents a great checklist of the types of genre and how it ought to impact one’s interpretation.    

Now that I have completed this discussion of these articles, the plan is to compile them into one piece that presents a basic primer on the Bible study process.  Of course, it will not look at every aspect or nuance of Bible Study.  But, the goal will be to present the basic approach to Bible study as described by these excellent Bible teachers.  As an additional resource, I also will try to develop a visual flowchart of the process. 

Like I wrote above, this is an exceptional issue of Bible Study Magazine.  Please send me any comments at steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

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