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Tuesday
Apr032012

Theological Term of the Week

literary genres of the Bible
Categories of writing found in Scripture, each characterized by a particular form, style, or content.

  • From The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics:

    Article XIII

    WE AFFIRM  that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study.

    WE DENY  that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.

    The awareness of what kind of literature one is interpreting is essential to a correct understanding of the text. A correct genre judgment should be made to ensure correct understanding. A parable, for example, should not be treated like a chronicle, nor should poetry be interpreted as though it were a straightforward narrative. Each passage has its own genre, and the interpreter should be cognizant of the specific kind of literature it is as he attempts to interpret it. Without genre recognition an interpreter can be misled in his understanding of the passage. For example, when the prophet speaks of “trees clapping their hands” (Isa. 55:12) one could assume a kind of animism unless he recognized that this is poetry and not prose.

    The Denial is directed at an illegitimate use of genre criticism by some who deny the truth of passages which are presented as factual. Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person. Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and so referred to by Christ (Mat. 12:40-42). This Denial is an appropriate and timely warning not to use genre criticism as a cloak for rejecting the truth of Scripture.

    Article XIV

    WE AFFIRM  that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact.

    WE DENY  that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.

    This article combines the emphases of Articles VI and XIII. While acknowledging the legitimacy of literary forms, this article insists that any record of events presented in Scripture must correspond to historical fact. That is, no reported event, discourse, or saying should be considered imaginary.

    The Denial is even more clear than the Affirmation. It stresses that any discourse, saying, or event reported in Scripture must actually have occurred. This means that any hermeneutic or form of biblical criticism which claims that something was invented by the author must be rejected. This does not mean that a parable must be understood to represent historical facts, since a parable does not (by its very genre) purport to report an event or saying but simply to illustrate a point.

  • A list of literary genres found frequently in the Bible, followed by examples of each, taken from 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible  by Robert Plummer 
    1. Historical Narrative — Genesis, Mark
    2. Geneology — 1 Chronicles 1-9, Matthew 1:1-17
    3. Exaggeration/Hyperbole — Matthew 5:29-30, 23-24
    4. Prophecy — Isaiah; Malachi
    5. Poetry — Joel, Amos (also prophecy)
    6. Covenant — Genesis 17:1-4; Joshua 24:1-28
    7. Proverbs/Wisdom Literature — Proverbs, Job
    8. Psalms and Songs — Exodus 15:1-18; Psalms
    9. Letters — 1 Corinthians; 2 Peter
    10. Apocalypse —Daniel, Revelation
Learn more:
  1. The Literary Study Bible: An Anthology with Diverse Genres
  2. Prepare International: Understanding the Literary Type or Genre of the Books of the Bible
  3. Robert Plummer: Both Familiar and Foreign Genres
  4. Justin Taylor: Why Context and Genre Are Keys to Interpretation
  5. Dennis Bratcher: The Genre of New Testament Letter and Epistles
Related terms:

Filed under Scripture.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (3)

The book that Justin Taylor recommended at the end looks good, the one written by Andreas Kostenberger. I added to my wishlist at WTS books.

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKim Shay

Thanks for another great post Rebecca. - I had planned to make a request along a similar vain - the JEPD theory, which would come,under Defective Theology

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

I'll add that term to the list, Diane. It'll be a few weeks; I've had lots of suggestions lately. :)

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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