The Need to Understand Genre

When we look at the Book of books, the Bible, as we said in the previous article, it is important to take the words and genres as they are written down and passed on from one generation unto the next.

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God is a God of order and did not give His Words in such a form that ordinary people would not be able to understand it. It is written so that every person can get wisdom out of it.
It is true it is not directly written for us in this time, but has to be looked at writings for those times when those people were living in total different conditions than we now.

God has communicated His message to special individuals over thousands of years. But he wrote first for them, in their time and in their culture. He preserved the message for us, but it was first written to another people in another time. {The Bible is simple… right?}

In the knowledge that they had a  different cultural background to us, we should look at those writings from that standpoint.

The original audience was an ancient one. They knew nothing of the science, technology, medicine, and other things that define our modern world. They knew little of democracy, and literacy was not widespread. It is only in the modern era, from perhaps the 18th century onwards, that literacy has been common. Even today literacy is not as widespread as it should be. Consider then that the original audience most commonly would have heard rather than read the text! {The Bible is simple… right?}

As such the text often was intended to be of a format that people could easily remember. For this reason stories instead of literal or scientific reviews of happenings were a good way. Most important for the Biblical writers was to bring over the message of God. To convey His message and to bring it in such a way people at that time could understand it. Therefore we also should look for the intentions of the writing and for what is being emphasised in the passages.

One of the most important aspects of the human side of the Bible is that, in order to communicate his word to all human conditions, God chose to use almost every available kind of communication: narrative history, genealogies, chronicles, laws of all kinds, poetry of all kinds, proverbs, prophetic oracles, riddles, drama, biographical sketches, parables, letters, sermons, and apocalypses.

To interpret properly the “then and there” of the biblical texts, one must not only know some general rules that apply to all the words of the Bible, but one also needs to learn the special rules that apply to each of these literary forms (genres). The way God communicates the divine word to us in the “here and now” will often differ from one form to another. For example, we need to know how a psalm, a form often addressed to God, functions as God’s word to us, and how certain psalms differ from others, and how all of them differ from “the laws,” which were often addressed to people in cultural situations no longer in existence. How do such “laws” speak to us, and how do they differ from the moral “laws,” which are always valid in all circumstances? Such are the questions the dual nature of the Bible forces on us.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Fourth Edition.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 26–27.

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Preceding articles:

Genre – Playing by the Rules

Summerholiday season time to read the Bible

Holiday making and dreaming

Home-stayers and their to do list

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Additional reading:

  1. Looking for something or for the Truth and what it might be and self-awareness
  2. The faithful God
  3. Have you also been deceived
  4. Increased in wisdom in favour with God
  5. The very very beginning 2 The Word and words
  6. Necessity of a revelation of creation 2 Organisation of a system of things
  7. Necessity of a revelation of creation 3 Getting understanding by Word of God 1
  8. Creator and Blogger God 11 Old and New Blog 1 Aimed at one man
  9. The Metaphorical language of the Bible
  10. Background to look at things

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “The Need to Understand Genre

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