chevron-leftchevron-right-+closefacebook-bwinstagram-bwmenuNew Tabtwitter-bwyoutube-bw
facebook-bw twitter-bw instagram-bw youtube-bw menu close - +

Literary Styles and Genres in the Bible

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.

2 Timothy 3:16–17
Literary Styles and Genres in the Bible Book Cover

Imagine walking into a library. Inside you will find books of all different genres and styles. Some are full of poetry, some are full of letters, some are full of history. The Bible is no different. Inside you will find sixty-six different books, but, unlike a library, they each fit together to tell one big story.

The Bible includes law, history, wisdom, poetry, letters of correspondence, and teaching texts. Uniquely, God’s Word also includes promises for the future that we can be assured will come to pass. Why? Because the body of evidence in Scripture that’s already been fulfilled proves that God always does what he says he will.

Historical / Narrative

Let’s break it down. In the coming weeks, we will go into more depth about each section of Scripture, but for now, let’s talk about a big overview, starting with the historical/narrative books. Nearly half of the Bible is written in narrative form—this is true in both the Old and New Testaments. It makes sense. The Bible is a record of God’s relationship with a particular group of people.

From Genesis through Deuteronomy, we have a front row seat for the events that take us from Adam to the Exodus, from the garden of promise (Eden) to the land of promise (Canaan), with the law given and census taken in between.

The history lesson continues through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Esther. These books continue to recount the nation of Israel’s history and their ups and downs with God. While it can seem overwhelming to keep track of so many kings, foreign enemies, and false gods in these books, there are countless valuable lessons to learn about our utter inability to be faithful to God by our own willpower.

In Ezra and Nehemiah, we read of God’s people returning to the promised land after the exile and rebuilding the temple and walls of Jerusalem.

Prophecy

Next are the books of prophecy. When God says holiness matters, he means it. And when he says there are consequences for abandoning holiness, he means it. But he never disciplines his people without plenty of warning. God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8), and so he filled the mouths of prophets with words of warning for Israel, calling them to repent, to abandon false idols; and to look to him rather than neighboring nations for deliverance. (These books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel [which also features apocalyptic literature], Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.)

Poetry and Wisdom

If the narrative and prophetic books record the facts of Israel’s bumpy ride as God’s chosen people, the poetry and wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs) express the inner life of God’s people— worship, wisdom, temptation, confession.

New Testament: Historical / Narrative

After four hundred years of silence, the word of God bursts onto the scene again. This time, in the person of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recount the earthly ministry of Jesus, culminating in his death and resurrection. All four authors contribute unique perspectives, divinely inspired, to paint a full portrait of Jesus as savior. And acting in obedience to Jesus’s parting command, the apostles then set out to teach others about Jesus throughout the known world. This Spirit-led growth of the first-century church is recorded in the book of Acts.

Epistles / Letters

All of those new believers reached through the missionary journeys recorded in Acts established churches in their hometowns, but, like us, they often struggled at the intersection of faith and life. To equip, encourage, and admonish these believers, Paul and others wrote letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude.

Prophecy in Revelation

Just as the Old Testament closed with promises of rescue for an exiled Israel, the New Testament concludes with a dramatic depiction of God’s ultimate victory over sin and death. Revelation—with its combined genres of epistle, prophecy, and apocalyptic literature—may seem beyond our understanding in the here and now, but one day it will be fulfilled just as the Old Testament prophecies were.

The historical/narrative books of the Bible tell the story of what God has done in the lives of people in the past. The prophetic books tell us what God will do in the future. And the wisdom literature and New Testament epistles answer the question of “how then shall we live?” Only when we know where we’ve been, and have full assurance of where we are going, can we fully embrace the call on our lives for today.

Share

Leader Guide

Download

Learn More

About IF:Equip

Go Back

How to Read Your Bible

Watch Week One

Understanding the Bible

Daily Question

Which part of God’s Word feels most intimidating to you—the figurative language of poetry? The long history of wayward kings and foreign enemies? What resources can you use to support your study of God’s Word so that you don’t become overwhelmed?

Your email address will not be published.

Comments (25)

Revelation. It scared me as a child so I stopped reading it. Now I get confused because of human theories and conspiracies. I need to dive deep in to this book, as an adult, with the inductive method of reading at my disposal. It will help to consume a little at a time.

I find the figurative language of poetry difficult to interpret and also the older versions of the bible with "old" language styles. I use the Good News Bible I received decades ago when I was confirmed growing up in the church. I search for resources such as this and then cross-reference them with other sources so that I do not go down a "rabbit hole" of incorrect information. I have begun to watch "The Chosen" and it is a fantastic depiction to show and guide us to a better understanding.

The historical part starts to bore me honesty, then I lose ambition. I may need to read not in a chronological order. I also need a group for support here.

Both lol. I am challenged by parts of Psalms when a psalmist prays God’s wrath pour out on an enemy (how do we reconcile that with love?), when my 10yo asks in our morning liturgy why there are people who live past 120 if Genesis indicates they won’t (smack dab in the middle of Noah’s 950-year walk [and sailing adventure] on the earth), when Paul asks what *could* be a rhetorical question (what if God creates some vessels for noble purposes and others for destruction?) and people indicate that means God created some to be separate from Him for eternity and use it to justify election and predestination (and yet He came so that not one would perish), how to reconcile order of creation disparities in Genesis 1 & 2 (perhaps since one is a Hebrew acrostic poem, we’re to glean more than a scientific analysis of the first week of planet Earth?)…my list goes on lol. My fellowship often claims, "We don’t have to understand everything to believe in Something," and what I do know is "through the living and abiding Word of God we are born again" (1 Peter 1:23). I am reborn when I digest this Bread of Life, even when I don’t get it all, ever transformed by His renewing of my mind and the separation of my soul (preferences) from my spirit (principles), daily being made in His Image. I’m not overwhelmed by it, but rather inspired by it (and I love about a thousand commentaries, especially biblehub.com and solid study Bibles). There’s so many incredible exegetical Bible studies out there, and RightNow media makes many easily accessible for individuals, families, & groups. What a blessing to be inundated with resources, and what a responsibility when we live in a world where a billion people have none…may we be obedient to the command to Go as we write His Truth on the tablet of our hearts. I’m not overwhelmed by the wild Universe of His Love–I’m excited to adventure in it through His Word!

When I have a question about something I’m reading I go to Biblegateway.com and look at study Bibles to I get an understanding of the verse.

Unfortunately perhaps, anything that doesn’t seem to pertain to me directly seems intimidating or extremely less interesting to me. My human flesh wants to know “what’s for me?” And whatever doesn’t seem to be, it’s hard to be into it. So far, using 5 different translations in the YouVerse app has helped a lot.

I find the History and Genealogy in Old testament is most challenging for me. I enjoy the poetry.
One of my resources is my father. He has read and studied the Bible for years. He is 93 and still studying it.
I also look at other translations. I’ll have to look into a commentary also.

I read different versions to help me understand what the interpretation of the verse. Also, I refer to the bible maps.

For me, the long history of wayward kings and foreign enemies are the most intimidating/daunting parts of God’s word. This study is the first time I have approached reading the Bible just as I read literature (and teach my student’s how to read literature). The "observe, interpret, apply" method is helping me, and I feel if I approach the daunting parts of God’s word with the same routine and perspective, I will be able to "eat the elephant."

Kings and enemies I think are the most complicated for me and with the way the world is and life for me has been over the last few years it’s the lack of connection!!! I have an amazing group of ladies that I do studies with from my home church but it’s all online and does not always give what one needs!!! In the last few years I’ve lost a lot of people that I thought were friends an I have found out they really are not and in many of those cases I have cut ties with them because I can’t and don’t want the negativity in my life anymore!!! An with everyone having to stay home an not being able to be in church (which due to more negativity) I changed churches last October an have yet to make any real connections with more people and I’m married to someone that is not a non believer but does not believe the same way I do!!! I talk to the few friends I have that do believe but not many of them do, I use the bible app, an the if:equip and right now media, and I try to do a lot within the ladies group I’m part of online to help.

Have questions?

We've got answers.

View Our FAQs

Thank you to our study partner