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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.


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.


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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?

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Comments (11)

I would say, the figurative language. I am a very literal person, and it’s hard to understand the promises of God if it’s not literally written, “I promise”.

The wisdom & poetic books…They seem a challenging standard to keep. My small group format allows for multiple feedback and supports throughout the process of learning and growing. Also there is a plethora of resources available…many even free…that support growing in God’s word with loving guidance.

The most intimidating thing for me would be the language of poetry. We get discouraged when we don’t understand it. Helping us get through it would be our Resources from our Bible studies & asking questions to people who have read and understand the Bible like your Pastor.

The old testament is the more intimidating to me. I have a app, Enduring Word, that I use to better understand and break down verses. I also love to connect with others about my questions and to get a different perspective on what I read.

ALL O/ IT!!! Basically, it’s full of life-lessons; teaching us right vs. sinful behavior;
Resources~ ‘JESUS ALWAYS’ devotionals; BIBLE app, etc;

The begets are intimidating and challenging to even try to keep intact. Ask God for clarity when I need to, I use "Life Application Study Bible NIV"

Personally the most intimidating thing is trying to live up to who God says I am. I am human, a simple daily sinner who lets him down yet he won’t let go of me. I am so precious in his eyes that he sent his son to die for me.

I am intimidated with the books with all the names of the genealogies and the sacrifices that had to be made but as we get into the new testament I thank God that Jesus came and sacrificed himself so that we don’t have to go through all of that. I am also intimidated with Revelation of the things that are going to happen but I am hoping through these lessons that I will grasp it.

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