by Jonathan Petersen
Truly comprehending the Bible involves knowing both what it says (content) and how it says it (form). Being able to identify and appreciate the many literary forms in which the Bible is written assists readers in more fully understanding God’s Word.
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Leland Ryken about his book, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible (Crossway, 2014).
What need among Christians does this book seek to meet?
Dr. Ryken: These days we hear enough about the literary dimension of the Bible that ordinary Bible readers have a vague awareness that this is something they need to know about. Many of them are looking for help but don’t know where to find it. My handbook brings together in one place what they need to know.
I believe that biblical scholars and preachers are in a similar position. They pay lip service to the literary forms of the Bible, but in actual practice they fall back on the traditional approaches of biblical scholarship. Biblical scholars have not provided the leadership that the average Bible reader deserves in regard to the literary forms of the Bible. They should have taken a refresher English course, but they have not done so. My handbook can supply what they need.
How many literary forms do you identify and define as being in the Bible?
Dr. Ryken: I was surprised to learn how many literary forms are present in the Bible. Part of my research for the book was in ordinary literary handbooks, but I also learned a lot from handbooks of classical rhetoric and scholarly articles authored by biblical scholars. By the time the dust settled, I had 240 entries in my handbook. As I say in my preface to the book, the most obvious lesson to be learned from this is that the Bible is more infused with literary forms and techniques that we realize…
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