Reading The Bible Well
by Anthony Weber
As Christians, we rely on the Holy Spirit and the Bible to reveal God to us. If anything hinders our ability to fully understand what God wants us to learn from Scripture, that can be a problem. The more we understand the Bible, the more securely we can know, understand and present God’s truth. In order to read the Bible well, we need to understand genre, purpose, and context.
God inspired the writers of the Bible to present His truth to the world through a variety of genres.
History – Historical writings contain a purposeful presentation of facts. Historians record real people, places and events, but not necessarily the same way a historian would today. Biblical historians majored on details that supported the main point of the event and ignored or minimized the details that didn’t.
Law – The law included moral laws (don’t kill); ceremonial laws (wash your hands); hygienic laws (quarantine lepers), and civil laws (forgive debts every 7 years). There is a distinction between the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) and the New Covenant (in Christ), but in the Old Testament all of these laws served the purpose of showing the Israelites how to live as holy people of God – the “called out” ones – in the midst of the cultures which surrounded them.
Wisdom Literature – These books are wise or insightful sayings. Proverbs, for example, is full of general principles about how life works. Ecclesiastes reveals a lot of Solomon’s despair and cynicism – and ultimately hope – as he grapples with some of the deepest questions of life.
Poetry – This genre is scattered throughout the Bible, with Psalms as the pinnacle. David and the other writers use colorful symbolism and deeply personal expressions of grief, hope, joy, despair, anger – basically everything we hear in modern songs. Some of the psalms express profound truths about God; others reveal grim self-portraits of people struggling to see God clearly in the midst of a hard life.
Prophetic writing – Prophecy is either a prediction of the future or a challenging analysis of how people are doing from God’s perspective. Far more time is spent on how people were doing, which usually wasn’t good. The prophets usually spoke to specific people in specific situations, but their messages still contain timeless insights about the nature of God and humanity…
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