How to Read the Bible: Literary Styles

The Bible is a collection of many books, telling one unified story from beginning to end.

But all those books were written in different literary styles.

Yeah, think of it like walking into a bookstore where every aisle has a different kind of literature.

There's history, or poetry, or nonfiction, and when you choose an aisle and pick up a book you're gonna have very different expectations, different things that you're looking for.

Right, they're all literature but they communicate in really different ways.

Yes, and so the same thing is true for the Bible.

If you don't pay attention to what style it's written in, you will miss out on the brilliance of each book.

So, what are the main types of literature in the Bible? Well first and foremost is narrative.

It makes up a whopping 43% of the Bible.

After that is poetry, which is 33% of the Bible.

And then there's what you could call prose discourse, which makes up the remaining 24%.

Nearly half the Bible is narrative.

Yes, and this is no accident.

Stories are the most universalform of human communication.

Our brains are actually hardwired to take ininformation through stories.

And stories are really enjoyable.

Why is that? Well stories train us to make sense of the seemingly random events that happen in life by taking those events and then putting them in a sequence, and then together you can start to see the meaning and purpose of it all.

And what links this all together? Well good stories always have acharacter who wants something and then through these characters an author can explore life's big questions like who are we or what's really important in life.

And a good story always involves some kind of conflict; some challenge to overcome just like in our own lives.

And that forces us to think about our own challenges, why there's so much pain or disappointment in the world and then what can we do about it? And stories usually end with some kind of resolution giving us hope for our own stories.

Since these are Bible stories, are thecharacters showing me how I should live? Yeah, that's not quite the point.

Most Bible characters are deeply flawed.

You should not be like them.

But, we aresupposed to see ourselves in them which helps us then see our lives and failures from a new perspective.

And without even realizing it these stories will start to mess with you and change how you see theworld, and other people, and yourself.

Now there are different types of narrative in the Bible.

Yeah, there's historical narrative, but also narrative parables, short biographical narratives like the four Gospels.

We'll look at all these inlater videos.


Next up is poetry which honestly I don't read a lot of.

Yeah, you're like most people.

But, one out of every threechapters in the Bible is poetry.

Yeah, why so much poetry? Well poems mainly speak through dense creative language, linking togetherimages to help us envision the world differently.

Poems use lots of metaphor to evoke your emotion and your imagination.

Lots of fancy language.

Butwouldn't it be easier just to tell me what I need to know? Well think about it.

In life we tend to form mental ruts and we think in these familiar well-wornpaths that are very hard to get out of through logic or reasoning.

And what good poetry does is force you off the familiar path into new territory.


And there's different types of poetry in the Bible; there's lots of types of songsor psalms.

There's the reflective poetry of thewisdom books and then the passionate resistance poetry of the prophets.

Okay, the last big literary type is called prose discourse, and it makes up a quarter of the Bible.

Yeah, these are speeches, letters, or essays.

And the focus here is building a sequence of ideas or thoughts into one linear argument thatrequires a logical response like, “Hey! have you thought about this thing? Youshould also consider how it connects to this other thing.

And if you do then youwill see that this is the result and in light of that conclusion, therefore, youshould probably stop doing that one thing so that this other thing will bethe outcome.

” So, you're persuading me with reason.

Yeah, discourse forces you tothink logically and consistently and then do something about it.

Biblical discourse is found in law collections, in wisdom literature, andthe letters written by the apostles.

Okay, so each book of the Bible has one literary style.

No, actually most books have a primary literary style, likenarrative for example.

But then embedded in the narrative you'll come acrosspoems or parables or a collection of laws.

Every biblical book is a uniquecombination of literary styles.

And to read that book well I need to be familiar with each literary type and how it works.

Yeah, so you know what to pay attention to and what questions you should ask.

But before we look at each type there's one more unifying feature of biblical literature, that's really important and really cool, and that's what we'll explore next.

Hey everybody.

Thanks for watching this Bible Project video.

It's one part of a muchlarger series on how to read the Bible.

You can find more of those videos andall of our videos for free at thebibleproject.


We're a non-profit crowdfunded animation studio, which means you can actually join us and help us make more videos.

Again, go to thebibleproject.


And one morething, this video is lovingly dedicated to my former teacher Ray Lubeck.

He first introduced me to all the ideas that we explored in this video.

If you want tolearn more about these ideas check out his book called Read the Bible for aChange by Professor Ray Lubeck.

Love you Ray.

Thanks so much.


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