If you went into the bookstore to look for a book on car repair, would you head to the science fiction section?
Or if you wanted to watch a kids movie on Netflix, would you go to the horror queue?
Not if you wanted things to go well!
What’s a Biblical Genre?
We have a habit of sorting things into categories, or genres, as a way of helping us quickly understand what something is. We know that fiction books are made up stories. We know that horror movies are not for kids. We know these things because we have become familiar with the rules of those genres. It’s a shorthand for our brain to help us process information faster.
But when it comes to the Bible, people often struggle to recognize the different genres within its pages. That’s because people often assume the Bible is just one massive text; they don’t fully understand that “The Good Book” is actually many books by many authors, written over many years, in many genres.
That’s right – the Bible has more than one type of writing within its pages. Part of the confusion comes from how the Bible is put together. It’s composed of 66 books, divided between the Old and New Testaments. Those 66 books were written by 40* different authors over a period of 1300 years, with the final version of the Bible coming into acceptance in 397 AD.
Within those many books there are several recognized genres, though scholars sometimes have a hard time agreeing on which books go with which genre.
Regardless, it’s helpful to anyone to understand the characteristics of the genres in Scripture.
* The exact number is unknown, but 40 is the more common belief amongst scholars.
Why Does It Matter?
One of the keys to fully understanding the Bible is to know what genre you’re reading. Each genre has distinct characteristics that help you understand what the author wanted the reader to know. Similarly, knowing the genre also helps you understand what God wants the reader to know and how God wants the reader to interact with the text.
To fully understand the Bible – and help others understand it as well – you need to spend a little time learning about the different genres. You don’t need to go to seminary or Bible college for this; you just need to be willing to spend a few minutes learning the characteristics of the five basic genres:
In this article series, we’re going to break down each genre in its own post to help you understand how to identify each one and use that information to wisely interpret the Bible. The goal is not to make things academic—far from it—but to make things clear. In the end, you’ll hopefully have a better feel for how the Bible is constructed, and how you can read it to make a difference in your life or in the life of someone else.