Seven Types of Literature in the Bible

The Bible is not a single document, though it has a single Spiritual authorship. If we think of it more as the library of God’s instructions on a life that pleases Him, we come closer to the intent of the Author and His various writing helpers. If the text was written for the expressed purpose of changing the lives of believers, we must press each portion to see the life changing truths that are contained in its pages. Using the text as mere historical lessons rob it of the real purpose for which it was given.


Each type of Biblical literature has a unique path from the text to the heart. Timeless truths and principles are found throughout, but the path to consistently finding and applying them is specific to the type of literature. Some books contain more than one type of literature and require more than one path to find the principles. That’s the bad news; it is not as simple as some would like it to be.


The good news is the interpretive method of each type of literature is consistent within that type. It can be “unlocked” with a specific set of questions that, if carefully responded to, yield the same principles regardless of how many years of experience you may have at interpreting the Word. The literary types of the Word have been divided many different ways by different authors of commentaries and Bible study books. We offer these seven as a simple guide that will help any student draw truth
from the rich pages of the Bible.


Type One: Biography (includes the Patriarchal and Matriarchal Narratives of Genesis; Moses in Exodus and Numbers (and small selected stories of men like Korah); Joshua; Ruth; Selected characters of 1,2 Samuel (Hannah, Eli the Priest, Samuel, Saul, David; Selected characters of 1,2 Kings and 1,2 Chronicles (Solomon, Various kings of Divided Kingdom); Ezra (Zerubbabel and Ezra; Nehemiah (Nehemiah, Ezra); Esther; Daniel (from chapters 1-6); Jonah; Matthew; Mark; Luke; John; Acts.


· Narrative Biography: Divide into dramatic “Acts and Scenes” asking the key principle questions.

· Polemic Biography: Tie the Acts and Scenes to the overall purpose of the writer. “In this way, we see the writer offers evidence that…”

Type Two: Prescriptive Epistles (includes Epistles- Romans; 1,2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1,2 Thessalonians; 1,2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; Hebrews; James; 1,2 Peter; 1,2,3 John; Jude): Ascertain the problems that gave rise to the writing of the Epistle. If the epistle represents the answer, what is the question?


· Corporate Epistle: distinct in that it is written to a group, and must not be applied to an individual.

· Pastoral Epistle: distinct in that it is written to a leader, and does not always reflect the path of every believer.

· Personal Epistle: distinct in the personal style, reveals something important about both the writer and the reader.

· Sectarian Epistle (Messianic): distinct because of the unique set of standards God made for the believing Jew of the Church Age.

· Sectarian Epistle (Gentile): distinct because of the pagan background of the believers of the Gentile community.


Type Three: Lamentation: (includes Lamentations, Habakkuk, selected Psalms) move from the human to the Divine perspective, care must be taken not to use the opening as precedent to behavior.


Type Four: Legal Code and Covenant Treaty (includes part of Exodus; Leviticus; Deuteronomy): Divide the type of behavior to the consequence. Seek to determine what God’s chief concern was in the behavior.


· Exodus (Shemot)/Numbers (Bemidbar): Declarative Law (the declaration of the people to trust in God; the declaration of God that He accepts the people).

· Levitical (Vayikra): Holiness or Redemptive Law (the laws given to the spiritual leader expressing the way one is tainted by sin, and the way one can be redeemed).

· Deteronomic (Dvarim): Constitutional law (what makes a Jew a Jew).


Type Five: Wisdom Literature: Focus on the “truism”, not a promise or absolute. These are wise instructions that offer guidance, not covenants that guarantee success.


Type Six: Poetics: Poetic text should be treated like the illusive figures of song lyrics. A careful understanding of the images used is essential to understanding the veiled truths. There are many types of poetic portions. Some of the main ones are:


· Psalms: Praises (Ps. 30; 65); Corporate or National (Ps. 44); Imprecation (Ps. 7; 35;55;58-59; 69;79;109; 137; 139).

· Poems and songs (Ex. 15)

· Parallelism


Type Seven: Prophetic Works


· Coming Judgment and Blessing (Zephaniah, Zechariah, Malachi)

· Exposing sin (Haggai)

–    Sermons and Political commentaries (Amos; Micah)