Genre Matters

G-GenreGenre is by far the most important thing about the Bible that many Bible-believing people don’t know. Nothing matters more than genre when it comes to reading the Bible.

According to Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 593-595).

Genre: A term that refers to different types or varieties of literature or media. In the interpretation of texts, particularly the Bible, most exegetes agree that identifying the genre of the text to be interpreted is crucial and that the text must be understood in light of the common conventions that typified that genre at the time of its writing. Thus, poetry is not to be interpreted in the same manner as historical narrative, nor is prophecy properly read in the same manner as an epistle (letter).

Simply stated, one must read a poem differently than history, prophecy differently than a gospel, a letter (epistle) differently than apocalyptic literature.

When people say “the Bible says …” it is a bit of a misnomer.

The Bible is not one book per se but a collection of books. These 66 books were written at different times over several centuries by dozens of different men and women.

This is why one can not say “The Bible says X” with any real authority.

It would be better to say “In Romans, Paul says …” or, better yet, “The epistle the Romans says … ”.

Saying “the Bible says” is like saying “the Kindle says”.

If you said “according to the Kindle”, one would ask ‘in which book?’ and ‘who was the author?’

We need to do the same with the Bible.

Think about it this way:

Imagine someone taking a newspaper and reading it without distinguishing between the different types of writing. They would read the weather forecast, the police report, the opinion column, and the comics section the same way.

Most of us know to read the different parts of the newspaper in different ways. You take the weather forecast as a prediction based on best data, the political opinions and rantings as such, the police report as an official (if not censored) story, and the comics section as satire. It is almost second nature. You would not claim that a little boy named Calvin was literally pushed by a tiger named Hobbes (as if it were in the police report) or that the weather forcast can not be questioned or the whole newspaper can not be trusted. 

All of this is to say that ‘genre’ is an important element of any Biblical reading and is essential to any discussion regarding faith and religion in the 21st Century.

The phase “the Bible says”,  is not sufficient and is not helpful in the 21st Century when readers need to be savvy and aware of the nuances and differences within the Biblical text.

The books of the Bible need to be read according to the genre that they were written in.

That is how we hear the truth that is in them – and Christians, beyond anything else, should be lovers of  the truth ~ wherever that truth leads.


Later this week we will talk about the power of parables and how even people who say that they read the Bible literally know better than to read the parables in the Bible literally.

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