How to Read the Bible (part 3): Literary Styles in the Bible

It’s important to keep in mind Scripture’s purpose and focus when we read it; that is, it points to Jesus and his saving work for us. An equally important factor to know and keep in mind while reading the Bible is that it is written in various literary styles or genres.

Watch the following video from BibleProject to learn more.

Important Factors For Reading The Bible

The video dropped a bunch of information about literary styles in the Bible, so let’s do a quick quiz to review and solidify what we know. (Don’t worry, it won’t be graded!)

What are the literary styles of the Bible?

  • Narrative, Poetry, and Prose Discourse

What percentage of these literary styles make up the Bible?

  • 43% is Narrative; 33% is Poetry; 24% is Prose Discourse

Does each book of the Bible have its own literary style?

  • No. Most have a primary literary style, but with other literary styles embedded in them.

It’s important that we differentiate between these literary styles because we have different expectations of what we read. We don’t read textbooks the same way we read text messages. Nor don’t we read news articles the same way we read novels. Each literary style communicates in a different way. If we disregard these literary styles or fail to recognize them we can easily misread what God’s word is trying to say to us.

Another important factor in reading the Bible is related to the characters we run across. Many children’s Bibles and Sunday School curriculum turn the stories of the Bible into morality tales like Aesop’s Fables. But doing this misunderstands the purpose and story of the Bible. To read the stories of Scripture this way removes Jesus from the center and instead inserts us there.

These characters are not setting a moral example for us. Far from it. If anything the example they set is that of God’s boundless grace and mercy in the face of their abject and blatant sin. Throughout the Bible God continuously showers grace upon sinners. Something that is still true for us today. And the gracious nature of God reaches its high point in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Before looking at each literary style, we’ll consider some important factors for studying Scripture.