Wednesday, November 10, 2021

IBS-22 Strange Bible Verses: writing styles in the Bible

The Big Idea:  Knowing the style of literature you are reading is useful to interpreting what the Bible says.

Writing Styles in the Bible

Thanks Cuyler Black!
Playing the popular game, Jeopardy, one chooses a category for a question. Players typically know some categories better than others.

You may favor a genre of books of Bible. Many spend more time in the New Testament reflecting on Jesus. I love the comfort of Poetry books (i.e. Psalms, Proverbs). Our son gravitates to Apocalyptic books (i.e. Daniel, Revelation). I asked him recently if that is because he enjoys Sci-fi. He says “I like to remember God wins in the end.”

Types of Biblical Literature

The Bible has sixty six books altogether, written between 1400-2000 years of time. Some are easier to read than others. It helps to understand what genre of literature you are reading. Reading a cookbook is different from reading a murder mystery novel or a textbook on history.

How are the books of the Bible categorized? They are categorized by their main writing style, though one book can have multiple styles in it.

History – Often written in a descriptive narrative style telling a story of what happened and what God did. Example: Acts of the Apostles.

Law – This writing sounds like a legal document, about worship procedures or a covenant relationship between God and man. Genealogies are in this category. Example: Leviticus.

Poetry and Wisdom – Descriptive creative writing. Ancient Middle Eastern poetry and wisdom literature doesn’t rhyme but it shows emotion and action more than a description. It gives advice comfort and/or warning. Example: Psalms.

Prophecy – Prophetic writing is a persuasive style. Prophets are the mouthpiece of God saying what God wants people to know. They remind or warn us of God’s guidelines. Sometimes comforting. Sometimes frightening. Example: Isaiah.

Gospel – The word Gospel means “good news.” The Gospels contain historical narrative to introduce and show Jesus’ life and ministry as good news to man. Example: Matthew

Letters – The New Testament letters written from spiritual leaders of the early church write to encourage those following Jesus. Their writings are expository. They are referred to as Epistles. Example: Philippians.

Apocalyptic – Similar to prophecy as it is a message from God to man with a future urgency regarding the last days on earth. It is marked by a lot of symbolism much like poetry. Example: Revelation.

Why Genre Matters

  • · Knowing the communication style of a confusing passage can bring clarity and peace. We don’t have to understand everything, but we can work with it.
  • · It helps us understand the original Biblical world and culture in which it was written as we seek its core timeless truths.
  • · We understand how two books different from each other may have similar themes.
  • · We appreciate the creativity and brilliance of God communicating through so many different authors and styles.
  • · We look at poetry and figurative apocalyptic literature to see beyond the imagery to the message.

I posted a blog last year on literary styles of the Old Testament. Check it out!
You might also find this video from The BibleProject helpful.


This is the twenty second in a series called Practical Starter Guide for Inductive Bible Study.
Table of Contents



1. Can you think of a saying or section of the Bible that seems odd to you? What is it? Does it help to know it might be poetic or an ancient storytelling style?

2. How might you seek to find out of which style a book of the Bible is written?

3. Have you considered praying to ask God for wisdom to find clarity to a confusing passage? Could you also talk it over with someone else who studies the Bible a lot? It is useful for us to talk together about His Word.

As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. Luke 24:14-15 NLT