Balancing the Sword - A comprehensive study guide to life's manual
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Literary Styles

We must interpret Scripture according to its literary styles.  There are several primary styles: 

  • Statutory - Statutory writings include commandments:  "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not."  The Ten Commandments are statutory in nature.  This is also true for most of Leviticus, some of Numbers, and most of Deuteronomy. 

  • Historical Narrative - Historical narratives are records of what happened written in a prosaic style (i.e., everyday speech).  Genesis falls into this category.  The writers of the historical narratives in the Bible did not always tell us how to evaluate what they wrote.  They simply claimed to be factual reports of what happened.  Judge is also a historical narrative of centuries of chaos in Israel's history.  The accounts were not written to persuade us to follow the examples.  Historical narratives must be interpreted in the light of the commandments of God. 

  • Poetic - Poetic books, such as Job and Psalms, possess a distinct structure.  Meter, rhythm, and alphabetic matching are important elements in the poetic books, as would be typical of modern songs or poems.  Poetic books are packed with hyperbole and imagery.  In the songs of Scripture, we hear the groaning of our own hearts. 

  • Proverbial - Proverbial or wisdom literature are the short statements of truth common to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  These are general rules of life.  That is, it is a general rule that "the field of the slothful" is "all grown over with thorns" (Pr. 24:30-31).  However, there are occasional exceptions to this.  As Solomon said, "time and chance happeneth to them all" (Ecc. 9:11). 

  • Genealogies - Genealogies could be reclassified under narrative because these detailed records document what happened as pertains to family lineage. 

  • Prophecy - Prophetic books, like poetic, are full of metaphors, analogies, and hyperboles.  These writings give commentary to the narratives as compared to the statutes.  That is, the prophets praised the righteousness or, more often, condemned the wickedness of their contemporaries as their lives were measured by the commands found in the statutory writings.  Elements of relative time can be very difficult to follow in prophetic books.

  • Parables - Parables were frequently used by Jesus and are recorded in the gospel narratives.  There are a few parables in the Old Testament (e.g., Jdg. 9:8-15).  Parables always had a lesson, not simply a report.  However, parables were shrouded insights designed to prevent everyone from immediately understanding the message.  Jesus said to His apostles, "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs:  but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father" (Jn. 16:25). Previously, "the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?  He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given....  Therefore speak I to them in parables:  because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (Mt. 13:10-13).

  • Epistles (or, Letters) - Epistolary writings were personal letters written to a particular audience.  The audience may have been Christians scattered abroad, a church (or, churches), or an individual.  Often these letters begin with a personal greeting and closed with individualized salutations.  Frequently, a letter addressed several topics and presumed familiarity with some particular current issues.  Most epistles were written by the apostles and have an apostolic tone of authority as the anointed messengers of Jesus Christ.

Solid hermeneutics will evaluate a statement in its larger context of literary style.  Of all the writings, the statutory writings rule supreme.  Even Christ subjected Himself to the commands.  "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:  I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Mt. 5:17).  We are not allowed to extract a lesson from some behavior in a narrative and elevate it to the status of a command.  "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you" (Dt. 4:2).  There are only two great lawgivers:  Moses (the first testament or covenant) and Jesus (the second testament or covenant).  "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him" (Dt. 18:15, 18).  "And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Heb. 3:5-6).  The apostles were authorized by Christ to speak on His behalf.

Related:  Books of the Bible Based on Difficulty - What makes a book difficult?

Related:  Easiest Translation to Read?  More than 20 Translations Compared

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Balancing the Sword is a structured study guide for every chapter of the Bible.