Hello. What “kind” of book is each book of the Bible? What is prophetic, what is poetry, what is a journalistic account, etc.? I recently watched an eye-opening video by Bishop Barron. When referring to atheists and people who interpret the bible literally, Bishop Barron clarified that each book is a different “kind” of book, but he didn’t share any resource or list where it shares what “kind” of book each book of the Bible is.
Do you know where I can find a list of what “kind” of book each book of the Bible is?
One thing to remember is that not only is the bible made up of different books of different Genres, but so are the books themselves. Parts of Genesis are of the class of theological myth, some are genealogies, some are poetry/liturgical song. That’s the difficulty of reading it all the same. It’s like reading Aesop’s fables as you would the New York Times etc.
Here is a decent primer to get you started. There are many good books out there to start, but the information can be very overwhelming at first. So take your time and research the parts your trying to understand a piece at a time.
As bmullins said, not each book of the Bible is only one type of writing. To just say “Genesis is history” or “Genesis is allegory” is overly simplistic. Genesis 1–11 is often viewed differently from Genesis 12–50. And then there’s the source criticism that attempts to pick apart the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and assign different passages to the authorship of different groups.
That’s why I like Clare’s recommendation. It cuts through a lot of that stuff that goes over the heads of most of us and really sheds light on what the book means as it is.
No matter what kind or genre a book of the Bible may be, it is nevertheless the infallible word of God. One cannot use the truth that the Psalms are poetry (actually, song lyrics) in order to dismiss any truth taught by the Psalms.
Genesis is a history book. It is the history of the universe (ch 1), of the human race (ch 1 - 11), and of the Israelites (ch 11 - 50). The first 11 chapters relate that history in highly figurative language. But it is no less factual, and cannot be dismissed as a whole fictional teaching story.
Understanding the literary genre does not reduce the truth or value of the book. It rather enhances our ability to understand the truth that it is meant to teach. You can’t understand truthfully what the Psalms meant unless you know that they were Poetry/Songs written to express the situation that the people were experiencing. It helps us know more about the truth, not less.
Genesis is no more of a history book than it is a scientific treaty on the origins of the world. Genesis is a presentation of theological truths in many differing literary styles.
Less factual? Are you suggesting that we are to accept that there was literally a talking snake in Eden? Or that Noah truly built an ark the size of a modern-day supertanker with nothing but raw wood, rope and pitch?
God bless you all for responding to my thread. I’m literally dancing. I love all the recommendations, esp the link to An Introduction to Biblical Genres and Form Criticism [thanks bmullins]. I long for the day when I can be as knowledgeable so I too can help spread the truth as you all have done today. Thank you again,
The Bible is a history book – it is the history of salvation. It is not written in the style of a modern history book, thank God. But it is a type of history book.
“The story of Adam and Eve, the rebellion against God described in the Book of Genesis, uses a richly imaginative language to explain something that actually happened at the origins of mankind.” [Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy]
The fall from grace was an historical event. The talking serpent and other elements of the story are figurative, but these figures are used to explain an important event in salvation history.
Noah built an ark and survived a great flood, literally. The size of the Ark, extent of the flood, extent of animals and humans killed outside the Ark, etc. are figurative elements, used to relate an historical event. Using figurative elements allows the authors of the Bible to emphasize the spiritual meaning of these historical events.
That’s right. It does record things God actually did. The Bible is meant to be a unity. A complete source. Jesus Himself said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:46 and 5:47 NIV
I haven’t read all the other posts. I wouldn’t trust any particular single “list” of what type of book each one is. My approach has been to study a lot of Jewish commentaries, which go line by line, to explain what it in the book, like Genesis. I am not aware of a Catholic book that does that.
First of all, they try to get the translation from the Hebrew (or Aramaic) as best as they can, and then they build up from there in a very logical fashion. The best form of Bible study is in the original languages. There’s quite a lot lost in translation from Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek to English.
They delve deeply into the words (but these commentaries are written for general people, not academicians). It’s much harder than it looks by reading the English.
Hebrew had no upper/lower case. Characters stood for letters and numbers, no punctuation and usually no spaces between words, no vowels, no footnotes, no dictionary to look to, and so forth. So, translations really carry a lot of weight. The Jewish Bible (Tanakh) from the Jewish Publication Society has footnotes that show how frequently the words are really not understood – the Hebrew is just too obscure or archaic. I like to look at the Jewish English translation a lot, for comparison.
In a lot of English translations I’ve seen, the poetic parts are NOT set off as lines of poetry (by indentation for example) to clue us in about that, but a significant part of the OT is poetry – I can barely write in prose (if I may be so bold as to say that) much less to express myself in poetry.
You have to study a few commentaries to get the feel for different opinions. There is no ultimate one source for Bible commentary. The Vatican II said to read everything the Church has ever written – (right!).
The first creation account of Genesis, roughly 1:1 to 2:3 is poetic. Even in English there’s a lot of repetition of words, like verses in a song. In Hebrew, the verses are either 7 words or a multiple of 7 words – emphasizing the importance of the Sabbath 7th day of Creation – the LORD’s day.
In the original, Genesis is divided into 12 parts (hint: tribes of Israel), not 50 chapters, which comes about in about the 12th century, give or take a century.
The Jewish commentaries give me so much more insight into the structure of the OT books, because really there is structure there, that is not obvious in English. The book of Psalms is all poetry, I think. Job is prose at the beginning and end, but poetry most of the middle. (I don’t know how they can tell this.)
What’s really wild, there is a whole genre of Jewish writing outside the Bible which is called re-written scripture, which skips over the hard or embarrassing parts and emphasizes various things the author had in mind. Appropriately, the 3-volume work is called “Outside the Bible: Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period.” You’re thinking “oh, this isn’t Catholic” but actually these writings were very popular in the early Church, because the early Church fathers were looking for everything they could find that pointed to Christ and, depending on who you read, the OT was not really settled at the time of Christ.
You have to take the plunge into scripture studies.
Sirach2v4 — thank you for your insight and recommendations! I do plan on joining a bible study in the next few years as many family members who have joined have been required to read books similar to the ones you referenced, which is exciting!
So, the Bible is a history book, the fall was a historical even but all of the elements in the story are figurative “to explain an important event in salvation history?”
So, Noah, the ark and the flood were all literally historical but again all of the details relating to them and the event are “figurative elements?”
As a history book, then, the Bible seems to be a very poor example. It blends supposedly real people and events with details that are “figurative elements.” How are we to know what is real and what isn’t? Jonah was real, it seems, but was the whale a “figurative element?” Did Samson really slay 1,000 men with the jawbone of an *** or was that “figurative…” etc., etc.