The Different Genres of the Bible

We may tend to think of the Bible as one book, but actually it is made of 66 different ones, which are as diverse as the number of writers of God’s message, or the number of centuries which the books span. As a result there a number of genres, or literary styles, contained within the Bible as a whole.

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Firstly, there are Bible books which are historical narrative. Although most other Bible books contain history to some extent, history is the primary focus of this genre. It consists of Genesis and the first half of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jonah, and Acts. However this last may also be considered as part Gospel. The basic purpose of these books is to tell of events as they occur, with little or no direct commentary on those events.

Then, there are books of the Law. These are the last half of Exodus, and also Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They recount the rules of life and society as given to the people of Israel in Old Testament times. They are the laws the people of God were required to follow, up to the time of Jesus. God provided the people of Israel with many laws. These defined the proper relationship they were to have with God, other Jews, and other people.

As well, there are the books of Wisdom. They are Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, which live up to the name of this genre, providing insightful observations on life, people, God, and their relationship with Him. This genre contrasts our nature to God’s, warning us against our own desires.

Then come the Psalms, consisting not only of the book of this name, but also the Song of Solomon, and Lamentations. These are writing of praise to God, and observations about mankind. The Song of Solomon is a book of love, and has natural and spiritual applications, describing its beauty.

Then there is the largest Old Testament genre, considering the number of Bible books that are included with this description appropriate to them. These are the books of Prophecy, these being Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The books of Apocalypse are Daniel and Revelation. Daniel, in the Old Testament contains some historical narrative, but mostly prophecy as revealed by God to Daniel. The book of Revelation, in the New Testament is a message from Jesus given to the apostle John originally, but the introduction was written as letters or messages from Jesus, written down by John, to be forwarded to some early Christian churches. But as with Daniel, it also is a book largely of prophecy. Both the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation convey messages delivered as the result of visions and dreams.

In the New Testament, there are the Gospels. These are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, though as mentioned above, this last also contains historical narrative. These books portray the life of Jesus and his teachings, and the book of Acts, the teachings of the early apostles.

Then, lastly, there are the Epistles (or Letters). These are contained within the New Testament, being the books of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. Some of these were written by the apostle Paul, and some by others. They contain messages for us as well, but were originally intended specifically for individuals or groups called ecclesias, or churches in various places. This is indicated by the full name of the specific book.

Some books – for example, the book of Acts (as mentioned), or Jonah or Nehemiah, have parts which indicate a combination of characteristics – most particularly historical narrative and prophecy.

The various genres contained within the Bible, therefore, may appeal to different people for different reasons, or the same person for different reasons at varying times in their life. A history buff may prefer the historical narrative sections, whereas someone interested in prophecy (whether fulfilled in the past, or more related to our day) would lean towards the prophetic books. Either or both may at varying times, prefer the words of comfort found in the Psalms, or the insights given in the books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. .A musician may like the Psalms also, because these were originally set to music, and became known as the “hymn book of Israel.” These are just examples, for the Bible is a book appropriate to all people, all ages, all knowledge levels, and all interests.

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