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Summary of Biblical Genres June 23, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles, Genre, Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hi. Today I want to review the major genres found in the Bible. I have already devoted a post to each of these genres, but I thought it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in the interpretation step of OICA. By placing the genres together, with a short description of each, you can see which genre you are dealing with and some of the things to look for as you try to interpret it. For a more detailed look you can review the longer posts I have done on the genres.

Narrative

This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

1. Take it Literally

2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.

Discourse

This genre is where people are speaking. It can be a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it is in another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.

2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.

3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, there are a lot of things said that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.

Poetry

Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.

2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing

3. Don’t take the figurative parts literally! Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech.

Prophecy

The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation.

1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.

2. Look to see if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

3. Please do not read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Christ returns.

4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one persons interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days, souls not signs.

Epistle

The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority are found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (there are some in Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

1. Find out who the author and the audience are.

2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.

3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Observation is the key.

Gospel

There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

1. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?

2. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?

3. Compare other Gospels. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.

4. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally. Jesus actually did come down, become a man, die on a cross and rise again in 3 days.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.

2. This genre should not be taken literally.

3. As you read through, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, although there are other small sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are general truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.

2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.

Parable/Allegory

Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is a response to. How does this answer the situation/question?

2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to this main idea.

Ethical Instruction

In this genre I would put proverbs, laws, and promises.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.

2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.

3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.

Reflection

What is your favorite genre and why?

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Genre: Wisdom Literature December 3, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello again. This will be the last genre I am going to talk about. I think we have covered all the main genres. Hopefully, you now have a starting point for whatever part of the Bible you happen to be reading. In this final section I want to talk about wisdom literature. Basically, this is just Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. These three books are unique among the rest of the books in their style and content. In a general sense these books are written to help make us wise. They bring up some big issues like why people suffer and God’s awesomeness. Although these three are all in the same genre, they are all unique and I want to talk about each one separately.

Job

The book of Job is primarily made up of speeches. Job and his friends give these long discourses all throughout the book. At the end God speaks and puts everything in perspective. Technically, the beginning and end of Job are made up of narrative sections and so need to be interpreted in light of that genre. But, for the most part this book is made up of lots of talking. Although this is in the “wisdom” genre, not everything that is said is wise. Job’s friends have their own perspective and view on why Job is suffering and give their opinions freely. For the most part what they say is more opinion than fact and they completely miss the point. It is important to read Job as a whole so that we can get the full picture. If we just open up to the middle and read one of the speeches out of the overall context it could lead to some false ideas of what is true.

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is made up of proverbs. These are short wise sayings that help us learn how to live better. As I have mentioned in a previous post, proverbs are generally true, but are not statements of fact. They should not be viewed as promises, but rather guidelines for better living. As we read the book as a whole, there are certain themes that develop. There is an emphasis on the foolish vs. the wise, cautions about money, advice on the tongue, the benefits of wisdom, and the ethics of working, among other things. Some of these ideas are intentionally repeated throughout the book in order that we would remember them and to show their importance. Each proverb is its own unique idea and so needs to be interpreted by itself. Then as we come across other proverbs with the similar ideas we can compare and contrast them.

Ecclesiastes

The book of Ecclesiastes is the final book in the wisdom literature. It is similar to Job in that some of the ideas portrayed are not necessarily “wise”. There are some things that are said that are somewhat cynical in nature. But, if you read the book in its entirety you will see that his final point is that we need to fear God and keep His commandments. That doesn’t mean that we should disregard the proverbial sayings within. There are a lot of truths to be found here, but we need to make sure that we come back to the overall point that ultimately the only thing worth pursuing is God.

Summary

When reading Job don’t believe everything Job’s friends say and read everything in light of the God’s response at the end of the book.

When reading Proverbs interpret each one individually and look for the repeated themes and big ideas of the book.

When reading Ecclesiastes look for the big picture and try to see what the author’s overall message is.

Reflection

If you saw someone suffering like Job did what would you say to them, or what advice would you give them?

Prov. 11:14 says: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure”. What is the general principle this is trying to teach? How could it be dangerous to take this as a promise?

If you had unlimited resource and a desire to find the greatest thing ever, what would you do? Where would you go? What would you try? Would you come to the same conclusion that the author of Ecclesiastes did?

Genre: Parable November 25, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello all. Today is parable day. I am excited to talk about parables because I think they are extremely important. This is the main way Jesus chose to communicate to the people. Even though parables are important and show up a lot in the Gospels, they are often misunderstood or worse, misinterpreted.

The word parable comes from the Greek – parabole, which is literally “to cast along side”. The Greek word had a wider range of meanings than our word in English. It covers the whole spectrum from short statements that are no more than extended allegories (where only one idea is being conveyed)  to longer stories that we would call allegories with multiple meanings being conveyed. Parables are stories that have a surface meaning, but are used to reflect a deeper secondary meaning.

Before we get into how to interpret parables, it is important to understand why Jesus used them. I would say that there are basically two purposes that Jesus used parables for. First, because parables are story based, they are easy to remember and they can be used to cut to our hearts without getting caught up in our brains. We enjoy stories and they speak to us in ways that normal dialogue doesn’t. Secondly, Jesus used parables to separate out the hungry. There is a mystery to the parables and it takes some time to understand their messages. Mark 4:10-12 shows the disciples asking Jesus about a parable and he tells them that some people will not understand him. I think Jesus purposely used parables so that those who were truly seeking would press in and try to understand the message. The disciples were the ones who came to Jesus to ask him the meaning of the parable. Their curiosity turned them in the right direction – to Jesus. I’m sure some of the people in the crowds were wondering about the parables also, but whatever response they had, it did not bring them closer to Jesus.

So, how do we interpret parables? Like I said before, parables are stories that have a secondary meaning they are trying to convey. Our goal is to find out what that meaning is. I like to think of parables as jokes. Their meaning is found in the punchline. Usually a parable will have “punchline” where there will be a twist on the expected result. Take for instance the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The story is that a man is beaten, robbed and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite come along and pass right by him, but then a Samaritan comes and takes care of him. It is hard to understand this parable without understanding the context. The priests and Levites were the religious leaders and so should have been the ones to help out the injured man. The Samaritans were social outcasts. They were a polluted mixed race that were viewed with extreme prejudice. Some people would even walk miles out of their way just to avoid walking through the same area where the Samaritans lived so that they wouldn’t contaminate themselves with their soil. Anyway, they were not liked and it was a definite reversal for the only one to help out was the last person expected. We need to try and see how the original hearers would have been affected by the parables. Most of the things Jesus said were radical and sometimes made people extremely mad.  Because of our cultural distance it is hard for us to see some of these things, but we can still try and see the big picture idea of what the parables are about.

When reading a parable there is usually one main idea being conveyed. In the parable above the main idea is discovering who your neighbor is. Our job is to find out what that main idea is. When we read a parable the first thing we need to do is read the surrounding context. Often Jesus is using a parable to answer a question or to teach a lesson. If we don’t know the question the parable is answering then we won’t fully understand the parable. Although parables usually have one meaning, sometimes Jesus is trying to teach more than one thing through them. Take for example the parable of the prodigal son. This story is not just about the younger son who squandered his wealth and finally came back to his family. The story is also about the older son who had been there all along and didn’t realize what he had. Therefore, when we read a parable, primarily we should look for the main meaning, but if there are other characters that seem important we should look to see if there might be something we can gain from their part of the story. Parables are intentionally short and details are limited, so when we are presented with things we should see if they are being used to represent something.

A word of caution: It is possible to over analyze a parable. Whatever meaning we can derive from a parable has to fit within the context of the book it is written in and not every detail needs to have a hidden meaning. Try and hear it from the listeners perspective. How would they have interpreted it. As an example St. Augustine had a radical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said that the man represented Adam, Jerualem was heaven, Jericho was the moon, the robbers were the devil and his minions who strip the man of his immortality through sin, the priest and levite were the law and the ministry of the OT, the samaritan was Christ, the binding of the wounds was Christ’s work at binding sin, the oil was comfort and encouragement, the donkey was the Incarnation, the inn was the Church, the term “next day” was the resurrection, the innkeeper was Paul, and the two denarii were the two great commandments to love God and love your neighbor. This may be a nice picture of salvation, but it has nothing to do with the parable. Every analogy breaks down if you take it too far, and in the same way if try to impart too much meaning into the details, the parable will break down.

Summary

Parables are short stories with a purpose to impart a message

Look for the intended message, without overlooking possible other meanings

Understand what the main details stand for, but don’t overanalyze the parable

Look for the question the parable is trying to answer or the doctrine it is trying to teach

Once you understand the meaning of a parable try and apply it to your own life

Reflection:

I probably should mention that there are parables in other places besides the Gospels. They actually occur a lot in the prophets as well, and even in the narrative books. Read 2 Sam. 12:1-4. What is the main point of this parable? What do the rich man, the poor man, and the sheep represent in the parable? How do you think David would have responded if Nathan would have delivered his message differently, such as a speech, or an accusation?

Genre: Apocalypse November 18, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello again. Today I am going to talk about the genre called Apocalypse.This is by far the most difficult to describe and understand. The clearest examples are found in Revelation and Daniel, but there are other passages that have some of the same apocalyptic characteristics. It is hard to come across a precise definition of the genre because there are no specific characteristics that are universally accepted as part of the genre. Not only is there a huge variety of texts that fit this genre, but often times an author will adapt the genre for their own purposes and so intermix it with another genre. In Revelation, for instance, John intermixes apocalypse with prophecy and epistle, and the book of Daniel has large portions of narrative.

That being said, the best definition I could find is by JJ Collins, who is one of, if not the best scholar on apocalypse. He says:
“‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”

This definition is almost as hard to understand as the genre itself. But, lets try and break this down. First off, the word apocalypse literally means a revelation. Therefore an apocalypse is a revelation to a person about something. The thing revealed is different in different apocalypses, but in the Bible it is God revealing His plans and purposes. Usually this is a revelation about the future, specifically the end of the world. The person receiving the revelation is taken on a journey by an “otherworldly being”, like an angel. Usually, they are taken up to heaven. The revelation is both of an action or actions and of a place. In the Biblical apocalypses, the action is God’s divine judgement and ultimate victory and the place is heaven.

Form

Although there is no specific formula that an author must follow for something to be labeled an apocalypse, there are some general features that we can see. The most obvious is tbe prolific use of figurative language. Apocalypses are filled with metaphors and similes. They are highly visual and were meant to be read aloud. As the recipients heard the words they would be able to easily visualize the images. The imagery allowed the hearers to enter into this new world and hopefully see what was being revealed. The images used are also cataclysmic in scale. In Revelation you can see horses and swords, dragons and horns and fire. These big images help give a grand scale to the apocalypse. Using these big images helps the readers to get a picture of the grand scale and also makes it more memorable. Because of the immense use of figurative language it is best not to take these writings literally. Instead of trying to decipher what every picture and event means, we should simply try and get a general impression of what is happening or going to happen. Apocalypses, especially Revelation, are not intended as maps to the future that we can use to foretell events, instead they offer a big picture overview of life and the future so that we can gain a better perspective for the here and now.

Content

This leads into the content of an apocalypse. This genre is usually written to people in times of crisis as an encouragement to hope. The reader is taken out of there current time and location and transported into another world where they can see the big picture. God is in control and although they may be going through hard times, God is still in control and He will bring judgement to the wicked and ultimately bring salvation to the righteous. As they read they can be encouraged to stand strong in their current situation, knowing that God will prevail. When we read these it is especially important to read them in context. As you read them try to see the overarching theme and what the big idea is. If you get too bogged down in the details you will miss the point of the genre and may end up not understanding the message which is being portrayed.

I like to think of apocalypses as photo-mosaics. Each picture has its own distinct meaning, but that meaning is superceded when all these small pictures come together to make the big picture.

Reflection

No question today, just something to think about. In Rev. 7:4 it says that he sees 144,000 who are sealed. There are some who have taken this to mean that only 144,ooo people will be saved. It is hard for me to believe that out of everyone in all of history only 144,000 will make it to heaven. I think this is speaking figuratively of a completion or fullness of those who will be saved. Because this genre is filled with figurative language, we should at least consider the possibility that anything we read has the potential to be taken figuratively. But, besides this, the number is super specific. 144,ooo is 12x12x1000. In other lists and countings of people the numbers are all different. Finally, in the next few verses John sees a multitude of people which “cannot be counted”. This seems more likely to be the group of people that will be saved.

Genre: Gospel November 11, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Here we go again. Today I would like to talk about the gospel genre. This is the genre of the first four books of the New Testament. My intent is not to define this genre as a whole as it was when these books were written, but to show some characteristics of the New Testament use of gospel. Hopefully, this will help us to interpret them better.

Gospels are similar to biographies in that they focus on one person as the “hero”. This person in the NT gospels is obviously Jesus. The Gospel’s are not biographies though. The main difference is that the Gospels are not intended to describe every event in Jesus’ life. They are highly focused and emphasize more Jesus’ role in the plan of salvation then telling his life story. They show how Jesus is the Messiah, God’s son, who came down from heaven and took on flesh in order to redeem us from sin and death.

One of the difficulties of defining the genre of the Gospels is that they had a dual purpose with a specific audience in mind. The Gospels were written with the intent of them being read in the churches, so they were written with a lot of teaching material in them. But they were also written somewhat biographical, in order to tell the story of Jesus and his ministry, death, and resurrection.

The style of the Gospels is basically narrative. There is a general flow of action as the story unfolds. But, there are also large sections of discourse material in the Gospels. In reading the Gospels it is important to keep in mind the narrative underlying the discourse. Because of the large sections of discourse it can sometimes be difficult to follow the flow of the story, because if we don’t we risk reading the Gospels simply as a collection of sayings and end up missing the bigger picture. As you read through the Gospels see where Jesus is going and who he is talking to, whether it is to his disciples or the crowd or the Pharisees. Sometimes Jesus goes into a lengthy discourse based on a question by the Pharisees, and if we don’t read it in context we can miss the point of what he is saying.

Also, when you are reading through the Gospels watch how Jesus is treated as the story progresses. The climax of all four Gospels is Jesus’ death and resurrection. You can see the opposition growing as it gets closer to this time.

Because Gospels are a cross between narrative and discourse, there is also a mixture of literal and figurative language. The narrative sections that describe events should be taken literally. When it says Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead, these are literal events that happened. The figurative language comes in when you read the discourse material. When Jesus speaks he uses a lot of metaphors and similes, as well as parables and allegories. For the most part it is pretty easy to tell when Jesus is saying something figuratively as opposed to literally.

One final note, a lot of the OT is referenced either directly or indirectly in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels assumed that their audience had at least a basic understanding of the OT. You can not fully interpret (or maybe even understand) the Gospels without familiarizing yourself with the Old Testament. The OT is not only interesting and beneficial, it is also vital not only to understanding the Gospels, but the entire New Testament.

Summary
1. Read the Gospels primarily as a story, watching how the plot develops throughout
2. The Gospels were meant primarily to teach truths of Christianity and secondarily to show the life of Jesus
3. Read the discourses in light of their audience/context
4. Read the OT, especially the parts that are referenced in the Gospels
5. Take the literal parts literal and the figurative parts figuratively
6. Look for the big message – why were these written

Reflection
1. Since the Gospels were written with Jesus as the focus, why is John the Baptist not only featured, but featured prominently in them?

Genre: Ethical Instruction November 4, 2009

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Howdy. Today I would like to talk about ethical instruction. Ethical instruction is broken down into three sections: Proverbs, Laws and Promises. These all fall under the larger genre of Discourse material, but are distinct enough to merit addressing these separately. Basically, proverbs are short wise sayings to help you live better, laws are requirements of God, and promises are statements of what God will do for people. The three things that I want to emphasize are that proverbs are not promises, not all laws are universal, and promises have prerequisites.

Proverbs

There is an entire book devoted to proverbs, but they can also be found in Ecclesiastes. There are a few instances throughout the rest of the Bible, but the majority of them are contained in these two books. Proverbs are meant to be memorable. They are short and use figures of speech like metaphors and similes to get their point across. They are often set up in a parallel structure, where the second part either restates the same idea (synonymous parallel) or says an opposite idea (antithetical parallel). In Hebrew thought, ideas that are important are repeated for emphasis. As you read through the book of Proverbs you will notice that there are recurring themes and ideas. Each proverb is self contained. There is one idea that the proverb is trying to get across and our goal is to figure out what we are to learn from it. The most important thing to know about proverbs is that they are not promises. They are simply statements on how to live a more righteous life and avoid foolishness. If we take them as promises we risk falsely accusing God of not doing what He said. Let me give one example that is often taken as a promise instead of a proverb. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (NIV). We can tell this is a proverb, because it is in the book of Proverbs, but it also has that short memorable quality and is intending to impart wisdom. As a proverb, we need to ask how can I apply this to my life? In this case, parents need to train their children, giving them the wisdom and knowledge to succeed and live righteously. This does not mean that children of Christian parents will automatically become saved or live for God. Everyone has to make their own decision to follow Christ. I personally enjoy proverbs, because they are easy to understand and extremely applicable.

Laws

There are a lot of laws and commands in the Bible. Laws are simply commands from God to people. (There are commands and laws given by others, such as King Xerxes decree in Esther that the Jews be annihilated. These laws and commands are obviously not from God and therefore we do not need to follow them.) When a command is given in the Bible we need to find out who it is directed toward. As radical as it may seem, we do not need to follow every command of God. Some of these commands were given to specific people for specific situations. I’ll start with the most obvious: Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Noah was commanded to build an ark, Abraham was commanded to move from his home country, Moses was told to go to Pharoah and tell him to let God’s people go. In the New Testament, we see Jesus commanding his disciples to take their boat to the other side of the lake and to go into Jerusalem to prepare a place for the last supper. Sometimes God spoke things to the Israelites that weren’t necessarily intended for us today. He gave them instructions regarding the tent of meeting, the tabernacle and even how they were to collect the mana which he sent from heaven. These are all situation specific commands.

This gets tricky when we get to the book of Leviticus. This was written before Christ came, and became a permanent sacrifice for us. But we can’t simply disregard everything in the book, saying that it doesn’t apply to us. As a general rule, the laws that we need to follow from the Old Testament are those that are repeated in the New Testament. For instance, we can see the 10 commandments repeated in the Gospels. People are encouraged to give tithes and offerings to God and avoid immorality. Leviticus 11 gives a list of animals that the Israelites could eat and those that were unclean. (Among the unclean animals were camels, pigs, lobster, and snakes. Some of the clean animals were locusts, dolphins, penguins and grasshoppers.) When we get to the New Testament we see Peter having a vision of all kinds of animals. God tells Peter to eat them, saying “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).

On a side note, homosexuality is wrong and is condemned in the Bible. It is clearly stated in Leviticus and then restated multiple times in the New Testament. Some Christians would like to say that this falls in the same category as the law against planting a field with two different types of seed, but the difference is its repetition in the New Testament and its universality. It is placed in the same category as all other sexual immorality including sex before marriage and adultery. Just like pre-marital sex, this sin is becoming more normal in our culture and is trying to infiltrate the church. We can not allow ourselves to become desensitized, but it is also just as important for us not to become judgmental. Sin is sin, in whatever form it comes it is just as detestable in God’s sight. We need to have just as much compassion for those caught in alcoholism as for those caught in homosexuality.

As for the rest of the commands in the New Testament, for the most part we should obey them, unless they are clearly for a specific person or people, such as in James 5:1-6, where he is speaking to the rich (unless you are rich, in which case you should pay extra attention to this passage).

Promises

I already touched on promises in a previous post, so I will just give a quick recap. Promises are things that God says He will do. Sometimes God promises something to a person and the effects of that promise continue down through their children. The important thing to realize about promises is that they come with prerequisites. For the most part when God gives a promise it comes with stipulations that we obey Him or continue following Him. You can’t take a promise for yourself without taking responsibility for fulfilling its requirements. Joshua was given great promises about taking possession of the land and defeating his enemies, but he was also given the charge: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Josh 1:8-9). Not all promises have prerequisites though. Sometimes, God is awesome enough to give us promises without any responsibility on our part. We can simply believe that what He says is true and accept it.

Summary

– Proverbs are general statements designed to help us live better. They are not promises of what God will do.
– We need to follow the OT laws that have NT counterparts.
– When we come to a promise, we need to look for what God expects of us.

Reflection

1. Prov. 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion”. How does this analogy help us to “visualize” what the proverb is trying to teach?

2. Lev. 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself”. What passages in the NT say the same thing or something similar?

3. In John 14;12-14 Jesus gives some big promises to his disciples. What is our part in receiving these promises?

Genre: Epistle October 28, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello. We are continuing our study of genres this week with a look at the letters written in the Bible. The word “epistle” simply refers to these letters. The majority of letters occur in the New Testament although there are a few shorter letters written in the Old Testament as well. So, I want to go over 1: the general characteristics of letters and how we can recognize them; and 2: the specific characteristics of the NT epistles. We will look at how epistles need to be interpreted in light of their unique characteristics.

Letters today are similar to those written back in Biblical times. Today we have an abundance of methods of communication, but back then they had to rely on either a messenger or a letter brought by a messenger. On a side note: when a messenger brought the message of the person he was representing he took on the authority of the person who was sending the message. The person who received the message would have heard it and accepted it as if it was spoken directly by the person sending it. For instance, if a king sent a message to one of his servants, the words of the person delivering the message have the same authority as if the king himself were speaking.

It is fairly easy to recognize the genre of letters. They have a set pattern and are pretty consistent in their form. Besides their unique form, they are usually specified in the text as being letters. In the New Testament, where there are entire books as letters, this forewarning is not there, but the characteristics of the letter are clues enough to tell their genre.

When we come to a letter in the Bible we need to ask four basic questions:
1) Who wrote it?
2) Who was it written to?
3) What prompted it to be written?
4) What is its message?

To say this another way, we should try to discover the author, audience, occasion and purpose of the letters we find in Scripture.

NT Epistles

The New Testament contains a lot of epistles. Paul wrote a lot of letters to churches and even individuals. These epistles have certain characteristics that put them in this genre. The main characteristics of these epistles is the same four things I just mentioned: an author, audience, occasion and purpose. Stylistically, the letters follow a general style, but even if a few of these characteristics are missing we can still call them letters. Formal letters today have a short greeting at the beginning telling who the letter is addressed to, then there is the body of the letter and a conclusion at the end that tells who the letter is from. The epistles follow a similar pattern. The main difference is that both who the author and audience of the letter are put at the beginning of the letter in the greeting. Also, at the beginning of the letter, there is usually a prayer before getting into the body of the letter. At the end of the letter there is a final salutations. One of the biggest differences between our letters and the epistles is the greeting section. Our letters have really short greetings, we usually just a have a “dear someone” and then get right into what the letter is about. The epistles though have lengthy introductions. Even the shortest introductions are longer than ours. Take for instance the introduction to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It starts out: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare this to the seven verses of introduction in the book of Romans.

Because of these introductions it is fairly easy to see who these letters are written by and who they are written to. The other two questions are more difficult to answer, but will yield more benefits. When reading these letters we should seek to find out what situation or problems were going on that the author was writing about. We also need to see what the author’s overall purpose for writing was. When we come to the letters written by Paul, we can usually go back to the book of Acts and see what the city was like and the circumstances surrounding the original bringing of the gospel to that region. This will help us get a picture of what may have motivated the writing of the letter.

Most of the information about the people who the letter was written and what is going on with them can be found in the letter itself. Some of the purposes of the letter will be clear from even a cursory reading of it. It could be that the letter is a warning against false teachers, a call to unity, teaching certain theological ideas, or just encouraging them to stand firm in the face of persecution. These are a few big ideas to look for when reading through these epistles. You can sometimes figure out the problems that were going on by looking at what the author is admonishing the people to do. If he is telling them to be united, it is probably because they were things going on that had caused the people to splinter or isolate themselves. If the author is warning against false teachers, it is because there actually are people that are teaching false doctrines. The authors of these epistles are addressing real issues that need real answers.

Optimally, the best way to read an epistle is to read it as a whole in one sitting. When you read the book as a whole, you get a better understanding of the big picture of the letter. The overarching themes become clear and it is easier to understand what the book is about. When you are reading an epistle it is especially important to recognize the transitional words. As you read notice especially when you get to words like “finally”, “therefore” or “now”. These words can signal breaks between large blocks of text. Romans 12:1 starts with a “therefore” and signals a transition in the book. I Cor. 15:1 shows a transition using the word “now” and Phil. 3:1 shows an example of the word “finally” as a transition. When you read through the epistles it is helpful to follow these transitions so that you can see when the author is moving from one topic to another.

The letters of the Bible, especially the NT epistles were written with a purpose. To best understand them, we need to try to understand why they were written and what issues they were addressing. As you read look for hints and clues as to what these purposes are.

Reflection

The book of Philemon is really short and can be easily read in one sitting. Read through it and answer these questions:
Who is the author of this book?
Who is this written to?
What is the problem the author is addressing?
What does the author want Philemon to do or believe?

Genre: Poetry October 21, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello all. I wanted to try something new this week. I wanted to talk about the genre of poetry in the Bible, but I thought it would be good to bring in a professional. Dr. Jane Beal is a proficient writer with three books of poetry already published. She is way more qualified and knowledgeable in the area of poetry than I am, which is why I had her write this post. I also thought it would be good to bring in a different voice. I am sure you will enjoy what she has to say. I will be back again next week. Be sure to check out her sites as well.

T.J.

– – –

Poetry in general, and biblical poetry in particular, can seem like a mystery. But it is a mystery with meaning in the center waiting to be revealed. In the Middle Ages, it was popular to imagine the pursuit of truth through biblical interpretation as comparable to finding a walnut, then needing to break the shell and crack open the nut in order to discover the meat of the Word. It takes work, of course, but the reward is well worth the taste of Paradise.

About one third of the Hebrew Bible is written in verse. The New Testament, although primarily made up of gospels, epistles, and the Apocalypse, also contains verse, mostly in the form of quotations from the Old Testament. Therefore, if we want to understand the Bible, we must learn to read poetry.

Every book in the Bible contains poetic language, and many biblical books are written in verse. These two modes — of poetic language and versification — predominate in wisdom literature and biblical prophecy, so we find them in Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Wisdom (in the Catholic canon) as well as in the prophets, especially and famously in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, parts of Ezekiel, and the minor prophets. Since readers of faith consider these books to be inspired by the Spirit of the Living God, poetry is for us, in a very real sense, the language of God. How can we understand his language? What is poetic language?

At the simplest level, poetry is not prose. As Lee Ryken has pointed out in his book, WORDS OF DELIGHT: A LITERARY INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE, “Poetry differs from ordinary prose by its reliance on images and figures of speech and by its verse form” (p159). So the understanding of biblical poetry is grounded in the understanding of imagery, figurative language (metaphor, simile, personification), and verse structures (parallelism, repetition, juxtaposition) and verse forms (love lyric, lament, psalm of praise).

The opening lines from the Song of Solomon perfectly embody the richly imagistic and figurative nature of Biblical poetry:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant.
Your name is oil poured out;
therefore the young women love you.
Draw me after you …

The images in these verses include the kiss, the wine, the fragrant oils. To the bride, figuratively speaking, the lover’s love is better than wine (a simile), and his name is oil poured out (a metaphor). The language of these verses is expressed in parallel structures, so that complementary ideas build upon one another and are shown to relate to one another. In terms of verse form, since the bride is articulating her feelings in a personal way, referring to herself directly (“me”) and her lover directly (“you”), this is a lyric, a love lyric of extraordinary power. It is also considered to be an epithalamion, a wedding song. As readers consider these beautifully expressed, poetic lines, the theme or central message emerges: the bride’s longing for the one she loves.

Because of the nuptial imagery in the Song of Solomon, it has for thousands of years been read not only literally, as a poem about two lovers, but allegorically, as a poem signifying the relationship between God and Israel, Christ and the Church, the Lord and the soul of the one trusting in him. Indeed, all Biblical poetry resonates with a literal and a spiritual sense that alert readers will discern, especially in seeking to apply what they read to their own contemplative relationship to God and their own active service to him in the world.

Biblical poetry is rich and varied. Readers will find in it not only love lyrics, but laments, not only expressions of worship, but outcries for vengeance. That is because poetry provides the perfect mode for expressing the emotional realities of human hearts, whether the Biblical writers or their readers are standing alone before God or in community with one another.

When reading Biblical poetry in the future, you might consider the following questions:

– who is speaking to whom about what?

– what images, figurative language, and verse structures and forms are being used to evoke the theme or central message?

– how does poem affect you emotionally? how does it relate to your relationship to God? to the service he is calling you to in the world?

Reflection: Psalm 23 is the most famous poem in the Bible and perhaps the world. Read it and reflect on its imagery, figurative language, and verse structures and forms. What themes emerge as you read? How might God be speaking to you through this poem?

For additional resources, visit: literatureofthebible.wordpress.com.

Dr. Jane Beal

sanctuarypoet.net * thepoetryplace.wordpress.com

Genre: Prophecy October 14, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Hello again. We continue this week with a look at the prophetic genre. Prophecy is a huge part of the Bible and as such the prophetic genre makes up a large portion of the Bible. Although there is some prophecy in the New Testament (NT) , I am devoting this blog specifically to the Old Testament (OT) view of prophecy and the special characteristics of this genre.

OT Prophet vs. NT Prophet

Although the wording is the same, there is a difference between a prophet in the OT and a prophet in the NT. In the OT the prophet was a man (or woman) raised up by God to bring a proclamation to a person or a group of people. They could only prophesy when the Spirit came upon them. They’re message was usually repentance and there were only a select few who could be prophets. The books of prophecy usually have a call narrative in them, which shows their call and commision by God (like Isaiah in Isaiah 6). The prophetic office was extremely serious and if a person claiming to be a prophet said something that didn’t happen that person would be stoned. The prophets would usually speak their proclamations, but sometimes they would use visual aids to get their point across, and some even became living visual aids to show what God was saying. Basically, they delivered the message of God to the people.

In the NT we see the role of the prophet ending. John the baptist is considered the last OT prophet. When Jesus ascends to heaven the Holy Spirit comes as and changes everything. In Joel 2:28 there is a prophecy saying that the Spirit is not just for certain individuals anymore, but for everyone. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came in and filled all who were there. Because the Spirit now indwells the believer we all have the potential to prophesy. Prophecy is no longer a profession, but a gift. If you desire the gift of prophecy and ask God, He will give it to you. But, just having the gift of prohesy does not put you in the category of a prophet. In the NT there is also the office of the prophet. This office is reserved for those who God specifically chooses and who are recognized in the community as a prophet. These people speak more specific words, they exercise their gift on a regular basis and will usually bring proclamations to large groups of people, whether churches or nations.

Characteristics

The prophetic genre deals with the words the prophets are speaking. While narratives describe actions, prophecies proclaim the messages of God. So, the first thing to recognize is that these texts are words from God to people. The prophet simply speaks whatever God tells Him to. Occasionally the message will be in given in pictures or illustrations. Either way, when we come to a prophetic text we should be looking for the general message God is trying to get across. There are a lot of prophecies directed toward the surrounding nations Israel came in contact with. And there are also many prophecies directed to God’s people. Which leads to the second point which is to find out who the message is directed toward. Is it a single person, a king, an entire nation or only half a nation (like the northern or southern kingdoms of Israel)? If possible find the narrative passages that correspond with the prophesy. This is where a concordance comes in handy. But, even if you don’t look at the specific context the prophet was speaking to, you can get a pretty good idea of what was going on by looking at the message the prophet is conveying.

Most of the prophetic genre focuses on calling people to repentance, but there are also a lot of passages that show how God will treat those who listen to the message and repent. We need to be careful not to focus only on the promises of redemption or blessing without taking them in their full context. There are definitely universal unmerited promises that God freely gives because of His mercy, but most of the promises in the prophetic genre only come to the people after they turn from all their wickedness. They don’t get to live the same way and expect to be blessed by God. So, when reading the texts of divine blessing look to see what God is calling the people to do. How does He want them to live and act differently?

Although prophecy is different from poetry it does have some similar elements. The prophetic texts are rich in figurative language. God uses a lot of analogies to show the people how they are acting. When you come across an analogy, take a moment to reflect on why it is being used? What is the comparison being made? How would this picture strike the people back then? Most importantly, don’t take these analogies or figures of speech literally. These texts are not trying to describe the world around us. They are divinely inspired messages designed so that the people not only hear the message, but remember it. They are emotive and urgent in nature.

The prophets spoke what they heard. Their prophecies were calls to repentance but also they spoke of things to come. Because they were simply speaking what they heard they did not necessarily distinguish between different events. Sometimes two things may seem to be concurrent, but in actuality they could be separated by 100’s or 1000’s of years. One prophecy could be talking about more than one event. For example in Joel 2:28-32 it starts with the promise of the Spirit and ends with signs in the heavens and God delivering people. In the passage it is a smooth transition and seems to be talking about the same event. If we look to Acts 2 we can see that Pentecost was the fulfillment of the first part of this prophecy and the rest is yet to come.

To summarize:

1 – figure out who the message is for

2 – what is the message

3 – what is the proper response to the message

4 – how can this message apply today

5 – what figures of speech/illustrations are used to convey this message

Reflection

At the end of the book of Jonah, God causes a vine to grow up and provide shade for Jonah, then he causes a worm to come up and eat the vine. What is the message God is trying to convey to Jonah through this illustration?

Genre: Narrative October 7, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Last week we took a brief look at figurative language and I mentioned the idea of genre. I want to go through a few different genres in the Bible, explaining them and showing their unique characteristics. Once you understand the genre of the passage you are reading it will help you understand it better. As I said before, there are many different genres and sub-genres in the Bible. Whenever we come to a different genre in the Bible it requires changes in how we read the text. In the same way that you can’t read a poem the same way you read a biography, or a novel the same way as a dictionary, you can’t read Psalms the same way you read Judges. They are different genres and need to be read and interpreted in light of their unique characteristics. Each book of the Bible fits generally into one major genre, although even in the individual books there can be some small sections in a different genre. Exodus is mostly narrative, but chapter 15 is a song and fits more into the poetic genre. Over the next few weeks I want to go through: narrative, poetry, prophecy, epistle, discourse and finally ethical instruction. Once we understand these major genres then we can talk about the smaller sub-genres like parables and allegories.

The first genre we come across in the Bible is narrative. Narrative is basically just the narration of events. It is an attempt to record what is happening and is telling a story. All the books from Genesis to Esther for the most part fit into this category. I would also put the book of Jonah, the Gospels and Acts into this category. There are also examples of narrative in other books like Job or Daniel that also have other genres.

The most important thing to know about this category is that it is literal. What is written is what is meant. There is no hidden meaning or figurative meaning. It is simply stating the events as they happened. There actually was a flood. The Israelites really did cross the Red Sea on dry land. Jonah was literally swallowed by a big fish. These things are not symbolic statements to teach us things, they actually happened.

Although the Bible is true and historically accurate, it is not a history book. These narrative texts are not trying to explain the history of the world at that time. They aren’t even necessarily trying to recount the history of the Israelites. There is a story unfolding throughout the Bible and the narratives show us the plot and the main characters of this story. As we read through the narratives we need to think “big picture”. Look at who the story is following. Some characters get a lot more time and their story is explained in more detail then others. When the story slows down and focuses in on a specific individual or situation or individual it is for a reason. It may not be a good reason, but there is always a reason for emphasizing certain people over others. Take Genesis 5 for example. In Genesis 1-4 we have the story of creation and the fall and Cain and Abel. Chapter 6 begins a large section on Noah and the flood. When we look at chapter 5 though, we see a whole line of people who get barely mentioned. All we know about Seth, the third child born in the entire world is how old he was when he gave birth to Enosh and how old he was when he died. Seth was 912 years old when he died. He must have done something in this time. Whatever he did or what he was like we have no record of. His main importance is that he was the third born of Adam and Eve and he continues the line from Adam to Noah. In fact all the generations from Seth to Lamech are there just so we can trace the lineage from Adam to Noah. There is a slight parenthetical with Enoch, but for the most part these people were born had kids and then died.

As we are reading through these narrative texts we need see how each of the characters adds to the story. Then when we come to characters whose lives and situations are described more fully, we can ask what is so special about them and why they are given more attention. Isaac’s two sons are Jacob and Esau. They are twins and Esau is actually born first. As the first born he has more rights and inheritance than his brother. Why then, does the story follow Jacob? And when we look at Jacob’s sons we see the story following Joseph, the youngest of the bunch. What makes his life more important to the overarching story?

As you read through the story of the narratives try and understand what is happening. A good place to start is with the five “w” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

Who are the main characters? (How are the characters defined/described in the text?)

Who are the secondary characters, and how are they involved?

What is going on in the story?

Where are they at and where are they going?

When is this taking place?

When did they start/finish?

Why is this event recorded?

Why are certain things happening the way they are?

These are some general things to keep in mind as you read through the narratives. This is just a starting point. There are many more questions you can and should ask as you are reading. We will get more into that when we get into the details of studying out a passage. If you are just reading there is no need to answer all these questions. But, as you come across answers to these questions in your reading, make a note of them. If you come to a passage that you don’t understand or want to understand better you can go through these questions in more detail and write down your findings.

Finally, as you read through the narratives think “contextually”. The stories and events that are described are all interrelated. Don’t read the texts in isolation. Going back to Genesis, as you read through you will find a lot of smaller stories that make up the big bigger story Genesis is telling. Look at how these stories are related. Look at the promises spoken to Abraham and watch how God begins to bring these promises to fruition throughout the rest of the book.

Just to recap, when reading narratives we need to:

1)      Think literally – don’t look for metaphorical meanings

2)      Read it as story – look for the plot

3)      Look for the main characters – why are they important

4)      Take special note of events where there are lots of details

5)      Read contextually – put the pieces together

6)      Ask questions

Reflection

The story of the Bible involves God’s interaction with His creation. He is the main character of the Bible in general. Even if it is not specifically stated, He is working behind the scenes to bring about His will. As we read through the narrative genre we can see how He acts and get an idea of what His character and desires. Pick a character in the Bible and see how God directs and guides that person. What should be our proper response to God’s leading?