20th Most Read Post – Twelve Literary Features of the Bible

20th Most Read Post – Twelve Literary Features of the Bible January 16, 2008

No. 20 on the list of most-read posts on this blog appeared on October 25, 2007, and introduced us to a remarkable new approach to a study Bible, brought to us by Crossway. As of January 2008, I’m still working my way through this Bible, reading it from cover-to-cover. I’m enjoying it very much.

ESV Literary Study BibleCrossway has made the preface of its new ESV Literary Study Bible available online. They have also made the text available for electronic purchase. I am very impressed with the introductions they offer to every passage in the Bible. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Too many Christians think that the literary study of the Bible necessarily implies that we do not believe it is inspired by God. This is, of course, not true. The Bible is, after all, a book. You will almost certainly find the comments in this new work totally different to those you have read in any other study Bible. As far as I know, this is the first truly literary study Bible.

Crossway has kindly given me permission to share the following extract here. It explains twelve literary features of the Bible which together make it unique:

  1. A unifying story line.

    Although the overall genre of the Bible is the anthology of individual books and passages, the Bible possesses a unity far beyond that of other literary anthologies. The technical term for a unifying superstructure such as we find in the Bible is metanarrative (big or overarching story). In the Bible, the metanarrative is the story of salvation history—the events by which God worked out his plan to redeem humanity and the creation after they fell from original innocence. This story of salvation history is Christocentric in the sense that it focuses ultimately on the substitutionary sacrifice and atonement of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from death. The unifying story line of the Bible is a U-shaped story that moves from the creation of a perfect world, through the fall of that world into sin, then through fallen human history as it slowly and painfully makes its way toward consummation and arrives at the final destruction of evil and the eternal triumph of good.

  2. The presence of a central character.

    All stories have a central character or protagonist, and in the overarching story of the Bible God is the protagonist. He is the unifying presence from the beginning of the Bible to the end. All creatures interact with this central and ultimate being. All events are related to him. The story of human history unfolds within the broader story of what God does. The result is a sense of ultimacy that comes through as we read the pages of the Bible.

  3. Religious orientation.

    The subject of literature is human experience, and this is true of the Bible, too, but a distinctive feature of the Bible is that it overwhelmingly presents human experience in a religious and moral light. Events that other writers might treat in a purely human and natural light—a sunrise, a battle, a birth, a journey—are presented by the authors of the Bible within a moral or spiritual framework. Part of this moral and spiritual framework is the assumption of the biblical authors that a great conflict between good and evil is going on in our world and, further, that people are continually confronted with the need to choose between good and evil, between working for God’s kingdom and going against God.

  4. Variety of genres and styles.

    Every literary anthology of the Bible’s magnitude displays a range of literary forms, but the Bible’s range may well top them all. We need to be alert to this, because the religious uses to which we put the Bible can easily lull us into assuming that the Bible is all one type of writing. The list of individual forms, if we include such specific motifs as the homecoming story or trickster or love poem, keeps expanding. (A complete guide to these literary forms as we find them in the Bible is Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998].) The variety that we find in the Bible stems partly from the large categories that converge—history, theology, and literature, for example, or prose and poetry, realism and fantasy, past and future, God and people.

    Read more . . . Twelve Literary Features of the Bible

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