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The Bible as Literature

The Bible as Literature

Posted by Calvin Lindstrom on 05/30/2023

Does it seem strange to call the Bible literature? There are some who would say that is all the Bible is. This is something that we reject, but the Bible Is a form of literature, and recognizing this actually should add to our appreciation of the Bible.

Appreciating the literary beauty of Scripture actually aids our theological understanding of Scripture. For example, one theory of the Books of Moses claims that there were different authors who put together the Pentateuch over a vast period of time. But appreciating the literary nature of Scripture show its unity and shows that this theory is ridiculous.

So what are some basic points to observe as we appreciate the Bible as well-written, God-breathed literature?

First, the way that the Bible tells a story generally speaking is different from modern literature and even much of ancient literature. Most of the stories or narratives in Scripture are quite short and lack lots of details.

Instead of trying to answer questions about details not given, we have to make sure we focus on the details that have been given.

Second, things that we look for are words or phrases that are repeated.

Take as a great example 1 Kings 13. If you are not familiar with this chapter I would encourage you to read It. The phrase that is repeated numerous times in this chapter is the Word of the Lord. It is the power of God’s Word that is emphasized repeatedly In this chapter, even though kings and prophets fail to obey it.

Third, an important literary style found throughout Scripture a chiasmus. Here is an example:

You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.

Now in Scripture the chiasmus is not found in terms of a clever phrase, but how stories are found in Scripture where various words and phrases are repeated in a structured way In the story arranged around a central point in the story.

As a visual example of a chiasmus, think of a football field. The center is the 50-yard line. Both on both sides you will find the 10, 20, and 30 yard lines.

An excellent book that shows how this structure Is found throughout Scripture is The Literary Structure of the OT by David Dorsey. The book is expensive now, but I find it a very valuable resource.

Fourth and finally, we keep in mind that Scripture has not been given to entertain us, but to prepare the way and point the way to Jesus Christ.

The main thing that we are to see from the stories In Scripture is how desperate our condition is because of our sin and rebellion and how we can find no answer to our sin apart from God’s grace and sovereign work of salvation. In the end all the accounts of Scripture are written so that we will cry out, Hallelujah, what a Savior.

Another great example of this theme is found in Genesis 37-39. Looking at these three chapters illustrates the literary beauty and sophistication of Scripture.

Genesis 37 begins the account of Joseph. Then chapter 38 focuses on the horrible account of Judah and his children. Then Genesis 39 returns to the account of Joseph. Some argue that Genesis 38 is an interruption. Why does it interrupt the account of Joseph? Well, a close observation shows that although the focus does change, there is good reason for the current ordering of the chapters.

These chapters are put together so that we will consider the major characters: Joseph, Judah, and Jacob. There are also key words: recognize, went or go down, goat and kid, and garments that are part of the three chapters. Theologically we also see that God uses his people, some being more faithful and obedient, but ultimately His purpose of election stands over man.

When you compare Judah and Jacob as fathers, you see that both had families with some serious problems. When you compare Judah and Joseph, you see and contrast with Joseph resisting temptation and Judah giving into temptation. Judah and Jacob also can be compared in terms of their grief in losing children. Not surprisingly they were heartbroken.

The verb recognize is a key linking of the chapters.

In Genesis 37:32-33, Joseph’s brothers ask Jacob to recognize the tunic which he had given Joseph. And Jacob did recognize it as being Joseph’s tunic and believed the story that this sons had told him.

In Genesis 38:25-26, the same verb is used by Tamar in calling for Judah to recognize the signet and cord and staff. And Judah recognized they were his. He was responsible for Tamar being pregnant.

Other words and phrases that unite these chapters are the verb go down: Gen. 37:35; 38:1; and 39:1.

There is a kid of the goats in Genesis 37 and a young goat in Genesis 38.

Additionally, garments and clothing are very important in all three chapters.

In Gen. 37:29 Reuben tears his clothes. In Gen. 38:14, 19, Tamar changed her clothes in the garments of widowhood. In Gen. 39, Potiphar’s wife grabs onto Joseph’s clothing and kept so that she could falsely accuse Joseph.

Finally, the verb comfort is important in Genesis 37:35; 38:12, and later in 50:21.

So again, a close study of God’s Word shows how masterful its writing is. It is the God-breathed word which is beautiful in showing the depravity of sin and how God advances His purpose in bringing redemption.