We often read the text as if we were reading a blog or a Facebook post or an article in the local newspaper, which are presented as present genre of current literature. The Bible, however, is a cornucopia of various literature types, each needing attention as we read. It is fair to say that God was and is polyvocal not monotone in terms of presentation.
There is a variety of literature in which the writers of Scripture made their presentations. Many readers are simply unaware of the kind of literature they are reading as they read. Our inadequacies in this area make readers prone to make God say something he never said. Our Western influence causes us to read with a literalness with which the ancients to whom the texts were written would have never understood.
There are several main types of literature in our sacred text: narrative, covenant-law, poetry, prophecy, wisdom, gospels, parables, apologetic history, letters, and apocalypse. In addition, Scripture has many other figures of speech that the authors used to help their first listeners and readers understand their message. They used similes, metaphors, apostrophes, personification, hyperbole, metonymy, synecdoche, riddles to name a few. In addition to major literature and other literary types, there are intertextual allusions 1 of which the present reader needs to be aware. As we learn to recognize these types of literature, we will surely read the text differently.
When we go to a fiction, history, or poetry section in our local library to look for a book to read, we know what kind of literature is on those shelves. We have been taught that we don’t read poetry the same way that we read a narrative, or history the same way we read fiction. If readers are aware that they are reading a mystery novel, they will read it differently than if they were reading a section of poetry. One wonders why we don’t apply this same common sense approach to reading Scripture.
If we recognize literary reading to be true of books we purchase from Amazon in print or Kindle form or check a book out from the local library to read, then we should recognize them in Scripture as well. What if we learned to honor God by taking time to understand the ways in which he sent his word to us? With the understanding of what kind of literature we are reading, we read with literary freedom. But, if we are not informed to the kind of literature we are reading in Scripture, we will keep reading Scripture in a straight jacket of monotonic lateralization. Remember, a piece of poetry (think Psalms and large sections of the Prophets) is no less true than any other type of literature. I think that our fear is that if we allow ourselves to read with this freedom, we will somehow become liberal in our understanding of the text, when actually the opposite is true.
- Griffin, God’s Epic Adventure, 37. These are allusions found in the New Testament that draw attention to stories found in the Old Testament. As an example, the resurrected Jesus in the garden is an allusion for the first hearers and readers to think about the first garden story in Genesis. ↩