Monday 25 January 2010

Six of the Best 5: Books on Biblical Genres

This is the fifth in a series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture which are first posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This one looks at books which explore the significance of the different literary types in the Bible.

There can be a tendency for us to read Scripture in only one gear – normally that which we use for Paul’s letters! But the Bible is a literary library which houses different literary types – law, narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, gospel, letter, and vision (and those are just the main ones). The resources listed here discuss the significance of this for our handling of Scripture – learning to identify the different literary types, becoming acquainted with various ways of interpreting them, and making sure to change gear as we come across them.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, 3rd edn. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
A classic, now in its third edition, this is a brilliant ‘how to’ book which concentrates on defining the principles appropriate to interpreting and applying the different types of literature in the Bible. This would be the number one recommendation on this list, a ‘must’ read for any who want to explore this area in more detail. If you’re buying it, make sure to get the most recent edition.

Marshall D. Johnson, Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
Johnson focuses on eight different types of literature in the Bible, describing their main features, outlining what to expect from each one and how to approach them.

Tremper Longman III, Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997).
Written at a more accessible level than most of the others mentioned here, this is a helpful introductory book which (after some more general opening chapters) mostly focuses on interpreting and applying the different types of literature in Scripture.

Steven L. McKenzie, How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature – Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
After an opening chapter on Jonah (discussing the danger of what McKenzie sees as making the book into something that it is not), he focuses on history, prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, and letters. This is the most scholarly book on this list, and the most ‘critical’ in its treatment of Scripture. Although first published in hardback in 2005, Oxford University Press have recently published a cheaper paperback version.

Stephen Motyer, The Bible With Pleasure (Leicester: Crossway, 1997).
Previously published as Unlock the Bible (London: Scripture Union, 1990), this is similar in scope to Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth (above), but even more accessible in its approach. Excellent stuff, well worth reading and passing on to others.

D. Brent Sandy & Ronald L. Giese, Jr. (eds.), Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995).
After a few introductory chapters, this multi-author work focuses on literary forms of the Old Testament, with separate treatments of narrative, history, law, oracles of salvation, announcements of judgment, apocalyptic, lament, praise, proverb, non-proverbial wisdom, concluding with a chapter on the significance of literary forms for preachers and teachers of Scripture.

Previous entries in this series:

Books for beginners on interpreting the Bible
Books on biblical themes
Books on biblical worldview formation
Books on the biblical story

No comments: