including The Word of God in English, the Christian Guides to the Classics series, J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, and Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible. He is a frequent speaker at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meetings and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version Bible.
Part 1: The Old Testament – (Original source here)
The Importance of Form
It is natural to ask whether the literary forms of the Bible deserve a lot of attention. The answer is yes. The primary principle of literature is that meaning is embodied and communicated through form.
There is no content without the forms in which that content is packaged. We have misled the Christian public by acting as if a summary of the ideas in a book of the Bible is an adequate account of the book. A summary of ideas leaves readers without a picture of what they actually encounter when they read a book of the Bible.
It is no wonder that many Bible readers do not know how to interact with the texts of the Bible. They have not been given the tools that will allow them to see what is actually in the text. We can deduce ideas from any text in the Bible, but no book of the Bible consists of a list of ideas. It consists of a myriad of literary techniques and forms. Readers need to be coached to see the forms that comprise each book of the Bible, accompanied by the rules that govern our assimilation of those forms.
The individual entries listed below highlight the most important literary forms in the individual books of the Bible. They are a gateway only, but a gateway is a necessary and helpful point of entry.
A preponderance of narrative, so the book becomes an anthology of stories. The narrative subtype that dominates is hero story. As the title “book of beginnings” hints, Genesis embodies foundational principles that range all the way from the nature of the world and humanity to the history of God’s covenant dealings with the human race. The gallery of characters is large, but eight characters stand out: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The unifying motif is announced in the title: the departure of the Israelites from oppression in Egypt, followed by a journey through the desert to the Promised Land. Three distinctly different genres appear—narrative (1-18 and 32-34), lawgiving (19-24), and architectural information about the building of the tabernacle (24-31 and 35-40). Each of these genres has its own focus—deliverance, covenant, and holiness, respectively. Moses is the unifying human hero.
The primary genre is the rulebook, which is at the same time a guidebook for living the religious and moral life that God intended for his people. The main literary principle at work is that literature uses particulars to embody universals; we look not only at the details of the text but through them to principles that apply today. The book is also a utopia that paints a picture of the good society and the institutions and practices that produce it. Realism abounds, including references to bodily functions. Continue reading