Monday, December 14, 2009
Paper on Literary Genres
Major Literary Genres of the Old Testament and Use in
(By Greyson M Gambrell)
For Min 510
The Word of God has come through many men in many ways. Peter states, “For prophesy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Paul to Timothy wrote, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The origin of scripture is from God, and spoke by men, as they were carried by the Holy Spirit, for man to use for good work. Truly, it is from God and should be thoroughly revered by man, according to His will. But, and man is less than God, it came through men, and each man it came through is different. So the focus should be God, who as we know from His Word is ‘the Word’, and God tells us He is a jealous God, so our heart and soul should give the preeminence to Christ and our Father and His Spirit—God. It came through different men, and has different genres, and styles. I say again, we shouldn’t ask who wrote it because that is fallacious. God is everlasting, and it says in the Psalms, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.” It says that “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. It was in the beginning and always was. This rightly should astound our minds, especially in comparison with ‘the word’, which is God.
Now we know even in our heart that a dusty Bible in the corner of a room has written words and is not living by itself; it is a book with so many letters or symbols. But Christ say’s “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” Again He says, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.” The author of Hebrew’s states, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Word of God is quick meaning living, and it is living in us who believe by God Himself, and He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Therefore we can say, truthfully, that the Word is living, from everlasting, to everlasting, and ‘the Word’ is God. So rightly God’s Word has the ultimate and highest position due to God’s nature. With that in mind, men of God spoke by the Holy Spirit and God used their personalities and minds and them in a wondrous way to give us scripture. Glory be to God! Glory be to God! They spoke in different ways, and God used many facets of their person in how they spoke. Regard how Paul in the above given speaks to Timothy as a son and also a beloved brother in Christ. This has been termed a pastoral letter. The genre is important to the understanding. For instance my grandmother is not named Lois, nor my mother Eunice, but the scripture says toward the beginning of the letter states, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Scripture helps us though. In the introduction it says “To Timothy, my dear son:.” Now understanding that it is a letter to Timothy by Paul helps us discern what we should hear, listen to, believe, and do. This is how genre helps in interpreting and understanding scripture. Scripture itself teaches us how too spiritually discern and rightly divide the Word of God.
There are many, many, ways to view classifications of genres of ‘the Word.’ The Oxford Companion to the Bible lists many, with a few major genres. I think it is worthy to note how many types of literature are used in the Word. It gives an eye-opening awe-inspiring awareness of the way the Word is. They state in it, “The major literary genres in the ‘Bible’ are narrative or story, poetry (especially lyric poetry), proverb, and visionary writing (including prophecy and apocalypse). Other literary genres of note in the ‘Bible’ include epic, tragedy, gospel, parable, satire, pastoral, oratory, encomium, epithalamium (wedding poetry), elegy (funeral poem) and a of subtypes of lyric poetry (such as nature poem, psalm of praise, lament, love poem, psalm of worship, hymn). Wow! The major genres listed by Yates include Law, narrative, Psalms, hymnic, wisdom, prophetic. The Oxford Companion to the Bible tells us why literature type is important: “Genre study is central to any literary approach to the ‘Bible’ because every genre has its own conventions, expectations, and corresponding rules of interpretation.”
The Law of Moses has lists of commands and lays down the law at Mt. Sinai and in what some call Deuteronomy, as well as the list of Levitical commands. A summation of the purpose of the Law given by Yates lecture from Anderson University is that this Law is not the basis for salvation—that people are saved by grace through faith. The six hundred and thirteen laws were what were expected to be obeyed under the covenant with Israel at the time when they left Egypt to the coming of the new covenant made by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. It must be read in this light: that it was given to Israel and at that time. It is a standard of ethics and morals. It is still a moral law of God and all the Law has relevance.ii Yates points out that passages like in one of Paul’s letter to Timothy draws principles from the law. He uses the precept of two commands one of an ox and one of a worker and by the Holy Spirit addresses an issue of honor and support for elders—especially those that labor in preaching and teaching. The Law is Holy, and “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God man be competent, equipped for every good work.” We are in a new covenant where we are led by the Spirit and not under law, but to love God is to obey God and this involves commands, and this is by Jesus Christ, of whom “everything written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” It points to Christ, and everything in them is truth, and must be fulfilled due to being God’s word, and I know it is, by Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ the Son of God. An example of an unchanging statute then and now is found in the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” There never will nor should there be any God in our eyes to our being before God Almighty; Jesus, Father, Spirit—God.
Next was named Narrative, of which we think of all the stories in the Word. One key idea that is evident when considering the genre of Narrative is design: the design behind God’s message brought from God through the Word.ii As narrative or story telling, the elements of a story are important: character, plot, setting, time, and background.ii When one reads a story, an individual comes away with their own personal reflections and lessons. Now the Spirit of Truth leads to all truth. Each Christian may have their own lesson learned from the Spirit in their receiving a story from God’s Word. This is to the glory of God. If it is truth and from and by the Spirit, then the lesson learned is truth and as there is a myriad of believers, there are many viewpoints. This is a wonder! Yates tells us in his lectures that how to apply these stories to our lives: focus on theological principles, avoid oversimplifying, don’t read into the story modern sensibilities, recognize they are stories not direct teachings, remember the stories are descriptive and not necessarily prescriptive of what should have happened.ii There is the story of Sampson who caroused, broke vows, and was proud and wise in his own eyes. He says a riddle to the people “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet.” But he gave his strength to a woman being pressed hard by her insistence and weeping. Then he was found out and eventually through women, and more importantly his iniquity and self indulgence which is sin, he accomplished God’s intent only by dying himself. The story lays out the story, and perfectly by God’s will. There are many lessons from this story, but from my point of view with God’s revelation, this is my lesson from it.
One note is the telling of the story. “Certainly redundant expressions also add to the liveliness of the style of scripture, as for instance: ‘he opened his mouth and spoke’; ‘he lifted his eyes and saw’; ‘she lifted up her voice and wept’; ‘incline thine ear and hear.’
The Psalms are a genre of the Word. Brigg’s General Introduction to the Holy Scripture describes the poetic nature of the Hebrews. “The Hebrews were from the most ancient times a remarkably literary and poetic people.” “…The Hebrew poet delights in the play of words, using their varied and contrasted meanings, changing the sense by a slight change of letter, or contrasting the sense all the more forcibly in the use of words of similar form and vocalization, and sometimes of two or three such in parallel verses.” Poetry has compression, uses imagery—visualization of thoughts or feelings, simile and metaphor, anthropomorphism and personification. Laurence Boadt says,”The title found in the Hebrew Bible, ”Praises” (Hebrew: Tehellim), is most appropriate for these songs of supplication, thanksgiving, and praise. Whether the mood was sorrow or joy, bewilderment or confidence, these songs were intended as anthems to the glory of God. They ushered worshippers into the sanctuary where, as one psalmist put it, Yahweh was “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” You can see the compression and the feeling of this poetry and the comparison of the feeling of being forsook and the holiness and enthroned King of Kings.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
The next psalm in the English style of listing says “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Word is Holy and truly God’s Word, and when it is poetic it has in it emotion, and compression and imagery where we can relate, because God has range of emotions and we are made in His image. We also can relate to the men through whom it was God breathed.
Wisdom literature is God’s word and as such is profitable for correction and rebuke, but also teaching and training in righteousness. The Word itself clues us in to how to understand it. For instance in the beginning of the proverbs of Solomon it describes what these proverbs are for.
To know wisdom and instruction,
To understand words of insight,
To receive instruction in wise dealing,
In righteousness, justice, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple,
Knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
And the ones who understand obtain guidance,
To understand a proverb and a saying,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
“Hebrew wisdom finds its complete utterance in short, pithy proverb.”iv In Solomon’s proverbs the use of couplets is prominent. For example:
Synonymous couplet: The liberal soul shall be made fat: And he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
Antithetical couplet: Man’s heart deviseth his way: But Yahweh directeth his steps.iv
In the Word, wisdom denotes human efforts to master self, society, or the environment.v The Word differentiates between Godly wisdom and that of man without God.
In a way all scripture comes through prophecy. The Hebrew terms for prophets mean seer—with the sense of sight, and a term which means to bubble up or pour forth translated prophet. The ways God spoke through the prophets is various. Prophets evoke faith by proclamation, and didn’t just predict the future. In prophecy many literary techniques are utilized. Isaiah declares.”See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire.” One may quibble about how literally to take this, but I sense the point. Through literary devices God’s Word is declared, and prophecy uses many devices to communicate the purpose God intends. Some prophecy is in difficult settings, and is hard and in some cases impossible, to be fully unveiled until His time and according to His will.
The longest Psalm uses an acrostic pattern of the Hebrew letters, a letter per section. This is very fitting for its theme being about God’s Word and aspects of His Word. The terms of law, statutes, precepts, commands and commandments, ordinances, decrees, word, and promises in Hebrew pervade this psalm. This is the psalm where the psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”ix The psalm deals with God’s word almost every complete thought. Knowing that this is a psalm with the intent of praise, the psalmist is declaring statement after statement of praise and thanks for God’s word and he reveres and cherishes it. He says, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces,” and “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” The statements of this psalmist’s affection for God’s law are in all God’s children. They may be in different degree, but we love God’s Word, because “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and we love God as children. Knowing that this is a poem dealing with words made of Hebrew letters, and the psalm is the Word of God and has perfectly arranged and meaningful words from His Holiness by words is an awesome revelation. Appreciating the genre of literature can help to appreciate the beauty of God’s Word, and therefore Him.
The story of Jacob, and his working for Laban for Rachel, is a biblical story. There are so many questions that arise from the story. I believe that God puts individuals through experiences to teach them of Him. It occurs to me that God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Not only this, but Israel was chosen of all people to be God’s chosen people. Could it be that God is teaching us that He has favorites, but is still just? Does he teach Jacob of his shortcomings, him not being just to Leah? I think that it is a story, but with many intentions. As a story, characters and themes are important. God was making and molding Jacob in this story. Later, though mistreated by Laban, Jacob states that God had “dealt graciously with me.” I think through all Israel’s troubles, he like us, should thankfully declare that God has dealt graciously with us. Reading this as a story, but moreover as a story in God’s Word, it has lessons and morals divined spiritually by the Holy Spirit who leads us truth. We know to read this as a story with divine purpose, and recognizing this assists us in understanding.
The genres in God’s Word can help us to understand His Word and can help to discern, with the Holy Ghost, truth in the scripture.
i Bruce M. Metger and Michael D. Coogan. (1993). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. NY: Oxford University Press. p 461
ii Yates. (2009, December 7). Retrieved December 2, 2009, from http://aumedia.andersonuniversity.edu/MoM/Yates_MajorProphets_3.wmv
iii Berkhof, L. (1950). Principles of Biblical Interpretation. Michigan: Baker Book House. p 62
iv Briggs, C. A. (1970). General Introduction to the Holy Scripture . Michigan: Baker Book House.
v Bandstra, B. L. (1999). Reading the Old Testament. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publication. P 391-92
vi Boadt, L. (1984). Reading the Old Testament an Introduction. NY: Paulist Press. p 483
vii Skinner, D. (2000). Old Testament Survey. Cordova Tennessee: Cedar Crest Publications. p 234
viii Butler, T. C. (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference. P 1333-34
ix Zondervan NIV Study Bible. (1984). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kenneth L. Barker. p 924