One of the most intriguing facts about the Bible is that, while it is God’s communication (Matthew 5:17; Mark 13:31; Luke 1:37; Revelation 22:18-19), human beings were part of the writing process. As Hebrews 1:1 says, “God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” The “various ways” include different literary genres. The Bible’s human writers used different forms of literature to communicate different messages at different times.
The Bible contains historical literature (1 and 2 Kings), dramatic literature (Job), legal documents (much of Exodus and Deuteronomy), song lyrics (The Song of Solomon and Psalms), poetry (most of Isaiah), wisdom literature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), apocalyptic literature (Revelation and parts of Daniel), short story (Ruth), sermons (as recorded in Acts), speeches and proclamations (like those of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel), prayers (many Psalms), parables (such as those Jesus told), fables (such as Jotham told), and epistles (Ephesians and Romans).
The different genres can overlap. Many of the psalms, for example, are also prayers. Some of the epistles contain poetry. Each type of literature has unique characteristics and should be approached with due consideration. For example, Jotham’s fable (Judges 9:7–15) cannot be interpreted the same way as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17). Interpreting poetry, with its reliance on metaphor and other poetic devices, is different from interpreting historical narrative. Please see our article on interpreting genres.
Second Peter 1:21 says that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Using today’s terminology, the Bible’s managing editor was the Holy Spirit of God. God put the mark of His authorship on each of the 66 books of the Bible, no matter what the literary genre. God “breathed” the written words (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Because mankind has the ability to understand and appreciate various forms of literature, God used many genres to communicate His Word. The reader of the Bible will discover a common purpose that unifies the parts of the collection. He will discover motifs, foreshadowing, repeated themes, and recurring characters. Through it all, he will find that the Bible is the world’s greatest literary masterpiece—and the very Word of God.