Identifying Biblical Genre

Identifying biblical genre is a crucial component of correct interpretation. Biblical genre describes the type of literature within a specific book of the Bible or a given passage. As you might imagine, the Bible contains multiple kinds of literary genres, and, in some cases, a passage or book may be classified as multiple genres.

Like in any other literature, genre helps to inform the reader on how to read and process the content. For example, reading poetry solicits a different set of emotions than reading history; reading legal documents perhaps engages our senses differently than prophecy. Genre also helps inform the reader whether a text should be interpreted literally or figuratively. For example, Psalm 91:4 reads, "[God] will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." If one was to interpret this verse as literal, they may wonder if God is a type of bird. However, because we know that a majority of the Psalms are considered poetry, we can rightly interpret this as a figure of speech where the writer uses metaphorical language, if not also a bit of hyperbole, to describe the depth of God's faithfulness in protecting his people.

Another way identifying genre helps us interpret Scripture is by informing us of possible outcomes and logical expectations. While we must often remind ourselves that God seldom operates in predictable patterns, we confidently know the results demonstrate his unchanging characteristics—love, faithfulness, mercy, righteousness, compassion, etc. However, with humanity, genre can only give us some indication of plausible outcomes. For example, we know how to translate poetry within the context of a love relationship. We easily recognize the value of wisdom literature, and we attempt to glean any truth we can from it. Historical narrative informs us of where humanity has been, and apocalyptic literature gives us insight into the final days. But we must always be careful not to assume too much. While the genre guides us in possible outcomes, those outcomes concerning humanity are not always guaranteed. Throughout all of the Bible genres, we witness God's consistency and the ebb and flow of mankind's reciprocated faithfulness (or lack thereof). In this, identifying outcomes and arriving at reasonable expectations becomes a bit simpler.

Types of Biblical Genre

Though various sources will differ on the number of genres in the Bible, the list below is a generally consistent identification. Each link will direct you to a page where the genre is described, and some helpful "tips" are provided to aid in your interpretation. Finally, examples of Scripture are provided that demonstrate that genre. Please note that the lists are not exhaustive but serve as generalizations; use them as a starting point.

POUR Method
The POUR Method is a hermeneutical approach to studying the Bible.
It develops a healthy discipline of examining Scripture through its proper contexts.
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