Bible Literacy



King’s Harbor Church identifies as a “gospel-centered” church. What do we mean by that? The word gospel means good news and is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but it is also the foundation and power that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus Christ, both in our daily lives and in our experience as a community of Christ-followers. We never outgrow our need for the gospel, it is necessary for both salvation AND sanctification.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only the fire that ignites the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing each day.

The gospel is the gloriously great announcement of what God has done through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to satisfy (or settle) the opposition against sin which God’s holy nature requires and to secure unrestricted access to God that includes the free gift of eternal life, a free and perfect righteousness for all who trust in Christ alone for salvation, the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit, and a coming new creation free from decay, disasters, disease, evil, sin, and death.

Therefore, the gospel is central because it is not what God requires it is what God provides. The gospel is not an imperative, demanding things we must do. The gospel is an indicative, declaring what God has done. The gospel is not about human activity; it’s about divine achievement.  The gospel is not a moralistic “Do!” The gospel is a merciful “Done!”  The gospel is not good advice – it’s good news!  We want the gospel of Christ to inform and empower all that we do to the glory of God.

This weekend we will be in Luke 24. Verse 44 states: “Now [Jesus] said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (emphasis added).

What Jesus is saying is there is one central theme and message that is consistently embedded by all 40 writers of the Bible over the 1,500 years that it took to write it: God, our Creator, desires to have a relationship with us. From Genesis to Revelation God continually calls us to know Him and to trust Him. Theologians have called this central theme of the Bible the “scarlet thread.” This is also what it means to be gospel-centered.

The Literary Genres Contained In The Bible

The Bible consists of several different literary genres including poetry, legal, historical, wisdom, narrative, letters (epistles), prophecy, and apocalyptic literature.  Two less prominent genres include parables and discourse. It is quite helpful to understand that correct interpretation (exegesis) of these genres takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of the Bible.

In the sermon this weekend I will mention the different genres of literature in the Bible. My thought for this blog post is that it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in your interpretation and study of the Bible — plus some thoughts on how to interpret it.


This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

  1. Take it literally.
  2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.


This genre is a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

  1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it contains another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.
  2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.
  3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, for instance, there are a lot of things his friends (and wife) said to him, that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.


Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

  1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.
  2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing
  3. Be careful not to take the figurative parts literally. Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech – those are the lessons.


The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles, and Revelation.

  1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.
  2. Consider if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.  For instance, biblical scholars have seen as many as 365 prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled through the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
  3. Sometimes people read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there primarily to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Jesus Christ does return.
  4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know when it will be or what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one person’s interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days.


The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority is found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (i.e., Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

  1. Find out who the author and the audience are.
  2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.
  3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Thoughtful observation is the key.


There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  1. The Gospels record Jesus’ ministry to four groups of people then (and now) in the world.
    • Matthew was writing to the Jewish people and the deeply religious of our day.
    • Mark was writing to the Romans who he knew would be impressed with leadership and action. In our contemporary culture Mark’s Gospel would be attractive to business people and entrepreneurs.
    • Luke was a Greek speaking to the Greeks. The Greeks loved culture, beauty, and ideas. Luke fills his book with insights, interviews, songs, and details that fascinate the inquiring mind.
    • John wrote to everyone, because everyone needs to meet God and only Jesus can reveal Him.  In this book we meet an absolutely powerful God in human flesh who controls and rules the Universe He created.
  2. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?
  3. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?
  4. Compare with the other Gospel accounts. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.
  5. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally.


Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

  1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.
  2. Generally speaking, it is not necessary for this genre to be taken literally.
  3. As you read, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, although there are other sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

  1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are basic and essential truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.
  2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology, which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.


Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

  1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is in response to. How does this answer the situation/question?
  2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to the main idea.

Ethical Instruction

Generally speaking, proverbs, laws, and promises are placed in this genre.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

  1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.
  2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.
  3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.


I am grateful for the teaching and writing of T.J. Friend from whom the interpretation section was adapted.  His blog can be viewed here.

Bible Literacy

2 thoughts on “Bible Literacy

  1. Perry Shields says:

    I disagree that just because we identify books as narrative (Genesis, for example), it follows that they should be taken literally. The Old Testament books are generally not eyewitness accounts (they are oral history written down after having been transmitted through generations), and even eyewitness accounts are filtered through the personal lens of the teller, so they are not “literally true” in some overarching sense. To identify Genesis as “literally true” is patently and scientifically false on many counts, and is not a hill to die on to defend the faith.

    Regarding Prophecies, look at how many times Jesus uses the pronoun “you” in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 (and the choice of the words “soon” and “shortly” in Revelation) and then reconsider why we think these “end time” prophecies are for a future generation and not for the immediate hearers. It is time to rethink how we have understood “Jesus’ Second Coming” and “End Times” in general because, in my opinion, it has led to much false teaching and distraction.


  2. Well said and thoughtful. Thanks. I mostly agree with you. The creation account is both narrative and poetical. It’s literal in the sense that we believe that God is the Creator of all things but there are different views on the timing of it all — old earth vs. young earth, etc. And well said regarding rethinking some of recent end times teaching. First and foremost, let’s read Revelation devotionally — seeking to be ready when He comes.


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