What Kind of Book is the Bible?

I was recently sitting in a doctoral class about combining theological beliefs with daily life practices, and the professor asked this question “if you had to pick the genre of the Bible, what would it be?” This struck me as an odd question, because we know that the Bible is made up of a bunch of different books, and they fall into different sub-genres. It is almost comical to think about 15 or so trained theologians discussing a question we apparently never thought to ask ourselves, one that seems surprisingly simple but profoundly important. It took us a hot minute to start throwing out ideas about the genre of the Bible. I almost immediately knew what my answer would be, but was a little embarrassed to offer it: romance. The professor asked me why I said that, and I was expecting no small amount of laughing, but I said “it’s because God is pictured as a man who loves a woman, and the woman consistently rejects Him.”

It’s almost a bad soap opera isn’t it? I used to watch Days of Our Lives when I was a kid. When I first started watching it, I was always amazed at how many “sure endings” were not so certain. People died…. they came back! Isn’t the Bible narrative like that? How many ways could the Israelites screw up the promise (inheriting that ability from Adam and Eve, which extends through to us)? Israel consistently failed her suitor. The disciples consistently failed their suitor. We consistently fail our suitor. It is only by God’s grace through Christ’s victory that the story has a happy ending. That’s why the metaphor of husband and wife (Christ and the church) is so powerful, it depicts this epic romance, one that all humanity has a part in.

When we think about the Bible, we cannot slide it into the self-help category, or the historical category, or any other category. The Bible has pieces of it that will fall into sub-genres, but the main theme that God revealed and spoke to humanity was the story of His love. When we approach the Scripture without recognizing its purpose we can quickly lose our way. I believe this is some of the reason that the social gospel, prosperity gospel, and Bible self-help gurus miss the mark. They believe things like “the Bible is the best investing plan in history,” though investing in the stock market wasn’t a thing for 1500 years after it was written. “The Bible says God wants you to be healthy, happy, and rich,” though God’s people in the Bible suffer greatly. These category errors lead people astray, and cause them to miss out on the message that God wants people to know.

As we approach the study of Scripture, and the meaning of what we are looking at, I believe that we have to get ourselves in the right frame of mind. The Bible is not everything we can possibly know about God. What kind of God can be neatly summarized in a book? The Bible is not God’s strategy to successful living in the 21st Century. The Bible is not (just) a history book that tells the tales of the Israelites. The Bible communicates the greatest story ever told, and it’s a love story that includes us all. It begins with creation, survives the Fall through a special seed that is carried along through the Old Testament, despite floods, invasions, idolatry, and rebellion. The New Testament reveled God’s plan of redemption, and the culmination of His love for His people.

When we think of the Bible, I want us to think of this verse, John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book, but these are recorded, so that you might believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John didn’t record everything that Jesus did, but what he did record was for the purpose of knowing who God was, and having life in Him. That truth should extend to the entire Bible.


Do You Even Bible?

I have been contemplating what I should write my next series on for a little while, and I have really noticed some persistent negative trends in my world. While I don’t know if there is a great benefit to social media, it does expose us to lots of different people and points of view. I am in a lot of theology discussion groups, and my friends are largely in the Christian sphere, so I see quite a lot of posts that have at least a tangential relationship to the Bible. I read lots of people I agree with, and lots of people I disagree with, and my general conclusion is that most of us have no idea how to Bible.

For me the irritation of our general Biblical illiteracy usually begins with a post or meme applying a super awesome bible verse…completely out of context. People claiming promises that weren’t meant for them, believing that things are theirs that aren’t, or promoting an American-Zionist propaganda platform.I am looking squarely at you my friends who quote II Chronicles 7:14 in relation to the United States, like this meme here:


Don’t get me started on Jeremiah 29:11. Not that these verses shouldn’t be treasured and cherished for the wonderful things that they said, but the way they are leveraged into our daily lives shows that we can be truly ignorant of how to properly read the Scriptures. I do not think everyone needs to be a textual critical scholar, or fluent in Greek and Hebrew to understand the Bible, but I do believe that we have settled for the idea that the Bible is “life’s instruction manual” and read it like that. We find the places in the manual that instruct us in our situations or feelings, read them in isolation, and satiate our need for “God to speak to us.” There is just one problem with this, the Bible is not life’s instruction manual. Thinking about the Scripture this way has led, and will lead to more misunderstanding, misapplication, and misadventures in our endeavor to really know God’s revelation to us.

In this series I will address the following issues to hopefully give us some perspective on how we should be reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. We are going to cover topics that deal with the major themes of Scripture (I said the Bible ISN’T life’s instruction manual, so what is it?), how we should approach the different genres in the Bible, how we get from reading something to understanding it, and ultimately to applying it in our lives. Along the way we will discuss common mistakes we make in our reading, and how to avoid things like proof-texting and eisegesis. This will be fun for me to write, so I hope it is informative to read!