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.


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