Writing types in Scripture

3 minutes to read

Reading Scripture is a Journey of discovery.

It is helpful to have some understanding of writing and literary styles in your journey of reading God’s Word.

  • Symbols: Significant use is made of Symbols (also called Metaphors or Types).  An example is Jesus being called the “rock” in the wilderness wanderings of Israel as referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:2-4

2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

So while we take the scripture literally, we need to understand some of the literary techniques used.

  • Parables: These are stories with a message, most commonly used by Jesus in the Gospels:  Eg Luke 10:30-37 / Judges 9:7-15
  • Poetry: There is extensive use made of poetry. It is generally not in a rhyming format but in a textual structure often with balanced lines and word plays which we miss in English but can be identified in the original languages.
  • Prophecy:  Prophecy in scripture is unique (2 Peter 1:20-21).  It helps us better understand God who is outside time because He tells us about important future events. An example is the prophecies about the return of a scattered Israel to the land which happened on May 14 1948.
    • Multiple fulfilments: Many times, a prophecy has 2 or more fulfilments with an ultimate fulfillment.
    • Time skipping:  Look for time skipping in prophetic passages.  The best example of this is Isaiah 61:2 speaking of Jesus (to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – 
      and the day of vengeance of our God,
      ) where there is a time gap of approximately 2000 years between the first half of the verse and the second.  The first half was fulfilled in Jesus first coming and the second will be fulfilled in His return as the God of vengeance.  Isaiah 11 skips multiple times. For example, Isaiah 11v1 speaks of Jesus first coming as a descendant of King David and Isaiah 11:6 is about the future millennial reign of Jesus on earth.
  • Genealogies: Genealogies link us through the timelines from Adam to Jesus. (Genesis 5, Matthew 1, Luke 3.)  It gives a time context.  It is also helpful to know that from the book of Genesis we can work out that Noah’s father would have met Adam and Noah’s son Shem would have met Abraham. Can you imagine a conversation:  “tell me how it was on the boat with all those animals….?”.
  • Names: Names are important because people are important. They also usually have meaning in the original language that gives added depth to the story. For example, Noah means rest with the idea that the world rested from evil, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) means salvation pointing to the salvation Jesus provided. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, means “House of Bread” in Hebrew and Jesus is symbolically called “the bread from heaven”.
  • Repetition: Hebrew makes use of repetition for emphasis. This can be a repetition of ideas said in slightly different words or repetition of a single word. For example “very cold” would be expressed as “cold cold” and so the same thought is found in “Holy Holy” which means very holy. Repeated ideas indicate that God is intentionally emphasising something.
  • Missing information: Sometimes the absence of information is by intent and God is saying the information is not important or sometimes the absence of information is a message in itself.  For example, God’s name is not mentioned in Esther.
  • Historical narrative: Actual accounts of actual events involving people, places, nations and events.  A factual story background helps our trust in the Word.
  • Laws: This helps us to understand what sin is and why we needed a savior. Laws also helps us understand how to live in a pleasing way with God even though we live under Grace and not the Law.
  • Letters – Otherwise called Epistles were letters in the New Testament to individuals (eg: Titus) and churches (eg Ephesians).
  • Poetic Chiasms. Watch for Chiasm’s which are a poetic technique indicating design in the text and provide a focal point. An example is the story of Noah in Genesis 6-10. The very simplest parts are shown below:
    • 7 days waiting,
      • 40 days flood,
        • 150 days water prevails,
          • God remembers Noah (God never forgot of course)
        • 150 days water retreats,
      • 40 days waiting then Noah opens a window to release a bird,
    • 7 days waiting
  • Proverbial/Wisdom: The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes fall into this category however it can be found throughout scripture.

In all this interesting complexity – there is one consistent message from 40 authors written over a period of 1500 years and it is a message from God for you to dig in and keep digging and discovering what God wants to say to you.

Next Steps

It is simple really, start reading, pondering and thinking about the Word of God