What Are Biblical “Genres” and Why Do They Matter?

Kristie Anyabwile
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A genre (ZHAN-ruh) is an artistic category that groups things that share similar topics, types, forms, or styles. We often think of genres as they relate to books, music, movies, or art. Genres help to categorize information in at least three ways. They help to organize information.

The Purpose of Genres

For example, paintings can be organized in a gallery by landscape art, portraits, still life, or historic era. Genres also help us make sense of information. So if you are listening to music, the meaning you come away with will often be shaped by its genre. I love country music, but country music can be a bit tricky because sometimes a song will have a title that signals one thing, but the content is quite different. Knowing that the songs “Take Me to Church” or “H.O.L.Y.” are in the country genre and not gospel will help me make sense of the words as I listen. Finally, genres help us know what to expect from what we read. If you pick up a book of fantasy, you know to expect a complex fictional world with otherworldly creatures like dragons, the influence of myth and folklore, adventure, and heroism.

“Working together, the biblical genres walk us through God’s progressive revelation of Christ throughout redemptive history.”

Similarly, Bible genres help us organize the books of the Bible, make sense of how to read them, and know what to expect from each book. They also show and tell the message of the Bible through stories and speeches; they help us read the Scriptures both literally (such as when we are given commands to obey and truths to hold on to) and literarily (according to the literary makeup of the book, chapter, section of Scripture we’re reading). Finally, genres provide guidance on structuring the text for study, whether as a plot, argument, letter, prayer, or poem—elements that inform the questions we ask of the text.

Some Biblical Genres

Working together, the biblical genres walk us through God’s progressive revelation of Christ throughout redemptive history. God gives His law to lay down His expectations for His people. Narratives show us the lived experience of God’s people through history and how His plan for humanity unfolds. The prophets speak God’s word to His people calling them to repentance and faith, warning them of the consequences of their sin, and helping them learn what the future holds for them. Poetry recalls history through prayer and song and calls people to worship and remembrance. Wisdom literature teaches people the value and meaning of life through proverbial wisdom. The Gospels and Acts are generally narrative, but singularly focus on the life and teachings of Christ, the Savior whom all Old Testament history, prophets, and poets anticipate. Epistles are letters written to churches and individuals to instruct and logically clarify the teachings of Christ and how the church should live in light of the gospel. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic content focusing on what is referred to as the end times and shows us where history is headed and gives us glimpses of eternity.

There have been many books written about the Bible as literature. Many of them are geared toward the seminarian or pastor and can be daunting for someone just beginning to understand Bible genres. That’s where this book comes in. We can deepen our understanding of what God intends to communicate through His Word by learning to study the Bible according to its literary genres. Whether you are new to Bible study in general or you have been studying the Bible for years, this study is intended to give you a new set of working utensils to put in your drawer of Bible literacy and provide a framework for reading and understanding a book or passage. Genre study is not a replacement for the inductive study method, but it provides additional categories for observing, interpreting, and applying the Word of God.

The Bible is a feast! We need to know the intention behind the various courses and the ingredients that make up each “dish” so we can enjoy a well-balanced, healthy meal every time we come to the text. My prayer is that study and technique will ultimately help you experience richer fellowship with Christ our Savior, to taste and see that the Lord is good!

For Further Reading:


by Kristie Anyabwile

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