5. Understand the different genres in Scripture or literary form. Not all the books within the Bible are written the same, or with the same intentions. There is unity in the diversity because the Bible is a collection of documents that tell, in different ways, the same fundamental story.
Genre is a literary type or kind. Genres have their own conventions, the way that they conduct their literary business. As such, they need to be interpreted in line with these conventions. The genres of the OT are Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy. These can be found and remembered in a numbered structure like 5-12-5-5-12. Five of law which is the Pentateuch, twelve history, five poetry, five major prophets, and twelve minor prophets. One could include the prophets and make it seventeen, and this is fine as they are all prophecy. The key is to know which genre one is in when studying.
The NT has Gospels, History, Letters, and Prophecy. This can be remembered in a similar numbered structure as 4-1-21-1. Four gospels, one history, twenty-one letters, or epistles, and one prophecy. Again, the key is to just know what genre you are in. Another thing to keep in mind is to ask if what you are reading is prescriptive-–telling what to do, or descriptive–describing something that happened but not saying this is what you should do. An example of prescriptive is “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). An example of descriptive is when Abram—before being named Abraham, slept with Hagar because Sarai, Sarah, could not conceive. Also, Solomon and many of the other OT saints and figures taking to themselves many wives. All of this is descriptive.
One also must keep in mind that Scripture will speak in hyperbole, similes, figurative language, narrative, wisdom insights that are good to follow but not guarantees, and even forms of allegory. Also, it utilizes metaphor and anthropomorphism’s like sunrise, sunset, God having hands and feet, eyes or wings, and many other human qualities that God does not have because God is Spirit (John 4:24).
Some literary forms we see in Scripture are Jesus metaphorically saying He is a door (John 10:). Paul allegorizing Hagar and Sarah (Gal. 4:21-31). Hyperbole is seen in the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32) Jesus used a small seed to demonstrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. In each of these instances, we must properly understand what is going on if we are to properly interpret the text.
Keeping the main structure of the text you are studying in mind will aid you in discovering what is being taught or conveyed through the text. When we study this way we will keep ourselves in line with the structure of the full story of Scripture. Always remember to understand the genre and literary form, if used, when studying and you will have a better grasp of Scripture and be able to better apply it to your life.