The Bible Is Literature
Yes, we should read the Bible just the way we read other forms of literature; and no, we should actually read it completely differently. The Bible is literature. How could you read it any other way? If it's poetry, you have to read it as poetry; if it's stories, you have to read them in the way you approach a story; and if it's history, you bring a set of questions.
When you read the beginning of the book of Acts, for example, and Luke is talking to his friend Theophilus about what he wrote in his former book and what he's going to set out in this book, you know it's a real-life context—it's nonfiction. So, of course, because the Bible is those kinds of literature, we have to read it as the kind of literature that it is.
Combining 1,200+ study notes related to the literary features of the Bible, the ESV Literary Study Bible helps readers understand God’s Word more fully, in all its richness and beauty.
A Divine Author
On the other hand, the Bible also has a different author. Even though there are human beings—with their experiences, sensibilities, and educational backgrounds—who are writing the different parts of the Bible, this is all orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, who is the supreme author of Scripture.
So there is a way that the whole Bible holds together as eternal truth that is totally unique. Also, because the Holy Spirit is personal, there is an illumination and an application to our personal lives when we read the Bible that is totally different from any other kind of literature. It's a perfect book; it's an inerrant book; it's an infallible book. It has those qualities because of the Holy Spirit.
A Life-Changing Book
I remember a friend of mine, who was not a Christian, was challenged to read part of the Bible because his father-in-law wanted him to do it. He was reading 1 Peter, of all things, and the request was Just read this book; it won't take you long. Just read it once a day and see what happens.
It’s a perfect book; it's an inerrant book; it's an infallible book. It has those qualities because of the Holy Spirit.
So, within two or three weeks, this man—who was a drug dealer and had gang members for friends—had people coming to him saying, What's going on? You're really different. Tell us what's going on here—we've got to know what's going on.
He said No, I'm the same old . . . . And then he realized No, there is something different. I've been reading the Bible. That's what the Holy Spirit does through Scripture, and you will not have that experience with any other kind of literature.
Phil Ryken is a contributing editor ot the ESV Literary Study Bible.
What are the literary qualities of Scripture and why should we not just read the Bible for what it says, but for how it says it?
When the Bible gives us literary subject matter, that subject matter is present through the agency of divine inspiration. The same is true of the genres and forms of the Bible.
The subject of literature is human experience. We should read the Bible through that lens.
We need a sensitivity to the different genres of literature in order to make the move from the literature of the Bible to the doctrines of systematic theology.