A tip to avoid a Bible-reading breakdown


Mid-February is that time of year when many of our New Year’s resolutions go the way of the dodo. Perhaps you began the year resolved to read the Bible through in 2020, but time and circumstance have slowly dissolved your resolve. Trust me, as I continue my own annual trek through the Scriptures, I feel your pain.

Reading through Exodus and Leviticus can tax one’s ability to concentrate, much less comprehend what it all means. Detailed descriptions of measurements and sacrifices can leave one wondering, “what does this have to do with my life?”

To encourage your perseverance, I want to share with you something that helps me: keep the genre of what you’re reading in mind. Genre simply categorizes literature by its form, style, or content. Biblical genres include historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, parable, covenant, proverb, letter, and apocalyptic writing. So, how does this aid us in keeping focus and getting more out of Bible reading?

Reading the Bible with the genre in mind tells me something about God, his truth, his love, his power, his wisdom, his purpose, and his sovereignty.

1. Genre affirms the historicity of the text.

Sixty percent of the Bible is historical narrative, which reminds me that these events truly happened in real time. Liberal theologians, for example, tell us that Adam and Eve were mythological. Failing to accept the text as historical narrative leads them to deny the text itself. Yet, both Jesus and Paul affirmed the historical reality of Adam and Eve.

Historical narrative also reminds me that the author doesn’t always make moral judgments about the events he records. Scripture is often descriptive without being prescriptive. Jephthah’s rash vow is a case in point. The writer is only telling us what happened and is in no way condoning human sacrifice. We accept the fact that this is what happened when “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Knowing that I’m reading a true record of people and events, and doesn’t gloss over the unpleasant aspects, serves to bolster my faith in God.

2. Genre affirms the sovereignty of God.

Another prominent genre in Scripture is prophecy. Nothing should comfort our hearts like knowing God is sovereign—that he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11) Reading the prophets reminds me that God can inspire predictions of the future because he controls it all. So, as I read through the Bible and come to the prophets, I am reminded that my future is in good hands. It was Luther who said, “Those who see God’s hand in everything can best leave everything in God’s hand.”

3. Genre affirms the wisdom of God.

Another genre in the Bible is proverb. The book of Proverbs is part of what is called “wisdom literature” in the Bible and reminds me that God’s way is always best. To fear him is the beginning of wisdom. I learn that if I order my life according to the principles revealed in Proverbs, my life will be rewarding, meaningful, and joyful.

4. Genre affirms the person and work of Christ.

Thinking of the various genres in Scripture also reminds me that Jesus is the central focus of the book. The Bible tells us the nature of prophecy is to bear witness to Jesus. (Revelation 19:10) I read the Psalms and am reminded that life’s emotional up and downs reflect my relationship with Christ. He is with me in the good times and in the bad times. I can cry out to him when I’m in a pit of despair or shout his praise on the mountain top.

5. Genre affirms the culmination of all things.

Reading through the Bible instills in the cautious reader a sense of culmination. That is, history is going somewhere. There will be an end to human history as we know it. The genre that communicates this truth to us in vivid pictures is the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. Whether it’s Ezekiel, Daniel or Revelation, there is clearly an end in view. We do not take the visions literally because they are clearly symbolizing future events in language both colorful and powerful.

Understanding the Bible’s cohesive storyline is one reason to read it through over the course of a year. Only as one connects the dots, so to speak, can you get this sense of biblical continuity. As I’ve said many times, the Bible is one book, by one Author, telling one story, and that story has an end. History is ultimately His story. Reading the Bible with the genre in mind tells me something about God, his truth, his love, his power, his wisdom, his purpose, and his sovereignty. Keep this in mind when things get “boring.”

Understanding Biblical genres can aid you in being a faithful reader of the Word.