Bible Interpretation Class – Hiawatha Bible Chapel

Genre - OT Narratives, Poetry, Prophecy, Apocalyptic

Lesson 5 – March 25th  2017


Brief Introduction to Biblical Genre

There are many different types of literature in the world. These types are called “genres.” A definition for the general word “genre” is:

genre (Webster) – Genre is a category of literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.

A definition that applies more to genre in the Bible is:

genre (Hermeneutical) – Genre is that sense of the whole which allows the interpreter to rightly interpret the particular parts [based on the type and form of the Biblical literature]

Guideline - Identifying the genre of the Biblical text one is reading is an important element of interpretation.

A list of Biblical genres is:

Historical Narratives




Apocalyptic Literature

Gospels & Parables


Law & Wisdom Literature

Two key points about Biblical genre:

  1. As we begin to interpret the Bible, we must determine what genre of literature we are dealing with

  1. Different genres in the Bible have different conventions for interpreting them

Hermeneutical Principles for the Various Genres

  1. Historical Narrative

Some Principles for Interpreting Narratives

  1. Narratives often do not directly teach a doctrine

  1. OT Narratives record what happened, not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen all the time

  1. Not every narrative episode has an identifiable moral of the story

  1. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us

  1. In narratives we are often not told whether what happened was good or bad, moral or immoral

  1. Narratives teach both explicitly and implicitly

  1. Narratives are selective and incomplete, leaving out many details

Some Special Techniques Used in Narratives

  1. Synoptic/Resumptive-expansive technique of storytelling

  1. Characterization

In narratives, we should pay attention to how various characters are (or aren’t) developed, i.e., what kind of people they are, what kinds of thoughts or feelings they express, etc. This will help us better understand what the narrator is trying to tell us. We generally see two types of characterizations of people in the narratives:

  1. Flat Characters

  1. Round Characters


  1. Free Direct Discourse

Free Direct Discourse is when an author gives the gist of what a character said rather than exactly what they said even though it is put on the lips of the character as if they said it directly. We do this in our day also:

Direct Discourse: “He said to me, ‘Although I am fairly busy … ahhh … I would like to come to your party, hmmm, not sure I can come, umm, what the heck, I suppose I can come.’ ”

Indirect Discourse: “He told me that he would come to my party.”

Free Direct Discourse: “He said to me, ‘Okay, I will come to your party.’ ”

  1. Points of View

This is the position or perspective from which a story is told. Many times we can put ourselves into the place of the character and try to look at the story from that character’s perspective. Some points of view used:

  1. God’s point of view

  1. The narrator’s point of view

  1. Character’s points of view

  1. Poetry


Recognizing that a passage is poetic, understanding how Hebrew poetry works, and knowing the special rules for interpreting poetry are all important elements of interpreting poetic passages in the OT.

How much of the Bible is poetic?

Following are Some Characteristics of the Interpretation of Poetry

  1. Why Poetry? Poetry Appeals to Emotions

Almost all emotions are expressed in Psalms somewhere. Read the following Psalms when you can:




Psalm 2:2-4


Psalm 8:3-5


Psalm 13:1


Psalm 73:3-5


Psalm 116:1


Psalm 51:3-4


Psalm 100:1


Psalm 23:4

  1. Poetry is Interpreted Differently than Prose; Rules for Interpretation

Following are the different rules for interpreting poetry over prose:

  1. Metaphorical Language is Abundant in Hebrew Poetry and is Not Interpreted Literally

  1. Metaphors Should Not be Pushed Beyond Their Purpose

  1. Parallelism Needs to be Taken Into Account

  1. Psalms are a Hymn Book, Not a Systematic Theology

  1. Possible Reasons for Why God Inspired so Much of Scripture in Poetic Form
  1. Poetry is used to express things which are difficult to express

  1. Poetry appeals to people in ways that prose does not

  1. Poetry combines truth with beauty

  1. Poetry is more memorable than prose

  1. Poetry is especially appropriate for worship

  1. Prophecy

In this section we will discuss the prophetic books:

Hermeneutical Principles for Interpreting Prophecy

I presented this section in one of my Sunday lessons on Joel. Thus, I have provided the handout with the “notes” all filled in, and I will not cover them here. I leave this as an exercise for the reader. I encourage you to go through the principles and try to understand them as well as you can.

The Value of the Prophetic Books for the Christian Today

  1. Prophets provide models for preaching against sin and calling for repentance

  1. Prophets reveal various aspects of the character of God

  1. Apologetic Purpose: Prophecy proves the supernatural character of the Bible

  1. Messianic Doctrine

  1. Eschatology

  1. Apocalyptic Literature

This section will discuss some of the special hermeneutics for the two apocalyptic books, Daniel and Revelation. These books focus primarily on things that will occur in the end times.

Distinctive Features of Apocalyptic Literature

  1. Esoteric Revelations

  1. Highly Symbolic and Figurative

  1. An Abundance of Supernatural Events

  1. The presence of two presuppositions: First, the present situation is hopeless, and second, God is transcendent and sovereign

Numerous conclusions from these two premises are:

  1. This age is totally lost and irredeemable

  1. Determinism

  1. Dualism

  1. Angels are Prominent

  1. The Ultimate Victory of God

  1. Imminence

  1. Cosmic Stage

  1. Judgment

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

  1. Look First for the Scripture’s Self Interpretation

  1. Fit a Vision into a Book’s Purpose

  1. Compare Visions with Similar Visions Elsewhere

There is a connectedness in Biblical apocalyptic literature. Later visions at times draw on earlier ones. Later books allude to earlier ones. Even later symbolism may be interpreted based on earlier symbolism.

For example:

  1. Daniel 7 should be interpreted in light of Daniel 2 which uses the same symbolism of four kingdoms to come.

  1. Revelation 13 draws on the imagery of Daniel 7’s four beasts

  1. Seek the Main Point of Each Vision


The Millennium Question


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