In 325 AD, a group of men beckoned by the Emperor Constantine came together and put together through much prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit a canon (or collection) of books. This canon is now known as the Bible. The Bible is unlike any other. This book spans the longest amount of time that also contains the earliest manuscripts of any piece of literature that exists. However, the Bible is seen as the Word of God for it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So is the Bible then literature if it is written by God? Or is it a piece of literature that is so grand that it is separate from literary structure? I believe the Bible is a book that is unlike any other because it is written by God… and yet it is still a piece of literary art.
So how do we show that the Bible is a work of literature? We will split this up into the literary structure that you and I would learn about from a literature class. This consists of areas like author, date, setting, plot, genre and audience. I pray that after we give a brief look into each of these concepts, you will come away with a heightened sense of the book that Christians get to not only read, but are guided by.
So who is the author of Scripture? Simply put, the author of the Bible is God. When Paul writes to Timothy and says that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), this not only explains how God is the author, but also how the human authors of Scripture are authors as well. The Lord is the author because He breathes out the words of Scripture. We see this in two ways in Scripture. First, sometimes the Lord speaks audibly what is to be written in Scripture. We see this clearly in Exodus 20:1, “And God spoke all these words, saying…” Most of the time however, like in the case of Paul to Timothy, the Lord guides the human authors what to write. The Bible has about 40 different human authors spanning thousands of years in time. These human authors though were not in a trance when they wrote. They were not God’s puppets. They were inspired to write what is in Scripture. God-breathed does not mean a trance, this is an active form of communication that inspires. It is also important to note that the human authors are authors as well because they put their own flavor in the books they write. This is most clearly seen in the Gospels, where the four different human authors have their own themes in mind, while not changing the content of Jesus’ life.
Are there specific dates involved in Scripture? There is so much history involved in Scripture that there aren’t just historical events, but historical dates as well. Whether it be the fact that Jerusalem fell in 587-586 BC to the Babylonians, that Jesus died in 33 AD or that Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 AD, the Lord wants us to know that His Word is not fiction. But He also wants us to know that there is a time and history factor within His Word.
Are there settings within the Bible? There are numerous. Whether it be the desert empire of Egypt, the promised land of Israel, bodies of water like the Jordan River of the Sea of Galilee, to the mountains of Sinai and Carmel, the Bible is rich with different settings. This not only brings again an air of historicity to Scripture, but it helps to paint a landscape in our mind as we read since many these locations can be visited to this day.
Is there a plot to Scripture? Every book of the canon of Scripture has their own plot, but the structure of Scripture paints a picture that there is a sole plot in the Bible. This concept can be known as a meta-narrative, or the idea that a vast and diverse collection of writings all lead to one plot. The fact that the Bible is split into two grand sections, the Old and New Testament, should bear this out. We see this plot that a grand being named God creates a world and human beings who are perfect at first, but then they disobey. Then we see this struggle for the rest of the Old Testament in how will there be a reunion between a perfect God and a sinful humanity. This then leads to the Gospels, or God’s solution where He sends His Son to live a perfect life, to be crucified on our behalf, to be raised from the dead defeating sin and death, to giving us an opportunity to spend eternity with Him in a place called Heaven. This then leads to the rest of the New Testament where we see how does the solution of God, the Gospel, get spread to those around the world.
Do we see genres in Scripture? As there are numerous settings in the Bible, there are numerous genres in the Bible as well. We see narrative, law, poetry, prophecy, parables, apocalyptic, and epistolary, to name a few. This is what makes the Bible a literary piece of art. The fact that you have numerous genres in one work, and it doesn’t seem like a jumbled mess, is a work of art.
Finally, is there a specific audience in mind with Scripture? I would answer this as both yes and no actually. Yes there is a specific audience in mind when it comes to the individual books in Scripture. For example, the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch, are written by Moses specifically to the Israelites, especially to the generation that is entering the Promised Land after Moses dies in order for them to remember their history. Each of the epistles is written to a specific church, or church leader, in mind (i.e. Philippians to Philippi, Colossians to Colossae, Titus to Titus, etc.).
At the end of all of this, I am praying that you come to see the Bible as the most unique book ever, but I also pray that you come to see it as a piece of literature that can be read and studied as such. As we study Scripture, we can use things like author, genre, setting, etc., to help us interpret Scripture. Rest, be encouraged and increase in your faith, brothers and sisters, with the light of Christ through His Word to guide us.