The Bible Is Literature, Not A Spiritual Book (Part 1)

“I am persuaded that without knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore, when letters [the old name for literature] have declined and lain prostrate, theology, too, has wretchedly fallen and lain prostrate; nay, I see that there has never been a great revelation of the Word of God unless He has first prepared the way by the rise and prosperity of languages and letters, as though they were John the Baptists….Certainly it is my desire that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily” -Martin Luther.

NOTE: I understand this post will seem very long and to some very boring, but the reason why I am sharing this with you is because I believe it is extremely important for all Christians to realize and apply in their daily reading of the Bible. This will be the first of several parts in which I will address the importance of a literary approach to the Bible. So please, bear with me as the content of these entries will be a little hard to understand, but it will be very enlightening to how you approach the Bible.

The Bible is literature, not a spiritual book. What am I trying to say? Well, simply that the Bible must be approached as literature, not as an abstract or simple spiritual book filled only with comfort for the 21st century Christian.

The modern church has successfully separated literature from the Bible, thus facilitating the lack of context-driven-interpretation and drawing human-experience-based applications of several parts of the Bible uniquely for this generation. What is the problem with this? That everywhere we turn to the Bible we conclude what it means to “us.” Thus giving the Bible several interpretations and ignoring context.

If we approach a Psalm as spiritual counsel and ignore completely it’s poetic nature of literature, we will strip it of its respective literary analysis. If we read the story of David and Goliath without considering its narrative nature, we will end up drawing all sorts of conclusions from that one text; thus practically creating a completely new text because the text’s true interpretation has been choked down.

Leland Ryken, in his essay “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching” lists several aspects that must be addressed when understanding the Bible in a literary form:

-If we are to approach the Bible as literature, we need to understand what it means that the Bible is literature.
-We need to go beyond mere acknowledgement that the Bible is literary to an understanding and practice of what it means to approach the Bible as literature.
-We need to take an honest look at ways in which preachers have generally neglected an important tool of biblical exposition by their indifference to literary analysis of the Bible (1).

Next: Part 2 (The Bible As Literature)

Works Cited
1- Ryken, Leland. “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching.” Preach The Word Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R.Kent Hughes. Ed Leland Ryken and Todd A. Wilson. Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007. 38-53.

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