Friday, August 17, 2018

Biblical Literary Forms

"Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).

The Bible uses many literary devices and forms, and if we are going to interpret the Bible literally (according to its letter and literature), we must become familiar with these. Today we will look at a few of the most common.

First of all, the Bible often uses the language of appearances, as when it says “the sun rises.” At such points, the literary form of the Bible is not that of a technical treatise, but of common speech. If someone showed up with a supposed letter from King Solomon and it said, “The horizon of the earth dropped to reveal the sun at 6:55 a.m., the fourteenth day of the month, Jerusalem Standard Time,” we would know such a document was a fake.

Second, while the Bible is often precise, it occasionally uses round numbers. An example of this is the estimate of 5,000 people who were fed by Jesus. It would be foolish to insist that exactly that many people were present at the event. If the newspaper says 15,000 people turned out for a ball game, do we say the paper is in error?

Third, the Bible sometimes uses hyperbole, or intentional exaggeration, in order to make a point. If it says “all Capernaum turned out” to hear Jesus, we are not to assume every single person, including sick and dying people, came out. It is the same as if we today said we went to a party and “everybody was there.”

Fourth, the Bible uses metaphor as a literary form. When Jesus says He is the door of the sheep, we are not supposed to take that in some crass physical sense. On the other hand, Jesus says of the communion bread, “This is My body.” The church has debated whether or not Jesus meant this as a pure metaphor.

Fifth, the Bible uses anthropomorphic language, describing God in human terms, as when it says God stretches forth His arm, etc. Accommodating Himself to our need, God describes Himself in human terms.

Remember the Bible must be interpreted in terms of its literary forms. When the Bible presents something as actually happening, then it happened. But when the Bible uses a figure of speech, we must be sensitive to it. Reread John 10:1–18. What figures of speech are found here?