Intersection of Life and Faith

Should the Bible be Approached Differently Than Other Literature?

Karen Swallow Prior

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety. 

We need to understand that the Bible is of course inspired by the Holy Spirit and it used human authors. So there are ways in which we can approach the Bible that are very similar to approaching other literary texts and then of course ways that set it apart. The most significant way it's set apart is that we understand it as the word of God. So that it actually has some absolute meaning that we are trying to understand.

But the way that literary skills that we develop in reading other texts can help us is to understand, for example, the genres of the books of the Bible. Some of the books are history and they're to be taken as history. Some of the books are poetry, some are prophesy, some are letters. Understanding the rules of the genres, understanding the context in which those books were written, and the purpose and intent of the human authors as well as the Divine Author. Those are the same kinds of skills that we develop in reading literary texts that can help us in reading the Bible.

One of the other things I like to say about how reading literary texts can help us to be better readers of the Bible is, that the same skills that we apply to faithfully understanding what a literary text is saying is really the same skill that applies to understanding the Bible. Oftentimes, especially young people like to read a poem or a work of literature and talk about what it means to them or what they got out of it. And that's fine to a certain extent. But we really should be trying to understand what the author of the text was trying to say to us. Not just impose a meaning on it.

That same central skill in reading a good work of literature is the one we need to go before the Bible and use as we read it as well. We need to understand what its author is trying to say to us and not just try to understand what it means to us other than obviously we want to apply that to our lives, but we want to know what God is saying to us. Not just whatever mood hits us that day.

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