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The Principle of Literary Style (Genre)

When we study a passage, we have to determine the literary style (genre). This, in fact, is the first matter to be settled. In which style of writing were the individual words written? Scripture can be poetry, proverbs, history, parables, sermons, letters, apocalyptic, etc. The determination of the text's literary genre will determine what rules we use to interpret the passage.

It is wrong to treat a parable and an epistle in the same way. Each type of literature must be approached differently. For example, one cannot build a doctrine of the afterlife on the interpretation of the rich man and Lazarus. The concept of different compartments in Hades occurs only there in Scripture. We do not know if Christ meant this to be a precise picture of heaven and hell. Each parable is meant to teach a single point, and we are in danger if we take the details too far. The central message of the rich man and Lazarus story is the danger of misusing wealth.

On the other hand, each point of an epistle is important, and often the key to one aspect is found in the previous point.


Distinguishing poetry from prose is another important factor of Bible Interpretation. About thirty percent of the Old Testament is written in poetry. Most older versions such as King James Version doesn’t indicate these differences but newer versions such as New Living Translations and New English Bible are using different formats in writing  from poetry. You will notice such differences by looking at the narrative book of Genesis and the poetical book Psalms in the newer versions.

Since poetry is concerned with emotions rather than the accurate descriptions of the message, it uses more figurative language more than prose. With proper understanding poetry is just as comprehensible as prose and they are easier to be memorized.

There are common features of poetry called parallelism and you need to recognized them to help understands the main point of the poetry.

  • Synonymous parallelism: A line strengthens, develops, reinforces or repeat the line before it.

  • Matthew 7:7-8

7/ Ask and it shall be given you;

          Seek and ye shall find;

          Knock and it shall be open unto you

8/ for every one that asketh receiveth;

and every one who seeketh findeth;

and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.(KJV)

  • Isaiah 44:22

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist (NIV)

What we have in Matthew 7:7-8 are not 3 steps of different types of prayer. They are simply different ways of saying the same thing. The verses are simply expressing that “God answers our prayers”

  • Antithetical  parallelism.: the most common parallelism in the Bible, where a line contrast the message or the point of the line before it.


  • Psalm 37:21

The wicked borrow and do not repay. But the righteous give generously. (NIV)


  • Proverbs 10:1

A wise son maketh a glad father;

But a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother (KJV)


  • Synthetic parallelism: A line goes further than just repeating or reinforcing but by providing more information on the line before it

  • Psalm 14:2  

The Lord looks down from heaven on the son of men, to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (NIV)

  • Obadiah 2:1

And savior shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau;

And the kingdom shall be the LORD’S


We need to know, then, the various rules of interpretation for each literary style



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