Hermeneutics - Lesson 14

Implications of Genre

From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the significance of recognizing and applying different literary genres when interpreting the Bible. It emphasizes that genre identification is essential for proper interpretation and that the Bible contains various genres, each with its own rules of interpretation. By studying and understanding these genres, you can interpret the Bible accurately and avoid misinterpretations. The lesson also cautions against misidentifying genres as a way to avoid the demands of Scripture, highlighting the importance of taking the Bible seriously in its intended context. In essence, this lesson equips you with the tools to approach the Bible with a nuanced understanding of its diverse literary forms, enabling you to grasp its intended messages more effectively.

Todd Miles
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Implications of Genre

I. Introduction

II. Definition of Genre

A. Interpretation

B. Problems with misidentifying literary genre

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  • This lesson delves into theological text interpretation, emphasizing that meaning is human-made, not inherent. Authors, not readers, shape text meaning. Accurate Bible interpretation hinges on understanding God's authorship, emphasizing His lordship, knowledge, and obedience. Presuppositions about God and human nature are vital for accurate Bible interpretation.
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  • Understanding the Bible through biblical theology is crucial, as it reveals the overarching narrative of God's redemptive plan, centered on His glory and the role of Jesus Christ, enabling a more profound comprehension of individual Bible passages and their relevance to our lives.
  • Dr. Todd Miles underscores the vital role of historical and cultural context in interpreting the Bible. Understanding the era when a passage was penned is crucial for grasping its genuine significance. Using examples like the virgins' parable and Revelation 3:14-22, it demonstrates how historical context aids in discerning interpretations and adds depth to the message. The text emphasizes that, while the Bible offers some historical context, external sources can also enhance comprehension. In conclusion, historical and cultural context is essential for accurate biblical interpretation.
  • In this lesson on Hermeneutics by Dr. Todd Miles, the focus is on understanding the cultural context when interpreting biblical texts. Dr. Miles emphasizes that culture plays a significant role in both the biblical author's writing and the reader's interpretation. He discusses the concept of cultural conditioning, highlighting that everyone, including the biblical authors, the original audience, and modern readers, is influenced by their respective cultures.
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  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of interpreting biblical narratives. It begins by discussing the distinction between historical narratives and parables, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the markers of historical narrative.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles review biblical narrative interpretation. He emphasizes the importance of context, adding that each narrative should be examined within the broader biblical and book context. He illustrates this with Mark Chapter 5, where Jesus interacts with demons, breaking from the norm to underscore his authority.
  • From this lesson on Hermeneutics and Law, you will gain insight into the intricate relationship between the Old Testament law and New Covenant believers. Dr. Todd Miles emphasizes the challenge of applying ancient laws to contemporary life and introduces the key factors for understanding them: comprehending the nature of covenants and situating oneself in the timeline of redemptive history. This process is likened to using a mall map to find a destination.
  • Dr. Todd Miles discusses prophecy's significance beyond predicting the future. It validates God's deity, reveals future realities, and guides our present actions. Most prophecy is about forth-telling and emphasizes covenant understanding.
  • In this Hermeneutics lesson, you'll gain insights into the challenges of interpreting prophecy, including wrong expectations, historical context, conditional fulfillment, and various forms of prophetic proclamations, while also being reminded not to let contemporary agendas override the biblical text.
  • In taking this lesson, you gain insight into the concept of typology in biblical interpretation. Typology involves finding resemblances between Old Testament figures, events, and institutions and their fulfillment in the New Testament, particularly in relation to Jesus Christ.
  • Learn about poetry in the Bible by exploring Hebrew poetic parallelism and its emotional power in Psalms. Discover how poetry enhances biblical narratives and offers unique insights.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses various types of psalms found in the Psalter and delves into their unique characteristics and theological significance. He begins by providing a list of different kinds of psalms, emphasizing that this list is not exhaustive but illustrative, highlighting the diversity of poetry within the Psalms.
  • By studying this lesson, you gain insight into essential figures of speech in the Bible and learn to interpret them effectively, enhancing your hermeneutical skills and deepening your understanding of the Scriptures.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses the interpretation of parables. Parables are a specific literary genre with their own rules of interpretation. Parables are designed to teach a single point, although there might be exceptions. Historical context remains essential in understanding parables, as they are shaped by the situations of the day. 
  • This lesson explores Proverbs and wisdom literature, focusing on its distinct genre, interpretation rules. Dr. Miles highlights its purpose, living wisely with God. It emphasizes the fear of the Lord, touches Ecclesiastes' question of meaning, and Job's theodicy.
  • In this lesson on interpreting epistles, Dr. Todd Miles underscores the importance of understanding their structure, argumentative methods, and central theological focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel, even when addressing practical issues within the early Christian communities.
  • Dr. Todd Miles delves into apocalyptic literature, emphasizing its distinct features like revelatory communication and angelic guidance. It unveils profound truths through visions, promoting understanding and righteous conduct.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles explores the concept of perspicuity, which refers to the clarity of the Bible. He begins by explaining that perspicuity is a theological term used to describe how clear the Bible's teachings are. It means that the Bible is written in a way that its teachings can be understood by anyone who reads it, seeks God's help, and is willing to follow it.
  • This lesson provides practical guidelines for applying biblical principles. Dr. Miles emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, examining the original context, and identifying parallel situations in the present. He encourages applications to be personal, specific, measurable, and time-bound, ensuring they lead to tangible actions in your life.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the Holy Spirit's vital role in biblical interpretation, going beyond changing hearts to enabling comprehension and acceptance of the text. Dr. Todd Miles stresses the Spirit's role in illuminating the Bible, making it relevant to believers, challenging the idea that unbelievers interpret it as effectively, and emphasizing the importance of understanding the text's intent. The ultimate aim is not mastery but being mastered by the text, with the Holy Spirit as a key player.
Hermeneutics is the science and art of the interpretation of the Bible. It's a science because it is an orderly process based on rules you can apply. It is an art because of the nuances in communication and translation.



Dr. Todd Miles


Implications of Genre

Lesson Transcript


Well, we're going to transition now into a the second half of hermeneutics. And sometimes this is referred to as special hermeneutics, where we look at interpretive guidelines for the various genres that we find in Scripture. I wanted to talk to you for a. Moment about what genre it actually is, and then we'll get into the weeds of the different kinds of literary genres. What do I mean by genre? Genre is a kind, a kind of literature or a literary genre would be a literary kind. And the idea is that all literary genres come with their own rules of interpretation. Now, that might sound hopelessly complicated. How am I ever going to memorize rules for how to interpret literary genres? And again, I want to remind you that I think you already know how to do this. If you were anything like me, in the mornings you wake up and you go to the right. Well, after a really lengthy, quiet time, of course you go to the Internet to read a newspaper account or a news account. And for me, I will usually scan kind of the front page of the newspaper that I'm reading, either in paper or on the web. I scan the front page to make sure that the world is still in existence. And then I head straight for the sports section. And when I get to the sports section, I like to go to the baseball box scores during baseball season. And I understand what a baseball box score is. I have great insight into it to what goes on in a baseball game. I'm able to gain insight from the box score, and then I go to the game summaries and I read the stories about them. You know, there hasn't been one time where I have gotten confused about a game story and a box score. I am able to always differentiate between those two. And then I go to one of my favorite sports columnists and I'll read his opinion piece of how things are going on. And I have never one time become confused over whether I'm reading a baseball box score or an opinion piece. They always like that. I'm always able to differentiate those two. Then I go to the comics and I read those. I've never confused a baseball box score with a comic strip. Not one time. Never do I do this. Now you might be thinking yourself. Wow. But you you know, you've got like, a Ph.D. You're able to do this. But I say, Oh, it's actually very, very easy to do these things. Then I decide, Well, I'm kind of hungry, and I go in and I get some breakfast. And so I go to the box of Pop-Tarts, and I always think to myself, Can I put these in the microwave or not? And so I go to the back of the Pop-Tart box, and sure enough, there's a recipe for how long you should microwave a Pop-Tart. And I've never one time confused a comic strip with the recipe on the back of a box of Pop-Tarts. Not one time. Not one time have I done that. I am able to just seamlessly transition from literary genre to literary genre. Then I get in the car and I drive to work, and I've never confused a stop sign for a comic strip or an op ed piece. Or I see the red octagonal sign, which is a kind of literary genre that has different rules for interpretation. But I am able to do that. Now, I was joking about myself being able to do this and to do it so seamlessly because I think you can do that too. I think you've been doing that your whole your whole entire life. You are used to interacting in a world with different literary genres and most of the rules for their interpretation you have picked up and they just are now almost intuitive to you. You you don't even think about them. I think it is the same way with the literary genres that are in the Bible. We recognize from experience that there are different kinds of literature in the Bible and that those different kinds of literature require different rules for interpreting them. And just because they're in the Bible doesn't make them super mysterious or some sort of Gnostic thing where I have to be enlightened, enlightened in order to understand rightly. Robert Stein, a professor who also does some some classes for Biblical training board, he he wrote a book on hermeneutics and it was first subtitled or titled Playing According to the Rules. The whole premise of his book is that when it comes to the Bible, we have to play by the rules. And there are different rules depending on what literary genre we are reading. And just as to use a sports analogy, if we wanted to play football but decided to play by the rules of baseball, we would end up with chaos. It would be like Calvin Ball, I suppose, from the old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Funny but chaotic and ultimately meaningless. Furthermore, whenever I talk. You about baseball. Even if you don't know much about baseball, what pops into your head? Not an abstraction of sports, but probably the equipment of baseball. The people who play baseball. The rules of baseball. You might be thinking a bat, a ball, a mitt. The uniforms that they use, the rules for the game. Three strikes and you're out. Three outs, two a half of an inning, nine innings to a major League Baseball game, something like that. What comes to your mind are the rules that distinguish baseball from just the abstraction of sport's literary genre is the same way. When we talk about literature, when we talk about literature, we are talking about an interpretive presentation of experience in an artistic form. Literature is done in an artistic way. Even if it's like the recipe on the back of a box of Pop-Tarts. Now they don't probably don't care that much about artistry. They're trying to print something that's legible on in as few words as possible. But nevertheless, there's a specific pattern or form or design to all different kinds of literature. And just as it's easy for me to distinguish between a Rembrandt and a Picasso, and that's about as much art, distinguishing and discernment as I can do, I can usually recognize a Rembrandt, a Rembrandt from a Picasso. It's also easy to differentiate between, say, Hemingway versus Tolkien versus, like, Dr. Phil. Right. They each have their own style. Biblical literature is the same way. Now, what? What is the artistic form of biblical literature? What is the literary genre of the Bible? There is no literary genre singular. There are genres plural. There are forms of biblical literature, not a biblical form. So plural, not singular. When we talk about literary genres in literary genre, and I get this from Dr. Stein, literary genre refers to the literary form being used by the author. And this is the important part and the rules governing that form. So I give you Axiom 13. A genre is a type of literature with the rules that govern its interpretation. Just like baseball is a kind of sport with the rules that govern the playing of that sport. Now, why is this important? Because the Bible is literature and we need to read it as such. And when I say the Bible is literature, I'm making a statement of the obvious. I'm not trying to demean it in any way. If you don't understand poetry, well, you better stay away from the Psalms. But it's God's Word, so you really can't stay away from the Psalms. You have to read it. So what do you have to do? You have to you have to understand something about Hebrew poetry in particular. You'll get yourself into trouble if you have no idea about the rules governing poetry. Now, I think, again, as people who have grown up in the world, you have some understanding about how to interpret poetry, even if you don't know all of the details of Hebrew poetry. If you approach the Bible like a theology textbook, I think you're going to miss the point. You won't be faithful to the Bible if you don't understand that different literary genres come with different rules of interpretation. Now, why is this important? Because the biblical authors who were very good writers, they chose the literary genre specifically to get their point across. And their working assumption is, is that you will appreciate and understand the rules of interpretation for that literary genre and that you'll be able to understand what they mean by what they said. And the literary genre they choose is the vehicle they pick to get you from where you are to where they want you to be. An understanding of the literary genre helps us to interpret the Bible and even to interpret the Bible literally, if you will. Now, by literally, I'm just talking about what the author meant, and I suppose there's two different senses of literal. There's there's like plain literal, which is more denotation of it's an explicit statement. It just means what it says. But there's also figurative, literal. And this this is more quantitative. It's there's a specific intention. And so a biblical author has a literal meaning, even if he doesn't want you to interpret his words literally, if that makes sense. For example, Jesus called himself the door. Well, he had something very specific that he was trying to communicate. Yet he chose a figure of speech in order to communicate something that that thing that he if he hears the door, he he is the gate. He is the pathway to something or to somebody. He wasn't saying that he was literally a door, but in a figurative since he was absolutely adore. Once we figure out what the figure of speech means and understanding literary genre will help us to understand what an author is actually trying to say. Now different genres can determine meaning. Let's let's turn to Jeremiah Chapter 20, verses 14 through 18. Jeremiah Chapter 20 versus 14 through 18. Here we read the verse, the words of Jeremiah. He says. May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me. Never be blessed. May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying A male child is born to you, bringing him great joy. Let that man be like the city's the Lord. Demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noon time because he didn't kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave. Her womb eternally pregnant. Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame? What are we supposed to make of those words? Well, first off, I know this is highly technical, but here's what this passage looks like on my Bible, and it looks like there's a bunch of white it's not a bunch of dense prose. That's a clue for someone like me. We're reading poetry now. We're reading poetry. Even if the words don't rhyme, we're reading poetry. You're Bible translators and publishers have have have given you that clue. I know that in poetry there's a lot of figures of speech, including hyperbole. And so I ask the question, I could read this in a very wooden way. Man, Jeremiah has it in for this poor guy who was just taking the news of his birth to Jeremiah's dad. Well, let's make up a name for that guy. Let's call him Shlomo. Shlomo. So poor ol Shlomo is taking the news of Jeremiah's birth to Jeremiah's dad, thinking he's doing something good and Jeremiah's mad. He's, like, raining imprecations. It's, like, in imprecatory prayers down upon this. This poor guy who thought he was doing something good. It's almost like he's got a voodoo doll or something and is sticking this poor guy. He wants him to die. He wants his life to be miserable. More than that, he says, I wish. I wish that man would have killed me. Killed me in my mom's womb. That's what he should have done. Is that what Jeremy is really communicating here? Is he really cursing the man who told his father that he was born? I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't think he actually has it in for that guy. As a matter of fact, I don't even know that it's necessary that there be that guy. I think Jeremiah, though, is trying to communicate something very real, though, and that's despair and disappointment and discouragement and frustration. I'm sure most of you know about Jeremiah when he lived the situation in which he prophesied. It was given to Jeremiah to prophesy, to the kings of the southern tribes, Judah. To tell them that the jig is up. God is done. His patience has run out. And that the best path for you, the path that God has ordained for you, is to surrender to the Babylonians, just to give up. That's the only way you'll survive. Now to most everybody else who was part of the Kings Court, this didn't just sound like bad advice. This sound like sedition. This sounds like betrayal. And it was worthy of death. It wasn't a message that Jeremiah was pleased to give. I'm sure it was just absolutely heartbreaking that the people of Israel, the people of Judah, had violated the covenant to such a degree that God was saying, you're about to go into exile. The mother of all curses. It's over for you. And the only way anyone can survive is just to lay down your arms, give up and accept the punishment that the Lord is meting out. And Jeremiah is heartbroken over that. He just wanted to give that message. And this is the language that he uses. He picks a literary genre that we expect to be full of hyperbole and figures of speech to communicate his message. I don't think Jeremiah really had it in for that, for that poor guy. I don't really think that he that he wanted that man destroyed. Again, I'm not even sure that it matters whether there was that guy who took that message. Jeremiah is using this mode, this kind of literature, to communicate just how sad he is. Now some some forms can communicate different things to different cultures, and I think that's why God, in his graciousness, communicated in a variety of different literary genres. I've joked about myself about not being a real poetry guy. I'm not really drawn to the biblical poetry. I still read it. It's important. And the pastor of our church, whenever he asks me to preach, he always gives me a psalm to preach, which is which I'd much rather do narrative. But but there's other places that that I appreciate more and that I like more. I think, again, that's just the goodness and kindness of God to give us a variety of of literary genres in his written word. Now, much of the ability to understand what forms convey is is picked up in a culture just through the process of growing up. If you came across a letter or well, let me rephrase that. If you came across a piece of paper and it was written. Dear Josephine with some other stuff down below you would recognize just from just from experience. Dear Josephine, well, this is probably a letter. This is probably a letter. And it if it was a Dear John letter, that would that would communicate something even very different, wouldn't it. If, if you came across a piece of paper and there was a lot of writing on it, but it started out once upon a time. You would, you would just automatically think, Oh, I'm about to read a story, probably like a fairy tale. Because over time you have picked up the cultural cues for for how literary genres work and how to identify them. Now, that doesn't mean that we always pick up everything from every literary form. We're going to be studying the Bible for a long, long time. And the more that you know, the more that you will see, the more that you'll be able to see. I always laugh at the beginning of the Book of Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament, and it ends 400 years of silence where God is just not speaking. And but then he does speak. And from a from a biblical perspective, how is that silence broken with a genealogy? Yes. Yes. The most exciting form of biblical literature that there is. But but as you look at what Matthew is doing, I don't think Matthew is trying to bore as right out of the gate. He he that's not his goal. But he he picks genealogy to communicate something very significant about about who Jesus is. He's establishing his kingly Davidic qualifications and how Jesus is the one that we have been waiting for from the earliest stages. We also note in in that genealogy that there's only a few women that are mentioned and and and those women that are mentioned. Their stories are rather scandalous in each instance. Why would Matthew include. That those people and not include. Sarah or Rachel or Rebecca, whose stories are not near as scandalous. Why? Why do that? Well, there's probably a reason. There's probably a reason. Could it be that that Matthew wanted to show that that all people are welcome in Jesus's family because Jesus himself comes from less than pristine roots. That could be maybe the inclusion of a few non-Jewish people in there. But there are a couple of non-Jewish ladies who are included in that. Maybe that shows that that Jesus has a heart for the nations because the nations are represented in his own bloodline. That could be as well. But there's a reason for these things. And so look at the different literary genres and study them, paying attention to them. And the more you look, I think, the more that you'll see. If we if we misidentify a literary genre that could result in a skewed interpretation. For example, if you confuse the imprecatory Psalms, imprecatory Psalms are Psalms where a curse has rained down on someone. If we confuse that with law or or the epistles, that kind of literature, you're going to run into trouble. Likewise, the narratives often describe events and describe behaviors without prescribing them. I remember doing a debate one time at a secular university over the issue of is same sex marriage Christian? And and the person that I was debating cited all of David's sexual proclivities as evidence that God wants a wide variety of sexual practices in amongst his people. And and I was and I said there's a difference between what God does, what is described in Scripture and what is prescribed in Scripture. And he looked at me like I was a complete imbecile. Like, why would you say that? That's just arbitrary. But it's it's the case. And the evidence of that, I think, is even played out in David's life. David's sexual proclivities brought nothing but hardship into his life and dysfunction. And so I think there is an inherent criticism of the sin in David's life, as well as explicit criticism of the sin in David's life as well. So narratives will often describe events. That doesn't mean that they're prescribed in the same way you look at biblical proverbs, and we'll look at them in detail later. But but if we think that that the universe always works this way without exception, to the point where every proverb is literally a promise of the Lord, then I think we're going to run into trouble in the form of disappointment when things don't work out the way that the Book of Proverbs says that they usually do. That's not that the Book of Proverbs is wrong, but the Book of Proverbs is a kind of literature, and we have to interpret each kind according to its own rules. More on that later. Mislabeling a biblical genre can be an underhanded way of denying a text truthfulness. I've seen a lot of people label historical narrative as myth. In their attempt to explain why we really don't have to pay attention to the lessons that are taught in it. Principles for interpreting genres can be misused to excuse yourself from the demands of Scripture. For example, Jesus Matthew Chapter five and Sermon on the Mount. He says this If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if everyone forces you to go one mile, go with them to give to the one who begs from you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. These are pretty radical words of Jesus. I've seen people say, Oh, well, Jesus is just kind of talking proverbially, and these are like axioms that he's doing, and we shouldn't take him literally. And in saying we shouldn't taken literally, they're basically saying we shouldn't take him seriously. He's not really asking us to live that kind of life. Well, I think Jesus actually was asking us to live that kind of life. And he gives us some examples of how to do that. So be careful as you are identifying genres not to use genre identification as a way to excuse yourself from having to obey what's written there. In our next session will plunge into the specifics of different literary genres and will begin with biblical narrative.