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How to Read the Bible as Literature Paperback – December 21, 1984


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan; 1 edition (December 21, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310390214
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310390213
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Why the Good Book Is a Great Read

If you want to rightly understand the Bible, you must begin by recognizing what it is: a composite of literary styles. It is meant to be read, not just interpreted. The Bible’s truths are embedded like jewels in the rich strata of story and poetry, metaphor and proverb, parable and letter, satire and symbolism. Paying attention to the literary form of a passage will help you understand the meaning and truth of that passage.

How to Read the Bible as Literature takes you through the various literary forms used by the biblical authors. This book will help you read the Bible with renewed appreciation and excitement and gain a more profound grasp of its truths.

Designed for maximum clarity and usefulness, How to Read the Bible as Literature includes * sidebar captions to enhance organization * wide margins ideal for note taking * suggestions for further reading * appendix: "The Allegorical Nature of the Parables" * indexes of persons and subjects

About the Author

Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) is professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he has twice received the "teacher of the year" award.


More About the Author

Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) is Professor of English at Wheaton College. He has authored or edited several books, including The Word of God in English, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, and The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible. He is a frequent speaker at the Evangelical Theological Society and served as literary stylist for The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

Customer Reviews

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See all 16 customer reviews
This book is very readable.
Jean Arno
The application of the principles to numerous biblical examples make this book an ideal introduction to the topic.
Garrett Craig
It is a quick and interesting read which I recommend for any one interested in knowing more about this great book.
T. Dahlstrom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Culp on August 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ryken does well with his introduction to the Bible as literature. This work is clear and tight, the way such a book ought to be. Perhaps its greatest virtue is that it works within the traditional western categories of literature, explaining them all along (for those of us who don't remember everything from our school days!). As such, the ideas and terms will ring familiar, at least faintly, with most of us educated in the States, and it will offer a sound introduction to the Bible as literature.

With this said, though, perhaps the greatest weakness of this book is that same characteristic. Traditional categories are a good place to start, but the reader must, at some point, go beyond these into the more Hebrew-specific realm of reading. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament truly is, despite some opinion, a masterful work, but to understand it as such one must become familiar with just how it works. Wonderfully, there are writers, such as Robert Alter and Adele Berlin, who have written well on precisely this topic.

In the end, this book is a great place to start. It offers a well-grounded foundation for reading the Bible literarily, and as long as the reader knows its strengths and limitations, it will serve him well.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Travis D. Hutchinson on August 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Ryken's book, written by an Evangelical professor of literature, is an excellent introduction to reading the Bible. It is a short and simple handbook, separated into categories of biblical literature, which will help the reader understand how the different genres (types) of literature in the Bible "work." This is not a book on "interpreting" the Bible, but on "reading" the Bible. Many Christians miss that reading should always precede interpretation.

Reading involves more than words and grammar, we have to learn how genres work. Some genres we have to learn to appreciate (such as how to "read" the poetry of Emerson). Others are written so close to our methods of normal communication they come easily (such as newspapers or popular novels). The Bible contains genre which seems familiar (historical narrative), but some of the narrative leaves the reader with the feeling that she didn't quite "get it." Other genres in the Bible are terribly foreign; Hebrew poetry is dramatically different than English, prophecy is often completely alien to Western readers. By helping us understand how these types of literature communicate their message, Ryken helps us read the Bible in a way which makes it understandable.

I have not yet found an Evangelical book which accomplishes this task better than Ryken's. I heartily commend it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By T. Dahlstrom on November 22, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the author notes, the Bible is not a theological outline with proof texts attached. He states that we have been so preoccupied with the hermeneutical question of how to interpret what the Bible says that we have been left impoverished in techniques to describe and interact with the text itself. I have found this to be true in my life. This book brings out the richness of the Bible in introducing its literary forms and allowing the reader to get more out of the Bible as a result. It is a quick and interesting read which I recommend for any one interested in knowing more about this great book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Hodgson on December 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
I teach a college course titled "Bible as Literature," a general education elective course aimed at all majors. I have used "How to Read the Bible as Literature" alongside the NRSV for the past ten years. Too many of the textbooks geared toward such a class begin from the assumption that every reader is an atheist. Dr. Ryken's book, without falling into sectarianism, treats the bible as a sacred text, not simply an artifact. The chapters are simple, straightforward, and clearly organized--exactly what students need for an introductory class.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jean Arno on December 31, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a believer, I have always felt the Bible was the inspried Word of God. When I first encountered this title, I was offended. Having to read this book for a class on education, I came to value the book as literature as well. This book is very readable. The chapters are written in a chart format and each can stand alone. It also solidifies the Bible as a whole, though it is one book made up of 66 books with about 40 different writers writing in many literary styles. Whether or not you believe the claims of this book, you should read this book. It is amazing how truly unified it is. The Bible as Literature is well written and easily readable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By InHisHand on October 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was shocking! Some years ago when I first picked it up, it admonished me, a Bible believing evangelical, to read holy Scriptures in a manner I had never contemplated doing so before: as literature written by master word-artisans from other centuries.

For many the above admonishment may be old hat, but for me it was like a lightning strike and quite revolutionary in my thinking. At first I considered that the thought might even be blasphemous. But Ryken opened a whole world of explanations for why the narratives, poetry, and letters contain the elements they do.

Far from eroding my faith in the Word this book most strongly bolstered it. Finally I understood that Hebrew poetry (the Psalms and Proverbs for example) were not doctrinal dictates with apparent contradictions that seemed to need to be reconciled but were to be understood as emotive outpourings filled with hyperbole, imagery, lies that we tell ourselves, and sarcastic commentaries on then-contemporary society and about the way believers live in society, all in an effort to reflect back to us what is in our hearts as opposed to what God would want our hearts to be. In other words, Hebrew poetry functions much as Western poetry does. It is a mistake to read Hebrew poetry as a literal study in doctrine.

Ryken takes pains to examine every major literary genre in the Bible and illustrate how that genre should be generally read for understanding. The goal is to gain the meaning that the original author intended to convey using the styles and literary tools available to him at the time.

Many of the narratives were crafted to be timeless and engrossing stories about historical events.
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