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How to Read the Bible as Literature Paperback – December 21, 1984
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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.
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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. They were not like Western news accounts that slavishly and almost thoughtlessly repeat details without attention to symbolism or major or minor impacts. These story telling historians generated artful explanations of past events that emphasized certain highlights and deemphasized others. Those master writers crafted some of the narratives like modern mystery stories, not bothering to explain the morality implications of every decision of the characters but using seemingly irrelevant or disconnected scenes and events to point the reader to stunning conclusions about God's view of human behaviors. When reading one must always ask, "Why did a master story teller include that; what did he want to story to gain with that purposeful addition?"
Certainly I do not agree with every small assertion in Ryken's book, but I found the book overall to be an excellent kick-start to understanding the human skill and human intent of the biblical authors. Obviously these men were inerrantly inspired by the Holy Spirit, but just as with us, He employs the human mind and heart to accomplish His ends.
This book is faith building and instructive. It reminds us of truths we long since have forgotten to teach in the church.
Ryken begins by asking the obvious: IS THE BIBLE LITERATURE? - the title of Chapter 1. Of course it is and he continues in the rest of the book to cover the major types, but it's not exhaustive (some of his other titles are more so)
What I liked most about the book was its clarity within the various Chapters and the format of the text. Ryken provides an exceptional number of topical/summary headings in the wide side margins on each page - this makes for easy searching and helps reinforce the reader's learning.
I've purchased, read, annotated and enjoyed this and several other of the author's works on this topic. I've also taught the principles of reading the Bible as Literature and was surprised at how many people never considered this aspect of Biblical interpretation.