If you’ve ever opened a Bible before then you know that there are many different types of literature contained in the book. Sometimes you find poetry. Other times you find history full of narratives and lists. On another occasion, maybe what you discover are law codes, or parables, or even some otherworldly stories known as apocalyptic literature. Though we speak of the Bible as “the good book” and the word “Bible” itself comes from the Greek word for “book” it is hardly a single work with a single style. The Bible is a collection or library of works, rich in substance, varied in expression. There is no single genre but many. These genre differences even affect the order or categorization of books in the Bible. The books are grouped together according to style.
If we view the Bible as a book of books, how should we understand the various subdivisions? Have you ever thought about that? Why is the Bible in the order that it is? It would do us well to label these divisions. Although there are various lists, a helpful way to categorize the books of the Bible are: Law, History, Poetry/Wisdom, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles, and Apocalyptic.
This division roughly follows the pattern or book order we find in our Bible’s table of contents. The Law entails the books of Genesis to Deuteronomy, the History involves works like Joshua to Esther, the combined collection of Poetry/Wisdom is found in Job to Song of Solomon, the Prophets are Isaiah to Malachi, the Gospels include Matthew to John (Acts stands alone as a history book, though it functions as Luke’s sequel to the Gospel which bears his name), the Epistles entail the letters of Paul and others from Romans to Jude, and the last is the Apocalyptic subdivision seen in the book of Revelation.
The first thing we ought to note is how gracious is our God. He didn’t simply send us a list of do’s and do-not’s. Often people may portray Christianity as such but this merely reveals a lack of awareness on their part. God did not simply give us lists; though lists are important. He didn’t merely give us stories, though they too are marvelous. The Bible is rich in divisions and genres for both the development of the disciple of Christ, but also for our delight. These stories and divisions are for our enjoyment.
But they are also for warning. We sometimes need to learn lessons from various teachers. It is one thing for us to learn broadly about the dangers of sin from a commandment. It’s another thing to see how that very sin works itself out in the life of real people. Take for example Scripture’s warning against adultery. We can read about adultery’s prohibition from the Law in Exodus 20:14, but we can also watch its corrosive and ever-expanding fall out in the life of David from history in 2 Samuel 11. We could learn about its spiritual corruption from the prophets, where the language becomes rather colorful (Hos. 4:13). We could even see it play out in wisdom from Proverbs 5-7.
What are we noticing? God’s Word is meant to get into us in very deep ways. He doesn’t simply provide us one way to teach us something. He gives us a cornucopia of options so that, by various means, He might show us life as it is meant to be and warn us against cheap substitutes which inevitably devour our heart and soul.
This is displayed most chiefly though through the Gospel. God delivered us His Word so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 ESV) God has delivered His Gospel to us and done so beyond the books known as the Gospels. He preaches this good news to us verbally through preaching, visually through reading the Bible, but especially in the sacraments, God engages all five of our senses. Why? So that through every means available, we might know His holy, just, good, and gracious character. In other words, He is glad to gift us through various ways.