The Bible is an anthology of so many different literary genres and techniques that the effect may finally threaten to confuse us. But literary unity will emerge if we remember the underlying principles.

The overall framework of the Bible is that of a story. It begins with the creation of the world and ends with the consummation of history and the recreation of the world. The plot conflict is a prolonged spiritual battle between good and evil. The central character is God, and every creature and nation interacts with this mighty protagonist. Every story, poem, or proverb in the Bible fits into this overarching story.

Furthermore, all of the literary parts of the Bible share the defining traits of literature itself. They present human experience concretely, so that we can share an experience with the author and with characters in a story or poem. The literary parts of the Bible all display technical skill and beauty. They also employ special resources of language, so that we are aware that the writers are doing things with language that go beyond ordinary uses.

Finally, despite the diversity in literary genres found in the Bible, the principle of genre itself helps to organize the picture. Virtually anywhere we turn in the Bible, we are aware that the passage or book belongs to a specific literary genre—a genre that follows its own conventions and that requires a definite set of expectations from the reader.

The Bible is a book for all people and all temperaments, from the prosaic, matter-of-fact reader to the person who likes far-flung fantasy and visions. The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky had one of his fictional characters exclaim, “What a book the Bible is, what a miracle, what strength is given with it to man. It is like a mould cast of the world and man and human nature, everything is there, and a law for everything for all the ages. And what mysteries are solved and revealed” (The Brothers Karamazov).

This is an excerpt from The Origin of the Bible by F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, Philip Comfort, and Carl F. H. Henry. To read more, you can purchase this book from many Christian bookstores and online retailers, including

Ryken, L., et al. The Origin of the Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020.