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Major Genres In The New Testament

Major Genres in the New Testament

The Gospels are the proclamation of the ‘good news’ about Jesus and intended to establish or increase the people’s faith in him.   They are portraits of the life of Christ, his teachings, his actions,  and his death, burial, and resurrection. (I.e.-Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)  The Book of Acts is a partial narrative of the beginnings and growth of early Christianity.  It is not a concise history of the early Church but focuses on the actions of the early primary leaders of the Church.  (I.e.-Acts) The Letters are tangible letters addressing practical and theological issues relevant to particular communities of faith in the first century.   (I.e.-Letters of Paul)  The section of New Testament Biblical literature called Church Orders is a collection of instructions for the practical organization of religious communities.  (I.e.-1 Timothy,  Titus)  A Testament is a document that gives a dying person’s last wishes and instructions for his or her successors.  In the New Testament’s case it is the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter giving instruction. (I.e.-2 Timothy, 2 Peter)  This Homily/Sermons section is an exegetical sermon that cites and interprets older biblical texts (The Old Testament) in reference to Jesus.   (I.e.-Hebrews) The Wisdom Collection is of general instructions on how to live an ethical Christian life.   (I.e.-James) The Epistles are more stylized literary works in letter format.  They served as ‘circular letters’ intended for broader audiences.   (I.e.-1 and 2 Peter)  Apocalyptic Literature is a vivid symbolic narrative that “reveals” God’s views about a historical crisis in order to provide encouragement for a difficult present and a hope for a better future.   (I.e.-Revelation)

The above lists are not comprehensive but include the most prominent categories of biblical literature.  There are other smaller genres found within the various books.   For example, the New Testament Gospels contain narrative literature,  discourse material, and some mixed genres.   Narrative genres include genealogies, narrator’s introductions,  transitions and summaries, miracle stories, conflict and controversy stories,  visions, reports, etc.  Discourse genres include parables and allegories, hymns and prayers, laws and legal interpretations, exhortations, short individual sayings, longer speeches,  discourses and monologues, etc.  Mixed genres include longer narratives that contain extended dialogues and pronouncement stories.  Many of these sub-genres can be further sub-divided; for example, miracles can include healings, exorcisms, restoration miracles, nature miracles, etc.  Another example is the psalms, which include enthronement psalms, processional psalms, individual laments, hymns of praise,  etc.  Failure to take the type of literature into account may lead to a skewed interpretation of the biblical passage.  Figurative language communicates truth in a symbolic way.


As we have seen in the four foundational questions, “What is the Bible?  How was the Bible Written?  How did we get the Bible?  and How do we interpret the Bible? our ability to understand the Bible will be based primarily on how we answer those four foundational questions.  If this introductory study is going to be successful, the basic concepts of lesson one will set the stage for a life long, rewarding, and fulfilling look at the Scriptures.

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