How do we know what's true in the Bible?
One way to safeguard against misunderstanding the intent of an author is to
determine the kind of writing the author has chosen to use. Any piece of writing
has a particular literary form: poetry, prose, fiction, essay, letter, historical
account and so on. This is as true of the biblical books as of any piece of
If we misunderstand an author's literary form, we will misunderstand what the
author intends to say. In order to understand what we are reading, then, we
have to make allowances for the form and change our expectations accordingly.
Now let's look at how literary form functions in the Bible. One of the inspired
biblical authors—the author of the Book of Job—has written in the
form of a debate. This literary form demands that you be as persuasive as possible on both sides of an issue. If you write on the side you agree with persuasively
and the side you disagree with poorly, you have not written a good debate.
Now, if you did not know that the Book of Job is a debate, in which some of
the characters argue persuasively for the point of view with which the author
disagrees, you might read an isolated passage and conclude that the book teaches
the opposite of what the author intended to teach. You might think that the
friends are teaching a valid message about suffering.
If we look at the book as a whole, we discover that the author places the truth
he is teaching not on the lips of Job's friends but on the lips of God.
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