Archive for March, 2017

What kind of book is it anyway? Part One.

Posted: March 29, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

We started our journey into the heart of Bible by thinking about how it came to be. We discovered that it was written by many people in many places over many years, and so it perhaps should not surprise us to realise that it contains many types of writing.

Think back to your GSCE (or O Level) English, and you may remember talking about genre, which is all about the style and purpose of a text. A poem is trying to do something very different to a newspaper article, so we need to come at it with a different set of expectations, and it uses language very differently, so we need a different set of tools in order to interpret it.

Genre helps shape the way we approach and understand what we are reading, and so if we want half a chance at getting to grips with the Bible, we need to know what kinds of literature we are dealing with.

A standard categorisation of the Bible by genre looks something like this:

bible genres.jpg


It’s nice and neat and easy to remember, but there are a number of complications and variations:

  • Genesis is classed as law, but it doesn’t contain any laws. There are some important instructions – “don’t eat the fruit”, “go forth and multiply”, “build a big boat” to name a few – but nothing codified. In fact the laws don’t appear until the latter part of Exodus. Everything up until then is narrative, and there are more tales to come once we get to the laws. Essentially, one of the most striking features of biblical law is the fact that it is set within the story of a people, making it quite a task to untangle history and law.
  • Poetry and wisdom are sometimes split up, so that the Psalms are classed as poetry and the others in this category are identified as wisdom, but that ignores the wisdom in the psalms and the extensive use of poetry in the other books. And to confuse things even further, Lamentations gets bundled up with the prophets but really sits better with poetry and wisdom.
  • Daniel is sometimes separated from the rest of the prophets and designated as apocalypse. Revelation is also apocalypse, although to make things trickier, it is written in the form of a letter.
  • Speaking of letters, there is much scholarly debate over Paul’s letters, with some academics holding that a number of them (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) were not written by Paul but by a follower or imitator. And whoever wrote the letters, they contain snatches of poetry and storytelling and instruction and end times stuff, putting them at the centre of a venn diagram of biblical genres.


And that’s before we even get to the issues with the genres themselves, or at least with our understanding of them:

  • The purpose and character of historical writing has changed over time. We’ll say a little more about that later, but using the word history to describes chunks of the Bible sets up certain expectations that aren’t necessarily going to be met. Using the term ‘narratives’ may sidestep some of those problems, although it may create new ones of its own.
  • Prophecy and apocalypse are no longer categories we are familiar with, or at least not in the form they took in the cultures the Bible grew out of. People still share words from God, but we tend to treat those messages as intensely personal and they rarely reach an entire nation, and there are still some who devote time and energy to thinking about the end times, but they are generally dismissed as a little bit crazy.
  • The gospels are a genre all of their own, combining biography and teaching in a way that has little if any parallel. That makes it tricky for us to know what to expect from them, and it doesn’t help that each of the gospel writers had their own distinctive approach.
  • It is interesting to remember that there is no separate genre of theology, because in one respect it is all theology, but that can lead us to the mistaken assumption that every word carries equal doctrinal weight. If the Bible is anything it is words about God – except Song of Songs which makes it into the Bible without mentioning God once – but some books are more systematic or philosophical in their approach than others.


All of this is to say that the way we designate and define genre is problematic, and so we must avoid a tendency to approach a text with very fixed ideas about it. We also need to remember that genre can only give us the broad strokes of a text anyway, and so we have to consider more specific details such as context and authorship if we want to start filling in the details.

But having said all of that, all the genres listed on the graphic above are in the Bible, even if they are woven together in a slightly more complicated arrangement and have a few more nuances to them, so in our next post we will look at each of them in turn.


Getting to Grips with the Bible

Posted: March 22, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Things have gone quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks, but I promise it’s not a Lenten fast, it’s just that the activity has shifted elsewhere.

We’ve just started a new teaching series at Revive, in which we will be attempting to get to grips with the why / what / who / when / how of the Bible. This is a big one, because so much of our faith and our understanding depends on how we read the scriptures, and so we want to find ways of recording our learning and our conversations.

To that end, Simon has kicked us off by blogging over on his own site, and you can find Part 1 and Part 2 here. Head over and give them a read if you haven’t already, and watch out for more to come.

UPDATE: You can now read Part 3 and Part 4 too.




Marking Lent

Posted: March 1, 2017 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Today is the start of Lent, forty days (depending on how you count it) of reflection, leading up to Easter. Here I have collected a number of different ways of marking the season and setting aside time for contemplation and action.




40 Acts

40 Acts is a “generosity challenge for Lent”, encouraging people to carry out small kindnesses that can make a difference. The website is updated every day or you can sign up to get an email straight into your inbox.


40 Thoughts

This Facebook page posts a simple thought or challenge for each day in Lent, and if last year is anything to go by, they will start some interesting thoughts of your own.


Leeds Prayer Diary

Every year, Pray4Leeds produces a Prayer Diary for Lent, with a different Christian organisation to pray for each day. This year there will be a few that are familiar to Revive, so be encouraged by the fact that people all over the city will be praying for things we are involved in, and join them in praying for other groups you may not yet have heard of.


Living Lent Daily

This is a daily series of scripture-based reflections, which you can sign up to receive as emails. It comes out of the Jesuit tradition of spirituality, which has been significant for me for some years now.


How to Disappear Completely

Si’s art was at the heart of our Easter worship last year, and this year he has produced a comic reflecting on some of the themes of Lent and life in Leeds. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.


Yorkshire Baptist Association Reflections

The YBA have asked different people to reflect on how they encounter Jesus in their everyday life. Here is a link to the first of the weekly reflections, with a familiar face or two…


I hope there is something here that sparks your interest, but even if not, I encourage you to take this excuse to find more moments of quiet, and start new habits in your life and spirituality.