A Biblical genre is a classification of Bible literature according to literary genre. The genre of a particular Bible passage is ordinarily identified by analysis of its general writing style, tone, form, structure, literary technique, content, design, and related linguistic factors; texts that exhibit a common set of literary features (very often in keeping with the writing styles of the times in which they were written) are together considered to be belonging to a genre. In Biblical studies, genres are usually associated with whole books of the Bible, because each of its books comprises a complete textual unit; however, a book may be internally composed of a variety of styles, forms, and so forth, and thus bear the characteristics of more than one genre (for example, chapter 1 of the Book of Revelation is prophetic/visionary; chapters 2 and 3 are similar to the epistle genre; etc.).
Within the discipline of literary analysis, the existence and subjectivity of genres is a matter of some debate. This is reflected to a lesser degree in academic discussion of Biblical genres. However, isolating the broad genres of the Bible and discerning which books/passages belong to which genre is not a matter of complete agreement; for instance, scholars diverge over the existence and features of such Bible genres as gospel and apocalyptic. Furthermore, some detect subgenres—more narrowly defined compositional categories within a genre—in surrounding historical literature, and speculate that certain books and passages of the Bible may be better denominated by subgenre (e.g., it may be claimed that the book of Philemon is not simply a generic letter, but a personal letter). Despite such differences of opinion within the community of Bible scholars, the majority acknowledge that the concept of genre and subgenre can be useful in the study of the Bible as a guide to the tone and interpretation of the text.
By way of literary comparison with the Bible, the Qur'an is claimed to be a recitation by Allah to the prophet Muhammed in didactic form, and so does not have the degree of genre diversity that is evidenced in the Bible; although there is a difference in style and themes between the Meccan surrahs and the Medinan surrahs when Muhammed moved from Mecca to Medina. In contrast, the Bible is claimed to be inspired by God and organically written and compiled by many authors over a very long period of time, and so takes a wide variety of forms.
Genres in the Bible
Among the generally recognized genres and categorizations of the Bible are the following (note that other systems and classifications have also been advanced):
- Historical narrative/epic: Genesis and the first half of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jonah, and possibly Acts
- The Law: the last half of Exodus; also Leviticus, Deuteronomy
- Wisdom: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
- Psalms: Psalms, Song of Solomon, Lamentations
- Prophecy: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
- Apocalyptic: Daniel, Revelation
- Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and possibly Acts
- Epistle (letter): Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude