Thursday, November 27, 2014

Book Review: A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible

This excellent handbook by Ryken lists, explains, and exemplifies the full spectrum of literary elements that we find in Scripture. It truly is a remarkable companion to Bible study, and I believe it should be on every preacher’s, teacher’s, and Christian’s shelf.

The thesis of the book states: “if we know what the terms mean and how they apply to reading and teaching the Bible, we will see a great deal more in the Bible than we would otherwise.And the ‘if-then’ proves true; when you read the examples drawn from Scripture, you will say, “Aha!” unless, of course, you’re prone use “Eureka!” instead.

Even if the Bible student can’t memorize each term and its implications, a single read-through will familiarize her/him enough with the basic categories to enhance study exponentially, and more importantly: they will garner the eyes to see the Bible as literature—an absolutely indispensable tool. Genre, subgenre, motif, character archetypes, plot mechanisms, symbols, and countless other details are expertly explained in concise fashion: just enough for you to understand what it is and how it is used, and then push you back into Scripture. Indeed, the esteem for Scripture is seen throughout every page—A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible is a servant, not a master.
In several places throughout, Ryken references his work Dictionary of Biblical Imagery for fuller explanations, arguments, and examples; similarly Ryken has edited The Literary Study Bible—and while all three are valuable resources, the Handbook occupies the middle ground: offering a push on the swing (instead of the training wheels/guided tour of the Study Bible or the enduring wrestle of the Dictionary). Ultimately I can’t tell you which resource would be best suited for your use, but it is important to recognize the overlap.

The book delivers an insightful introduction which defends the science of literary study in Scripture. And it offers an index of all the ‘forms’ in case you can’t quite remember the name of ‘that one thing’ that bears upon your passage next Sunday. It should be noted that there is no index of Scripture—perhaps a helpful addition in further editions.


I fully recommend this book without reserve, and I look forward to further editions that might improve unnoticed problems, and maybe even a bonded leather edition to handle all the referencing the Handbook is sure to incur.

*I received a copy from the Publisher as part of their book review program "Beyond the Page." My thoughts are my own, and I was in no way encouraged to write a favorable review.