What is your favorite kind of book to read? Most of us find great satisfaction in reading—whether by snuggling down with a great biography, savoring a collection of poetry, or enjoying a mind-bending mystery novel. But have you ever considered that what you’re going to read affects how you read it?
Understanding the different genres or writing styles of the Bible prepares us to get more out of the Scripture every time we read. The Bible is literature. When we know something about the background, purpose, and writing style, we can learn to appreciate God’s message all that much more!
In this unique study, women will explore the genres of writing in the Old and New Testaments, such as law, narrative history, wisdom writings, and epistles. Books of the Bible that may have seemed hard to read or disconnected from our modern world will suddenly come alive in a whole new way. Along the way, we will begin to lay hold of depth and delight of God’s Word—not just as ancient writings, but as a book that is living, active, and more relevant to our daily lives than we ever imagined.
- 12 sessions of interactive Bible study
- Perfect for individual or group study
- Tips for leading a great group included
About the Author
Margaret Feinberg, one of America’s most beloved Bible teachers, speaks at churches and leading conferences including Catalyst, Thrive, and Women of Joy. Her books, including Wonderstruck, Fight Back With Joy, and Scouting the Divine and their corresponding Bible studies, have sold more than one million copies and received critical acclaim and national media coverage from CNN, Associated Press, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and more. She was named one of fifty women most shaping culture and the church today by Christianity Today. Margaret savors life with Leif, a pastor in Park City, Utah, and their superpup, Hershey.
Read an Excerpt
God's Living Word
Relevant, Alive, and Active
By MARGARET FEINBERG
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Thomas Nelson
All rights reserved.
A Book Like No Other
Andrew Frazer, a godly Irishman, traveled to California to recover from tuberculosis. The disease had taken a heavy toll on his lungs, leaving him barely able to speak. But while visiting a popular Bible teacher, H. A. Ironside, Frazer managed to open up a well-worn Bible and read the Scriptures in ways Ironside had never heard before.
Listening to the sweet words, Ironside brushed tears from his cheeks. He asked Frazer where he had learned his rich insights into Scripture. What books did he need to buy? What professor or seminary had given him such rich treasures?
"My dear young man," Frazer answered. "I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my Bible open before me, I used to "If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior's Frisbee hit it. kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and open the Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world."
This story is a powerful reminder that the Bible is a book like no other. While we can learn much through seminaries and scholarly commentaries, God wants to reveal Himself to us through Scripture as we read and study right in our own homes. Unlike other books you read, the Bible doesn't only offer wisdom for everyday life or practical advice for sticky situations. Through the Holy Spirit, the Bible contains the power to transform you from the inside out as you read, study, and obey.
Second Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." The word inspiration is translated from the Greek word theopneustos and literally means "God-breathed."
Think about this for a moment: God has breathed on, in, and through the Bible.
While a number of writers contributed to the Bible, often adding their own personalites and styles, the real author of the Bible is God.
The Bible isn't a compilation of good ideas or religious ingenuity; its origin is rooted in God. This is His book and His story. God uses the Bible to reveal Himself to us, even today.
Through the Bible, we discover God is good, just, kind, loving, merciful, eternal, and gracious. We learn God is sovereign and true. We catch glimpses of God's power as the One who created and holds all things together. In the Bible, we find not only that God goes to incredible lengths to invite people into a relationship with Himself, but also the consequences of those who choose to reject the loving invitation of God. The Bible also records the many promises and plans of God.
If we want to know God and recognize His voice and presence in our lives, the Bible is the foundation and the filter for this journey. Scripture helps us to grow into mature Jesus followers, learn from our mistakes, and become all God has called and created us to be.
* Three Things to Remember
The Bible is the primary way God communicates and reveals Himself to His people.
As we spend time reading, studying, and obeying the Scripture, we can't help but be transformed into the likeness of Christ and grow in spiritual maturity.
If you're struggling to read your Bible, consider using a different translation that's easier to read or an audiobook Bible that allows you to listen to God's Word wherever you are.
1. What role does reading the Bible play in your spiritual life?
2. On the continuum below, mark the ease or difficulty you face in your attempt to read the Bible every day.
I find reading the Bible every day easy.
I struggle to read the Bible every day.
3. On the continuum below, mark the ease or difficulty you face in relating what you read in the Bible to your life.
I often find what I read in the Bible speaks into the situations I face.
I rarely find what I read in the Bible speaks into the situations I face.
Paul served as a voice of encouragement and as a spiritual mentor to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul warned Timothy difficult times would come.
4. Read 2 Timothy 3:1–15. Which of the things Paul described have you seen or experienced in our modern world? What did Paul encourage Timothy to do in response (hint: verses 14, 15)?
5. Read 2 Timothy 3:16, 17. In the space below, make a list of the four ways Paul gave that Scripture is beneficial. When have you experienced God using the Bible to do each one of these in your life?
6. What does Scripture prepare us for according to 2 Timothy 3:17? When have you experienced this passage to be true in your life?
One of the most important things when reading the Bible is our attitude. If we approach Scripture with the mind-set that it's going to be difficult to read, irrelevant to our lives, or something we need to check off our spiritual to-do lists, then we're probably not going to get much out of it. But if we open God's Word with an attitude of divine expectation, humble prayer, and wide-eyed eagerness, then we're prepared and available for God to speak, lead, and guide us.
7. Read John 14:26 and 1 Corinthians 2:10–14. What role does the Holy Spirit play as you read the Bible? Have you ever taken the time to ask the Holy Spirit to open up the Scripture before you begin reading? If so, what difference did this make?
8. Read Psalm 119:103. How can you begin developing a sweet tooth for God's Word?
The longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119, is considered a Torah psalm because every verse refers to Scripture. Read Psalm 119:11. How have you experienced transformation while reading, studying, and obeying the Bible? How does spending time in the Scripture affect your attitude and approach toward life? When was the last time you felt compelled to do something or not do something because of a passage you read or studied? What prevents you from spending more time reading and reflecting on Scripture?
* Personal Challenge
Commit to reading at least one chapter of the Bible each day this week. If you're not sure where to begin, consider reading in Psalms or one of the Gospels, such as John. Before you read, spend time preparing your heart, mind, and spirit. Ask God to give a sense of expectation for what He wants to reveal. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the passage and raise your awareness of particular words, phrases, or ideas. Ask God to make Scripture alive and vibrant, revealing His heart to you as you read. Open God's Word expectant for how God may choose to answer.
A Portrait of the Character and Heart of God
Imagine cracking open a law book and reading the volume from beginning to end. You'd probably discover many laws and edicts you've never considered, rulings on situations you never thought possible.
Sometimes this is what reading through the Old Testament law, as contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, can feel like. Some of the more than six hundred laws recorded in these books may seem odd at first glance. For example, Numbers 15:38 commands, "Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners."
Now that's a lot of tassels! Why would God command this? The next verse explains, "And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them." In other words, the sight of these tassels was a reminder to obey God. To this day, Orthodox Jews wear prayer shawls that feature these tassels.
Many of the laws found in the Old Testament addressed situations and ways of life foreign to us in the twenty-first century. For example, Leviticus 19:27 instructs men not to clip the hair from their temples or beards, and Leviticus 11:6–8 says that touching the skin of a dead pig will make you unclean. Such passages can lead a modern reader to wonder, "But what if my son wants to grow a goatee or play football in the backyard?"
This is when it's important to remember that the Old Testament law was never given as a means for salvation—that was accomplished through Jesus Christ alone. When you read the Old Testament law, know it's the basis of the old covenant—the rules God established for His chosen people. Because of the new covenant given through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, the law is not binding to Christians, except where explicitly stated in the New Testament.
Many of the laws are non-applicable or irrelevant to us today, so don't worry: your son can grow a goatee and toss a football. However, a few of the laws have been renewed.
When someone asked Jesus which was the most important law in the Bible, He said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40).
Jesus hand-selected Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 as two laws from the Old Testament that remain. The call to love God and love others is timeless. In addition, the Ten Commandments are also referred to throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:21–37; John 7:23).
So if we don't have to obey the hundreds of laws, then why is reading the law still important? Because it reveals wondrous truths about God.
The law isn't given to arbitrarily limit freedom, but to guide, protect, and bless God's people. Through the law, we get to glimpse God's incredible love, intricate involvement, and plans for His people. By studying the law, we also see God's desire to make His people holy. We see what showing loyalty to God above all else looks like. Studying the law also exposes our own sinfulness and reveals how much we need Christ.
Reading through the Old Testament law provides a window into the lifestyle and culture of ancient Israel. Because much of the world the Israelites lived in is foreign to us, picking up a study Bible can be helpful. These types of Bibles contain many bonus features—notes, observations, historical and cultural backgrounds, and more.
Old Testament law called God's chosen people, the Israelites, to love one another in every area of life—even in their work. The law constantly challenged people to walk in greater levels of integrity, kindness, love, forgiveness, generosity, and grace with each other as they followed God.
* Three Things to Remember
The law wasn't given to take away freedom as much as to empower God's people to walk in true freedom and holiness. When followed, the law brought much blessing to the people of Israel.
The Old Testament law is the basis of the old covenant and Israel's history, but isn't binding on Christians, except where renewed in the New Testament such as the Ten Commandments, loving God, and loving others.
When interpreting Old Testament law, keep a commentary or study Bible nearby to shed light onto cultural nuances that we, as modernday readers, may not understand.
1. Read Leviticus 19:9, 10. What does God command in this passage? What does the command reveal about God's concern for the poor and foreigner? What's one way you can demonstrate this kind of care for others in your life right now?
2. Read Leviticus 19:11–18. What does God command in this passage? What are some of the practical outcomes of obeying these laws? What do these laws reveal about God's heart for His people?
The Old Testament law reveals God's concern with all kinds of details—how the people treated each other, animals, and the land. Some of the laws even focused on people's diets. Several passages in the Old Testament law, including Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, list foods to be eaten and others to be avoided.
3. Read Leviticus 11:1–25. In the space below, draw pictures of a few animals the Israelites were forbidden to eat within this passage. Which of the animals listed would be hardest for you to avoid? Which of the animals listed would be easiest for you to avoid?
Scholars note such food laws weren't meant to limit the diets of Israelites but were for protective purposes. The majority of prohibited foods were more likely to carry diseases. In addition, many of the foods were uneconomical or unreasonable to raise in the region. Some of the foods were forbidden because they were popular among religious groups the Israelites were not to duplicate. Modern scientists have pointed out that the main source of Israel's meat, lamb, is the least allergenic of all major meat sources.
The Old Testament law provided something that no other nation had—a covenant or agreement between God and the people. Receiving the law was meant to be a source of blessing for God's people—a sign that He was committed to them and, through obedience, they were committed to Him. Through Christ, the law was fulfilled, ushering in the new covenant, but the Ten Commandments still appeared in the New Testament.
4. Fill in the following chart of commandments and how they are referenced in the New Testament.
5. What is the focus of the first four commandments in Exodus 20:2–11?
6. What is the focus of the last six commandments in Exodus 20:12–17?
7. Which of these commandments challenges you to love God more? Which of these commandments challenges you to love others more? Which of these commandments challenges you to do both?
8. Read Galatians 3:24. According to this passage, what is the purpose of the law? How do the Ten Commandments fulfill this purpose? How does reading and reflecting on the law challenge you to become a more committed follower of Jesus?
God wasn't making a list of dos and don'ts just for fun—He had a plan to bless and prosper the Israelites. But choosing to disobey also carried consequences. Read Leviticus 26:1–46. How did God desire to bless His people for their obedience? What was their punishment for disobedience? How does reflecting on this passage affect your desire to obey God?
* Personal Challenge
Pick up a Bible and read Deuteronomy 6:4–9. Make a list of five different ways you can become more intentional about reading, sharing, and memorizing Scripture. Do one of them each day this week. Be creative! Share your ideas with the group the next time you meet.
Grasping the Big Story of God
If any writing style is most common in the Bible, it's narrative history. If you flip open your Bible, particularly the first half of the book, there's a good chance you're going to open to a page with narrative history. Scholars estimate biblical narrative stories compose 40 percent of the Old Testament and quite a bit of the New Testament.
So what is narrative history? It's simply the stories of what happened to God's people. Some of the stories tell of mind-bending, unimaginable adventures. Others are like well-paced, whodunit mysteries. Still others are slowly unfolding tales that lead to the unexpected aha! moment.
This wildly compelling narrative fills the pages of Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Jonah. You'll find rich narrative among the likes of Daniel, Haggai, Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Job. The page-turning storytelling continues throughout many of the four Gospels and almost all of Acts.
Through accounts of imprisonment and coronation, storms and shipwrecks, we read the harrowing adventures of those who have chosen to follow God. But these stories are always pointing to something, or rather Someone, greater. Through historical narrative we better understand God and ourselves as we see how people responded to God in unique situations and circumstances throughout the years. These stories help us grasp the character of God, His likes and dislikes, and His longing for relationship with us—even when we make huge mistakes.
Excerpted from God's Living Word by MARGARET FEINBERG. Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The World's Most Amazing Book.................... 5
Section One: Sampling the Old Testament Genres.................... 7
1 The Bible A Book Like No Other.................... 9
2 The Law A Portrait of the Character and Heart of God.................... 17
3 Narrative History Grasping the Big Story of God.................... 27
4 Wisdom Literature Living the Best Possible Life.................... 33
5 The Psalms Timeless Songs and Prayers for Every Age.................... 41
6 The Prophets Calling People to Love God and Others.................... 49
Section Two: Sampling the New Testament Genres.................... 57
7 The Gospels Falling in Love with Jesus.................... 59
8 Genealogies Hidden Treasures of the Bible.................... 67
9 The Parables The Power of Jesus' Stories.................... 73
10 The Epistles Love Letters to the Church.................... 79
11 The Apocalyptic Literature The Wondrous Mysteries of God............... 87
12 The Best Book Ever Celebrating the Scripture Every Day................. 93
Leader's Guide.................... 99
About the Author.................... 123