As we continue to examine Leland Ryken’s recent publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we have moved into chapter 4, where Ryken treats the greatest classic of literature, the Bible.
Previously, we looked at what this means in general. Today we can go on to consider the Bible itself as literature, which is what Ryken emphasizes in the next section. Here are some of his thoughts on this:
But is the Bible a literary classic (the subject of this book)? Yes, it is. It meets all the criteria that make a text literary. For at least a century it has been common to designate this aspect of the Bible with the formula ‘the Bible as literature.’
Before I confirm the accuracy of that label, I want to dispel four misconceptions that might be obstacles to accepting the literary nature of the Bible. [Here I will edit and abbreviate where necessary.]
- To view the Bible as literature is not a modern idea, nor does it need to imply theological liberalism. The idea of the Bible as literature began with the writers of the Bible, who display literary qualities in their writings and who refer with technical precision to a wide range of literary genres such as psalm, proverb, parable, and apocalypse.
- Although fictionality is a common trait of literature, it is not an essential feature of it.A work of literature can be replete with literary technique and artifice while remaining historically factual.
- To approach the Bible as literature need not entail viewing it only as literature, any more than reading it as history requires us to see only the history of the Bible.
- When we see literary qualities in the Bible we are not attempting to bring the Bible down to the level of ordinary literature; it is simply an objective statement about the inherent nature of the Bible. The bible can be trusted to reveal its extraordinary qualities if we approach it with ordinary methods of literary analysis (pp.37-38).
Those are good things to bear in mind when we consider the Bible as a classic of literature. I hope Ryken’s thoughts put to rest any fears you may have about viewing the Bible this way.