As we continue to examine Leland Ryken’s recent publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are looking at the content of chapter 4, where Ryken treats the greatest classic of literature, the Bible.
Previously, we looked at what this means in general (that the Bible is a literary classic). Then we considered some objections that can be raised when viewing the Bible this way. Today we can go on to consider some of the literary traits of the Bible, which is what Ryken discusses in the next section.
This is the way he describes the first trait of the Bible as classic literature (“starting at the level of content or subject matter”):
The impulse of literary authors is to present human experience as concretely as possible, not to present ideas in philosophic or theological form. Literature enacts rather than summarizes. It is a picture of life, not a collection of ideas about life. Literature is an incarnation of human experience, and as such it ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’ (the common formula used by teachers of literature and imaginative writing as they distinguish the method of concretion from the method of abstract generalizing.
While the Bible is not wholly literary in its content, it is overwhelmingly so. Its stories show us characters in action in its specific settings. Its poems speak a language of images. Its visions are filled with concrete pictures that we see in our imaginations. The Bible is not a theological outline with proof texts attached. The sixth commandment states propositionally, ‘You shall not murder.’ The story of Cain and Abel incarnates that truth in character and action, without even using the abstraction murder. At least 80 percent of the Bible is literary in this way (pp.38-39).