Biblical Poetry

Fact and Fiction about the Poetry of the Bible

The purpose of this lesson is to refute commonly held misconceptions about the poetry of the Bible, and in place of these fallacies to assert ten truths on the subject.  Unfortunately, the poetic parts of the Bible lie neglected in many Christian circles, for very flimsy reasons.  A voice of truth needs to be spoken into the abyss.

Video Transcript

This lesson is a ground clearing lesson that will make the rest of the course possible.  Half a century ago, it would not have been necessary to answer objections to immersing ourselves in the poetry of the Bible.  Today there are unwarranted claims that the poetry of the Bible is too difficult for modern readers and that we should therefore omit a third of the Bible from consideration.  We need to reject those claims.

       The lesson falls into three parts.  First I attempt to give a fair and accurate voice to the objections that some people raise to the poetry of the Bible.  Secondly, I examine and refute those claims.  Thirdly, I codify ten things that you need to know about the poetry of the Bible.

       First, why some people ignore the poetry of the Bible and even put pressure on Sunday school teachers not to teach it.  Here, in brief, are the claims, which I fill out in the written version of the lesson.

  1. Poetry is too difficult to understand.
  2. Poetry is optional in a person’s life and not a necessity for everyone.
  3. Poetry is an unnatural form of discourse and therefore does not appeal to ordinary people.
  4. Even though people in Bible times and through the centuries could handle biblical poetry, it is beyond people today.
  5. Poetry is not worth the effort that it takes to master it.

       I assume that your enrollment in this course means that you do not share these attitudes, but it is important that you are acquainted with them so you can speak to them when you encounter them.

       What can be said in reply?  Here is a brief version of what I say as I examine the claims.

       Consideration #1:  exactly how difficult is biblical poetry?

It shows the same range of difficulty that other parts of the Bible display.  Much biblical poetry is easily understood.  Some of it is difficult.  But the same is true of the stories and epistles and visions of the Bible. The Bible is not an easy book to understand in its details.  Poetry is not in a special category of difficulty.

       Consideration #2: why biblical poetry is not optional but required. We know that God intended for us to understand and enjoy poetry because approximately a third of the Bible comes to us in poetic form.  In the written version of this lesson, I will remind you of how pervasive poetry is in the Bible.  God would not have entrusted his word to poetry if he did not expect us to master it.

       Consideration #3:  exactly how unnatural is poetry? First, all of us speak poetry part of the time.  We speak of juggling our schedules and of the sun rising and setting.  When we speak this way, we are using figurative language the way poets do.  Although poetry is not the dominant form of writing in our lives, it is a regular form.  Its difference from ordinary discourse is actually an asset because it makes us take note of a statement.

       Consideration #4:  poetry is not more difficult today than at other times in history.  There is no chronologically-based handicap for modern readers when it comes to poetry.  In fact, our cultural situation that surrounds us with images and that inclines us toward brevity the way texting does makes poetry more familiar than it was in the past.

       Consideration #5:  biblical poetry is definitely worth the effort it takes to master it.  There is a religious side to this and a literary side.  The religious side is that God entrusted a third of the Bible to poetry because it is essential to our spiritual lives. Who would want the book of Psalms excised from his or her Bible?  On the literary side, poetry offers rewards that other literary genres do not.  I myself prefer poetry to other genres.

       Finally, what are the ten things that I think you need to know about poetry?  For purposes of this video introduction, I will simply list them.  In the written version, I expand on them in ways that I think you will find illuminating and interesting.  Here is the list of ten things.

  1. As already stated, God expects you to understand and enjoy poetry.
  2. Jesus is one of the world’s most famous poets.
  3. Poetry requires a “slow read” instead of a speed read.
  4. Everyone is a poet some of the time.
  5. Poetry is not an unnatural form of discourse. In virtually every culture known to us from the past, poetry preceded prose as an accomplished form of discourse.
  6. Poets speak a language all their own.
  7. Poetry is a form of logic.
  8. Poets think in images and figures or speech, and so must we as readers of poetry.
  9. Poetry is a concentrated form of discourse.
  10. Poetry is highly artistic.


       My parting sentence in the written version of this lesson is that “God is not honored, and people are not edified, by lazy Bible readers.”