Types of Old Testament Literature

When one looks to the Old Testament writings, it’s quite clear that there is amazing continuity between the basic divisions of the OT Scriptures, namely, the Pentateuch, the historical writings, the Major and Minor Prophets and the wisdom writings. However, despite the amazing continuity between these basic divisions, there are also differences between the types of writings, with the internal emphasis of the wisdom/poetic literature differing from, but not conflicting with the other types of literature found in the OT literature. Hassel C. Bullock notes that the poetic writings speak “from man to God,” while the prophetic works “speak for God to man” (Bullock, Poetic Books, 19). In this sense, “wisdom . . . distinguished itself in ways that were not characteristic of law and prophecy” (Bullock, 31).

For instance, the prophetic writing worked to warn, inform and comfort God’s covenant people Israel in various stages of their experiential relationship with YHWH, while wisdom/poetic writings served in essence as “man’s reflection upon God and His response” (Bullock, 20). But, at the same time, wisdom did not reject prophecy and prophecy did not reject wisdom, and while there may be a difference in the emphasis between each of the types of writings, they nevertheless well support one another, as Bullock notes when he speaks about the “congenial spirit of wisdom towards prophecy” (Bullock, 32) as noted in Proverbs 8.

Likewise, there are both similarities and dissimilarities between wisdom and law. First, law “regulated every facet of Israelite life” (Bullock, 32) and in this sense, it is much like wisdom which attempted to “develop a comprehensive of thought and behavior, reaching into every facet of life” (Bullock, 33). And, while there are dissimilates between the emphasis of each class of writing (i.e. the law is given as a covenant contract that serves as judicial wisdom with specific function in the moral, civil and ceremonial realm), it is obvious that any attempt to apply the law either personally of corporately without the emphasis of the wisdom relayed in the poetic literature would be disastrous. This is noted by Bullock when he states, “It is doubtful that wisdom as a religious phenomenon was ever intended to stand alone. It undergirded the law . . . while it shared the concerns of the prophets for truth, justice and righteousness” (Bullock, 34).


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