Once we have established the boundaries of the passage we are studying, and are confident that we have the best reading, we can march ahead in our exegesis. In the second step, we seek to understand the background and context of the passage.

First, we need to identify and explain the significance of literary form and genre. We should not apply different hermeneutic approaches for different genres – we need to be consistent in our methodology, but recognizing the type of literature will help us in a number of these steps. There are essentially five basic literary forms used in the Bible:

Primary Historical Narrative – historical narrative which advances the chronology of Biblical history, including Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, The Gospels, and Acts.

Complementary Historical Narrative – historical narratives which complement (as contemporaries of) the primary historical narratives. This category includes Job, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Ruth, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Esther.

Poetry and Praise – includes Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations.

Prophecy – interspersed with historical narrative and poetry, this form presents, usually, God’s revelation of judgment and restoration. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel (although not included in the Nebi’im section of the Hebrew Old Testament, its form is prophetic and complementary historical), the twelve minor prophets, and the New Testament book of Revelation.

 Epistles – letters including Pauline and general epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude).

Genres like near east myth, Greco-Roman bios, and apocalyptic literature are not Biblical. While some argue that Genesis is Near-East myth, Genesis claims to be and is attested to be historical narrative. While some perceive the Gospels as Greco-Roman bios, they claim to be historical narratives representing actual events. While some argue that Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic, they have internal claims to and external attestation of historical narrative and prophecy, bearing little similarity to extra-Biblical apocalyptic literature.

contextOnce we understand the literary genre, we can have some insight into the building blocks of the book, and of the passage we are handling.

Next, to continue our pursuit of the background and context, we need to research key questions regarding the background of the book – questions like (1) Who wrote this book? (2) To whom did is the book addressed? (3) Where was it written? (4) When was it written? (5) What was the occasion of the writing? (6) What was the purpose for the writing? (7) What were the circumstances of the author when he wrote? (8) What were the circumstances of those to whom he wrote? (9) What does the book tell us about the life and character of the author? (10) What are the main arguments and ideas of the book? (11) Is there a single, central theme of the book? (12) What are the characteristics of the book? These are a few important questions we try to answer from the text itself. If we can’t find answers in the text (or nearby texts), then for now we accept our limitations and press on to other questions.

From our pursuit of background and context, we should summarize our findings, highlighting the following elements: historical, social, geographical, authorship, date, and literary form. Finally, we should explain how these findings are significant to the interpretation of the passage.

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