Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Bible as Literature

Dear friends,

In the 7th-8th grade home school co-op English class that I teach, I try to incorporate Biblical themes as often as possible. We have done literature studies on the lives of Joseph, Daniel, and Esther. We learned about Psalms and Proverbs for a week or two each. We usually do integrated literature/art/music/Scripture units for Christmas and Easter. And we often study books that highlight Biblical themes, such as The Bronze Bow, which is set in Bible times, or The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which is set in Puritan America.

Here is the audio version of the workshop I presented a week ago at the Books & Beyond literature conference in Orlando. I am pasting in my workshop handout text below. I spoke about some things in the workshop (especially letting the Bible launch our children into life rather than holding them into a mold) that aren't in the handout, and visa versa. I know the handouts are pretty sparse. Below the handouts are a whole bunch of web links, not only to articles and resources on my web site and blogs, but many others, too. I'll try to write a more complete article later with examples, but you will at least find some of them in the audio, which is about 45 minutes long.



  1. Purposefully keep Bible central: spiritual nurture, worldview, practical wisdom, academic, thinking skills
  2. Instill a sense of wonder and mystery: Experience with the Bible should not be just do and don’t lists; let the stories and poetry grab your hearts! We are made creative in the image of our Creator.
  3. Ask: What are my goals? What have I been doing? What do I need to change? How can I be creative?
  4. Integrate, don’t isolate: Give overview of Bible and themes. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Read in historical context, not with 21st century assumptions.
  5. Biblical literacy: Sequence/abbreviation of books, vocabulary (sanctification, iniquity, cubit, etc.), use of cross-referencing, concordance, Bible dictionary, commentaries
  6. Literary features: irony, metaphor, alliteration, doxology, flashback, diatribe, epiphany, epithet, fantasy, hyperbole, ode, parable, rhetorical question, satire, tragedy, etc.
  7. Read, Reflect & Respond:
    READ: carefully, not just skim – this takes time!
    REFLECT: by meditating on meaning and deeper themes, not just obvious lessons
    RESPOND: talk about it, copy it, write about it, pray it, apply it – use a journal!


  1. Evaluate plots & themes, Biblical allusions
  2. Study guides such as Total Language Plus and Progeny Press incorporate Scripture
  3. Classics at, ex. Milton’s“Paradise Lost”
  4. Notable authors (C.S. Lewis, Esther Forbes, Patricia St. John, Elizabeth George Speare)
  5. Creative writing: Write profile of Biblical character, psalm, poem, modern short story based on proverb, parable illustrating Biblical truth, research report, persuasive essay, etc.
  6. Science, history & cultural geography: God’s providence & sovereignty in human affairs, exploring creation (plants, animals, stars, ocean) while being aware of what Scripture says
  7. Art, music and drama: appreciate Bible-themed art ( & music (, create songs, illustrate stories, calligraphy verses, puppets, skits


Historical Narratives (found in Old Testament historical books, Gospels, Acts, etc.)

  • Learn from triumphs and tragedies, a mix of good and bad character qualities
  • Look for how the plot rises and falls, twists and turns
  • Profiles: Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, Jonah, Mary, Saul/Paul
  • How do they change: mistakes, growth, consequences, lessons, victories?

Poetry (found in Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, plus sprinkled elsewhere)

  • Imagery, symbolism and metaphor (the Lord is my shepherd, hearts refined as gold)
  • Designed to evoke feeling, inspire awe, and praise to God for his creation & kindness
  • Some has specific literary structure such as acrostics not evident in English translation

Prophecy (found in OT prophetic books Isaiah through Malachi, Revelation, other places)

  • Foretells or foreshadows what will happen in the future
  • Full of imagery and symbolism, some not literal
  • Hundreds of specific prophecies about Messiah made hundreds of years before birth
  • Some things in the Old Testament foreshadow things in New Testament (tabernacle, temple, feasts)

Proverbs and Parables (found primarily in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Gospels)

  • Moral teachings in literary language, with meanings not always immediately apparent
  • Proverbs are pithy, while parables are allegorical stories; both draw vital life lessons
  • Proverbs and parables often use imagery and symbolism

Doctrine and Practical Instruction (found primarily in the Gospels and Epistles)

  • Prose teaching on what to believe and how to act
  • Doctrine requires logic, abstract thinking skills, and careful study
  • Instruction requires obedience – literature becomes life -- not just academics but application

The Bible as Literature

Free study guides and resources for Biblically themed literature and/or writing

Art and Study Questions for the Book of Daniel by Virginia Knowles
Art and Study Questions for the Book of Esther by Virginia Knowles
Psalms Study Guide by Virginia Knowles

The Bronze Bow book by Elizabeth George Speare, set in Bible times with Jesus as a character
The Bronze Bow Literature Study by Virginia Knowles

Johhny Tremain book by Esther Forbes, Revolutionary War era
Johnny Tremain Literature Study by Virginia Knowles

Christmas assignments 2009 by Virginia Knowles
Christmas assignments 2008 (much more complete) by Virginia Knowles
Easter assignments 2009 by Virginia Knowles

Great Commandment & Great Commission
essay assignment by Virginia Knowles

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Literature Study by Virginia Knowles Puritans

Read, Reflect & Respond Bible Note Page designed by Virginia Knowles

The Art of Albrecht Dürer to accompany The Hawk that Dare Not Hunt by Day novel about Bible smuggling during the Reformation -- blog post by Virginia Knowles

Biblically themed poetry by Virginia Knowles

Corpus Christi poem by Virginia Knowles

Bible Gateway - read the major Bible versions on-line

English Standard Version - on-line Bible

Life of Christ - look for Bible Harmony chart with story references for Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Songs and Hymns - lyrics, music, background, more

Christian Classics Ethereal Library - tons of good books on-line for free

Biblical Art - wonderful web site with lots of masterpieces based on the Bible, but please prescreen to make sure each picture is appropriate

Literary Forms in the Bible PDF file

Leo Tolstoy's short story “Where Love Is, God Is”

Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Total Language Plus - literature studies from Christian perspective

Progeny Press - literature studies from Christian perspective

The Book of Virtues edited by Bill Bennett

Treasures of the Snow book by Patricia St. John, Switzerland
Star of Light book by Patricia St. John, Morocco
Rainbow Garden book by Patricia St. John, Wales

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails