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Literary Styles in the Bible



By:  David Deschesne


Fort Fairfield Journal, March 29, 2017


Response from Pete Underwood follows, below, with editor’s rebuttal


  I once heard a pastor say he believed Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days because the Bible said so, therefore it had to be true.

   I think that’s kind of a childish way of looking at a collection of books written by many different authors over hundreds of years before finally being selected out of over one hundred other competing books to be the “authorized” version by a state-controlled church, whose particular version of the narrative happened to be the one accepted and endorsed by the particular government in power at the time for the purposes of politically unifying the citizenry and quelling dissent while at the same time granting that establishment church an untenable, coercive, iron-fisted rule over the people-at-large with respect to what they were allowed to believe in their own personal religious faith walk, on penalty of torture or even death.

   The reality is the Bible is a collection of books written by many different authors over hundreds of years and it contains many different writing styles as well.  Its books were chosen by a state-run Roman church in the second and third centuries buoyed by the government’s acceptance of that church’s particular brand, or narrative, of Christianity at the expense of all other competing ideas on the Christian experience.

   While Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s caused a significant group of people to split from that Roman Catholic church, the reformers still brought along, and continued to use, essentially the same Bible that was collated and authorized by the establishment church they had just broken away from.  One Catholic researcher recently told me the Protestants are “still using the Catholic Bible.”  For the most part, I believe he’s correct.

  From narratives to allegory, the stories that made it into this Bible are rich and diverse; but they each have to be read in the particular context and understanding of the culture and time period in which they were composed, the idioms inherent in that culture’s vernacular, the colloquialisms of the time and whatever slang phrases may have been used that should not—and cannot—be taken literally using today’s language, vernacular and colloquialisms.

   I will now attempt to present a brief outline sketch of the writing styles inherent in the Bible, give some simple examples and show how the collection of books -the biblia—needs to be read in the appropriate context, not just the simple- minded historical narrative that most pastors pigeonhole it into.  This particular work will only focus on the writing styles at this point.  That some of the stories in the Old Testament, and a significant portion of the New Testament appear to be either adaptations, or outright plagiarisms, of much earlier pagan religious and sun god myths is a topic that will be dealt with in greater detail at a later date, and after further research on my part.

  Now, when you settle down from what I just wrote, on to the styles:



   An aphorism is a short, forceful sentence expressing a general thought.  It could also be a piece of practical wisdom, a maxim or a proverb.  For example the phrases, “A twenty pound chicken is fat,”  “Criminals get what they deserve,”  and “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” are all aphorisms.  Some aphorisms in the Bible can be found at Proverbs 9:7-12; 11:29, 12:4 and 15:4.  Indeed, nearly the whole book of Proverbs is by definition a book of aphorisms. 



  An analogy is a comparison or a likeness in some ways between things that are otherwise not alike.  For example, “A heart is like a pump,” is an analogy and “He is as tall as a tree” is also an analogy.  However, for the tree analogy one must be careful not to take that too literally as analogies are often times simply comparisons for the purposes of clarification or amplification of a statement, or an idea.  A couple of analogies in the Bible can be found at Isaiah 40:31  “...they shall mount up with wings as eagles...” and Isaiah 64:8; “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and all are the work of thy hand.”  In the former analogy it would not be proper to take it literally and think the people will actually sprout eagle wings.  In the latter example, it would not be accurate to consider us as literally clay being formed on a potter’s wheel—because we are quite obviously not.  These are comparisons used to make a point or create an image—not actual, literal events.



  A parable is a brief story that is used to teach some moral lesson or truth.  The story itself does not have to be true, or to have actually happened to somebody.  Its main purpose is simply to teach a lesson.  For example, the story of the “boy who cried wolf” teaches you not to lie about needed assistance just to see people react because eventually nobody will believe you when you really do need it and there really is a life-threatening problem.  This parable is not intended to be a true, historic account of a boy crying wolf, it’s in all likelihood a fiction that was intended to convey a moral lesson. 

   The parables in the Bible act the same way.  Jesus is cited many times in the Gospels as teaching using parables.  Those parables are too numerous to list, or go into detail within the confines of this space, but to mention a few we can look at: The Parable of the Fig Tree; The Marriage Feast; and The Good Samaritan.  These parables are merely teaching tools, not intended to be taken literally or as historical accounts of actual events.



   Paraenesis is a style of exhortation, or strong verbal warning, that is directed at those who already follow a given path or idea.  It is intended to give advice on how best to follow that path.  Paraenesis generally consists of a list of vices and virtues, moral codes and what should be followed or not.

   This form of literary style was used extensively by Greek philosophers and may feature the familiar phrase, “as you know,” in order to remind the listeners to either pursue or abstain from something.  Paul used this style frequently in his letters that ended up in the New Testament. Romans Chapter 1 is a form of paraenesis, as is Chapter 3 and many other parts of that book.  You can also find paraenesis in Galatians 6 and Ephesians 4.  These are just a few examples.  Reading through Paul’s writings, you will surely find many more too numerous to list here.



  A polemic is an argument, dispute or controversy.

   Dr. Michael Heiser described Genesis 1 and 2 as a polemic against the older Egyptian and Babylonian gods.  On his website blog at, he states, “What’s happening in Genesis 1-2 is very obvious to anyone who works in the original text (beyond simplistic word studies) and (important) is familiar with ancient Near Eastern creation stories.  The beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and Canaanites all have shots taken at them.  The biblical authors are clever and fearless in putting forth their theological claim: the world all of us humans experience is the product of the creative power of the God of Israel and no other god, period.”

   A polemic is written in such a way as to make the opponent’s position less tenable and less likely to be believed.


Narrative Dialogue

   The narrative dialogue is the art of telling a story in the first person, as if the person telling the story was recounting from personal experience or observation.  This is a writing style only and while the story being told could be true, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  A plethora of fictional novels use this style of delivery but are obviously not true, nor are they intended to be.

    There are many cases in the Bible where the narrative dialogue style was used.  The Old Testament, starting with Genesis 3 all the way through to Job is almost entirely written in the narrative dialogue format.  In the New Testament, the Gospels are written in narrative dialogue style, as well as most of the books of Acts and Revelation.


Dominical Sayings

   Dominical sayings are statements having to do with Christ as Lord.  It is from the Latin, dominicus—of a lord.

   Some examples of dominical sayings are Romans 3:24-26; Romans 10:9; and I Corinthians 1:9-10.  The example in I Corinthians 1:9 is the easiest illustration of a dominical saying where Paul states, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

  As you read through the New Testament, you will be able to spot many other examples of dominical sayings.



   A colloquialism is a means of conversation that is informal in nature.  It uses figures of speech that, if taken literally, wouldn’t make any sense in the context of the discussion.  For example, the phrase, “He’s in the hole for $1,000” is a colloquialism meaning a person is in debt for $1,000.  The popular television show, Orange County Choppers, of the early 2000’s popularized the colloquialism “sick,” making it mean, “awesome,” or “incredible.”  For example, Paul Jr. would say, “That bike is sick” when he was really impressed with how a motorcycle design turned out.  Taken literally, with sick maintaining its original meaning, the phrase would take the opposite meaning.  However, colloquialisms develop within societies, communities and sub-cultures to take on their own meanings and those meanings are understood by the people in that particular group.

   Another mild form of colloquialism was discovered by someone I know who moved to our area from Illinois.  He noted, “all of your road names begin with the word, ‘the.’”  It seems we here in Northern Maine attach the definite article, “the” to road names such as “The Houlton Road,” “The Caribou Road,” etc. (but we don’t attach the definite article to street names!)  Proper grammar doesn’t require the definite article when mentioning a road’s name, but we have developed our own colloquialisms here in Northern Maine nevertheless.

    The Bible is no different than any other culture’s writings.  It has many colloquialisms in it, too.  For example, it has been suggested the verse cited at the opening of this editorial about Jonah being in the “belly of a whale” could simply have been a colloquialism for Jonah being in a bad situation—similar to our modern colloquialism of a person in debt being, “in the hole.”  Colloquialisms are merely expressions and can’t be taken literally or else they will lose the original meaning they were attempting to convey within the confines of the culture that developed them.

   Some other examples of colloquialisms in the Bible are; I Timothy 5:6, “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”  Taken literally, this colloquialism would suggest that a woman living in pleasure is literally dead.  Obviously Paul was attempting to use that in a figurative sense.  Another is found in Daniel 1:12.  The King James Version, written in the 1600’s says, “...let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.”  This is a 17th century colloquialism meaning to eat vegetables which, taken literally, would have no meaning to today’s English speaking societies.  Another example is Psalm 15:4, “He that sweareth to his own hurt...” translates into today’s colloquialism, “He shot himself in the foot,” meaning a person did something that did not benefit himself, which also adversely affected him.  This cannot be taken literally when it’s in the form of a colloquialism.

   The Bible is filled with colloquialisms and readers are warned to be on the lookout for them so as to not accidently take literally phrases which were intended to be figures of speech extant at the time of the particular book’s writing.



  An allegory is a long, complicated story with an underlying meaning different from the surface meaning of the story itself.  It is a method of speaking or writing characterized by figurative description.   Alice in Wonderland has been said to be an allegory for the high achieved from the drug, LSD; while The Wizard of Oz is an allegory for the United States losing its gold-backed currency and being taken over by a cabal of bankers issuing debt notes as money via the Federal Reserve.

   In the Bible, Christ tells a story of the repentant sinner in allegorical form at Luke 15:11-32.  Rev 12:1-6 is also said to be an allegory and Ezekiel 17 is a parable in the form of an allegory.



   A metaphor is a figure of speech, or saying in which a word or phrase that ordinarily means one thing is used of another to suggest a likeness between the two.  For example, “a copper sky,” “a heart of stone,” and “the sea of life” are all metaphors.  Describing a person as “a rock” is a metaphor meaning they are faithful and unwavering in their endeavors.  This metaphor is used to describe God in Deuteronomy 32:4.

   Other Biblical metaphors are found at Proverbs 13:14, “The law of the wise is a fountain of life.”  Isaiah 64:8 also contains a metaphor analogizing we humans to clay on a potter’s wheel.   Judah is described by metaphor as a “lion’s whelp” in Genesis 49:9.

   There are many other metaphors in the Bible, too numerous to expound upon within this limited space.

   When reading metaphors, either in the Bible or in secular material, it is important not to take the sayings literally because to do so would cause them to lose their original intent and meaning.


   As you can see, there are a lot of different writing styles and ways to read the books of the Bible—each containing their own colloquialisms, metaphors and allegories unique to the period of time and culture in which they were written.  Because of this it is imperative that readers of these books be aware of the various styles of writing and be able to identify them while reading in order to better understand the information being conveyed.  Taking the entirety of the Bible literally, as some readers do, skews the meaning in many cases and causes those readers to come up with a multitude of different meanings and ideas different than what the original writers intended to convey.


(Response and Rebuttal below, published in print version April 12, 2017, p. 6)

Dear Editor:

   I have two questions that I like to ask those persons who deal with the Bible and what it says to us.

  The first questions is, “Where does the Bible come from? Or said another way, “How did the bible get in your hands today?”  You answered it a few weeks ago when you said it comes from the Catholic Church.

  I have never asked a Protestant minister (including Pentecostal and all other fundamentalist preachers) who could tell me correctly where it came from...

   The second question is, “How do you know that the Bible is the Word of God?”  That is the same answer as above, because the Catholic Church says the bible is the Word of God.

   Now, a third question for you and your readers.  Why does the protestant bible have seven less books than the Catholic bible?

   Your March 29, 2017 [editorial] seems to leave out or distort some facts similar to what one might find on the Clinton News Network.  The early church was operating “underground” as the early Christians were being persecuted—often to death, so I really don’t think they were taking orders from the state as to what books were going to be put in the bible.

   The Canon of the Bible was determined at the Councils of Carthage 397 and Hippo 393.  If you want to take time to check these church councils, I am sure you will find the same books in the Catholic Bible as were listed from these councils.

   Now if you want to spend a little time in research, you might find out what the Catholic Church used as criteria in determining which books went into sacred Scripture in the New Testament and which version of the Old Testament was used.

Pete Underwood,

Presque Isle, Maine



   Thanks for writing to allow for a continued discussion and elucidation of my editorial of last edition.

   In answer to your third question above, I actually count ten books from the Catholic bible (my version ©1950 Catholic University Press) that were omitted from the Protestant (I’m using King James Version here, for comparison).  The omitted books are, by my count: 2 Esdras, Tobia, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Sophonias, Aggeus, 1 Machabees, and 2 Machabees.  These are all books from the Old Testament and are collectively known today as “The Apocrypha.” They were extant in some Protestant Bibles, I believe until around the mid-1800s when the Bible societies in the U.S. decided to omit them from future reprints of the Bible.  I have a Revised English Version of the Bible from Oxford University Press (©1989) that publishes the text of those omitted books as “The Apocrypha” in between the Old and New Testaments and also contains books not found in my copy of the Catholic Bible, such as:  A Letter of Jeremiah; The Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three; Daniel and Susanna; Daniel, Bell and the Snake; and The Prayer of Manasseh.

   On the other hand, the Catholic Bible appears to omit the books of Nehemiah and Ecclesiastes that are extant in the Protestant version of the Old Testament.  (I compared the opening verbiage of the Catholic, Ecclesiasticus and the Protestant, Ecclesiastes and found they don’t appear to be the same texts).

   My editorial of last issue was intended to be on literary writing styles in the Bible.  My prefacing paragraphs were embarrassingly brief overviews of the evolution of the Christian religion and Bible to provide a thumbnail sketch synopsis only. Ergo, a lot of contextual information was left out.  I will further elaborate on those paragraphs herein.

   You mention the Councils of Carthage and Hippo.  I wrote on the Council of Hippo a year ago in my May 25, 2016 editorial and have it archived online so I didn’t feel the need to repeat it in last editorial, but I will later on in this response.

   It is true, the early Christians were  badly persecuted, but that persecution had ended decades before the Bible’s final canonization at Hippo. 

   I will now expand on those brief opening paragraphs to give a greater context, lest readers think I am of the “Clinton News Network” ilk.

   In the ensuing years after Christ there was no one “Bible” as we know it today. There were many different sects and many different writings. It wasn’t until Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, around 180 A.D. arbitrarily chose four anonymously authored gospels, out of nearly a dozen to choose from, that an establishment “authorized” version began to be compiled. Many Bible scholars now believe the names “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John” were added as titles to those first gospels many years after they were written and it is unlikely that the people by those names originally wrote those particular books to begin with.1

   The early Christians were horribly mistreated, tortured and killed by the Romans because of their faith.  But that all slowly began to change after Constantine became emperor upon his father's death in 306 AD.  Constantine’s title was challenged by his father-in-law Maximian and brother-in-law, Maxentius, who Constantine subsequently killed in a military campaign at Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. During these campaigns, Constantine is said to have seen a cross in the sky with the words in Greek, "By this cross conquer."  Under this sign, Constantine marched to Rome where he was acknowledged as emperor by the senate in 312. 2

   One of the most ruthless of the Christian persecutors of Constantine’s era was Galerius, governor of the eastern provinces under emperor Diocletian.  He ordered anyone who did not worship the Roman emperor above all other gods to be painfully executed.  However, in a surprising move in 311—a year before Constantine was declared emperor— Galerius issued an edict of toleration to Christians so long as they did not do anything “contrary to discipline."3

   In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan granting tolerance to Christians.  While this was a monumental step toward freedom for the Christians, it was ultimately intertwined with the power of the Roman crown since he saw Christians, now growing in strength, as a strategic advantage in securing the Roman empire from outside invaders. 

   Under Constantine, the Council of Aries was convened in 314.  At that council, Constantine retained his own divine status by introducing the omnipotent God of the Christians as his personal sponsor.  He then merged familiar themes from the pagan religions of Mithraism and Zoroastrianism with the narrative of Christianity under a new, hybrid Church of Rome looking toward a common and unified world religion4 (Catholic means 'universal') with himself at its head. (I’ll have to write more on the Mithras/Zoroastrian merger at a later date when time and space permits.)

   Constantine oversaw the Council of Nicea in 325 AD in order to get all Christians together and on the "same page" by having them form an official Christian doctrine. The Nicene Creed was issued to unite the Pauline sect of Christianity under one banner, resulting in that establishment church declaring any Christians who did not believe its dogma to be ‘heretics.’

   Christians who refused to assent to this "Nicean Creed" were banished from the Empire or otherwise silenced.  Constantine, the "Christian" emperor, then returned home from Nicea and had his wife drowned and his son executed.  He deliberately remained unbaptized until his deathbed so that he could continue his atrocities and still receive forgiveness of sins and a guaranteed place in heaven by being baptized at the last moment.5

   Around forty years after the Council of Nicea, the rhetoric against the "heretics" - that is, anyone who ascribed to religious beliefs that were not from the Catholic church - began to heat up.  In 367 AD, Archbishop Athanasius wrote an Easter letter that condemned heretics and their "apocryphal books to which they attribute  antiquity and give the name of saints."  Early in the fifth century, around 400 AD, Shenoute, Abbot of the White Monastery  at Panapolis threatened Gnostic heretics by stating, "I shall make you acknowledge...the Archbishop Cyril, or else the sword will wipe out most of you, and moreover those of you who are spared will go into exile."  Shortly after that overt threat against the Gnostic form of Christianity, Pachomian monks, in fear of losing the Gnostic texts in their library, buried a collection of those sacred texts in a large clay jar at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.  These texts were lost for 1500 years until, in 1952, a farmer digging for fertilizer at that burial site uncovered them.6  These texts have been dubbed "The Nag Hammadi Texts" and reflect a large overview of early Gnostic Christianity that had otherwise been purged from existence by the Catholic Church's book burning campaign in its early years.

   After the Emperor, Theodosius had cemented the Pauline version of Christianity as the official State religion of the Roman empire in 380, a collection of Christian books deemed in compliance with the Nicene Creed was authorized at the Council of Hippo in Africa in 393. Later, the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council reaffirmed the cannon of Hippo. The books found in the Catholic Bible [and most Protestant Bibles] today were those authorized by the Catholic Church at the councils at Hippo, Trent and the Vatican.3 A decade before Hippo, Pope Saint Damasus, dissatisfied with the many defective Latin texts commissioned Saint Jerome, his secretary, to make a new Latin translation, which was ultimately called the “Vulgate” and was completed in 383.7

   The first known execution of a Christian heretic after the "official" Bible was formed was in 385 when the Emperor Maximus executed Priscillian for teaching Mary, the mother of Christ was a mere mortal human being - as opposed to the semi-divine image held by the Roman Catholic church.  Some of Priscillian's followers were also executed in this blood purge.

   While persecution of heretics by the Catholic Church fell into disuse during the Dark Ages, it was revived in the Middle Ages when Pope Innocent III sent his armed troops to Southern France to eradicate Albigensian heretics.  The purge was not completely successful so a Papal Inquisition was formed to weed out heretics and force them to accept Catholic dogma.  The Pope authorized the use of torture in 1252 to force people to believe Catholic dogma.  With a Papal Bull of 1483 the infamous Torquemada rose to power as Inquisitor General.  He oversaw the burning of 52 heretics at the stake and was responsible for the imprisonment, torture and death of thousands of innocent Spaniards whose only crime was possessing religious beliefs other than Catholic.8

   I'm sure I could expand further on the atrocities of the Catholic church's Inquisition against the so-called "heretics" but I think that would be best dealt with in a stand-alone editorial at a future date - perhaps around Halloween.

   - As an aside, I was raised Catholic, but left that institution years ago.  Since then I’ve been free to read history from all perspectives and come to my own conclusions.

   I invite readers to reference the bibliography in the footnotes, below to do their own research and come to their own conclusions.  These are obviously not Catholic sources, but none of these authors have demanded the reader believe their writings on pain of torture, loss of property, or even death.

David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal



1.) Alternative Christianities, Vol. 1, ©2014 Vince Nicolas, pp. 275-3782

2.) Lincoln Library of Essential Information, ©1965 Frontier Press Co., Vol. II, p. 1770

3.)  A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker, ©1959 Charles Scribner’s Sons, p. 100

4.  Bloodline of the Holy Grail, ©1996 Laurence Gardner, p.p. 112-113

5.) The Jesus Mysteries, ©1999 Tim Freke and Peter Gandy, p. 11

6.)  The Nag Hammadi Library, James M. Robinson, general editor, Revised edition ©1988 E.J. Brill, pp. 19-20

7.) Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 3, ©1958 pp. 506, 516

8.) The Most Evil Men and Women in History, Miranda Twiss, ©2002 Michael O'Mara Books, Ltd, pp. 52-55



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