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A Good Example of Generic Misidentification

December 22, 2009

If you hang around biblical scholars long enough you’ll eventually hear them talk about generic identification and its importance.

In a nutshell, there are different genres in the Bible and one of the primary steps in any interpretive process is identifying the genre of the passage or book you are working on. This is important for a variety of reasons. For example, you would not read a “Dear John” letter with the same reader expectations as a comic book, or a letter addressed “To Whom It May Concern.” The genre has a lot to do with how someone reads and understands any writing. To read Mad magazine the same way as Time magazine would be insane. Recognizing the genre of each determines the ways in which they are read.

The Bible contains historiography, law codes, prophecy, Psalms, Laments, Wisdom literature, letters, and apocalypses–to name but a few–and to read all of these different genres with the same reader expectations would be ludicrous and misleading.

I recieved a comment here this week that I think demonstrates the validity and need for correct genre identification. Sometime back I wrote a playful and silly article on why Tiger Woods is the antichrist. Like much of the material posted here it was overstatement, half-correct, and humor-oriented in an attempt to make others laugh. Eventually, some chap named John stumbled across this little comedic gem. One problem: he misunderstood the genre. He thought I was trying to be Jack Van Impe and “prophecy” the antichrist. Upon reading my “prophetic utterance” John comments

You’re a fool, idiot, dummy, stupid, moron,You couldn’t identify the beast it takes wisdom. I hear President Obama now sex hound  Tiger Woods all prophecy sites are useless just a bunch of rednecks spewing garbage. What crediablity (sic) you had you have been exposed. A One comedian let me know when your (sic) at the local comedy club your (sic) a riot…………A voice laughing in the wilderness. John

Apparently, not only is genre identification too difficult for John, but proper grammar and spelling as well. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: someone with such an obvious lack of intelligence trying to adopt a position of intellectual superiority, or the multi-period ellipses. It’s three periods John… three.

John read the article believing it attempted prophecy. His conclusions from such a misidentification of what he was reading should be considered very similar to the conclusions of those who read the Hebrew Bible, misidentify the genre, and then make faulty conclusions from the incorrect reading.

For example, Jack Van Impe believes most of the books of the Bible are “predicting” the end times. This is a genre misidentification. Thus, his conclusions should be disregarded even if they make sense within his mistake. As Lewis pointed out to us: if someone gets the first part of a math equation wrong, even if they get every equation right afterward, they still end up with the wrong answer.

Genre identification is your friend. Use it wisely.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 8:16 am

    That “A voice laughing in the wilderness”-line was pretty good though.

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