The Dramatic Arc of Isaiah 1–12: How Seeing Literary Structure Unveils the Glory of God

landscape photo of the view of city with rainbow above

“This is an unusual and fascinating book.”

One might think this commendation describes the Bible, or at least the book of Revelation. But in fact, these words come from Richard Averbeck’s endorsement of David Dorsey’s book about the Bible, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Baker, 1999). Indeed, his full endorsement reads as follows,

This is an unusual and fascinating book. It is the first comprehensive treatment of the inherent structure of the Old Testament books and its significance for understanding their meaning and message. Expositors will find it of inestimable value for looking at the books in a way that is true to the literary nature of the Old Testament itself and the theological significance of that structure. (From the back cover)

Dorsey’s book is unlike any other book I have read. For in 39 chapters—surely that was on purpose—he introduces his method (ch. 1–5), outlines every book in the Old Testament (ch. 6–38), and offers some final reflections (ch. 39). In all, his book provides students of Scripture with a comprehensive reading plan for seeing the literary structures of every book in the Old Testament. With careful attention to literary details, his book, though it came out in the year of Y2K fears, is not flight of fancy into Bible coding. Rather, it offers a well-argued case for reading Scripture on its own terms.

For readers of this blog, you know how much value this approach to Scripture. Following the persuasive argument of David Helm, I believe every inspired text has an inspired structure. Accordingly, the faithful reader (or preacher) must discern the “inherent structure” in the text, in order to uncover the meaning of the original author.

I have often shared the literary structures I have seen in the Scripture. And in our church, this care for literary structure is the starting place with our teachers. (For those with ears to hear, you know this is a shameless plug for Simeon Trust). Surely, getting the structure is not the end of our study, but it is a necessary step. Good exposition depends on rightly dividing the word of God, and discerning the biblical structures helps the disciple cut with and not against the grain of Scripture.

To that end, as I preach through Isaiah over the next few weeks, I will share some of Dorsey’s work. In doing so, I hope it will help those who are following our Advent Reading of Isaiah. And more, I hope it will persuade you to begin looking for these structures in Scripture. So, without any more prolegomena, let me offer an outline of Isaiah 1–12, which in turn prepares us for the whole book of Isaiah. Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading