In recent years, few practices have been more fruitful for my Bible reading and preaching than (attempting to find and) discovering the structure of a biblical passage. Dave Helm and the good folks at Simeon Trust call this structure the “bone and marrow” of any passage. Just like the human body is built with interconnected bones that give shape to the body, so the arguments, narratives, and poetry of the Bible has a recognizable skeletal structure that gives shape to the passage.
This is true at the microscopic level, where biblical authors organize a few verses around a chiasm or some other literary structure. It is also true at the macroscopic level, where we can recognize the literary structure of entire books. This latter macrostructure is most helpful for discovering the main argument of a book and why the author is writing what he is writing in the way he is writing.
Recently, I have found help on this front from a book by David Dorsey. In his Literary Structure of the Old Testament, this Old Testament scholar provides the macro-structure of every book in the Hebrew Bible, as well as many smaller literary structures in various books. At present, I have not read the whole book nor have I agreed with everything I have read, but by and large, Dorsey’s careful treatment of the Bible provides a helpful outline of every book.
As our church begins to look at Joshua this Sunday, I thought I’d share a couple of his outlines, simplified and color-coded, to help us see how the macro-structure of Joshua clarifies the main point of this book. Indeed, as Joshua has some longer section regarding land divisions, etc., I believe seeing the larger scope of the book will help us understand the main points. Continue reading
In his chapter “Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles,” Ray Van Neste argues for literary cohesion in 1 Timothy (in Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, 84–104). While many critical scholars have denied this unity and declared 1 Timothy is a patchwork letter (not written by Paul), Van Neste shows how the letter demonstrates internal cohesion. From a careful reading of the letter, he shows how thematic and linguistic connections unity the first and last chapter (98–104).
Most impressive in his argument is his treatment of 1 Timothy 1 and 6, where he shows multiple ways the letter shows cohesion and structure. For instance, developing a number of “hook words,” Van Neste observes,
- The use of “teachers of the law” (v. 7), law (v. 8), and lawfully (v. 8) link verses 3–7 with verses 8–11.
- Pisteuō (“entrusted”) ends verse 11 and serves as the keyword for verses 12–17: “faithful” (v. 12), “unbelief” (v. 13), “faith” (v. 14), “trustworthy” (v. 15), “believe” (v. 16). In each case, the Greek word has pist- as its root.
- Faith and a good conscience also mark the beginning and end of the chapter (v. 5 and v. 19).
With these various “hook words,” we see how the chapter holds together and unfolds. This strengthens our commitment to Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy, and it shows us how to read the chapter as a whole. Yet, the unity is more than just linguistic. There also appears to be a literary structure in 1 Timothy 1. Continue reading
By 1990 there was no consensus on the structure of the Minor Prophets. Observing this fact, Paul House, in his book The Unity of the Twelve, surveyed the way scholars looked to chronology and regional location as possible ways “the Twelve” were ordered. Such approaches were significantly lacking, however, and so he concluded: “It is probable that historical research has not successfully uncovered the structure of the Twelve because that structure is governed by literary principles” (67).
In conversation with literary critics and scholars employing methods of canonical criticism, House shows why we should read the Twelve as more than 12 similar but separated oracles. Rather, by examining the structure and plot of the Twelve we can come to a clearer understanding of the unified message that the Minor Prophets is seeking to convey.
As others have observed in the Psalms, there is an intentional ordering in the Minor Prophets, better termed The Twelve. Historically, these 12 books are always found together and typically in the same order (63). For that reason, a unified study of their message is valid and valuable. And Paul House’s book, though technical, is an important for helping read and understand the Minor Prophets.
To get a sense of his argument and how the twelve prophets are unified, let me share some of his observations—first on the structure of the Twelve, then on the plot of the Twelve. Continue reading