Pressing Deeper into Isaiah 1–12: Seven Chiasms in Seven Sections

julia-kadel-YmULswIbc3I-unsplashIn so many ways, the book of Isaiah is like a set of Russian Stacking Dolls. You know, the ones pictured above that share the same shape but not the same size. Similarly, the book of Isaiah is composed of countless chiastic structures that fit within one another. Already, we have something of this in the way that the chiastic structure of Isaiah 1–12 anticipates the whole book.

Adding to this first post, I am going to focus in this post on the first twelve chapters themselves. And what we find in each section is a chiastic structure, which reveals the main point of each section. Again, what follows depends heavily on the exegetical work of David Dorsey (The Literary Structure of the Old Testament). In outline form, I will give a summary of each section, combined with a textual outline that is adapted is from Dorsey’s book (pp. 218–19). After putting forward this outline, I will draw our three interpretive conclusions that help us understand Isaiah and marvel at Isaiah’s God.

N.B. The following outlines should be understood as incomplete and written in pencil. In other words, you can find other plausible and helpful outlines from scholars like J. Alec Motyer. Exegetical outlines are always subordinate to the text of Scripture itself. But they are helpful, especially in larger books, because they help provide a grid for reading. To that end, I offer these seven chiastic structures. Continue reading

Seeing John 9 with New Eyes: A Few Notes on Literary Structure

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As I continue to study John’s Gospel, I grow increasingly amazed at the beloved disciple’s use of literary structure. Here’s a sampling of things to see in John 1–9.

For sake of time, I’m just going to leave this outline here. You can begin to make some biblical and theological connections as you read the chapter for yourself. Or check back in a week or so, and Lord willing, my sermon on John 9 will be up.

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Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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Seeing New Creation Light in John 2–4: Three Ways Jesus Replaces the Darkness of the Old Covenant

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A few weeks ago I offered a literary analysis of John 2–4. Today, I’ll add a few more thoughts on this remarkable passage.

In John 2–4, Marriage and Resurrection Go Together in Sign and Substance

First, there is an undeniable inclusio that connects Jesus’s first sign (turning water into wine) in John 2:1–12 to his second sign (healing the royal official’s son) in John 4:47–54. Observing the connections between these two bookends, Jim Hamilton finds 6 connections, to show how John mirrors these two events. Here is how he frames it (John, 101).

  • A need is communicated to Jesus (4:47; cf. 2:3),
  • but he initially rebuffs the petitioner (4:48; cf. 2:4).
  • When the petitioner responds in faith (4:49; cf. 2:5),
  • Jesus gives a command that is obeyed (4:50; cf. 2:7-8),
  • at which point the need is met (4:51-52; cf. 2:9-10).
  • These are then identified as the first and second signs, in response to which people believe in Jesus (4:53-54; cf. 2:11).

To this we could add the observation that the wedding takes place on the third day (John 2:1), as does the healing of the official’s son—i.e., it occurs on the day after the second day (4:40, 43).

From these seven links in the text, it would be a failure to “hear” John if we did not read them together. And what happens when we let the wine interpret the healing and vice versa? My short answer is that the themes of the wedding and its wine, combined with the resurrection of the son, are make a theological claim that the resurrection of the Son is what brings the wine of God’s new creation marriage. Continue reading

Can You See What Jeremiah is Saying? Finding the Literary Structure in a Book Where Structure is Often Missed

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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Whenever I teach hermeneutics or lead Bible studies, I want to help students of the Bible find the “breaks” in the text. Where does the human author insert literary devices to help the reader follow his message? In John’s Gospel, for instance, he organizes his introduction to Jesus around four days (John 1:19–51), and then he puts the wedding at Cana on the third day (2:1), which in context is the seventh day. In this way, John helps his audience know how he is ordering his material.

Such arrangement does not automatically produced meaning, but ignorance of an author’s literary structure will delimit our understanding. If we cannot see how the biblical author is writing, we won’t get what the author is saying. In any study of Scripture then, we must labor to understand the literary structure of a text. Sometimes this is easy, as in passages like Psalm 136, which repeats the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) and follows the order of Israel’s history. But in other books, it is more difficult. And it is arguable that the book of Jeremiah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible for ascertaining a literary structure.

The reasons for this difficulty are manifold. First, Jeremiah is, by word count, the longest book of the Old Testament. And as we saw with Isaiah, it is a challenge to see the message of books so large. Second, the chronology of Jeremiah is difficult. The book does not proceed in historical order, and as a result some commentators (e.g., John Bright) have attempted to interpret the book by changing its order to match Israel’s history. This destroys the literary structure, however. As higher-criticism reigned over the last two hundred years, commitment to reading the Bible on its own terms was ignored and the mind of the interpreter trumped the words of the author. This will miss the message of the Bible and so we cannot follow those who rearrange the text.

Size and chronology are challenging in Jeremiah, but the greatest difficulty in finding the meaning of Jeremiah comes from divergent manuscripts. That is, when we compare the Hebrew text to the Septuagint (the Greek translation), we find that significant portions of the book are put in different order. This reminds us that the final form of the Bible came as a result of an editing process (cp. the arrangement of the Psalter), but leaving aside the formation of the final form, different final arrangements make it difficult to affirm a structure with certainty. And then, if meaning is tied to literary structure, then how should we can have confidence in finding a singular message about Jeremiah? Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

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The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

Finding the Structure of Daniel 1: Two Complementary Approaches

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Whenever I preach, the first thing I do is outline the text. Or better, I seek to find the author’s intended organization of his passage. Believing Scripture to be divinely-inspired and deftly-written, I assume every passage in Scripture has a Sprit-given shape. This doesn’t mean I will be able to discern perfectly the author’s literary structure, but in order to hear what the author is saying and to see what he is stressing, I begin by looking for literary clues (e.g., key words, repeated words, clausal connections, etc.).

Sometimes this is easy; sometimes this is hard. And sometimes a passage can be organized in different ways, especially when we look at it from different heights. This doesn’t mean that the author has multiple messages in mind—although sometimes we find the overlapping of literary devices. It means, that like differing microscope lens might reveal different details, so various readers (or one reader) may see multiple organizations to a singular passage. Such is the case with Daniel 1.

In what follows, I offer two approaches to reading Daniel 1. These are not two competing ways to see this chapter. Rather, they provide two complementary lens to see how this chapter works. The first compares the offer of food, education, and title (or Table, Teaching, and Title) to Daniel and his friends. The second provides a literary arc to the chapter, with Daniel’s faithfulness centered in the middle. Let’s look at each. Continue reading

The Literary Structure of Isaiah: Five Tour Guides to Help You Stay the Course

pexels-photo-697662.jpegThe book of Isaiah is sixty-six books, just like the Bible. And it is divided into 39 chapters and 27 chapters, just like the two Testaments–old and new. Therefore, we should organize Isaiah around this bipartite division, right?

Well, maybe . . . not.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard this line of thinking. And for years, I operated with this basic understanding that there is one seismic break between Isaiah 39 and 40, making the one book two. Add to this a number of well-worn proof texts for systematic theology—e.g., verses about Christ’s virgin birth (7:14 and 9:6–7), his sacrifice (52:13–53:12), and the grossness of sin (64:6)—and I accumulated a lot of disconnected knowledge about this glorious book.

It was not until I began reading Isaiah as whole book, however, that the message of Isaiah began to come to life. I am still learning that message, but having a mental map of the whole book has been a game-changer. And thankfully, that map has been aided by a number of tour guides—books and teachers that have helped me find my way in Isaiah.

The Need for Teachers . . . According to the Bible

This is how it should be. God gives teachers to the church to instruct in God’s Word (Eph. 4:11–12). And we would be fools to ignore them.

With the wisdom of ages past and those who have devoted themselves to the study of the Bible in the present, we can and should gain a better understanding of Scripture. Indeed, whenever we enter a new book of the Bible, one we do not know well, our best course of action is not to hide ourselves away in our room until we determine its meaning. We should seek the assistance of those who have gone before us. Such dependence on faithful teachers does not put human wisdom above the Bible, it listens to the Bible, acknowledges the gifts of God, the goodness of reading the Bible in community, and seeks to know God’s word with the help of others.

With that in mind, here are five scholars, tour guides, who have provided an outline of Isaiah. While each organizes the book differently, their collective witness gives us insight into things we should be looking for when we read. At present, I am persuaded Barry Webb’s outline is the most persuasive, but I am still learning. Continue reading

Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah

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If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading

Finding the Macro-Structure of Joshua, with a Note for Expositional Preachers to Widen Their Vision

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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 Testamentthis 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

From Law to Gospel: Seeing the Literary Structure of 1 Timothy 1

bibleIn 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