One of the most helpful things I have learned in the last few years about reading Scripture is the importance of determining the literary genre 0f any portion of Scripture. For instance, to read Daniel’s apocalyptic visions with Pauline precision is to wind up with an overly literal reading, missing the ‘visual effect’ of the apocalyptic genre. Likewise, reading Proverbs like laws etched in stone, puts too much weight on a literary form that is meant to convey probabilities that have reasonable exceptions, not laws of the universe. So reading Scripture with an attentiveness to genre is helpful in avoiding misreadings, and there are many good–short and long–works on this subject. For a whole Bible that treats the subject see The Literary Study Bible.
This week, as I was reading Genesis, the thought occurred: What kind of genre is this book, especially chapters 12-50? It is certainly narrative in its structure. Authors like Bruce Waltke and Jim Hamilton has shown in their recent works many literary devices, chiasms and the like. It is historical, in that it conveys information of people, places, and events in a factual manner and in a linear fashion. Moreover, it will develop mini biographies and include historical genealogies, all for the purpose of unfolding God’s plan of redemption and his covenantal commitments. Still, it is also a colorful book of characters and stories that, while true, capture the imagination and draw out the readers imagination like any good story book. So which is it?
It is certainly a combination of them all, but perhaps a modern analogy might be helpful. Could it be said that God’s sovereign workings in Genesis are carried out in the midst of a twisting, turing Soap Opera. Until, this week, I wouldn’t have said it that way, but in reading it again this week, that category certainly commends itself for understanding all that is going on, so long as it is always coupled with God’s inscrutable (and yet sometimes invisible) sovereignty.
Interestingly, based on the less than authoritative definition provided by wikipedia.com, Genesis would definitely fall into this category. Here is there brief description of what we know as soap operas:
The main characteristics that define soap operas are “an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations”. Fitting in with these characteristics, most soap operas follow the lives of a group of characters who live or work in a particular place, or focus on a large extended family. The storylines follow the day-to-day activities and personal relationships of these characters. “Soap narratives, like those of film melodramas, are marked by what Steve Neale has described as ‘chance meetings, coincidences, missed meetings, sudden conversions, last-minute rescues and revelations, deus ex machina endings.'”
That about sums Genesis up, doesn’t it? I think so. It makes the book less pristine and more personal. It touches the heart of the matter, that God has saved a people from sin, often times through the very act or acts of sin: “What you meant for evil,” Joseph said to his brothers, “God meant for good” (Gen 50:20). Part of God’s glorious work of salvation is his ability to save people trapped in sin, in ways that soap opera writers could never script. Likewise, such a view of Genesis encourages belief that when things in life get really, really messy, God still knows how to untie the Gordian knot, and even if it takes 13 years, as in Joseph’s case, or longer as in the case of Abraham (see Heb 11), He will make all things right in the end. Therefore we await the reckoning!
It is amazing how God has worked in redemptive history–often in ways that do not commend repeating–in order to bring about his plan of salvation. God is a merciful and patient God, and one proof is that he was able to bring through sinners like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as sinless Son who will one day liberate us from the soap operas of this life. That is good news.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!