Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Parallel Structure of the Bible

I'm taking a small time-out to explain that the next book in this series is not Ruth.  In my Bible, that is the book that comes after Judges, and I'm willing to bet it's that way in yours too, since that is how every Christian Bible is (I think).  But that is not the way it always was.

Originally, the Old Testament was arranged in a thematic order and divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  Here is a list of how the books appeared:
The Law

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
The Prophets - Former Prophets
  • Joshua 
  • Judges
  • Samuel (originally 1 book on 2 scrolls)
  • Kings (originally 1 book on 2 scrolls)
The Prophets - Latter Prophets
  •  Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • The Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi - originally considered 1 book)
The Writings
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Job
  • Song of Solomon
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Esther
  • Daniel
  • Ezra & Nehemiah (originally 1 book, I guess)
  • Chronicles (originally 1 book on 2 scrolls)
And this is the way it still is in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures.

Why did this change?  When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, the manuscript we know as the Vulgate, he rearranged the books into more of a chronological order, because he thought it would make more sense to the audience of his day - which was his aim in writing the Vulgate (the word means "common") in the first place: to make it intelligible to the common, non-scholarly man.  This was before Latin became a dead language, obviously.

So why is any of this important?  Well, I believe that this structure parallels the structure of the New Testament.  This isn't my idea, by the way - this came from a Sunday school class in college one time, but I haven't seen it written out anywhere else, which is unfortunate because I no longer have my notes.  So this is all from memory.

Genesis begins with three major stories, a prologue of sorts: the creation of the world, the union of Adam and Eve, and the fall of man.  After that, we have the Law - God's instructions to man on how to be in a right relationship with God - and the establishment of God's covenants with man.

The Prophets trace the history of Israel, God's chosen people, largely through the eyes of the people He called to be his witnesses to Israel and the nations - the prophets.

Lastly we have the writings, which can more or less be divided by books that were written in the promised land (Psalms through Ecclesiastes), and books that were written outside the promised land (Esther through Chronicles).  They give us examples of how to live out God's laws and be in a relationship with Him, whether we are in the land He promised, or living in exile.

The Old Testament ends with Chronicles, which seems kind of random.  Chronicles is basically a re-telling of what's in the book of Kings, and it ends with a call to the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple - with Cyrus saying, "Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up."  The end.

But then we have the book of Matthew, and in a way we see Cyrus' call being answered by Christ, who goes up to Jerusalem, whose temple is destroyed and rebuilt after three days.

Now here's the parallel part.  The first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, introduce to us a new Law, the law of grace, and a new covenant, the everlasting covenant of Christ's blood.  It tells us how to have a relationship with God.

The book of Acts is the history of the early church, particularly seen through the eyes of a few men whom God called to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth: the apostles.

Then we have the epistles, which are letters to the believers telling them how to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven - the true promised land - while currently in exile, as an alien and stranger on earth.

Finally, the book of Revelation acts as an epilogue, ending with three major stories: the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, the wedding of the Lamb, and the fall of Satan.

Cool, huh?

The Bible is full of parallels.  You can see it from the structure of the Creation story to the repetitive lines of poetry in the Psalms and elsewhere.  I think it is really beautiful.

What does this tell us?  For me, personally, it's an additional confirmation of the canon of Scripture.  I've studied that subject a little bit, so I'm aware of the historical factors involved, but seeing this parallelism sort of says to me, this really isn't arbitrary and random.  There is a purpose behind these books here.  Another thing this says to me is that the canon of Scripture is complete from Genesis to Revelation - hence the name of this blog.  I believe that God told us everything humanity needed for a relationship with Him in these books, and that He faithfully preserved them through time so that we could understand today what was written so many centuries ago.  I believe that God still speaks to people today, and that He still reveals things to us individually through the Holy Spirit, but I don't believe that any new gospels or new prophetic books fit in with the Bible.

Anyway, so when I learned about this, I decided that the next time I read through the Bible, I would read the books in this order.  It's taken me this long to get to it.  So basically, all this is to say that I'll pick back up tomorrow with 1 Samuel. :)

No comments: