A Guide to Biblical Theology - Lesson 4

The Hebrew Order Teaches Covenant

The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible helps us understand God's covenant.

Taught by a Team
A Guide to Biblical Theology
Lesson 4
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The Hebrew Order Teaches Covenant

I. The Canon

a. Old Testament

b. New Testament

II. The Arrangement of the English Bible

a. Josephus

b. Jerome

c. Our Current Tradition

d. Should we Maintain our Current Arrangement?

III. The Arrangement of the Hebrew Bible

a. The Macro-Structure: The Concept of Covenant

b. The Micro-Structure: The Concepts of Theme or Theology

c. The Place of Chronology

IV. Prelude to the Writings

  • How to think about and interpret the Old Testament

  • How to explain in 30 seconds the contents and message of the Bible in a way that is meaningful and informative.

  • The order of the books in Hebrew Bibles is different from the English Old Testament because of the criteria used when putting them together.

  • The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible helps us understand God's covenant.

  • The twelve books in the Writings are divided into two groups of six. The first six books are about covenant life. The latter six books are about life in exile.

  • When the books of the Old Testament are ordered according to canon and covenant, they also correspond to the order of the books in the New Testament.

  • There is thematic organization through the Old Testament canon and massive correspondence to the arrangement of the books in the New Testament.

  • Common themes in the synoptic Gospels are the "kingdom of God," and a shift from the "old covenant" to the "new covenant." The ultimate question Jesus asks is will we choose to be a part of his kingdom?

  • A description of the teachings of Jesus, showing they were in contrast to what was promoted in the culture, as well as how there was continuity to the teachings of the Torah.

  • Jesus claimed to be God by the titles he used to refer to himself, by what he said and did, and by dying and then coming back to life. The Gospels record that the evidence for the divinity of Jesus was so overwhelming, that even Jews who had a strong tradition in worshiping one God who is a spirit, were compelled to worship Jesus as God, even though he was a man.

  • The Gospel of Mark focuses on Jesus as miracle worker, prophet and suffering servant. Matthew focuses on Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew includes much of Mark's material as well as some accounts that are unique to Matthew.

  • The Gospel of Luke has much in common with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion for people who were outcasts and writes as a historian, with attention to detail.

  • John is the most unique of the four Gospels. He emphasizes that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. "Belief" is a key word for John because it means more to him than just mental assent.

  • Two of the themes Paul emphasizes throughout his epistles are the glory of God in Christ and God being magnified in Christ. Paul preaches to both Jews and Gentiles and emphasizes these truths in a way that each group can understand. He also explains God's call on his life and the authority God has given him to preach the gospel.

  • The core idea of sin is refusing to honor and praise God. This is in contrast to the central theme in Paul's theology, which is knowing God in Christ. Jesus calls us to acknowledge him as Lord by our words and actions.

  • The resurrection and ascension of Jesus demonstrated that Jesus is Lord. Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 are passages that teach that Jesus is both fully man and fully God. Justification means that God declares the wicked to be righteous. God provides salvation as a free gift so He is exalted because of what He has done.

  • Election excludes works as a reason for God choosing you. God's calling always results in salvation. God's calling is a tremendous example of his love for you. Paul encourages people to live the Christian life by being filled with the Holy Spirit and to act out of a motivation of love. He addresses baptism, the Lord's Supper, leaders in the church, church discipline and the resurrection. He also emphasizes the importance of persevering to the end.

As opposed the Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology asks the question of what a particular book, or group of books, teach on different topics, showing emphases of the different parts of Scripture.

Please click on the Charts link under Downloads to access the chart that Dr. Van Pelt refers to in his lectures.

Dr. Miles Van Pelt
A Guide to Biblical Theology
The Hebrew Order Teaches Covenant
Lesson Transcript


We are going to move on and continue to talk about our English Bible order and the Hebrew Bible order and how we got all that business.

Before I do that I just want to make clear a couple of references that I did not have exactly right.  If you are listening to this on line or recorded or if you want to know yourself in the class here, the book by Rolf Rendtorff that I referred to is called The Canonical Hebrew Bible: A Theology of the Old Testament.  If you want to hear simply the discussion that he is having about the significance of the order, all you have to do is read the prologue or introduction and the conclusion.  He will summarize it there for you.  It is big volume.  It is a great theology.  There is a lot of good stuff in there – especially his treatment of Ezekiel and the Son of Man and things like that.  I recommend this book to you.

I. The Canon

a. Old Testament

Now in terms of Old Testament canon.  If you want to know everything there is to know basically about the canon of the Old Testament, the canonization process, all of the lists that we have and things that we have that go along with that and get the best possible introduction to the canonization of the Old Testament that exists, it is the Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church by Roger Beckwith.  It is published by Eerdmans.   It is a great resource and reference to have.  I think every seminary student should be required to read this.  How do we get our Old Testament?  It is not an unimportant question.

b. New Testament

For the New Testament canon, there are two ways to discuss canonization in terms of how you think about the canon and the order of the books and stuff.  There is a whole theology of the canon: inspiration, the leading of the Spirit and so on.  Some people will be comfortable with redactors or editors; some people will not be comfortable with redactors or editors and all that kind of business.

Then you talk about Church Councils that verified or validated the order and arrangement and the lists of the books.  Those Councils would especially arise during specific times where authority or inerrancy or even what books were in the canon were at stake.  For example, especially important would be something around the time of Marcion, the great heretic.  Marcion rejected the Old Testament and most of the New Testament, except Paul and one of the gospels.  It was from controversies like that, where we get people saying: "No.  This is our Bible.  This is the book.  This is what we are going to die for.  Get out of town."  Those are the theological, creedal, confessional accounts of canon.  By and large, we think about canon that way.  We think about the New Testament being canonized, or in its final and arranged form, in the fourth century A.D.

But this New Testament scholar, David Trobisch, has, in some sense, set aside the theological Church Council debate and he is working primarily with Biblical manuscripts.  He is seeing how they were collected, when they were collected and how they were grouped.  He argues essentially, if I could just summarize it, that the canon was closed in the second century.  Now we are cutting off two centuries.  That is important: a second century closed canon.  From those manuscripts you can tell the ordering and it is basically what we have.  David Trobisch has got two books.  The First Edition of the New Testament published by Oxford.  He specifically focuses on Paul's letter collection and the arrangement of Paul's letter collection.  That is called Paul's Letter Collection by David Trobisch.  It is published by Quiet Waters Publication in Bolivar, Missouri in 2001.  Perhaps it is best just to look this second one up (Paul's Letter Collection).  Both of them are very good.  They are both easy books to read.

He argues, basically, that the canon was closed in the second century and they circulated in four books.  They were like four booklets – like how we have these little booklets and evangelistic tracts.  There were the four gospels.  Then there were Acts and the General Epistles, like I said.  Then there were the Pauline letters, with the book of Hebrews sandwiched between the letters to the churches and the letters to the individuals.  Then there was the Apocalypse.  That is what the second century evidence shows us.

I think what we can say is this: The heresies and the Church Councils and the theological discussions all validate what had already been in existence for some two centuries.  We can strengthen our argument.  We could say it even existed much earlier than the Church Councils.  These two kinds of things work together.  It is very important to know the history of your New Testament: its transmission, its history, all that kind of stuff.  It is important to know when was the Bible was considered authoritative by the church and that kind of business.

II. The Arrangement of the English Bible

Having said that, and having talked about the English Bible (order, genre, chronology, and authorship), here is a very important question.  Where does the English Bible arrangement come from?  Did Zondervan create it when they made the NIV?  Was it the King James Council of translators that created it?  Was it King James who said" "I like this; put it in this order."?  Was it that kind of thing?  Was it because the King James Bible was dedicated to him?  Is that how it happened?  No.  There is a prehistory to this.

This may be mildly controversial in terms of what I will present to you.  But I think it is a simple and basic picture that can help explain how we got our English Bible order.  It was not malicious or evil or satanic or anything like that.  It actually, perhaps, started out as a very good kind of thing.

a. Josephus

I begin with Josephus.  Josephus is a first century, Jewish historian.  He lived during the century that Jesus and Paul and the apostles lived.  He spent some time trying to explain his Bible to a Greek-speaking audience.  He was a Jewish guy, a Jewish historian.  He wanted to make sense of his Bible to his Hellenistic or Greek world.  What he simply did, I think, in one of his arguments in the midst of controversy with Apion, in a letter called Against Apion, was to try to explain his Bible to them.  He did so in categories familiar to the Greeks.  He used genre, chronology and authorship, because that was the Greek way of thinking.  Josephus knew his Greek audience loved literature and they had the same kind of literature that the Hebrews had.  He was trying to connect it.  He was trying to contextualize the gospel.  He said to the Greeks: "Hey, you have your poets and here are our poets.  You Greeks have your prophets; we have prophets too.  You Greeks have your histories; here are our histories."  He puts them in rough chronological order.  Then his audience said" "O yeah, now we understand.  You have a book very similar to our book or our books or our literature.  That is authoritative for you and these are authoritative to us."

It is a very postmodern worldview in a very premodern life.  Postmodern is not really new.  It is just the spinning of history in one big cycle.  We are being dumb, over and over and over again.

Josephus in his argument against Apion, or in a letter Against Apion – this big giant treatment of the topic – lists the books.  It is this basic English Bible order that he lists.  Now I do not really know if he adopted that from the Septuagint.  The Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek and it was circulating and it was already in this form.  I do not know.  We cannot know.  There is no evidence to know, unless someone knows something I do not know.  Most people know something I do not know.  But there is no evidence that I can find that says he got it directly from the Septuagint.  We just assume that is where he got it from or that he just made it up in terms of contextualizing this Greek audience.  That was the first century.

So just think: How do we get the Bible like that?  There is going to be three steps – Josephus, Jerome, King James.  You could talk about earlier Bibles [that is, earlier than the King James Bible] like the Geneva Bible and stuff like that.  But the most popular version of the medieval Bible is going to be, or the Reformation Bible is going to be, the King James Bible.  So we are going to think Josephus, Jerome and King James.

b. Jerome

Now, who is Jerome?  Jerome lived basically 342AD to 420AD, so (the latter half of the fourth and the early fifth century).  He was a massive Bible scholar – perhaps the most massive Bible scholar – of the first four-hundred years of church history.  He is world famous for his production of the Latin translation of the Bible.  That Latin translation of the Bible endured as the Bible of the church for about a thousand years.  That is remarkable.  Think about a translation lasting a thousand years.  Think of the royalties he would have incurred on that Bible.  Any time you have a book or a translation of a book that endures for a thousand years, you have done something well.  Now, part of that is explained by antiquity and the nature of technology and worldview; but still that is an impressive event.

This is the fourth or fifth century scholar who gave us the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate.  The name comes from "the vulgar", which means from the common tongue of the day.  He adopted the arrangement suggested by Josephus (perhaps at work in the Septuagint) and it became the standard Bible of the church.  It was much like it would have been in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.  What was the standard Bible of the English speaking church during those days?  The King James.  You could think of the Vulgate as the King James of the previous generation – but now we are talking about a big generation.  It was the Bible of the previous millennia.

c. Our Current Tradition

That is where that arrangement came from.  That is the arrangement adopted in the King James.  So that is the arrangement we keep today.  In some sense, it comes from Josephus to Jerome to the King James.  The Septuagint may or may not play a role.  It just may reflect something that one of those guys did.  Our historical sketch is not complete.  We do not know all of the history.  It is not completely filled in.  There are broken pieces.  There are lacuna in our history.  We do not know all the pieces.  So all we can do is guess or surmise or assume that this would be the shape of that broken piece if we had it.  But all things being equal, which they never are, if you want to think about how we got the Bible, you think: Josephus to Jerome to the King James.

Once you get a traditional translation and official ordering and then once you get the printing press, things are standard.  Things are standardized.  It is hard to change.  There is nothing malicious about this.  Probably also, this makes such good sense to us.  We like the categories of genre, chronology and authorship.  We are taught in preschool to put the round balls in the yellow bucket, put the square building blocks in the blue bucket and then put all of the odd-shaped toys in the green bucket.  That is how we are taught to think as Westerners.  So it made good sense to us.  We have not messed with it.

d. Should we Maintain our Current Arrangement?

Should we adopt or use this arrangement for our Bibles (the English Bible)?  My answer is: "No".  At this point, your answer might be: "Let us wait and see."  But my answer is absolutely positively no way.  If I had my choice, I would get on the phone and call Zondervan and Crossway and Broadman Holman (all of these guys who publish Bibles) and say: "Please arrange the Bible according to the original arrangement.  O yeah, by the way, it is one Jesus happened to testify to and verify.  Jesus had three divisions from Genesis to Chronicles.  I think we should have three divisions from Genesis to Chronicles.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us."  That is my pastoral plea for the day.  That is my altar call.  Let us bow our heads and close our eyes and everyone raise your hand if you agree with me.  That is how we can do that.

I say "no" for a couple of reasons.  First, it is more modern.  It is a Western reorganization of the books that was perhaps never intended to provide a new structure for the canon.  It was descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive.

Secondly, it is not the structure or arrangement recognized by Jesus, Paul or Luke.  That is really big for me.  That is allowing the New Testament to interpret the Old and to provide the authoritative word on how we should think about it.

Thirdly, it does not match the structure of the books presented to us in the New Testament.  I alluded to this earlier.  Let us think about this for a second and we will talk about it more later.  Luke is separated from Acts by John and John is separated from his letters which are separated from his Apocalypse.  So there is a different strategy at work in the New Testament.  No one has come across to me and said: "This is the strategy at work in the New Testament.  Here we can explain this."  We just have testimony to the actual arrangement.  Now we need to make sense of it as people thinking about the word.  That is that important.

So I have got those things: the gospel of John inserted between Luke and Acts.  Would it not be better to keep Luke and Acts together?  Why are the writings of John (the Gospel, the Epistles and the Apocalypse) cast about the New Testament and not located together?  Why is Romans the first of the Pauline letters, when it is not chronologically first?  Have you ever thought about that?  Why is Romans first?  It is the best.  That is exactly right.  Or it is the longest and you start with the longest book and you go to the shortest books.  That is, by and large, one of the major forces in arranging the Pauline letters: from longest to shortest.  But where is Paul at the end of Acts?  In Rome, preaching and teaching in Rome, night and day for years and years, about Jesus and the kingdom of God from the law and the prophets.  And so you say: What was he teaching?  O, here comes the book of Romans.  Then there is all this teaching.  Is not that remarkable?  Maybe those are related.

We are never trained to think that way.  I do not think we naturally think that way.  At least this could be eye-opening in terms of thinking how our canon is structured.  Perhaps there is an intentional structure to the canon.  I think the Bible has a divine design.  If you watch the Home and Garden Network (HGTV), you will know there is a show called Divine Design.  My wife and I have watched it before.  There is this very tall blonde woman who is this very expensive designer, Divine Design.  It is a good and appropriate way to think about the canon.  It is a purpose-driven canon.  It has a divine design.

We can utilize certain things from our modern culture.  Other cultures in this world will not think that way, but we can utilize that to think about the Bible.  Is the Bible just slapped together?  Does it matter?  Do you think it would matter?  Can you just go home and cut up your New Testament and put Thessalonians next to the Apocalypse because there is a lot of similar stuff there about eschatology?  Do you want to rearrange one of Paul's letters because you think he got something out of order?  Some people do.  Do you think you have the authority to do that?  We never really think about it.  We just kind of do not think about it, which is even the scarier.

III. The Arrangement of the Hebrew Bible

What principles govern the arrangement of the Hebrew version of the Old Testament?  We will call this the Hebrew Bible as opposed to the English Bible (and the English Bible just with reference to the Old Testament).  Here they are.  The concept of covenant controls the macro-structure.  The concepts of theme or theology control the arrangement of the individual books – the micro-structure within each of the three major sections.  For the English Bible, we had three major principles or criteria for the structure of the Bible: genre, chronology and authorship.  For the Hebrew Bible we have two main principles or criteria.  The first is going to be covenant.  I will explain that in a minute.  The second is going to be theme or theology or the message that the books.  You will see what I mean.  It is always tough to get labels that refer to or make reference to criteria that overshadows everything, but I think the two principles that govern the arrangement of the three divisions are covenant and theme or theology.

a. The Macro-Structure: The Concept of Covenant

Look at your handout again that is entitled: "The Old Testament Canon: A Comparison of the English and Hebrew Bible Arrangements".  We are looking now just at the Hebrew Bible side of things.  On that side, you can perhaps put the two principles or the two criteria for the arrangement.  The first is covenant.  For the second one, put theme or theology.

Now, the Law constitutes the covenant itself.  Those are the covenant books, especially Exodus through Deuteronomy.  I am going to argue later that Genesis exists by itself as a separate piece of literature from Exodus to Deuteronomy.  I am not going to do it based upon hocus-pocus this is how I want it to be.  I am going to do it based upon actual literary things going on in the text.  So the Law is fundamentally the covenant documents, the history from which they arose, the covenant themselves, the interpretation of that covenant – all of that.  So the Law is covenant.  We can put on the board here: the Law, the first major division of the Hebrew Bible, constitutes the covenant.

The Prophets are covenant history.  In covenant history, we have two groups of prophetic books: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings; there are four) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the book of The Twelve).  This covenant history consists of two things.  We are going to have history and homiletics.  It is two "H" words.  There is good alliteration.  If you are preaching and teaching and you need things to rhyme: history and homiletics.  The history section is constituted by Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.  Then the homiletics section is Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve.  They are the guys that are preaching in the midst of that history.  They are bringing to bear the word of God (the law) on the people of God.

I will tell you how it works briefly now.  The covenant constitutes the law of the land.  It governs the relationship between Yahweh and His people.  The history is how that covenant looked in the life of Israel.  It is characterized this way: Yahweh was completely faithful and Israel was completely unfaithful.  When we get to our chart that outlines the entire Old Testament and New Testament in a nice little chart, we will see that the covenant history section (Joshua through Kings) is bracketed by a statement that is repeated only two times.  It occurs only at the beginning and end of that history.  It is: "Not one of the promises of God has failed; every one of them has been fulfilled."  It characterizes that whole body of literature, as God has been faithful to His people.

Now, if you have read this history, you know that Israel was rarely faithful.  In fact, we can use the line from the book of Judges to characterize Israelite faithfulness: "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes."  That is the summary of Israel's response to that covenant.  Yahweh is completely faithful.  Israel is completely unfaithful.  And so the homileticians (the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve) are the covenant lawyers.  They are God's prosecuting attorneys.  They are suing the people of God, Israel.  The law that they are using is the covenant.  They are saying: "Look, here is the covenant.  Here is the Law.  Here is the Former Prophets.  Here is the history.  This is the evidence against you.  Guess what?  Prepare to meet thy Maker.  Get ready to be smoked: judgment and doom and gloom."  But there is always hope.  There is always a remnant.  There is Yahweh promising to be gracious and merciful.  We will talk about that when we get there.

So you have the Law as covenant and the Prophets are covenant history.  Covenant history consists of two parts: the Former and the Latter Prophets.  The Former Prophets are the history proper.  The Latter Prophets are the interpretation of that history.  They are the covenant lawyers.

Then you have the Writings.  I am going to call or characterize the Writings as covenant life.  What I mean by covenant life is: how should I think and then live in light of the covenant?  This is the section of literature that is about you.  The Law and the Prophets are not about you so much.  It is for you, but not about you.  But when you get to the Writings, that is what you call practical theology.  That is the PT division of any seminary curriculum: Practical Theology.  How do I think and live in light of what God has done for me.

And you will find that these are the books everyone likes to preach and teach from, both in the Old Testament and in its counterpart in the New Testament.  Everyone likes to preach from Psalms or Proverbs.  It is very easy, practical, high-living, good, God-glorifying literature (as if the rest is not!).  No one really wants to teach: "And Samuel hewed Agag into pieces before the Lord."  What kind of Sunday school lesson is that?  Do you tell your children at that point: "Dare to be a Samuel" and you give them swords and you unleash them in the congregation?  You know there are problems there.  That is the kind of stuff where people are troubled.  What is the gospel of cutting a man into pieces before the Lord?  There appear to be no gospel there.  There is – you just have to understand what it is.

But down here you get the covenant life things: faith and love and peace and happiness – that kind of stuff.  They are the things that everyone likes.  That is the why everyone likes to teach from the Epistles in the New Testament.  They correspond to the Writings of the Old Testament.  How do you think and live?  Just think briefly.  We will talk about this more.  Think briefly about how most of Paul's letters are structured.  This is how you are to think and then you get the big, fat "therefore".  This is how you are supposed to live in light of that.  You get Romans 1-11 [that is how you should think] and then Romans 12: "Therefore my dear brothers …"  Wham.  This is how you should live in light of what I have said.  Where does that come from?  It comes from this patterning right here.  It already exists.  Paul did not make it up.  He is a good Pharisee.  He is trained in the law.  He is just borrowing what he already knows.

It is amazing, for example, the genre of the Gospels.  It used to be a very mysterious thing.  There were lots of studies in the early 1900s.  They spoke in terms of this brand new genre; this Holy Spirit genre; this never before known genre.  The Gospels covered the birth and the life and the death and the teachings of this guy Jesus.  It is brand new.  No one has ever seen anything like it.  And then some guy named Meredith Kline says: "Have you ever read Exodus to Deuteronomy?  What happens at the beginning of Exodus?  Who is born?  What happens in Deuteronomy?  Who dies?  It is characterized by his life and teaching in the middle.  It is just like the gospels."  Can you believe that?  Now he was focusing just on Exodus.  I have just expanded it to include Exodus to Deuteronomy.

You are going to see, in this very simple little diagram in a little while, how simple the Bible really is.  It has its structure and its genre and its collection of things.  Then you will just say: "O, I know what you are doing now.  Now I understand that."

Let us look at a couple of things here.  The concept of covenant is closely connected to the concept of the kingdom of God.  We will talk about that, not in this class, but in a few more classes.  It is the covenant or the covenants – we can talk about those as well – that govern the kingdom.  That is the relationship between the king and his people.  The covenant is the rule of the kingdom.  With reference to the Bible, the concept of covenant provides the basis for the three major divisions: Law, Prophets and Writings.  The Law contains the covenants.  The Prophets record the history of the covenant and the interpretation of that history (Former and Latter Prophets).  Finally, the Writings contain instructions or reflections on life in the covenant – specifically, how to think and live in light of God's covenant.  It is the response of faith.  That is why the book of Psalms is first in the Writings.  The first thing you need to know about being in a covenant relationship with God is you are to worship God.  That sets the stage for everything else.

Covenant is the big picture.  We have Law, Prophets and Writings: covenant, covenant history and covenant life.  Is not that great?  Now if someone says: "Well, why are there three divisions in the Hebrew Bible?"  You can say: "One is covenant.  The other one is covenant history – what they did and how that history was interpreted.  The third section is how to live in light of that covenant: covenant life.  That is a great.  Just right there, you have just been given a great tool for explaining the Bible in an elevator to someone in 15 to 30 seconds.  You have him trapped.  Or, if you are in California driving on the freeways in traffic, you may have hours.  You will not have just 15 seconds.

b. The Micro-Structure: The Concepts of Theme or Theology

Now, theme or theology: the second criteria.  This category structures the books at the micro-canonical level.  This is how the books are arranged within each of these big sections.  The arrangement of the books within each of the major sections is arranged by theme or theology.  Examples of this include Isaiah at the head of the Latter Prophets.  It especially includes the twelve books located in the Writings with Psalms.  Ruth is a great example of this reality.  Also, Lamentations is another good example that we will consider later.  That is my written paragraph thing in the notes that you need to hear.  Let me describe to you some of this.  It will help to have, again, the Old Testament canon handout here.

Ruth is located in the Hebrew Bible in the Writings between Proverbs and the Song of Songs.  Why does this narrative appear in the middle of two poetical books, displaced from its genre and out of chronological order?  Watch this.  Look at the Hebrew Bible column on your chart.  Look almost two-thirds of the way down to the Writings.  You will see Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth.  Why is Ruth there?  It violates two English Bible criteria.  It violates the genre criteria.  Now you have a narrative sandwiched between two poetical books, two highly poetical books, Proverbs and Song of Songs.  Some of the highest top-shelf poetry in the Hebrew Bible is found in Proverbs and Song of Songs.  It also violates the chronology business.  We know that Solomon was at least involved with and probably wrote Song of Songs.  We know that Solomon was involved in the collection of and the assembly of and the giving of Proverbs.  But we know Ruth, that book and those things, happened way back in the old days.  It was pre-monarchy, during the days of the judges.  So it is violating the chronology criteria.  We do not who wrote Ruth.  It is anonymous.  So we do not know what has happened to this authorship criteria.

Let me tell you why Ruth is in the Hebrew Bible after Proverbs.  If you have not ever heard this from me before, it is going to change the way you view the book of Ruth forever.  By way of summary again, in the English Bible, Ruth is after Judges because historically and genre that is where it fits (chronologically and genre).  In the Babylonian Talmud list, it is at the head of the Writings as a preface to the Psalms.  David wrote this and here is David's credentials.  You can see Steve Dempster's book on Dominion and Dynasty for that.

In the final form of the Hebrew Bible, the one I am adopting – the one that actually appears printed in my Hebrew Bible here on the desk.  And Anthony, do you have a JPS Bible?  Yes.  See Anthony's Bible right here?  He has the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim).  It actually has, if you look in here, Ruth is right before Song of Solomon.  The modern Jewish Publication Bible has the order I am talking about.  It is not some strange, gnostic, does-not-really-exist-anywhere kind of Bible.  It actually exists.  It is in my printed Hebrew Bible and in this English translation that you can go to Barnes and Noble or Borders and get this off the shelf under the Bibles.  JPS (the Jewish Publication Society), it is a great Bible to have.  It is a good translation. 

Now, why would Ruth be after Proverbs?  I love this.  I love the Bible when it makes sense of itself.  This is when it all starts to explode with beauty.  Watch this.  You know that the book of Proverbs is about how to think and live wisely in light of God's covenant life.  It has got all kinds of stuff in it.  Proverbs 1-9 is basically a theology of wisdom.  Why should I get wisdom as opposed to folly?  Then, in Proverbs 10 and following, it is all of that practical stuff: do not answer a fool; answer a fool; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; do not make an unsecured loan; those kinds of things.  A wise man does this; a foolish man does this.

Well, the very last teaching section in the book of Proverbs comes from a woman.  And perhaps she is seemingly a foreigner: a foreign king or something like that.  Proverbs 31:10 and following is about the what?  It is about the wife of noble character or the virtuous wife.  That is exactly right.  There is an expression in there – the designation that we translate "the wife of noble character" or "the virtuous wife" – and in Hebrew it is 'eshet hayil in Proverbs 31.  It is literally a wife of strength, a wife of honor, a wife of power – or in some translations, unfortunately, a wife of noble character.  That is a tragic translation, but we will live with it.  That expression appears only three times in the entire Hebrew Bible: twice in the book of Proverbs as the ideal wife.  This is a very interesting thing.

By the way, I would say this.  The climax of Hebrew wisdom – this is just anecdotal.  We will talk about this more fully later in some lectures where I talk about Proverbs.  The climax of Hebrew wisdom is: get a good wife.  If any of you have a good wife, you will know how true it is.  Amen and amen!  Now it is time to pass the offering plate and to take an altar call!  The getting of a good wife is the climax of Hebrew wisdom.  This is interesting, because wisdom is very related to creation.  If you read the scholarly literature, the talking about creation and the talking of wisdom are related.  It is a common grace kind of thing.  It is a universal kind of thing.

If you remember Genesis 1-2, the last thing made in creation happens to be the woman.  The woman is the climax of creation and the climax of Hebrew wisdom.  Watch this.  In Genesis 1-2, there is the arrangement of the six days.  God created the world in the space of, or arranged it in the structure of, six days.  Day six is called what?  Is it called good or something even better?  Yeah, it is called very good.  Then you move into Genesis 2.  Beginning in verse 5, you get this commentary.  Everything that happens in Genesis 2:5ff is a commentary on day six in Genesis 1.  You will notice that you get the creation of the man, then the creation of the garden, then man is put in the garden and then God creates the animals and parades all the animals before man and man finds no helper suitable to him.  He does not find anyone who can be his companion.  He has got God.  He has got all the animals.  Still that does not cut the mustard for him.

It says something very shocking in the text.  It says it is not "what" that man should be alone?  It is not good.  Now this is shocking if you are just tracking with the narrative in Genesis 1-2.  If you read Genesis ,1 everything is good, good, good, good, good, good and, wow, very good.  Then, all of a sudden, you are reading along in Genesis 2 and you come to a screeching halt: not good.  That is the big oy vey.  What is going on there?  What is not good?  There is only one thing.  Now here is the thing.  Day six is not very good.  It is not good until the woman is created.  Then it is supersonic good.  So that is the thing you know.

This whole theology of this feminist movement has got it wrong.  Now I may be executed for even saying that live on this tape.  They can delete that if they are going to get in trouble.  But here is the thing.  The woman as man's helper is the climax of creation and ultimate wisdom is for a man to get a good wife.  That is a great thing.  A wife like that is an 'eshet hayil, a supersonic studdly woman.  Perhaps in our modern, American lingo: the hot chick and all that that would mean.  She is smart.  She is humble.  She is caring.  She is bright.  She is generous.  She is all these things.  She is the ultimate woman.  And that is what the Hebrew Bible says to get.  Read Proverbs 31.  The description is overwhelming and that is the 'eshet hayil.

Do you know that there is only one other time that that phrase occurs outside of the book of Proverbs and it is applied to only one woman.  Think of all the great superhero women in the Bible.  Deborah, she could have been an 'eshet hayil.  She was a prophetess.  She had all the credentials.  She was an Israelite.  How about Sarah?  Eve?  She had problems later – but initially Eve.  My personal favorite in the book of Judges, Jael.  She was the one who killed General Sisera by driving a tent pick through his head.  I figure if a woman could do that, she is OK with me.  That is an amazing thing.  Not every woman could do that.

But here is the thing.  Only one woman in the Old Testament is ever called an 'eshet hayil and it is Ruth.  Guess what?  She is not an Israelite.  She is a Moabite.  She is not a native-born chick.  She is a foreigner.  That causes problems for some things back in Deuteronomy and some things we find in Nehemiah and other things.  But even though she is not nationally an Israelite, I would argue later in that book that she is by faith an Israelite.  Guess what Boaz is called?  An 'is gibbowr hayil, a man mighty of valor.  Why?  Because he gets Ruth, the 'eshet hayil.  He is riding on her coat tails.  Here is the thing, Proverbs 31 teaches us academically what a wife looks like.  It is like the grocery list.  If you are going to get a wife she should be good at business, generous, loving, kind, and all that stuff.  That is a woman who is an 'eshet hayil and she will be praised in the city gates.  Guess what?  Ruth is called the 'eshet hayil by the men in the city gates or the people in the gates there.  That is a remarkable thing.  So, in Proverbs 31 you have the teaching and Ruth is the illustration.

Let me just give you one of my favorite other descriptions of the book of Ruth by noted Old Testament scholars.  Because this is going to be recorded, I will not use names.  Here is the only other option.  I will kind of quote it, but it will be tongue and cheek.  This is real.  This is what you get.  Ruth is an idyllic love story between the tragic days of the Judges and the terrible days of Saul and his kingship.  Let us just face it.  It is too much for me to bear the hideous nature of the Judges and all that went wrong in Saul's ministry.  I need a warm, fuzzy story first, please.  My flannel-graphs have too much red in them, Lord.  Please, give me something good.  Give me something nice.  So here we have the love story of Ruth and Boaz, ladies and gentleman.  Now that is not how it works, but that is what you are left with.  That Old Testament scholar is trying to make sense of Ruth there.  All he has is an idyllic love story.

Or, if you have it at the beginning of the book of Psalms, it is kind of like a genealogy.  All it is about is who is David and where does he come from.  That does not make too much sense, for me.  I know who David is from other places.  I do not need his credentials.  I have read Samuel.  I have read Chronicles.  I have read some of his works in Psalms, published works, that kind of stuff.  [A student interjects with a question here.]  The question is: "Who puts it in the front of Psalms?"  The Babylonian Talmud puts it there.  If you read Steve Dempster's book, Dominion and Dynasty, he has a description of it.  He explains why it is there and why he follows that arrangement.  It is not a bad thing, but it just does not compel me.  But I like it.  It is Dempster's work.  Everything Dempster does is top level, so I am not all saying anything bad.  I have read his Ph.D. dissertation on Hebrew – fantastic.  I have read his articles on the canon – fantastic.  I have read his book, Dominion Dynasty, several times and required for my classes –it is fantastic.  He is a top rate scholar from Canada.  So it is a good thing.  But I am just not taking it, because the connection between Proverbs 31 and Ruth, linguistically, by calling her the woman of valor, is remarkable, clear and undeniable.  How can you overlook it?  But you are never going to make that connection having Ruth way back with Judges.  Never.

Yes, there are is whole idea of the gates.  Right at the end of Proverbs 31, they talk about the gates.  Basically this woman – this paradigm wife – is so good at her work, that her husband can sit and be one of the rulers in the gates.  He has got time off to be a gentleman's gentleman, I guess you would say.  Here at the end of Ruth, they are praising her in the gates.  It is remarkable.  You cannot miss it.  People are starting to recognize that and stuff like that.  So it is an important thing.

So Ruth is one of those just paradigm examples.  You can see this is what I was arguing.  The position of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible helps me understand its function.  It is not a credential.  The book of Ruth is not a credentialing thing, because then what do you do with the story?  You do not need the story.  You could just give me a genealogy.  And it is not an idyllic love story set in the midst of brutal times.  That explanation is like the kind of thing you have these holocaust movies and then you have got this idyllic little love story – this flower in the midst of weeds.  It is increases the romance and it is so beautiful because everything around it is so ugly.  OK, maybe.  It just does not compel me.  It is a violation for me.

c. The Place of Chronology

OK chronology.  I want to speak briefly about chronology.  While chronology is not the determinative principle in the shaping of the Hebrew Bible, it does have some significance at places.  For example, in the Pentateuch, the stuff that happens in Exodus happens before Leviticus, which happens before Numbers, which happens before Deuteronomy.  I am not saying chronology is absent there.  I am just saying it is not one of the major themes.  Joshua does happen before Kings.  Joshua to Kings is a history and so things are in order there.

But I would argue that that is not always the case.  For example, within those books, 1 Samuel 16 and 1 Samuel 17 there is something about those incidents that they are not in the exact chronological order.  In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed.  Saul gets an evil spirit and David goes to work for Saul, exorcising that spirit with his great musical gifts.  He becomes Saul's armor-bearer.  You know your armor-bearer.  That is the dude carrying your weapons who is usually standing in front of you.  That is a bad job description.  If you have got to have one, do not have that one.  But in chapter 17 he comes along, this little shepherd boy from Jessie's house, and Saul has no idea who he is.  Who is this guy?  Who is his family?

The point there is not chronology.  Here, they are not trying to give what happened in order.  These are not the chronological days of David: "He was born.  He cut his first teeth at age one.  He lost his first tooth when he was five.  He was circumcised on the eighth day."  It is not about that.  In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed king.  The Spirit rushes on him and it goes away from Saul.  Then the evil spirit comes on Saul.  In chapter 17, you get the illustration of that.  The army of God is confronted by the enemy of God.  Then you get David who confronts that enemy by faith and is not afraid.  Who is this uncircumcised Philistine who spits on the armies of the living God?  Then you get Saul, shaking in my boots: "Who will go fight this guy for me because we need a champion?  I cannot do it anymore."  Saul is the tallest Israelite out there.  Saul is super tall and is a super tall Israelite.  He is head and shoulders above the rest.  Goliath is tall too.  But even Saul, in the midst of all his strength and tallness and military prowess, he is a chicken now.  It was not his strength and tallness that made him an adequate warrior before.  It was the Spirit of the Lord, just like with Samson earlier on.  Now that Spirit is gone.  And now the midget David comes in, the short guy, and he does what Yahweh needs doing because, by faith, he has got the Spirit.  So it is an illustration.  Again, you have the teaching and the illustration.

Similar things happen like that.  It is not chronology, because things are anachronistic.  Even in some of the historical psalms – I forget which one it is; it is terrible of me – but there is Psalms 78, 105 and 106 and I think it is Psalm 78.  This psalm recounts some of the history of Israel backwards.  You ask: Has this poet got dyslexia?  Is he going backwards?  What is going on?  What he is doing is prosecuting a lawsuit against Israel.  Essentially, he says: "Look, this happened to you."  He is going backwards and backwards and backwards."  At the very end, the people of God are back in Egypt, theologically.  God is saying: "Look, I have gotten you out of Egypt, but you still emotionally and theologically live there.  That is where your heart is."  So He is condemning them for that.  History is the servant of the canon.  We will talk about this more later in our shaping of our canon.

Let me give you another example.  In the English Bible, you get Chronicles, then Ezra and Nehemiah.  That is how the events unfold in history.  But in the Hebrew Bible, you get Ezra, Nehemiah and then Chronicles.  What is that all about?  Well, here is what is interesting.  Ezra begins with the degree of Cyrus in 538BC that the exiles may go home.  Then in Ezra and Nehemiah they all go home.  There are many groups that go back.  They try to build the wall.  They try to build the temple back up.  There is all this success.  Then Chronicles recounts this entire history beginning with Adam and going down to 400BC. There are the genealogies and they really focus on David in the temple.  All of a sudden you have got all this stuff and you have got exile and then Chronicles ends with 538BC and Cyrus decreeing that the exiles can go home.  You think: "I have just read Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Chronicles (for most of us that is a miracle to get through that book, especially the first nine chapters in 1 Chronicles), all the way through 2 Chronicles and then I am back where I started!"  You have not moved a year in time, even though, technically, you have gone down to 400BC.

There is this 138 year gap that you somehow missed by the arrangement of this book.  What is the problem here?  The arrangement of the books (Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles) in the Hebrew Bible order tells us something without ever having to say a word.  It says: the return from exile is a failure.  It is not the great return prophesied or made known by the prophets with this supersonic temple and this supersonic king and this supersonic servant.  It is all a poor and dismal shadow of what was promised.  It is a flop.  So, we must be looking for something else.  The arrangement of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles calls the return from exile a dismal failure.  In fact, if you read the literature, you read about the dedication of the second temple.  The older men who saw the former temple of Solomon – what did they do there?  They wept because it was a poor representation of what was formerly the glory of Solomon's temple.  But the prophets had said: "Hey, the glory of this next temple is going to outstrip Solomon's by a long shot."  They knew that it was not the case that day.  The arrangement of the books tells you that.  You could not get it any other way.  It is what is done subtly for you.

Brief Response to an Interjection.

That is exactly right in Haggai.  That is exactly right.

In the Hebrew Bible, they use chronology to teach theology.   We have seen this in Psalm 78 or in the arrangement of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles or in 1 Samuel 16-17.  They do not use it just to tell a linear story and say: "Now you know the history of Israel.  Get a time line and memorize it."  Their history tells a story, but it also makes a theological point in the arrangement of their history.  If it is out of order – what we call anachronistic – that is purposeful and it makes a point.

IV. Prelude to the Writings

Let me conclude this hour of lecture by just pointing out to you something that will be interesting.  We will come back and discuss it at the beginning of our class tomorrow.  It is this.  In the Prophets, you have Joshua to Kings.  That is fundamentally about life in the land.  In Joshua, the people of God enter into the Promised Land.  In Kings, they get booted out.  In the middle, they are in the land.  Isaiah to Malachi is really about life in exile, whether it is spiritual or physical.  It is about: you are going into exile or you are in exile or you have been in exile.  You are getting kicked out because of your unfaithfulness.  You have broken the covenant of the living God.  So, you have got life in the land and life in exile, roughly.

In the Writings, you have got six books, Psalms through Ecclesiastes, which fundamentally cover the question: What is life like in the land?  Then you have six more books, Lamentations through Chronicles, which cover the question: What is life like in exile?  Lamentations is about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Brief Response to an Interjection.

Twelve books in the Writings.  Yes, there are twelve books in the Writings.  The first six (Psalms through Ecclesiastes) are about life in the land.  The latter six (Lamentations through Chronicles) are about a theology of life in exile.  Notice how even the two big groups are.  In the Prophets are Former Prophets and Latter Prophets.  In the Writings are life in the land and life in exile books.

Lamentations is about the fall of Jerusalem and the fall of the theocratic kingdom of God on earth.  It is about the departure of the Spirit from the temple and the destruction of Israel at its very heart.  Then Esther is this: How does a woman live a life of faith in exile?  And Daniel is this: How does a man live a life of faith in exile?  Then Ezra and Nehemiah tell you about those troubling times and paint for you an eschatological picture of historical hope to adhere to and to cling to in the exile.  Even in our return from exile, we must be looking for a better and greater exile.  In some sense, Ezra through Chronicles, in a major way, is like the book of Revelation.  It is eschatology.  What are we to look for?   A new David, a new temple, a new high priest and a new return from exile.  This is a remarkable thing.

We will break now and return together.  We will pick up how the Writings are structured.  Then, it is my pledge to you that, if the Lord will give us one more day together, I will give you my chart which represents eight boxes.  If you can memorize eight boxes together, those eight boxes are very simple and they represent the entire structure of the Christian Bible, Old and New Testament.  They do this in a way that makes perfect sense of all the big parts and the little books within them.  So, even if you cannot come on the lectures for the last day, let me encourage you to come tomorrow.  Tomorrow will really paint a picture for you that I think you will never forget in terms of the Bible's structure.  It is the heart of what I do.