A Guide to Biblical Theology - Lesson 5

Order and Structure of the Books in the Writings

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.

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A Guide to Biblical Theology
Lesson 5
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Order and Structure of the Books in the Writings

I. The Writings

a. The First Six Books: Covenant Life

1. Psalms

2. Job

3. Proverbs and Ruth

4. Song of Songs

5. Ecclesiastes

b. The Second Six Books: Life in Exile

1. Lamentations

2. Esther

3. Daniel

4. Ezra to Chronicles

II. Some Implications of the Hebrew Canonical Structure

III. The Source of the Arrangement of the Hebrew Canonical Structure

IV. Should we Follow the Hebrew Arrangement for our Bibles?

V. Understanding the Covenantal Structure of our Bibles

a. Personal Experience at Seminary

b. The Influence of Meredith Kline

c. The Development of my Chart

d. Drawing the Chart

All Lessons
Class Resources
  • 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.

  • Paul's letters describe how God desires people in the Church to function in unity and diversity and how the Holy Spirit gives them the power to do it. Paul exhorts people to live their lives in a way that glorifies God.

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.

Yesterday in our previous discussion, we were beginning to discuss why and how and what is the Hebrew Bible arrangement.  We talked about where it came from, what is its significance, how it is arranged and that kind of business.  We talked a little bit about the Law being covenant, the Prophets being covenant history and the Writings being covenant life.  And in the Prophets we have Former and Latter Prophets.  We have what I call history and homiletics.

Joshua through Kings constitutes what some people call the Deuteronomic history of Israel.  It is really the living out of the covenant of Deuteronomy in the land and what that is like.  At the beginning of Joshua the people of God enter the Promised Land.  At the end of the Kings they are kicked out.  That history, that chunk of time, is characterized basically by life in the land.  It is book-ended by going in and getting booted out.

Then Isaiah through Malachi (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve) constitute an interpretation.  It is the authoritative interpretation of that history.  It basically says that Yahweh is faithful, Israel is unfaithful and be prepared now to experience the covenant curses laid out in Deuteronomy.  But there is hope.  When we get to the book of Deuteronomy, especially Deuteronomy 32, we will show you exactly how that hope is to come.

I will argue – and I will just give you this as an advance statement – that Deuteronomy 29-31 is the preface or the introduction to Joshua through Kings.  Everything that happens in Joshua through 2 Kings is set forth in terms of the macro-history.  It is set forth in those few chapters, Deuteronomy 29-31.

Then we have Deuteronomy 32: the Song of Yahweh or the Song of Moses (however you want to call it).  Deuteronomy 32 is the sermon text of the Prophets.  All of the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve) are preaching various sermons, but on only one sermon text: Deuteronomy 32.  Everything in the Latter Prophets is found first in Deuteronomy 32.  Everything they are doing is there.  That is the key.  If you do not understand Deuteronomy 32, you really do not understand Isaiah to Malachi.  You cannot.  It is impossible.  But rarely do I hear anyone ever arguing in that way.  But we are going to argue in that way.  I am going to try and show you how knowing Deuteronomy 32 helps you with Isaiah through Malachi.  It is like having the answer key before the problem.  That is a helpful thing.  It kind of helps you know how to work with the problem.  That is right.  That is exactly right.  It is like Jeopardy.

If Joshua through Kings is primarily about life in the land, Isaiah through Malachi is really about getting kicked out of it.  It is about life in exile: either preparing for exile with the earlier prophets, being in exile during the exilic prophets or reflecting on that exile in the post-exilic prophets.  So we could roughly characterize the Former Prophets as life in the land and the Latter Prophets as life in exile and the interpretation of that life.

I. The Writings

The Writings, I am going to argue, have twelve books.  There are six books, Psalms to Ecclesiastes, and six more books, Lamentations to Chronicles.  In some measure, I think they have been grouped similarly to the Former and Latter Prophets.  That is to say Psalms through Ecclesiastes is dealing with issues related to life in the land.  It is a theology of life, we could say, even in the church.  We have got praise and worship, wisdom, how to conduct our self with marriage.  We can even say that the book of Ecclesiastes is how do we deal adequately with a postmodern worldview.  That is a very appropriate kind of question for that book.  Then we have Lamentations to Chronicles, which is really about life in exile.  I can show you how some of that works in a little bit.  We will do that as we talk about these books.

But let me just give you a brief rundown of how these books may work.  I can kind of tell you a story.  These are the twelve books.  This is their order in the Writings.  I just want to tell you a way in which you can remember them.  There is no part of Scripture that says this is exactly how it is ordered.  What I am doing is I am looking at the books.  I am looking at their position in the canon.  I am looking at what they are doing and how they are related.  I am estimating, surmising, postulating, putting together how I think those books have been structured.  You have already had a hint with how I treated Ruth yesterday.  You can see it from there.

a. The First Six Books: Covenant Life

In these first six books of the Writings, we are dealing with covenant life – covenant history, covenant life.  It is covenant life in the Writings.  How do I think and live in light of the covenant?  The first thing that you need to know about covenant life is that covenant life is about worshiping your Creator and Redeemer.  And so you have this book of Psalms – the book of worship.

1. Psalms

In the book of Psalms, there are a number of different types of Psalms.  You have your rock and roll, your blues, your country music, your gospel, all that kind of business.   All that business is there, but in a different format.  That is to say, there are different types of songs in the book of Psalms.  There are at least ten different types.  You have got hymns, lament songs, thanksgiving songs, wisdom psalms, torah psalms and royal psalms.  You have got psalms of ascent and the hallelujah psalms.  Then you have different groupings, such as the psalms of Asaph.  You have doxologies.  There are all kinds of different things at work there.

But this is an interesting thing.  In terms of the dominant psalm type – what is the dominant type of song in the book of songs?  Most of us would think something like hymns or thanksgiving songs or something like that.  We would think something happy and clappy.  But that is not the case.  The number one type of psalm in the book of Psalms is lament.  Maybe, there are a number of different reasons to wonder why that is.  To some degree, that is due to David's authorship.  He was the anointed king of Israel.  He was always oppressed and afflicted in the midst of that.  From the very start he was anointed and then, all of a sudden, he is confronting a giant, the enemy of God, in the next chapter.  Then, not only is he confronting the enemy of God as Goliath, but also Saul is always trying to stab him with a spear.  Then he has other enemies chasing him.  Then he has problems with his marriages and problems with his children trying to take over his country.  He has problems with other guys throwing rocks at him.  He has all kinds of problems.  He is a great lamenter.

Now, lament is not all bad news.  There is actually an acronym for learning the structure.  Laments are actually structured and have a specific structure.  The structure is ACT SAD: address, complaint, trust, salvation, assurance and declarative praise.  It is not all moaning and groaning.  It is not all: "Woe is me."  Laments always have an expression of divine trust and, in the end, divine deliverance.  Lament is the number one type of psalm.

In some sense David was a man who lived between the times.  He was the anointed king of Israel.  It was supposed to be all good for him.  If anyone should have lived the good life, it should have been David.  But he was constantly afflicted.  He lived in a time where he had the promises of God, but the unfulfilled promises of God.  It is very much like the time we live in.  We live in "the already and not-yet" eschatological period (as some New Testament scholars would say).  In other words, Jesus has come.  He has paid for our sins.  He has given us His Spirit.  But we still live in this fallen, broken world.  We have not reached the eschaton yet.  We are not in the time period characterized by Revelation 21 and 22.  And so we have good reason to lament.  We will suffer in this current world.  The book of Psalms becomes a very appropriate book for the Christian because, like David, we live between the times. 

2. Job

You may remember yesterday, when I talked about the book of Proverbs, Proverbs 31, the exposition of a woman of valor, and then the example of a woman of valor in Ruth.  It is the same thing here.  One of the things I think is going on in the Writings is there is this pattern: there is exposition followed by illustration.  If the number one genre or type of psalm in the book of Psalms is lament, it does not surprise me that Job would be the person to follow.  If anyone suffered and suffered for righteousness sake – suffered, not for anything he had done, but simply to prove the value of God as an object of worship, with or without riches – Job is the one who suffered.  And so we have suffering, and then the illustration of what does it look like to be someone who suffers simply for the name or the reputation of the God they worship.  So you have teaching and illustration.

3. Proverbs and Ruth

Then you have Proverbs.  Now that I know that I am to worship God and that I am going to suffer in this world, how do I go about living wisely in this world?  Should I live like a fool or a wise man?  The book of Proverbs argues that you should live like a wise person.  The climax of Hebrew wisdom, which originally was written for young boys, is get a good wife.  Chapter 31 says: this is what she looks like.  And then the book of Ruth is the illustration.  Look: we have exposition, and then illustration; exposition and then illustration.

4. Song of Songs

And then, of course, how can you leave out Song of Songs.  It's like there is this kind of the "holy trinity" of marriage in the Old Testament.  Proverbs 31 shows this is what a good wife looks like.  Ruth is the illustration of that wife.  And Song of Songs is how to treat a good wife or how to enjoy a good wife.

The Song of Songs is a tricky book.  There are a lot of different interpretational options.  They range from super-literal, supersonic literal, erotic, NC17 kind of love poetry to it is this beautiful, allegorical description of the relationship between God and Israel, Yahweh and Israel, or Jesus and the church.  Let us just say there are probably truths in both of those camps.  Somewhere in the middle, we need to figure out what is going on there.  When we have a chance to talk about the Song of Songs in the midst of these lectures that we are doing, I will give you my interpretation of that and what I think is going on there.  For now, I will give you my short version of it.  I do think that Solomon is writing it.  I do think he is writing it about a woman, but a woman he tried to get into his harem who would not go.  She was tempted by wealth, by fame, by being in Solomon's great and royal court.  But she chose rather to be with her shepherd boy, so she would not be one of a thousand, but the very own special one of one man.  So she gave up wealth and honor and fame for love.

In some sense, Proverbs and Ruth are kind of from the male perspective: What am I looking for?  Song of Songs, I think, is written for the female perspective: What type of man should I be looking for?  What should I be looking for in a relationship?  Perhaps when we get there, we will treat it in more detail. 

5. Ecclesiastes

Then Ecclesiastes, the last book of the Writings in that first section: life in the land.  It deals with what I would call anti-wisdom.  The key phrase for understanding the book of Ecclesiastes occurs over and over and over again.  It is not "vanity of vanities".  That is the result of the world view.  The key phrase for the book of Ecclesiastes that occurs everywhere is "under the sun."  It is a life "under the sun".  At the end of this book in the Writings, the author puts forward the question:  "All right, if you do not want to live a life in this land in covenant with our God, what is your other option?  It is a life "under the sun".  It is a life in this world with only the things you can see going on here.  That life is essentially "vanity of vanities" – complete vanity.

There is nothing to be gained.  You can be foolish and you can be wise.  There is some advantage to being wise, but in the end you both bite the dust.  You both return to dust.  So really, at the end of the day, there is no advantage to being a fool over being a wise person.  Is there an advantage to being rich or poor?  There is a little bit of an advantage to being rich.  But, in some sense, being rich is worse because you labor and you labor and you labor, you die and you leave everything you worked for to someone else and that person could be a fool.  I am paraphrasing here some of the things.  But that is what is going on.  So you might as well be a foolish poor person and have a lot of fun in life.  That is better than be a wise rich person because all your work and effort is just going to get flushed down the toilet (or thrown into the trash heap or the ash heap) when it is all said and done.

At the very end, it turns that around and says: "Look, I have been presenting the worldview like this, but that is a very depressing worldview.  This world is not about life 'under the sun'.  We are about the One who created the heavens and the earth, who has redeemed us.  It is about life 'over the sun'.  Life is not just simply what you can see.  There is that invisible world out there that governs us.  So fear God and keep His commands."  That is the conclusion there.

You can tell Ecclesiastes has a different worldview.  In Ecclesiastes, for example, they can say: "There is nothing new under the sun."  But then, how can the Lord say through Isaiah the prophet: "Behold, I am doing something new, something never done before.  No one has ever talked about it.  Behold, I am announcing it to you now before it springs forth, so you can know that no one else has planned this."  So in Isaiah "something new is happening" and in Ecclesiastes "there is nothing new under the sun".  Who is right?  Both of them are right according to the worldview they are operating on.  The postmodern world view says "there is nothing new under the sun".  But in God's community, anything is possible.  Lots of new stuff is happening every day.

Also, in the book of Ecclesiastes it says: "What is crooked cannot be made straight."  But in Isaiah it says: "Make straight the highway.  Raise up the valleys.  Make a straight highway."  So it is saying: "Make what is crooked straight."  It is all about worldview at this point.

Worldview is not a new and modern science.  It is at least as old as Solomon.  He is operating off the same parameters.  Solomon is basically saying, at the end of the day, the only other option besides this option is one that is highly depressing.  It is vanity of vanities, all is vanity.  That is what you can call the suicide mantra.  It is not worth anything.

Those are the first six books and I think that is not a bad story.   You could tell your friends or tell your kids: "Look, here are six books.  It is about living life under the covenant relationship with God.  How do you live a life in covenant with God?"  In some sense you can also ask: "How do you live a life in the church?"  We cannot really say "in the land" anymore, because God's people no longer live in "the physical land" – and they will not again, I would argue, until Revelation 21 and 22.  But I recognize that is a disputed reality.

b. The Second Six Books: Life in Exile

Now, the latter six books are about life in exile: because Israel spent much more time in exile than they did in the land – especially if you count spiritual exile.  They nearly never got out of Egypt.  Some people say: "It was easy for Israel to get out of Egypt, but it was hard to get Egypt out of Israel."  That is one way of saying how they lived.  The second set of six books in the Writings constitute, to some degree, to some measure, a life in exile.  It means this: What is exile about?  How should I live in the midst of that exile?

1. Lamentations

It kicks off with Lamentations, which describes in detail the fall of Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar came in 587-586BC.  He smoked that city.  He tore down the gates and burned the temple.  It was over for Israel.  The theocracy was over, and all that business.  It was just done.  That is the fall of Israel, as we know it.  It is very sad.  There are encouraging parts there that are calls to faithfulness and remembrances of God's fidelity.  But fundamentally, it is a book that laments.  It describes the fall of Jerusalem and the tragic day that was.

2. Esther

Since I do not live in the land anymore, the question becomes: How do I live a life of faithfulness?  The first answer is Esther.  The first answer is: How does a woman live a life of faithfulness in exile?  Basically, it is faithfulness unto death?  That is the answer: faithfulness unto death.  Esther, of course, became the wife of the foreign king.  She had a high political office.  You would think capitulation was going to be at the forefront of her mind.  But, by God's providence, she actually helped to orchestrate, in God's planning, the saving of His people in that exile.  She was used in their protection and provision.  But, do you remember?  She had that line: "If I perish, I perish."  She knew that her job in that time was to be faithful even unto death.

3. Daniel

Then Daniel represents: What does it look like for a man to be faithful in exile?  Now you could switch them, male and female.  But I am just using them that way because of the main character in Esther is a female and the main character in Daniel is a male.  Daniel, remember, has the same line.  In fact, in Daniel this line comes several times.  They are going to go on this vegetarian and water diet and their attitude is: "If they die, they die."  There is the lion's den.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego say: "Hey you can kill us if you want, but we are not going to bow down to that idol."  That kind of thing happens over and over again.  Those guys were saying this.  The famous line in the book of Daniel is: "God can save us from any disaster you put before us.  But if not, we will not capitulate."  "But if not …"  Again, it is faithfulness unto death in the book of Daniel.  That is just by way of brief survey.

4. Ezra to Chronicles

Then Ezra through Chronicles I described briefly in the last lecture.  We will actually talk about that when I talk about what we are going to call canonical seams and how the canon is sewn or stitched together.  But Ezra to Chronicles focuses on, or is all about, the return from exile.  Ezra begins with the decree of Cyrus, in 538BC, that the exiles may return.  That is in 538 or 536.  Chronicles concludes with the exact same decree in 538 or 536.  The interesting thing is, when you start in Ezra and you read all of Nehemiah and then you get to Chronicles you finish in the same place.  At the end, you have not gone anywhere.  You are back where you started.  That is part of the story.  That is part of the theology of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.  We will talk about that more when we actually speak about the specific books in their canonical contexts.

II. Some Implications of the Hebrew Canonical Structure

That is a little bit of a summary.  The Law is the covenant.  The Prophets are our covenant history – both history and homiletics, life in the land and life in exile.  The Writings are covenant life – how do I think and live in light of the covenant?  Likewise with the Writings, there are life in the land and life in exile.  You can think of those broad categories.  That is really a simple arrangement, but it is theologically profound.  It helps you understand the basic purpose of the book just by knowing what part of the canon it is.

That is why I can say, when I think about teaching Sunday school or preaching in church or even talking with friends, about things down here in these Writings.  These are about how you think and live in light of the covenant.  We are supposed to try to emulate these people's lives.  Ruth is someone we are supposed to emulate.  You can dare to be a Ruth (if we use that language that is popular).  You can dare to be an Esther.  You can dare to be a Daniel.  You can dare to be an Ezra.  That is all right.  Those books are written for us as examples of how to live and think.  They present this exemplary pattern of living.

But up here [in the Law or Former Prophets] I would be afraid to say that.  I would be hermeneutically inaccurate to say: "Dare to be a Moses or dare to be a David."  David is a hot, popular guy.  Everyone wants to be like David.  He was of no account but became king.  He had lots of wives.  Who does not want to be good with a sword and kill a lot of people?  That is right: Dare to be a David.  What are the giants in your life that you need to slay?  That is how we interpret him.  Every Sunday School flannel-graph curriculum treats David as someone to imitate.

Let us take that to its logical conclusion, just to have a little bit of fun.  David had multiple wives – does that mean you should?  Dare to be a David.  If I am going to be fair, I am going to be fair.  Dare to be a David.  Or David killed thousands and thousands of Philistines – is it your job now to go find the descendants of the Philistines and to kill them with a sword?  Dare to be a David.

Brief Response to a Question.

Never in the Bible is it OK to have more than one wife.  Never.  It is like divorce.  It is permitted in some contexts and cases and stuff like that.  But I would say it is permitted begrudgingly because of our own stupid fallen sinfulness.

Here is the thing.  Dare to commit adultery.  Dare to be like David.  Dare to take a census.  There are all those kinds of things.  Every time David sinned, people died around him.  It is not a very good thing.  So you cannot really do that consistently.  Dare to be a Samson.  Slay your neighbors with a jawbone of an ass.  It just does not work at that point.  It is not intended to be used that way.

That is when we get to this thing.  We think the Bible is written about us.  We do not really understand why those stories are there.  We do not really know how God is advancing His kingdom and how it relates to us covenantally.  We do not really know how we fit into that history and are part of that history.  That is my history.

One of the things that are popular today is the genealogy websites and doing family background and family research.  You learn a lot of history by doing that, because you are intimately connected to the players.  It is different when you are talking about European history.  You do not know anybody.  None of your family is there.  But if you happen to be a part of that history, there are certain things that become more interesting to you.

If you are, by faith, a child of Abraham, this is your history.  I do not dare to be my grandfather.  My grandfather made a lot of mistakes.  That is not set for me as something to emulate.  But I am thankful for that history because that determines and shows me who I am and where I have come from.  That is a lot of how this is.  These books function in different ways.  In some places you are to dare to be someone or something.  You are, in fact, commanded to.  Paul says: "Imitate me."  So dare to be a Paul.  You can do that.

But, in some sense, when you get to "What would Jesus do?" – I see the WWJD tee-shirts or wristbands – that is a little bit more difficult.  Jesus would walk on water, feed five thousand and cast out demons.  I cannot do any of that.  I cannot dare to be a Jesus.  In fact, that would just be a crushing way of me feeling like I am completely worthless and I cannot do what Jesus did.  I cannot live a sinless life.  I cannot die for you.  I cannot impute my righteousness to you.  I cannot ascend to heaven and be Lord over all the heavens and the earth.  Matter of fact, it is a good thing I cannot.  No one would want that plan.

So you have got to be careful how you use these things.  You cannot treat the Bible with a monolithic hermeneutic or a single interpretational scheme.  That is why we have debates.  I do not know if you are familiar with this, but in some circles we have really strong debates about how to preach from certain texts.  On the one hard-core side, there is the Dutch redemptive-historical dudes who would say: "Never apply the text."  Then on the other side, they say: "Well, the only thing I do is apply the text, because all I want to know is how to live tomorrow."  There is something in the middle.  They are both right.  There are things in the Bible to teach us about redemptive history and to know where we have come from and what God is doing in history and how we fit into that plan.  But there are also things in the Bible that say: This is helpful; do this; this is nice; this is good; that kind of thing.  So there is both practical instruction and worldview painting text.

Unless you know how the Bible is structured, you are never going to know how to first approach the text.  So people with a monolithic hermeneutic will either be "dare to be a David" all over or they will be what you could call a Christocentric, theocentric, theology-centric kind of person all the time.  The latter think it is all about what you think and know about the Bible.  It is nothing about how you obey or believe or cherish.  Those kinds of things.

This kind of model in the Hebrew Bible is very helpful to me, because it tells me exactly how I need to approach those books in each case.  I get a lot of hermeneutical bang for my buck when I think about the Bible this way.  In the English Bible, the problem is that arrangement is completely gone.  The hermeneutical arrangement has been destroyed in the English Bible.  That is why I do not like following that arrangement.

I will go on and show you some more things about it.  But I will just tell you briefly, by way of summary, that in terms of the Hebrew Bible arrangement, the arrangement is not fundamentally chronological  It is not fundamental by genre.  It is not fundamentally by authorship.  There is some of that in there.  I am not denying, for example, that the first five books were written by Moses.  I believe strongly that those books are Mosaic in authorship.  So there is an authorship arrangement in the Hebrew Bible.  But that is not the primary structuring element behind the divisions and the arrangement. 

III. The Source of the Arrangement of the Hebrew Canonical Structure

Where do we get this final arrangement?  That is a question that I will deal with just briefly here.  I have shown you from the Wisdom of Ben Sirach – I showed you that prologue – that there was a threefold division in the Bible.  In 132BC, he was writing about a tradition that was already very old.  So, let us just say, in 200BC we already had a threefold division of the Hebrew Bible.  We also know that Jesus, Paul and Luke, in their lives, ministries or writings, affirm that threefold division.  We know that the Babylonian Talmud maintains that tradition – that same threefold division.  It is also the division and the sections that are adopted in the first Rabbinic Bible, the Bomberg Bible, 1500.  We know that is still today the Jewish Bible arrangement.  If you get a Jewish Publication Society Bible, its arrangement is the one on the right of your handout, not the one on the left.

The honest answer to that question is that we have no idea who did it.  I can only surmise that it was done under God's providential care – that He cared enough about His book to leave it in a way that was significant for us.  We can interpret that final form and see what the significance is.

Can we speculate?  Sure.  Perhaps it was Ezra or Nehemiah.  Ezra was a great scribe.  Nehemiah was doing all of the work at that time at the very end of their history.  Perhaps Ezra and Nehemiah put the books together in this final form.  Perhaps it was Judas Maccabeus.  He would have been a good candidate.  Judas Maccabeus was one of the guys who lived in that inter-testamental period.  If you just read 1 and 2 Maccabees, you will read about some of his history.  We know that he collected Biblical manuscripts.  He might have been the one to do that.  We just do not know.  We do not know at all.

But we do have early evidence.  We have evidence from Ben Sirach or the Wisdom of Ben Sirach or Ecclesiasticus.  We have the New Testament that recognizes this threefold division.  We have the Babylonian Talmud, which is from the third to the sixth centuries A.D.  We have the fact that the Rabbinical Bible adopted that structure in the 1500s.  It is still the order printed in my Hebrew Bible today.  It is actually much more common than we think.  But most of us American Protestants have never really had the opportunity to see the other option.  We just go to Sunday School, learn the order and drive home and have lunch and take nap.  That is our normal thing.

IV. Should we Follow the Hebrew Arrangement for our Bibles?

Should we follow this arrangement for our Bibles?  My statement earlier, when we asked that question about the arrangement of the English Bible, was "no".  We should not follow the English Bible arrangement.  If I were in charge of the publishing house (which I am not, by God's grace) our Bibles would be printed using the Hebrew Bible order.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.  We know roughly what Jesus' Bible looked like.  It appears to be the original order.  It is certainly the oldest attested order.  It is the order recognized by Jesus, Paul and Luke, at least in the associations of the writings that we have in Luke and Acts.  It matches the structure of the books presented to us in the New Testament.  Again, you have not seen my outline or chart or my boxes yet, but you will.

Also, the structure of the books, both in its divisions and arrangements, provide interpretive clues or hermeneutical lenses for how we should properly understand, interpret and apply the individual books.  That seems to be more important than knowing the genre and chronology, to me.  It is not that genre and chronology is not important in the English Bible arrangement.  It is.  But, to me, this other [the principles for the Hebrew Bible structure] seems to be more important.

Let me just read my little paragraph here.  I believe that the word of God is not an encyclopedia or a dictionary for issues or problems facing me in life, though it has that in it.  It is not primarily a therapeutic guide of self-help.  It is not a love letter, a self-help manual or a guide to the history of the ancient Near East.  It is a book that governs our relationship to the living God with whom we are in a covenantal relationship.  It is the book that governs our relationship with the living God.  It is a covenantal book.  It is testamental: Old Testament, New Testament.  This means that it is a document that binds or guides or structures a relationship between two parties.  We have got to interpret it that way. 

V. Understanding the Covenantal Structure of our Bibles

So here is what I have.  Now we are going to talk about: How do you then explain all this in a way that makes sense to me?  You have told me about the bits, the pieces, the parts, the nuts and the bolts.  You have told me where we have come from and where we are going.  Now the question is: "All right genius, how does it fit together?"  I am going to try and argue with eight boxes jammed together in this little thing.  I am going to show you how it fits together in a way that is very simple, easy to reproduce, easy to repeat.  I am happy to have you do it in any kind of context you get a chance to do.

Before I explain my chart, perhaps it is important that I explain what I am going to do here.  I am going to argue that the threefold division of the Hebrew Old Testament is covenantal.  That is to say, its macro-structuring element, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, is covenant.  This is demonstrated in their arrangement.  The next big question is: How does this covenantal canon look?  How does it work?  How does it fit together – especially as it relates to the New Testament?

This part of the lecture will be like putting together a puzzle.  To do that, we will always begin with the outside edge.  Remember I talked early on about that puzzle metaphor?  The first thing you do with a puzzle is you take it out, spread it on the table, turn all the pieces so the picture is up.  Then you put the picture up, so you will know what you are looking at.  The first thing you do is you put on the edges.  What I am going to be doing now is putting on those edges so you can see how all the parts and pieces fit together.

a. Personal Experience at Seminary

Let me tell you how I got here.  I went to a seminary, a great seminary that I loved, but it was much more eclectic than the environment that we are in now.  The seminary I teach in now is a Reformed Seminary.  We have got Southern Baptists and Anglicans and Methodists and Presbyterians and all kinds of people, but fundamentally the faculty shares one basic Biblical worldview.  If you go through the curriculum here, you will have, with minor variations, the presentation of a single worldview.  The practical theology guys have the same theological worldview as the theology guys or the Bible guys.  When we talk about practical theology, we are talking about it from the same Biblical worldview as the theology guys or the exegesis guys.  There are great advantages to that in an educational system to have a unified education.  I prefer teaching in that environment.  That is why I teach here.  I think it is a good environment to teach in.

However, there are also advantages to the environment that I grew up in theologically in terms of my education.  It was very eclectic.  The theology guys were of one theological stripe and my Bible guys were of a little bit of a different one and the practical theology guys were of completely different one.  And even within those, there were warring factions – for example, even within the Old Testament or the New Testament departments.  They had different worldviews on how to think about the Old Testament, the history, the relationship between the Old and New, the covenants, all that kind of business.  So I had a very eclectic kind of education with regard to the Bible.

When I graduated and left seminary, I was fundamentally confused.  I spent the next two years trying to put all my broken pieces back together again.  It was like: all the king's horses and all the king's men and here I was trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  I was just convinced that the Bible must somehow be unified.  I do not have sixty-six books, or however you count based upon the Hebrew or English Bible.  I really have one book.  I say that that book is the word of God.  I am attributing divine authorship to it.  Is there a divine design?  So I began to really work hard to try to see how it all works.

b. The Influence of Meredith Kline

The seed bed of my thinking comes from Meredith Kline's book, The Structure of Biblical Authority.  He talks about the importance of the covenant and understanding what a covenant is and a covenant document is for understanding the notion of canon or canonization.  Basically, in the ancient world, if something is covenantal it is by definition canonical.  That means this.  A document in the ancient world that was covenantal had certain things with it.  This is a simplification, but it is good enough for us.  For example, it had a final documentary clause that said: "Cursed are you if you add one word to this document or if you take away one word from this document."  That represents an authoritative closing of the canon.  Do not change it.  They sealed it up, made two copies and gave one to the king and one to the vassal with whom he was making the covenant.  There are Hittite Treaties.  There are also Akkadian Treaties, Neo-Assyrian Treaties and stuff like that.  There are lots of examples.  For this lecture, we are not going to really go into that business in detail.  The Hittite Suzerainty Treaty of the second millennium B.C. would be your best bet.  That is where we get the most correspondence.  The Assyrian Treaties of the first millennium have a lot of correspondence, but the format had shifted by the first millennium B.C. and so there are some differences.

Again, I am indebted to Meredith Kline for much of this thinking at this point.  For example, the book of Deuteronomy follows the basic pattern of the second millennium B.C. Hittite Suzerainty Treaty.  If you are interested in that kind of study – if you want to see what Deuteronomy is about and why is it structured the way it is – read Meredith Kline's The Treaty of the Great King.  It is a commentary, in some sense, on the book of Deuteronomy.  It is a great book.  I believe that you can never understand really Deuteronomy without having first read that book.  In all of its fullness and what is going on, it just helps so much.

I would say I am indebted to Kline for many, many things in the way I think about the Bible and Biblical theology and protology and eschatology.  One of the things Kline did for me is that he connected covenant and canon.  If it is covenantal, it is canonical.  It is only canonical to the degree to which it is covenantal.  That is where I then came up with: Well, if that is covenant then that is covenant history and that is covenant life.  Now I have rooted all the genres in covenant, covenant history and covenant life.  They are all rooted in that reality.

Then, Kline, in his book The Structure of Biblical Authority, started to speak about how all the different genres are perhaps related to the different parts of a covenant treaty.  For example, in a covenant document of the second millennium B.C., there is a preamble which identifies who is the great king and who is the vassal.  There is a historical prologue that documents their previous history.  There are stipulations which govern the behavior: this is what the king will do and this what the vassal will do.  There are blessings and curses: if you obey, good; if you disobey, bad, very bad.  Then there is document clause like: deposit it, read it, seal it.  There is a blood oath to seal the document – the spilling of blood, usually of animals, to seal that.

He started saying: "Hey, look.  There are things like that.  There is preamble, describing who is God and who are these Israelites.  That is really what the book of Genesis is about.  He is the Creator and these Israelites are from the seed that has been promised.  That represents, pretty much, the historical prologue as well.  Then you get the famous thing: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt."  That is now how He defines Himself.  That is a shorthand expression given to you: the preamble ("I am the Lord your God") and historical prologue ("who brought you out of the land of Egypt").  Stipulations follow: "thou shalt not".  Then there is: if you do, this is what I will do.  It is all in the Bible there.

Our laws are related to that.  Our history is related to that.  Praise and lament are reflections on that.  He started describing it like an octopus.  There is the Bible with its fundamental genre, covenant.  Then you had all the different genres as the tentacles of the octopus.  You had a history, wisdom, praise and lament.  You had law and all this kind of business.  You had all these tentacles.

Then he did one other thing in that book which was very cool.  He talked about the Old Testament origins of the gospel genre.  I may have mentioned this earlier.  For a long time, we are really befuddled by the genre of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This whole focus on a person's life (His birth, His death, His life, His teachings, all that kind of business) just appeared to be, in terms of our Greek worldview thinking, a new genre of literature.  Of course, that is explainable.  God Himself comes in the flesh.  That would constitute the need for some kind of new genre.  If there was ever a time for the creation of a new genre, I would argue that that was it.  But he suggested that perhaps we just look to our Old Testament Exodus.  There are a lot of things in Exodus that remind me, in terms of genre, of the gospels.

c. The Development of my Chart

That is what got me thinking.  Here I have this octopus.  I have got this great covenantal octopus with all the tentacles down here – all the different types of genre.  Then I have this initial contact between the gospels and Exodus and thinking Old and New.  Then I just sat down.  I will never forget this I sat down with a piece of paper with my Hebrew Bible, and then my English Bible for New Testament on one side.  I started to ask: What connections are there?  Is there any parallel?  At that moment, the light bulb, for some reason, at that time in my life, went on.  I was about 25 or 26.  It was just a few years ago.

The first people I ever shared it with was my mother and my grandmother.  I will never forget sitting at the table at my mom's house, with my mom and grandma and saying: "What do you think about this?"  And they were saying: "Where did you get this?  I have never heard it.  It makes sense to me."  It is always good to be affirmed by your family.  That was the moment in which I said: "I have got to track this down somehow.  I have got to track this down."  And so I have been now, for ten or eleven years, working hard on trying to put this together.  This is what I am about to show you.   You are going to think: "Ten or eleven years?  I can explain that in an hour to someone, or less."  But though this is most simple, the order has come out of massive chaos.  It takes a long time for me to weave through the chaos of my brain.  So here is where we go.

d. Drawing the Chart

Now to do it, we are going to deal with eight boxes.  This is the handout that is available to you.  Most of you should have it.  If you do not have the handout, I hope it will be available online or through PDF or whatever, so you can get it.  I am sure they will have it with these lectures online.  You can draw this on a napkin.  You can draw this on a business card.  It is not a complicated outline.  So you need eight boxes arranged in that way.  If you are listening to this, the first thing you need to do is to draw a big rectangle that takes up the primary area of a piece of paper.  The paper is oriented in the landscape or the horizontal fashion.  You divide that big rectangle into six equal boxes.  So align horizontally, slicing the rectangle in half, and then two other lines, creating a total of six boxes.  When you make those two other lines vertically, the first is about one-third of the way through, and then the second is two-thirds of the way through.  You see that?  I am overly describing it for the recording.  Then you need two more boxes because that is only six so far.  So at each end of the rectangle, you are going to draw two more boxes in the center – right here and right here.

This is an x-ray of your Bible.  If you have ever x-rayed anything, you can see the bones.  This is your canonical structure right here.  If you x-rayed your Bible, this is what you would see: eight boxes.  I think, just for the sake of making it easier for those who will just be listening to this, let us number our boxes.  Do you mind doing that?  We are going to be mathematicians about this.  We are going to start with zero.  The box on the far left is zero and the box on the far right is going to be seven.  Then the three lower boxes in the original rectangle of six are going to be one, two and three.  Then four, five and six will be the upper register of the rectangle.  So, we have eight boxes, but we are going to number them zero through seven.

The reason I am going to do that is because, when I talk about creation later, we are going to jack this thing up on its side.  That is the structure of creation.  Then we are going to do days one, two, three, four, five, six and seven and that will make perfect sense.  I hope to get to this specifically when I talk about Genesis 1-2.  The arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, the arrangement of your entire Christian Bible, is set forth for you in Genesis 1:1-2:4.  The structure of those chapters (the way those chapters are put together) is the way the entire Christian Bible is put together.  Genesis 1-2 is written at least fifteen hundred years before the whole thing was complete.  That to me is remarkable.  That to me says there must be divine design.

What do I mean by that?  What do I mean by jacking it up?  This is how creation exists.  There is day zero.  That is the stuff that goes on before creation: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and void and darkness hovered over the deep."  That is zero.  "And God said, 'Let there be light'."  Day one, day two, day three – one, two, three.  Then you have days four, five and six.  You know that days one and four are parallel, right?  Here in day one, you have light and darkness.  Then here in day four, you have the sun and the moon, those things that govern the light and the darkness.  Here in day two, you have the sky and the waters.  Here in day five, you have the birds and the fish, those things which live in or govern the sky and the waters.  Here you have dry ground on day three.  Then in day six, you have man, which is governing all of that business.  So, in some sense, days one and four are parallel; two and five are parallel; and three and six are parallel.  And then you have day seven where it all comes to a conclusion and God enthrones himself as the Sabbath King.

That is the order of the Bible.  You have protology in day zero and eschatology in day seven.  From "form within void" to "perfect rest, completely done".  That is exactly how this is working out.  That is just a sideline here on our thing.  What we are going to do now is we are going to go back to our bigger chart right here: the one that is laying down horizontally on your piece of paper with boxes zero through seven.  We will take a five minute break and come back.  Then I will give you all the contents for that box.