The Literary Structure of the Whole Bible
May 16, 2019

In this essay we will think about how the whole Bible is structured as one Word of God. To begin with, there is only one Bible, not two. While we divide the Bible into Old and New Testaments, that division has no more meaning than divisions into chapters and verse, or the division of the book of Kings into two parts. The Bible never teaches that there are two “testaments.” There are only the “scriptures.” The Bible is like one long piece of music with various interweaving themes, but not divided into two movements. It is we, the Church, who have divided the Bible for convenience. 

That is where we need to start. Only when we have this fact firmly in mind can we begin to talk about some divisions within the Bible. And of course, the Church has not been wrong to notice that the first part of the Bible is in Hebrew, and the latter part in Greek. She has not been wrong to notice that the Greek parts of the Bible is the climax of the story, and reveals the coming of the New Creation. It is not wrong to speak of the Old and New Testaments, so long as we don't think that there are two Bibles. 

We can also notice that the Hebrew Scriptures consist of 22 books, the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. We get 22 books by remembering that 1 and 2 Samuel is one book, as is 1 and 2 Kings. Since the last verse of 2 Chronicles is repeated as the first verse of Ezra, and since Ezra and Nehemiah have always been taken as one book since they were written, it is clear that 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are one book, which we may call Greater Chronicles. Jeremiah and Lamentations are one book, as the structure of the whole reveals. (Jeremiah's personal lamentations at the beginning are matched by the corporate lamentations for the bride-city at the end.) Finally, the so-called Minor Prophets are one book with one thematic story line, called the Book of the Twelve. 

Twenty-two books for the 22 letters of the language God used to write them is pretty obviously a Divine design. The Greek Scriptures (New Testament) consist of 27 books, which is 33, also an obviously significant number from a Biblical standpoint, and just as obviously by Divine design. Yet, the total is 49, which is 7 x 7, and this clearly is the most important number.  God intends us to take the Bible as one book.

The Church has had a long and sad history of making the division of the Bible into Old and New Testaments more important than it should be. In some liturgies, the Hebrew Scriptures are never read, since only Gospel and Epistle lessons are required. Many theologians treat the New Testament as more important than the Old, even though it is only 1/5 as long as the Old and cannot be understood except as the climax of the story that began in Genesis. Many groups in the Church have taught that the Old Testament is only interesting information, while only the New Testament has authority for the Church, even though Jesus said that He did not come to abolish law and prophets, and Paul said that faith does not abolish the law, but establishes it. 

Christian scholarship and seminary teaching positions almost always divide between Old Testament studies and New Testament studies. There is little interchange between the two. We have several journals for the Old Testament, and matching ones for the New Testament, with too little cross-pollination. 

Worst of all, some Reformed thinkers, especially Meredith Kline, have posited that these two "testaments" form two different canons. A canon is a rule. Originally the word simply meant a list, and thus the canon of the Bible was the list of books in the Bible. But it came to mean a list of what is authoritative. Kline and his followers depart from the entire history of Christendom in saying that God has replaced the old canon of the Old Testament with a new canon, the New Testament. 

This is a ridiculous idea. It means there was no canon or rule for Old Creation believers until the books of Greater Chronicles and/or Malachi were completed. Of course, these men would want to argue that the canon was being added to over the centuries, starting with Genesis and ending with Malachi. But since that is so, they have no reason to think it ended with Malachi. Clearly the one canon of the Bible did not end until the last book of the Greek Scriptures, probably Revelation, had been written. 

Moreover, what does it mean for the New Testament to be "canon" for us? Do we go to the Temple, like Jesus and Paul did? Do we take Nazirite vows, as Paul did? Are we to go first to the Jews, to the synagogue, every time we plant a church in a new place? Do we still have the miraculous gifts of tongues and prophecy? No, of course not. We have to make adjustments in the New Testament writings when we apply them to the Church, and we have to make the same kinds of adjustments when we apply the Old Testament writings. 

Now, some will say, "Yes, but there were four hundred years of silence from God between Malachi and Matthew." That is true, but this was not the first long period of silence. There were several hundred years between the book of Joshua and the books of Judges and Ruth. There were also over two hundred years between the writings of Solomon and the book of Isaiah. From this we can see not two testaments, but four. And this is important. 

The first "testament" is priestly, consisting of Genesis through Joshua. The second "testament" is kingly, consisting of Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Psalms, and the four wisdom books, and probably the Solomon narrative that was incorporated into the book of Kings later on. The third "testament" is prophetic, consisting of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. The fourth "testament" is that of the already Spiritually glorified and resurrected humanity, in Christ. 

We have encountered this sequence before, in our study of the covenant: first priest, then king, then elder-prophet, and finally full maturity on the other side of death and resurrection in Christ. This sequence can be seen also in the four faces of the cherubim. The ox is priestly, and is the sacrifice offered for the sins of the High Priest (Leviticus 4). The ox plods along, doing what he is told. The lion is kingly, like the lion of Judah. He bounds forward, taking more dominion. The eagle soars above and is prophetic (Revelation 8:13, which is properly an eagle, not an angel, in the better text for this passage). Finally, the man is above all creation. 

In Leviticus 8, the priests are anointed on their right ear, their right thumb, and their right big toe. This seems to be an analogous sequence. Yes, these are priests, but they are also representatives of Israel as a whole, and carry with them the kingly and prophetic aspects of Israel as well. The priest's ear is open to hear God's word and teach it to the people. The king is a man of action; thus the anointed hand. The prophet travels from place to place, ministering not only in Israel but also to the nations; thus the anointed foot. 

The four gospels follow this progression. Matthew presents Jesus as a new Moses, Mark as a new David, and Luke as a new prophet. In Matthew, Jesus primarily speaks sermons. In Mark, Jesus primarily does works of power. Luke stresses Jesus' travels, with the "Lukan travel narrative" occupying the whole second half of his gospel. Thus, Matthew is priestly, like an ox. Mark is kingly, like a lion. Luke is prophetic, like an eagle. John moves beyond all these and presents Jesus as the mature man, the full image and likeness of God. 

We shall return to these associations with the cherubim later on. For now we are concerned to understand that the Bible is written and organized in a theologically sophisticated manner. The four large groups of books correspond to these four phases of human life, to the four faces of the cherubim, to the four gospels, and so forth. 

The fact that the Bible consists of 49 books invites us to consider another way of considering its structure. It consists of seven blocks of books. Notice that there are seven "catholic" epistles (actually, epistles to the circumcision): James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. Including Hebrews (see 2 Peter 3:15-16), there are fourteen letters from Paul. These would be the last three groups of seven. The central group of seven would begin with Greater Chronicles, which begins with Adam and ends farther down in history than any other book in its list of priests (Nehemiah 12:10-11) and which thus forms an introduction to the Gospels. The other books would be the four gospels, Acts (Luke, part 2), and Revelation (John, part 2).

This leaves three groups of seven books in the Old Testament. In a longer study of this matter, I have come to the tentative conclusion that these books are linked up as follows: 

Day 1Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 
 Light Firmament Land & Sea Luminaries 
Priestly Kingly Prophetic Fully Mature
Creation of Adam Planting of Garden Rivers to Whole World Adam put in Garden 
GenesisSamuel Kings Chronicles 
Exodus Ruth Ezekiel Matthew 
Leviticus Psalms Isaiah Mark 
Numbers Job Daniel Luke 
DeuteronomyProverbs Jeremiah John 
Joshua Canticles Esther Acts 
Judges EcclesiastesTwelve Revelation 

This introductory essay is not the place to go into the reason for these lists and correlations. The student wishing to know more is invited to obtain my larger study. What is important for us at this point is to see that God has written the Bible in seven times seven books, and that there are several structures embedded in His great work, even if we have not been able to understand them all. 

In summary: The Hebrew Scriptures consist of 22 books, analogous to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The use of the alphabet as an organizing literary structure is seen in several psalms and in Lamentations 1-4, so we should not be surprised to see it here also. Perhaps the names of the Hebrew letters each go with one book?

The New Testament consists of three times three times three books. 

The Bible as a whole consists of four large "testaments” that move from priest to king to prophet to full maturity. 

The Bible as a whole also consists of seven times seven books, arranged in groups of seven. 

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis.

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