Friday, May 13, 2011
Finding Meaning in Literary Structure: A Proposed Structure for Acts 1:1-11
For example, look at the Three Little Pigs. It is a parallel pattern:
A the pig builds a house with straw
B the pig builds a house with sticks
C the pig builds a house with bricks
A' the pig with the straw house loses his home
B' the pig with the stick house loses his home
C' the pig with the brick house remains standing strong
In this nursery rhyme the C point is the point that is emphasized. This emphasis does not detract from the other A and B points, but the C point is where we find the moral of the story.
While studying in seminary, both my OT and NT professors were men who had spent years studying the structure of the Bible. David Dorsey, my OT professor, wrote a book on the literary structure of the OT. My NT professor, H. Douglas Buckwalter, is just about to have his two volume work on the literary structure of the NT published. Needless to say, I have had this instilled in me.
Why is this important? Sometimes someone will say that we cannot fully know what the biblical writers meant today. We are 2000 years (or more) removed from them, their language and their context to fully understand. I think that the literary structure helps provide us with the "heartbeat" of the Scriptures. By studying the structure we can get a better picture of what the authors meant in a particular passage. The Bible is inspired by God through his Holy Spirit, but I don't think that means God had the human writers "turn off" their minds.
Let me give you and example that we can hopefully discuss in the comment section. This example is known as a chiastic structure. The following is my proposed literary structure of Acts 1:1-11:
A 1:1-2 Events of the Past: Luke discusses what Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken to heaven—“…until the day he was taken up to heaven,…”
B 1:3 The Resurrection: Jesus showed himself to many and and gave many convincing proofs he was alive
C 1:4-5 Jesus speaks of the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit
D 1:6 CENTER: The disciples question Jesus about the timing of the
restoration of the kingdom to Israel
C’ 1:7-8 Jesus speaks of the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit
B’ 1:9 The Ascension: Jesus was taken up before their very eyes
A’ 1:10-11 Expected Events of the Future: two angels discuss with the disciples the eventual 2nd Coming of Christ--"...who has been taken from you into heaven,..."
If this literary structure is correct, the questions for us are (1) what do we learn from the paired points in this structure and (2) why is v.6 the unmatched center? What is this structure teaching us and do we see this playing out in the book of Acts at all?