The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job -- By: Gregory W. Parsons

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 138:550 (Apr 1981)
Article: The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job
Author: Gregory W. Parsons


The Structure and Purpose of the Book of Job

Gregory W. Parsons

[Gregory W. Parsons, Professor of Biblical Studies, Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Jacksonville, Texas]

It is common knowledge that the Book of Job is universally admired as a literary masterpiece in world literature. Although most of the superlatives have been exhausted to describe its literary excellence, it seems to defy more than a superficial analysis.1 There has been little agreement with regard to the purpose and message of the book. This article will seek to delineate the literary structure of the Book of Job in order to determine the major purpose of the book. The goal is to demonstrate how the author of Job utilized certain key themes in developing the purpose and message of the book.

Literary Structure

The unity of the Book of Job will be assumed in the analysis of its literary structure. It is believed that each component of the book has a necessary place in the overall design and argument of Job.2

Job is a complex literary work in which there has been a skillful wedding of poetry and prose and a masterful mixture of several literary genres.3 The basic structure of Job consists of a prose framework (the prologue in chapters 1 and 2, and the epilogue in 42:7–17) which encloses an intricate poetic body.4

The prologue very concisely narrates how God’s servant Job lost his family and his wealth in a rapid-fire succession of catastrophic events. Then it relates that when Job’s health was removed his wife urged him to curse God and die. Job’s three

friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, arrived to comfort Job who remained firm in his devotion to God in the midst of his intense suffering. The reader is taken behind the scenes and informed that the reason for these events is that God was permitting Satan to afflict Job in order to test the motivation for Job’s piety. This is done by rapidly alternating between the earthly setting and the heavenly court.

The poetic body (3:1–42:6) begins with a personal lament by Job (chap. 3) in which he curses the day of his birth. This introductory soliloquy corresponds to the final soliloquy by Job (chaps. 29–31), and particularly to chapter <...

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