Structure And Purpose In Genesis 1-11 -- By: Gary V. Smith

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:4 (Dec 1977)
Article: Structure And Purpose In Genesis 1-11
Author: Gary V. Smith


Structure And Purpose In Genesis 1-11

Gary V. Smith*

The relationship of structure to meaning, which is recognized in the syntactical study of language, is also to be recognized as significant in the conscious and unconscious development of longer portions of oral and written forms of communication. The linguist derives the meaning of language from a careful study of individual words as well as from an analysis of syntactical patterns. In a similar manner, the exe-gete discovers the meaning of the text from a study of individual verses as well as from the larger structural context of which they are a part. In order to comprehend the purpose of a text, one must make use of every clue the author provides. History, archaeological data, vocabulary, syntax, context, comparative studies and structure must be given their rightful places.

Advances have been made in many of these areas in past studies of Genesis 1–11, but the tendency until recent years has been to place more emphasis on finely defined points of distinction and detail rather than on structure. A brief look at the use and interpretation of structure by the various schools of interpretation will bring forward those methodologies that will prove most helpful in attempting to find the purpose of Genesis 1–11.

I. The Use Of Structure

Source critics offer little in the area of methodology to those who are specifically interested in the structure of Genesis 1–11. Their results indicate that these chapters were written over a long period of time by a number of authors and redactors. On the basis of their methodology, the text has been divided up into different documents written by various authors who had divergent theological interests and assembled by still other individuals who had their own understanding of things. Under such circumstances one can hardly expect to find an overall structure, for even the individual documents are somewhat unstructured. Driver,1 an advocate of this approach, finds that “J” is somewhat of a “pre-scientific” thinker whose main interest is to satisfy the curiosity of man by offering interesting explanations to a variety of unrelated questions. This early source covers such diverse topics as how the world was made, why people wear clothes, why work is necessary, why serpents crawl on their bellies, why people speak different languages, and a host of other unconnected questions. Although Driver states that the material has “been combined together in accordance with a der-

*Gary Smith is chairman of the department of Old Testament at Winnipeg Theologica...

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