Exegetical Notes: Genesis 1:1-2:4a -- By: John Sailhamer
TrinJ 5:1 (Spring 1984) p. 73
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
These Exegetical Notes do not aim at a detailed verse-by-verse explanation. Their purpose rather is to look at the first chapter of Genesis from a wider perspective-the perspective of the whole of the Pentateuch. A secondary purpose of these Notes is to explore in a general way the broader question of the meaning of biblical narrative texts. How do we go about finding what the biblical writers were teaching in their carefully wrought narratives? In light of this second purpose, the Notes will be presented in the form of a general description of biblical narrative and the comments on Gen 1:1–2:4a will serve as examples. It will be assumed that what is said may be applied generally to all biblical narratives in the same way that it is here applied to Genesis one.
Historical narrative is the re-presentation of past events for the purpose of instruction. Two dimensions are always at work in shaping such narrative: 1) the course of the historical event itself and 2) the viewpoint of the author who recounts the event. This dual aspect of historical narrative means that one must not only look at the course of the event in its historical setting but one must also look for the purpose and intention of the author in recounting the event.
The ideas of looking beyond the historical event to the author’s version of it does not imply that the author’s version is different than the event as it actually happened. Rather, in historical narrative what is given is the inspired author’s evaluation of the meaning and significance of the event. In historical narrative we may be told less than all that happened-, but we are also told much more than simply that the event happened -although we are always being told at least that. We are also being told the purpose and significance of the event within the broader context of God’s revelation in his word.
In what follows, we will outline briefly some general principles on how to go about the task of finding the author’s intent and purpose in recounting the events in historical narrative.
TrinJ 5:1 (Spring 1984) p. 74
Assessing the Structure of the Narrative Account
The most influential yet subtle feature of an author’s work in relating historical events is the overall framework within which he arranges his account. Some would call this the literary context. Perhaps a more usable term would be the structure of the passage. What this means is that there is always an internal relationship of each segment of a narrative to the ...
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